On the way to India
Islamabad (Pakistan) to Manali (India), Aug-09-07 / Aug-21-07
When we woke up at Thursday the 9th of august we turned the television on the BBC world service. A correspondent was bringing her report from the viewpoint in the Shakarparian Park in Islamabad. Pakistan is big news, because rumours are spreading that Musharaf wants to declare the state of emergency. Later it seems that Musharaf only thought about emergency rule to be able to influence the elections in November. After national and international pressure emergency rule is not put trough. Fact is that things are rumbling in Pakistan. We hope to get our Indian visa today, so we can leave Pakistan whenever we want. The number of militaries is rising in Islamabad and after deciding to shift Pakistan to a later stage on our route, we like to travel to India as fast as possible.

To collect the visa, we have to take the same steps as when applying for the visa. However, things are going much quicker on “collecting time” (14.00 hours) because there are no queues. Like the clappers we pas the first security check and do we have our tickets for the diplomatic shuttle bus. Fortunately, we have brought copies of our passports because it is difficult to explain to the ticket seller that you cannot show your passport when you are on your way to collecting it. Even showing the piece of paper on which the Indian embassy states that she has our passports isn’t enough, but he is satisfied when seeing our copy passport. At the Indian embassy everything runs smoothly. First, they are a little surprised to see us back after only three days because normally they count a week. After searching some drawers everything turns out to be ready.

Mr. Latif in his small bookshop at the Pakistani side of the Wagah border.
With an Indian visa in our possession, we arrange tickets for tomorrow’s bus to Lahore. From Lahore we want to travel directly to Wagah, the border with India, where we would like to see the border closing ceremony the same day. After staying one night at the border, we plan to cross it the day after. Because the hotel in Wagah only has a few rooms, we already book one.

On Friday morning we go to the bus station where our bus should leave at 9.30. With a few donuts as breakfast, an English newspaper and a few bottles of water we are ready for the trip that should take between 4 and 5 hours. At the planned departure time everybody gets in the bus after being frisked and checked with a metal detector. After 45 minutes, the bus really starts to stop again after 10 minutes when we are just outside the city on the highway. The motor has broken down! People are trying to do what they can to start the bus again, but without success. We only praise ourselves lucky that the airco is still working, because standing still when its 43 degrees and windless isn’t funny. While we were rather impatient in The Netherlands, we have learned to wait during our trip. Still, it’s not our hobby but it is part of the game and now we have time enough. After a while a friendly, corpulent, 21-yearold guy starts chatting about all kinds of things. Naveed especially wants to take us home to his house in Lahore where he lives with his extended family. Everybody would be very happy when a foreigner brings a visit. When we explain that we have a hotel reservation in Wagah, we hope that he understands that it we cannot come.

After two-and-a-half hours of waiting, a new bus arrives that will bring us to Lahore. We know for sure that we cannot make it in time for the border ceremony of today, but because our Pakistan visa just only ends at the 14th of august we have time to stay an extra day for seeing the ceremony of tomorrow. Naveed changed seats with the person who was sitting in front of us and time flies while we are chatting and we watch a Bollywood film. In the nearing of Lahore, the landscape is like we imagined the plains of India. Green rice fields, little houses and large brown with black cows cooling themselves in small mud pools. Just after five we arrive in Lahore and here it is clear that Naveed is not going to let his new friends go to Wagah just yet. First we have to come to his house and then he will get us in Wagah. We just see what happens.

A cycle rickshaw in the centre of Amritsar (India).
A friend is called to pick us up from the bus station to bring us to Naveed’s home. The welcome is very heartily. Next to grandmother six of her sons and daughters live here with their consort and children. And there are a lot of children indeed. Shyly they come to shake our hand, to shamelessly stare at us afterwards. Soon, a small baby is put on Ivonne’s knee and looks surprised around with her (with kohl make up) eyes. We look at the family pictures and are showed around in the neighbourhood where this family lives. Because we want to be in Wagah this night there is too little time to cook Pakistani food for us and soon we have to say goodbye to this friendly family. Especially grandmother would have liked to keep us around longer and has tears in her eyes when we take leave. Maybe we can come back at another point in time.

On the way to Wagah, Naveed knows a place where he would like to take us for diner. The golden arches of McDonalds have come to Pakistan and it is very popular. After a few months without Western fast-food we know again how it tastes. However, it is impossible to pay for this food as our host really does not want to accept it. A few kilometres before arriving in Wagah, it appears that we aren’t lucky with our vehicles today. Now, a flat tire puts us at the side of the road but finally we arrive just before midnight in Wagah. After saying goodbye to Naveed we take a nice cold shower to go into the hottest night of our trip until now. The temperature in our room is well above 40 degrees, which keeps us out of our sleep for a while but after a few hours we fall asleep sweating.

To see the border ceremony at the Pakistani side of the border, we have to stay another night in Wagah. However, we are more than willing to pay an extra euro for an air-conditioned room for this extra night. Even local people complain about the heat that afflicts the aria at this moment. However, the heat doesn’t put people off to come to the border ceremony a few hours before it starts. Every night during the border ceremony, the border between Pakistan and India is closed with lots of bravura. The choreography of the soldiers on both sides is nice, but the enthusiasm of the audience is great. (see also the photo impression: Wagah: Boasting at the border).

At last, on Sunday the 12th of august we cross the border to Amritsar from where we go and look at the border ceremony from the Indian side. Amritsar is a nice city, full of Sikhs who walk around with colourful turbans and nicely decorated daggers. A big difference between India and Pakistan is that here there are much more tourists. This also has its advantages. For example, here there are good facilities like good internet-cafés. However, bad news arrived in one of those internet-cafés. The two Belgians who are kidnapped in Iran in the border area with Pakistan are the people that we met on Mt Damavand. Luckily, Carla is already released but Stefaan is still taken hostage. Let’s hope that he is also healthy and free soon. It is a strange feeling that this happened in the same period as when we crossed the border while the last kidnapping of Westerners before was in 1999. Off course, we didn’t have our own car which made us less vulnerable but it still feels strange.

After a few days in Amritsar, we travelled even further up north in India to escape from the heath of India’s lowlands. At this moment we are in Manali, well over 2000 metres and the temperature is around 25-30 degrees. Both caught by the flu, we are taking some rest to travel to Leh later this week in a 20-hours bus ride. From Leh, we probably do some trekkings in the Indian part of the Himalaya. After al the bussing and sweating out the flu virus from a bed our muscles long for some action.


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