Monthly Archives: May 2013

Still In Islamabad


So we just got to Islamabad (I have taken you back a little), we drop off our bags at a friends place, a girl, and go touring the city. That’s how we ended up at Saidpur Village etc. We make friends with an old cab-guy, get his number and call him ‘Chachu’ which means old man or grand-dad. It’s used respectfully but playfully too.

We couldn’t spend the night where we’d dropped off our bags, mostly because I am a guy, and she is a girl, and that’s generally awkward in Pakistan, so we were couchsurfing, with a bunch of guys who called themselves the ‘Expatriate Gentlemen’. Couchsurfing, for those of you are just joining us, is basically a website where you meet someone on the Internet and ask if you could spend the night at their house. It sounds dangerous, weird and a little crazy but it works. Usually people post their photos too, just for peace of mind so you can know who you’re staying with or who wants to stay with you, but these guys didn’t.

They live close to F7 so Chachu drops us off there, and we give the Expatriate Gentlemen a call for the first time. I’m a little shocked when a guy with an American accent picks up, I mean, we’re in Pakistan. He sounds a little irritated that I called, maybe because I had just texted him a few minutes ago so maybe he feels rushed. He says they are ‘just getting ready for you’ and calls in the background ¬†‘ are you guys ready?’ and hangs up, but just before saying he’ll meet us in 10 minutes.

A few minutes later, I see a bald white guy walking towards us, and there are 2 guys with him, one carrying a huge water bottle. It’s them apparently. Quick hellos hellos and assessing the situation, because for all my promoting Couchsurfing, you have to assess the people you are staying with lest they look like they could make you disappear. For me it wouldn’t be such an issue, but I had a friend with me, the Polish girl, so I was being extra-cautious. I like Polish people, the ones I know are super-laid back, and usually late. They’re cool ūüôā and often tough.

So the Expatriate Gentlemen lead us to their lair. We go past a crowded street, and towards a really dark building with dark black soot on the walls. We wade through red plastic chairs that belong to the roadside restaurant outside their flat, and up the dark stairs.

The smell hits you immediately, and the Expatriate Gentlemen apologize faster. Apparently their neighbour stores fertilizer, ammonia or something. It stinks and it’s illegal what he is doing, they laugh. Next door is a lawyer’s office.

There are wires along the wall, naked wires hanging out of electric metres. I make a mental note not to touch the wall if I end up on the stairs in the dark, lest I have an electrifying experience – you saw that coming didn’t you? I’ll leave it there just in case you didn’t.

We enter the apartment, but it’s a room. Well, 2 rooms, since there is what looks like an adjoining bedroom with someone fast asleep on one of the many mattresses on the floor, arranged in a line like a nursery. It smells like cologne and cigarettes, and the AC is on, mercifully because Islamabad summers are HOT. There is also a fish, a gold fish, in an Absolut Vodka bottle and it’s alive and swimming in circles, and sometimes from top to bottom. Not much of a choice I guess. There’s an ashtray, handmade by the Gentlemen, with boxes of Marlboro stuck together. ¬†There are phone and gadget chargers strewn all over the place, a very tired couch and a plastic chair.¬†There’s a small table, with a desktop.The computer is on and the screen saver is pairs of flashing boobs in different colours.

Welcome to the ¬†bachelor pad.I felt like I’d walked into a comedy set. Especially when the doorbell rang, and it was a dwarf standing there with fresh mango juice for us.

Gentleman 1.

A very good looking guy, and I only say that ’cause really it was part of the out-of-this-world-ness of the Expatriate Gentlemen. ¬†He is the one we found asleep. He says he studies medicine, but later on, the others say they are not too sure what he actually does. Apparently he sleeps all day, and then just walks out. They don’t know where to. They don’t ask. ¬†He also has connections in Kuwait, that’s where he grew up he says. He’s mysterious.

