Rowan Castle - Travel & Photography
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Pakistan 1994 - Diary (Page 3)

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The most interesting thing about the cathedral were the memorial plaques on the walls, which told of soldiers who had died locally, while maintaining the empire. One soldier had been murdered in his tent by a Pathan thief, while another had died of cholera. Quite a few more had been killed in accidents while on duty. The brass bore the names of familiar British regiments. The Bala Hisar Fort, built by the Moghul emperor Babur. A Peshawari nut seller opposite the fort. Me in Peshawar, wearing my shalwar quamiz. We were then driven to a fairly modern looking bazaar so that we could all do some shopping. I looked round the bazaar with Mr. Owens and Mr. Rawlings, since we were all interested in buying an Afghan rug. First we went into a couple of book shops, although only very briefly. We wandered round looking for carpet shops until most of our time had run out and we still hadn't seen so much as a cheap prayer mat. Just as we were about to give up, we spotted two shops right next to each other. In the first, the carpets were upstairs in a rather dark room. Two Afghan salesmen tried to convince us to buy various carpets. They were all unbelievably expensive and we decided to try next door. The second shop was more of a success, here the salesman was assisted by his son. The carpets were a lot cheaper than the previous shop. After being shown a couple of carpets that were well out of my price range I explained that I was only willing to spend Rs 3000. The salesman pulled out a fairly large rug which, he said, was worth no less than three thousand. It looked good and was well made, it was also larger than one I had been offered for Rs 4000 in the previous shop. I decided to buy it, although he charged me three hundred rupees more because my travellers cheques were so battered, I very reluctantly agreed. While Mr. Owens haggled over various carpets I talked to the salesman's son about Afghanistan. They had left Kabul eight years ago during the fighting. He also said that they had returned every year, and during their stays he had killed at least one Russian with a Kalashnikov. I was doubtful about his story, but very young children did fight in Afghanistan during the occupation, and so he may have been telling the truth. According to him, it only took twelve hours to reach Kabul by road from Peshawar. When Mr. Owens announced that the carpets were too expensive and that we had to go, things became unpleasant. The carpet wallah hung onto his camera and bag and pleaded with him not to go, and the price of the carpet rapidly fell. However, Mr.Owens stood firm and eventually the man let go. I was pleased with the rug I had bought, it was hand made using natural dye and, according to the shopkeeper was made in the Herat region of Afghanistan. Mudassir thought I had got a reasonable deal, especially if it did come from Herat, because rugs made there are very popular. Peshawar street scene. Our backpacks had already been taken in pick up trucks to Islamabad, directly from the bungalow in Abbottabad and now we set off to join them. On the way to Islamabad I had an interesting conversation with Mudassir about Islam, the ongoing tension between Pakistan and India and also about the situation in Afghanistan. We also talked about places of interest, to visit in the south (if I returned to Pakistan) which were mainly old tombs and shrines. The journey took 3 hours before we passed through Taxila and into Islamabad. We were staying at the Adventure Inn, which compared to all our other accommodation, was luxurious. Almost as soon as I arrived I asked to make a phone call to England. It was late evening here, and with Pakistan 4 hours ahead of British Summer Time (BST) the timing was just right. I was lead out of the hotel to a room in an outbuilding where the telephone was. From here the hotel man was able to direct dial the UK. I talked to Mum and Dad who were amazed and relieved to hear from me, and I gave them the low down on the trek. I managed to say a lot in four minutes, which cost me a fairly reasonable Rs320. The room I shared with Gareth and Simon was very good. We had our own fridge (with two bottles of mineral water), a broken radio, a writing desk and a very clean bathroom. The room was also cool, thanks to air conditioning and a variable ceiling fan. There was one minor drawback, the floor was crawling with huge black ants, and so was the bathroom. After supper I returned to the room where I was glad to get a good night's sleep.
