Thursday, January 17, 2008

Nothing chest-beats Lahore

Hello all,

Salaam aleikum from rainy Lahore, Pakistan!

The free internet in the big library of Lahore, such nice bonus! Allah believes in speedy internet. It's a huge place with beautiful murals, crystal chandeliers, gold-rimmed staircases, huge illuminated world globes, thick white pillars and old wooden library furniture. Filled with old books, it breathes literature in here.
Women section on the right, left section for the males. Here in the internet room, it is mixed gender, but the first row is for females.

open gate to Pakistan.....
We swooped through the border on the sunny morning of Thursday without any rash security checks and only had to fill in various forms on the Indian as well as the Pakistani side. Walking straight through both big gates, a special way of crossing on foot with us making silly poses at the white line that divides the countries.

At the little bookshop of Mr Latif 100 meters from the border (as lonely planet will tell you too) we got a first hear from him on the perception how Pakistanis endure the western media bias against Muslims; "One explosion in Lahore or anywhere in Pakistan and everyone in the world knows about it. 3 simultaneous bomb blasts in Uttar Pradesh, India (over 1 month ago) and nobody in the west gets to hears that!"
That's what you get in your daily read; Hindu extremists in India are by far not as news worthy as any so called Muslim strike is.

In the local bus to Lahore, we flashed past little towns where people had put many pool tables outside, playing in full sun on the roadside. The whole road was decorated with *a lot* (understatement) of political posters, either old Bhutto party poster or the new one, which features her husband and son on it.
Everwhere. On walls, buses, carts, riksha's, shops and wherenot.
Plus also those posters of opponents that we haven't deciphered by name yet.
The bus was separated in 2 compartments where the front was closed by bars and an iron door. Maarten joked about it resembling a prison bus, which wasn't too far off. The *containing* compartment in the front was for women and the back naturally for men. Women sit upfront, guarded by the door from evil men and have to endure a less bumpy ride than the men. Not a bad deal. Younger women were peeking through the thin bars and looking at us, obviously not used to seeing white foreigners driving the local bus into town. Also staring teenagers, like those who were trying to sell us sweet and salty snacks.
Lahore is a smoggy city though, as you can see here. Kuch kuch kuch. I'm not too bothered by it, but Maarten feels his throat polluted.

After some hustling with out bags and walking too long into a wrong direction we finally found our hotel. As indicated and through word spread, the hotel is the best one in Lahore for the backpacker's needs, because of the owner, a former journalist, offers good guidance to Qawwali and Sufi music nights and much more cultural information in the rest of the country. Straight away we met a lot of like minded people who are also doing special projects by themselves by being journalists, photographers and documentary makers. Or even just traveling around. Not your average tourist hotel as in other places in India and it's great being in such a place where people talk about their interests and idea's.

Like the Correspondances Generation project of Alexandre and Benoit from southern France, who traveled all the way from Europe overland to here (like many people do you may have noticed). have been doing many items on several regions that they covered. Their website is well built and contains hordes of interesting clips, interviews and other local items. All in French though but no reason to not have a peek.

The sound of Lahore from our hotel rooftop, 17.30h; muezzins call for the Muslim prayer, amplified from many directions, while many big brown eagles soar the sky shrieking their bird call, some relaxing of them relaxing on the broadcasting tower next to us.
I've tried to record it but to no avail..either through low battery power or not being in the hotel at this special time of time. That's why this written soundplay instead of audible proof.

Lahore itself is a bizarre city as it is much more western and cleaner than any Indian city that we have been too. Much more shops where there are even supermarkets that sell dutch food items! (blue band butter, remia sauce..what the hell? who needs nasty remia sauce in this good part of the food world). The people here are really gentle and come to you in a composed manner. Unlike India, where the locals just like to swamp and tire you with their endless means of overly direct contact. So it is a fresh breeze to be among the Pakistani's, who take their approach more kindly and don't feel the need to control or force you into their communication. Also their humor is a bit more open in ways of understanding irony. Yesterday even some old muslim guys came up to us, saying "Musharraf, he must be killed and Bush too" in a sort of funny boyish manner and asking us if we wanted to help them, hah.

The food is slightly different from India, though many of the same dishes still exist here. Just that there is meat. A lot of meat; beef, mutton (goat) lamb, chicken and fish. Loads of shawarma's and tandoori kebab barbecue street cookers and whatnot. Tough for us, as the meat does smell nice. Mhhh, but I am looking forward to eating some spiced fish sooner or later. Also on the street there are loads of dried fig and date vendors. And they taste so good! Not like that pre-packed shit we get back home in the Islamic shops. Yum yum.

