Airplanes are all the fever these days – and yet we chose to travel on wheels. Denouncing the advent in modern technology we opted to board that mammoth green snake that erupted a continuous flow of smoke as it serpentined through the zigs and zags of rural Pakistan. July was upon us, Karachi was behind, and Multan lay straight ahead. Never had such a sight before reached our mortal eyes: all around us Mother Earth was covered with lush green carpets of various textures, and a clear azure sky looked serenely upon that green richness. For a girl who dwelt in the hustle and bustle of a sprawling city, this nascent calmness was no less than paradise. Farmers, or haaris, as they are called, could be spotted working in the fields – and it was just dawn. Realization then dawned upon me: it were these field workers, these plain-clothed, simple and hardworking haaris who went slick-a-slick-a-slick with their sickles who harvested our flour for us. If these people hadn’t existed, we’d have no rotis, no cakes and certainly no pizzas. The thought of the non-existence of pizzas was almost painful.
This is the beauty of traveling on wheels – what is air travel to the aesthetic eye? Mere clouds and air hostesses? Agreed, air hostesses are pleasing to some of the aesthetic eyes – but in my (not-so-)humble opinion, exploring Mother Nature in all her essence and in all her substance is the real beauty of traveling. Out giant steel serpent puked us out at the Lahore Railway Station – and lo! Behold a mass of red-dressed coolis flooding our way in hopes of earning their daily bread. One of these we hired, and thus began our tour de Lahore, a.k.a., the playground of the Mughals.
My excitement for the imminent journey was somewhat diminished by the recently made deduction, thanks to the haaris and the coolies. The deduction was the realization of the existence of these people who made our lives easier by ploughing and carrying our bags. My journey thither impregnated my heart with a deep sense of gratification towards those simple people – it made me more human than I ever was.
Lahore we mostly traveled on four wheels, and at times, three wheels. Four wheels were the taxis, of course, but the three wheels were Lahore’s specialty: the Qingqis. Qingqis are a remix of the motorbike and the rickshaw, with the body of a bike in the front and the anatomy of a rickshaw in the rear. Altogether it was a fun ride: it allows you to mingle with the locals and enjoy the hubbub of the ancient city. Lahore’s prime attractions were its many Mughal buildings – and they were so many in number that we found it no wonder that Lahore is playfully called La Whore. It certainly seduces you, and until and unless you impregnate this archaic beauty, you are restless. Thus we impregnated it, diving into the depths of its tourist attractions. The grand Badshahi Mosque we visited – that magnanimous edifice that prides itself on being the seventh largest mosque in the world. The Badshahi Mosque is not just a mosque – it is a living fossil which had once held in its massive courtyard the grand Emperor Aurengzeb. The Lahore Fort, similarly, which can be seen from the Badshahi mosque, was our next stop. This pearly-white beauty of a Fort was no less than the Badshahi Mosque, and ahead lay the Minar-e-Pakistan – which on closer inspection looked like a giant, erect rod – you probably got my point, pardon me for the innuendo.
To cut the story short, I was overcome by a sudden craving to climb up the giant – uh, thing – afore-described, and everyone (we were quite a company: me, my brother, my father and three relatives which included two girls I greatly disliked and their father) soon caught the same fever that had wrought me. We started our ascent thus, the Minar being four stages and ninety-two meters tall. The white marbled bodice of the first stage welcomed us warmly, and before we continued upward, the sky went from blue to grey in a jiffy. In Lahore, this sudden entrance of clouds in July is not unusual, and the sky was soon full of dark grey clouds, light grey clouds, blackish grey clouds, smoky grey clouds – to recapitulate, the sky was fifty shades of grey in fifty seconds. The second stage was climbed to, then the third, and upon reaching it I gave way to my rare whimsical fancies, and edged close to the railing. As if the skies had been waiting for this very moment, there came such a howling of the West Wind that it literally, – and I mean it in literal terms – literally produced involuntary locomotion in me. The West Wind blew with all his might, and I was a good few inches above the ground for some nanoseconds. Before I could be swept off my feet completely – and did I forget to mention that I used to very lightweight, and still am, sadly – my father got hold of me, and we hurried down the looming Minar in rather a haste.
Heretofore I had vaguely acknowledged the phrase, “being carried off your feet” – something that all girls dream of. Following this little episode, being carried off my feet didn’t seem that intriguing a prospect after all. For my part, I vowed to keep my feet firmly on the ground thenceforth. The oncoming feeling of vertigo perished after reigning my innards for a little while, and in an hour or two all was forgotten – for the showers came down in buckets. If the Winds had not succeeded in their murderous attempt, the Rains brought forth a tsunami of little drops, and we ran -again, literally ran – to the nearest hotel. The downpour thus barring us from excursions of all sort for the moment, we ordered the famous Lahori Chargha, Chana Daal, Naans fresh from the Tandoor, and delved into the steamy goodness of Lahori cuisine.
My advice to my readers is simple and concise: carry a few coins in your pockets if you happen to be lightweight and have an indecent desire to mount the said Minar. But by all means, visit it. By ‘it’ I do not mean just the Minar, but its loyal neighbors that stand by it every day of the year, every hour of the day. This ancient city of Lahore, this playground of the majestic Mughals will diffuse into you its phantasmagorical perfume – leaving you hungry for more.
Our successive destinations were Cantt, Pindi, Islamabad, Murree and Abottabad – all of them highlands residing in the cool North of Pakistan. Vow broken, vertigo forgotten, vanity donned – I continued my tour de Pakistan yet. Later on in my journey I was to face a landslide in Murree, more heavy rains and strong winds – it was a passionate monsoon, that one. A thing of beauty is a joy forever after all, and once you’ve had a sip from the goblet of Mother Nature, nothing can stop you – not the Winds, not the Rains, not your own firm resolves. One sip gives way to lust for another, and then another, and then another, till you reach an intoxicating stupor and still not have had your fill. Nature is a sly seductress, and though she deceives you and plays tricks on you at times, you still cling to her like an iron filing to a strong magnet. Because when she’s not deceiving or tricking you, she’s giving you the time of your life.