Bala Hisar Fort, Peshawar A Peshawari nut seller opposite Bala Hisar Fort. Rowan Castle in Peshawar, Pakistan, 1994 Peshawar street scene
Friday 19th August. When I awoke, I sat on the end of my bed and squashed a cricket that I saw crawling across the carpet. For a few minutes after that I watched the ants find it, and then cut it up into big pieces, which they dragged off somewhere. It was much better than watching television, there was a veritable world of wildlife at the foot of the bed! At first the water was off, but when it came back on I was quick to get into the shower. I am terrified of spiders and so I wasn't exactly thrilled to find one of the biggest spiders I have ever seen sharing the shower with me. Summoning all my courage, I managed to squash it with my shampoo bottle. While I was congratulating myself on my composure and bravery, a cricket jumped up out of the plug hole, and I simultaneously leapt across the bathroom; swearing loudly. With the ants, spiders and crickets, it was like a jungle in there! After breakfast, it was time for a drive into the city to see the Shah Faisal mosque - one of the worlds largest. As we drove along the Shah Faisal Avenue, the tent shaped mosque and its four needle like minarets came into view. The mosque was financed by the late King Faisal of Saudi Arabia to the tune of fifty million dollars. It was designed to look just like a Bedouin tent, which it certainly does. To enter the mosque we had to follow the custom of removing our boots and the girls had to dress very conservatively. We made our way through the precincts, where the white stone strongly reflected the glare of the sun. Inside (where photography was forbidden) the floor was carpeted but devoid of furnishings. A huge spherical chandelier, made of a lattice of small golden pipes hung over the middle of the floor. On the quibla wall facing Mecca there was an impressive tiled mural which depicted the word of Allah descending from a blue sky onto the green Earth through the prophet Muhammad, although as Islam requires the prophet was not actually depicted. The Shah Faisal Mosque, Islamabad. I bought a few posters and a book about the mosque, before going back out of the precincts and into the grounds to take some photos. After that I wandered over to the small shrine of General Zia, I could see inside but did not actually enter as it was occupied by a large group of people. We drove up to a vantage point high up in the Murgalla hills which overlook the city and the mosque. On the way up, Mudassir told me that the hills are home to wild leopards, which occasionally stray down into the city. When we reached the vantage point I took some more photos before joining the others by a man selling Pepsi, Fanta and Sprite from a fridge. The surroundings were covered in thick green vegetation which surrounded tables where people were eating or just sitting enjoying the sun. The whole place was very peaceful and relaxing. We drove back through Islamabad, along the avenues lined with blossoming trees, past the parliament buildings, and up into the hills once again to a second vantage point. This was where visiting dignitaries came to plant a tree with their name at the foot of it. Wandering round the gardens many familiar names were present, Helmut Kohl, Rafsanjahni of Iran, George Bush and a whole host of Chinese diplomats. After a brief look round, I headed for the nearby refreshment stands and then sat down in the shade. Back at the Adventure Inn, we had lunch and then I spent some time in the garden photographing the butterflies, a cannabis plant and a painted truck which came down the road. I was killing time until we set off for the Bazaar in the city. Islamabad was built as a new capital because it was felt that Karachi was too far south and the best existing alternative, Lahore, was thought to be too close to the Indian border. Construction began in the sixties. It is because Islamabad is a new city that it lacks a lot of the atmosphere of Peshawar or even a small town such as Abbottabad. The Bazaar was quite large, one section devoted to stalls selling cloth, rugs, pots and pans and the other section was full of fruit and vegetables. Towards the edges of the stalls by the main road, the less fortunate residents of Islamabad had gathered. Here were the beggars, diseased, crippled or poverty stricken. One youth came up to me with his diseased hand outstretched, muttering that he had scabies. A man with no legs sat in the middle of the bazaar waiting for contributions. Our last full day in Pakistan had been very enjoyable, taking in both the tranquility of the Mosque and Murgalla hills as well as the hectic bustle of the bazaar. When we got back to the hotel, the day was rounded off with speeches and presentations after the evening meal. Every day a "mascara award" (mascara is Urdu for clown) was given to the person who did the most stupid thing during the day. After the speeches Mr. Owens gave a summary of the best winners from the entire trip, before awarding the grand mascara to Dr. Shaheed for continually causing all sorts of mayhem. Well aware that I had to find a way to cram an Afghan rug into my backpack as well as finding room for all my other equipment, I went back to my room to pack.
The Shah Faisal Mosque, Islamabad, Pakistan
Saturday 20th August. I was woken very early in the morning and found I had no time for a shower before I had to get dressed, load my luggage and have some breakfast. We drove from the hotel to Islamabad International airport (which is actually in Rawalpindi) where we had landed three weeks earlier. Once inside we went through the bureaucracy of customs, passport control and security quite quickly. A bus took us out to the 747, past cargo planes of the Pakistani Air Force. Climbing aboard I found I had the worst seat imaginable, right in the middle of a centre section. Luckily, I was asked to swap a couple of times and could then at least see out of the window. After take off, the pilot described the route we would be taking, over Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey (stopping at Istanbul) before making our way across Europe to Heathrow. For the first part of the journey the deserts and mountains of Afghanistan and Iran gradually slipped past until they gave way to the more dense ranges of Turkey. Shortly after this we began to descend and eventually overflew cargo ships negotiating the Bosporus, before we touched down at the airport. We were allowed off the plane for a short time and I headed for the bar where I had my first drink of lager for four weeks. After that there was little point in hanging around and so I went back on board the 747. When we finally arrived in the skies over London I had a good view of the Thames, City Airport and Canary Wharf before we landed at Heathrow. We sped through customs and even reclaiming our baggage didn't take too long, although I discovered that somehow my backpack had become soaking wet. As we walked through into view of the crowd in the arrival hall, I spotted Mum and Dad waving to me. Mum rushed up to me shouting, "You've done it!, you've done it!". I thought, well of course I have, air transport isn't that dangerous! However, when she calmed down a few seconds later, all became clear. I had passed my A- Levels and been accepted at Nottingham University, my first and only choice! Now everything had fallen into place, I had dreaded coming home from such a wonderful trip only to find I had failed and would have to re-sit.   --------------------------------------------   The expedition to Pakistan has been one of the most demanding, rewarding and exhilarating things I have ever done. I had met some fantastically generous and hospitable people and enjoyed some of the finest mountain scenery on Earth. When I weighed myself back at home I found I had lost just over a stone! However, I had been lucky in that I hadn't suffered anywhere near the same amount of illness as many of the other adventurers. From my point of view the trip had been a total success and I am very glad that I had been able to take part.