Gentleman 2

A really tough-looking kinda muscled guy. He looks like he could smash you. Then he starts talking, and you suddenly think you’re talking to a Sunday school teacher, or a guy who’s so warm he melts blue band – when blue band used to be so hard it used to tear bread. You just¬†can’t picture him doing anything wrong to anyone. Later on we’re out walking, and he gives our left over dinner to a drunk/slightly mad beggar, and one of the other Gentlemen scolds him for giving out next day’s lunch. He doesn’t argue, he just quietly defends his actions ‘ He looked hungry’. He ¬†still looks like he could break you. He says his family is feudal, I believe him.

Gentleman 3

He’s quiet, even his name sounds quiet, he probably breathes quietly, maybe he even runs quietly or maybe he runs as he tip-toes. ¬†He wears glasses, huge black glasses, that cover most of his face. He is skinny and his hair is high in the air, in a punk kind of way. He looks like that frontman for Gorrilaz. ¬†He studies accounting. He hates that his housemates smoke in the apartment. He hates it even more when they smoke hashish, which is like marijuana, but is made differently and has a different effect and is smoked differently. The point is that it’s illegal to smoke hash, and Gentleman 3 strongly thinks it’s immoral to do so. Once, in a rare fit of rage caused by the other Gentlemen were smoking hash, he went to tell them off to the cop that happened to be downstairs in the restaurant. But it was late at night, and the cop had just lit his own joint…LOL. He never did it again.

Gentleman 4

This is the man with the plan. The one who initiates everything, probably the one who made them sign up on couchsurfing. He has 2 facebook profiles..or at least 2 that I know of. He has the American accent. He mentions his family being feudal or linked or something, basically he is a very vague person, and also the FUNNIEST person I ever met. He is Pashtun, which partly explains why he looks so white. Pashtuns are often have European features. He is insanely kind, and won’t let you pay for anything. He knows everyone too, so wherever you try to pay he asks the waiter/ shopkeeper/ restaurant manager not to accept your money. He keeps you laughing and wondering all the time. He also has access to weird things, and a few weeks after we met and we were back in Karachi he sent us American army food…how now?

Smuggled from Afghan troop supplies apparently

Smuggled from supplies to US  troops in Afghanistan apparently

I have never had so much fun staying somewhere.

K2- In Islamabad


Islamabad was our checkpoint for the night. After 24 hours on the bus from Karachi, the plan was to couchsurf for the night and get on the morning bus to Skardu – a beautiful town up in the North of Pakistan which usually serves as ground zero for any hikers/ mountaineers in Gilgit/Baltistan.

Islamabad is a hilly, really green and airy city. It is a sleepy city, but it’s the kind of sleepy that you have on a golf-course – a rich, satisfied, confident sleepy.

I had been living in ¬†Karachi almost a whole year before I visited Islamabad, and I was used to being the painfully obvious and possibly only foreigner in most places I went to. Islamabad was a big change from that. Being the administrative capital of Pakistan, there are a lot of embassies and NGO’s doing their vague stuff- whatever that is. It’s different because you also see foreign families, a highly unusual spectacle – the kind of stuff you post on twitter, OMA (oh My Allah!) just saw a foreign family #globalization.

In Karachi, if you spotted a foreigner, it would ¬†be 1/2 adults or maybe if you were lucky an entire group of foreigners obviously on business, but never families. These businessmen include drumrolls Nigerians (duh). ¬†You also notice that in Islamabad unlike Karachi, nobody stares as much, they’ve already had their fill and are even used to the occasional ¬†foreign babies.

To be fair though, there are Philipinos but they never get stared at. Except if they are like the one who came to our house all dolled up in her heels and make-up. She was a hairdresser and offered to do my friends hair…as she caressed it suggestively. Only problem was that she was a dude. #truestory. Cross-dressers and she-males have their place in this conservative society, in India too as chronicled here.