The good thing also is, that the people here in fact talk Hindi. They call it Urdu though, as the difference between both *languages* is just the script. Hindi links to Sanskrit whereas Urdu links to Arabic signs. But by speech, it is more or less the same, bar the small accent here or there.

The atmosphere here is really not grim as the western media likes to portray. The only people who seem a bit more on their nerves are the police men, which is understandable, especially at the police quarters where we have walked past. But even they greet us with a smile most of the time, while they casually sway their Kalashnikov's or AK47's over their shoulders. Riots, danger, protests? None of that. Just a city where people move around, work or do anything.

Like this morning, from our dorm room, we could hear a sort of protest outside but no one knew what was happening. Once outside, we didn't see or hear anything. Even if things happen, you're most likely not to know about it unless you're right at the action. Some people of the hotel are already here for longer than a week and during the bomb blast some of them were quite near to the explosion so they heard and saw it. Others didn't and only learned about it much later. One corner in a big city doesn't mean a whole city.

Last night we went to the old city, to see the Muharram ceremony. It's an Islamic ceremony that lasts around a whole week, where every night mostly men (and some women) chastise themselves by beating themselves every night with their bare hands on their bare chests (not the women though) in the name of a sacred Muslim saint and Allah. Many people yesterday were congregating and we stayed to see the beginning of the ceremony. Maarten had already been the night before with a Polish photographer and he filmed parts of the endless ceremony. This time it began a bit earlier and 2 groups of men stood bare chested next to each other, taking turns of singing and doing the ceremonial beating. The beating on themselves caused major deep purple bruises and many already had pressing wounds. it was impressive to see, especially more so as we felt the intense atmosphere. We were 4 of us, Brian from Glasgow and Jim from Austin, Texas had joined us and we were the only whites and non-muslims who were viewing this scene. We took a bit of distance, not to interfere with the local spectators and the families of the chest beaters. Several times we kindly got told to move more on the side for the obvious reason that our presence should be a bit reserved. On Saturday, the last bloody night, they will bring out the knives and sickles and will chastise themselves on the back and shoulders. Already we saw many men with major scar cuts and in some backstreet merchants were readying the knives and sickles, sharpening them with sparks on a turning stone.

We won't be here anymore for that, as tomorrow we will go south to the town of Pak Patan where at the moment the biggest Sufi festival of Pakistan is taking place where the most famous Derwa's will perform with vocals and spinning dances that turns them into a trance. This festival is just the best opportunity for recording and while we didn't know about it before and heard it from people in our hostel, we're lucky to have this chance.

This afternoon, there is live Qawwali singing at a certain shrine, which we quickly need to go to so I'll wrap up this post. Tonight there's a Sufi night at another underground shrine where our hostel owner will take us to. Busy day and days ahead.

Well, plans suddenly change. Our Polish photographer friend just walked in and told us that the Qawwali singing is cancelled, as well as the Sufi night. Because of Muharram. There goes our opportunity, but also our rush. Catching up with emails isn't a chore, especially since our internet mobility in the next week or so will be very limited.

We got contacted on Couchsurfing by several people from Lahore so we hope to meet them tonight since our plans are all open now. One of them, a female, wrote in her email that she is a DJ. We wonder in what way, jump into an unexpected musical adventure?

After I wrote this, the power in all the library was shut off. Such power cuts happen a lot, daily and nightly, a few times per 24 hours. Amjad, another gentle Pakistani introduced himself. In his mid twenties and keen on learning why we are here and how we experience Pakistan. The benefit of a power cut is that you can talk quite a while and I answered his questions on European culture, confirming right or untangle wrong and truths. Especially questions on sexuality were interesting, to know what is punishable in the west, which are taboo and what are the freedoms compared to here. A very nice open minded person who surely is not stuck in the conservative thinking that many westerners perhaps may think of Pakistanis. I'm sure he won't be the last person here in Pakistan to prove that either.

oh yeah, new photo's uploaded here of Amritsar temple, embassy and border spheres.

here some selected:
Sikh style


golden temple parade

golden temple

communally cutting garlic for the gurudwara food

Sikh guard at our holy hotel

our typist outside at the Pak embassy

same-high-school-going-as-me traveller Theus on bike

his cheer scribbled bike

1 comment: said...

Thank you for the post, pretty helpful info.