Anyway, a¬†couple of posh young families in Islamabad (and Karachi) strut around with the Philipino nannies…yap, domestic expatriates who usually look haggard and defeated. ¬†It’s really uncomfortable having dinner when there’s an odd silent Philipino among you looking at her feet and the kids in that order, you wonder whether you should make conversation with her, pass her the salt, ask her how much a flight from Manila is, ask her what is in Philippines apart from Manila, ask her how you actually spell Phillipines? Philippines? Ask her if she knows Kenyans watch Philipino stuff with bad voice-overs. #21questions¬†

This was meant to be about Islamabad.

Islamabad is also more expensive than Karachi, and there are little if any rickshaws around, limiting you to cabs – if I’m not wrong, rickshaws aren’t allowed into Islamabad. Either way, cabs are quite cheap especially if you’re sharing costs. A cab from Rawalpindi where the bus stops into Islamabad will cost you around Rs.300. I suck at negotiating, so I am pretty sure if you are a good negotiator you can probably get better deals.

There are also a lot of ‘UN-types’ lurking around Islamabad. I say lurking around because in my experience, these folk often don’t give a shit or 2 about the country they live in. Most of the ones I met in Pakistan had an air of indifference around them, and sometimes even had contempt for the country and its people. They restrict themselves to their ‘diplomatic enclaves’ (I must say I like that expression) foreign parties and security regulations. PS, I am not bitter, since I too could have been invited into the diplomatic enclave society (foreigners love other foreigners) but company was often a little bland.¬†I thought it was just me, since I am often quick to judge (correctly most times though ūüėČ ) but¬†I’ve heard the same from friends who have interacted with these folk in other countries. ¬†I guess it’s just a job for them – I always imagined it was love for humanity or the country- too romantic maybe.

It’s worth visiting Faisal Masjid (mosque) in Islamabad, which apparently was the largest mosque in the world until 1993. It was a gift from the King of Saudi Arabia at a cost $120million…so next time an Arab asks you what you want for Christmas, don’t be shy.¬†The Crescent moon at the top is pure gold.

Faisal Masjid Islamabad- Photo Credit Alireza Teimoury

Faisal Masjid – Islamabad- Photo Credit Alireza Teimoury

In the picture, you can see that it has these pointy structures- minarets…apparently the US thought those were missiles just waiting for the red button to be pushed…

Photo Credit: Alireza Teimoury

Photo Credit: Alireza Teimoury

The mosque is at the bottom of Margalla Hills, on the picture you can see them rolling up on the right. If you have time, I hear it’s worth hiking up there. Wikipedia indicates there are defined trails so should be quite doable without too much planning.We didn’t have time (or energy) to do it, AND it was bloody hot, but it did look quite beautiful. I don’t know what it is about Islamabad but everything just seems peaceful and powerful, the kind of place you would like to go and think.

We also visited Saidpur Village. It’s not that interesting to be honest, ¬†but it’s not far off so it’s worth the trouble. I think it’s one of those places that have been undersold and underdeveloped as a tourist destination at least judging from what I just read on Wikipedia.

Saidpur Village guides.wikinut.com

Saidpur Village: from guides.wikinut.com

We also went to this Afghani restaurant (where we bumped into some more UN folk from Kenya, one of whom who had no idea what K2 was- it’s like living in Kenya and not knowing there’s a Mt.Kenya…). There were parrots in the ceiling, live ones. It was so cool and the food was awesome, but I don’t remember the name. Either way, if you are in Isb, I think it’s safe to say eat at Afghani. There’s a famous restaurant – Kabul Restaurant in F7.

Some pictures:

Truck art is a big deal in Pakistan. Here  you can see an artist doing his thing in Rawalpindi. 

Pimp my Truck - Photocredit: Alireza Teimoury

Pimp my Truck – Photocredit: Alireza Teimoury

Photo Credit: Alireza Teimoury

Photo Credit: Alireza Teimoury

Photo Credit: Alireza Teimoury

Pakistan National Monument: Islamabad Photo Credit: Alireza Teimoury

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