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Pakistan

Lahore

After a nearly nine-hour bus ride I was deposited in the middle of the city *somewhere*. Chaos. I had decided to head to the Regale Internet Inn only because it was the only cheap place I had a recommendation on and I wasn't interested in possibly stumbling into any one of the numerous hassles and scams many hotels in Lahore, especially around the bus station, have been notorious for (at least the guidebooks make this claim).

In a moto-rickshaw, we zig-zagged across the city and with some difficulty, finally found the Regale - it's located down an alley and not all that easily spotted from the main road. I guessed the fare for the distance should have been about 60 rupees. The driver asks for 150 rupees and refuses to budge. "Fine," I say as I grab my bags and make the guy follow me into the guesthouse. The owner of the place, Malik, greets me and I quickly explain that the moto-rickshaw guy is after 150 rupees for a ride from the bus station. The owner agrees it's ridiculous and sorts it out for me. Later, I was informed the ride cost me 70 rupees which was put on my bill.

Hungry and thirsty the helpful staff offers me a bottle of water, "it's filtered here" they tell me and another staff member runs off to locate some food for me. Helpful service, indeed. Food is delivered and I head upstairs where a few other tourists were hanging around, a couple of which were complaining of stomachaches/food problems.

I talk with one fellow tourist, a Swede, who recounts a tale of having passed through Quetta when a local walked up to him said "Christian!" and spit in his face. I suggested next time someone does that he replies with "la ilaha ill-llah, Muhammad-un Rasulu-llah" and see what the response is.

I awoke in the pre-dawn hours with a bit of a bellyache which only got worse. I had hoped to see a bit of Lahore today (it was the 28th) as I was flying out from Islamabad on the morning of the 30th so I didn't exactly have much time. In and out of the bathroom and things inside me calmed down a little bit. Now... was it the food from last night? Or was it the "filtered" tap water the guesthouse offered? During the day I was to find out that at least half of the guests at the Regale were suffering from stomach upsets. Yes, it could have been the food. It was around 40 degrees Celsius out there which can make a mess of food, but still, at least half the people at this guesthouse were having stomach problems. I stopped drinking the provided water and bought some bottled water from the supermarket next door (go into the department store, the supermarket is in the basement) and stomach problems ceased. I suggested to another ill guest to stop drinking the water as well, which she did, having the same results as me. So here's some advice - though not proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, circumstantial evidence would indicate that the water at the Regale is not safe to drink. So don't drink it!

I did finally set out to see Lahore. A sprawling and typically chaotic South Asian city I had more very near misses with vehicular traffic than in my entire life to this point. One of the first things I noticed is that there were a few, though not many, women walking around without any kind of head covering and some were also in blue jeans. I'm told this is fairly common down in Karachi and as I had already witnessed, unheard of farther north.

I headed first for the Lahore Central Museum. It was closed. So it was off to the Lahore Fort and the Badshahi Mosque. I was accosted by a few would-be guides whom I ignored and went over to see the masjid.

Upon leaving I was approached by two young men who asked me if I believed, "la ilaha ill-llah, Muhammad-un Rasulu-llah." I looked at them thinking to myself, 'Well, that's really rude of you', smiled and said "yes." They were satisfied with that and walked off leaving me to wonder what would have happened had I said 'no'. Okay, it's their country and they are Muslim and it's very important them and I have just exited the Badshahi Mosque but walking up to strangers on the street and interrogating them about their religious beliefs is just plain rude anywhere.

Across the courtyard is the Lahore Fort. I was approached again by a hopeful guide. He spoke rather clear English and I considered what an advantage having one of these freelancing tour guides was when I visited Shwedagon Paya in Yangon, Myanmar, so okay, how much money you want? I got the expected "up to you" which I responded with, "what if up to me is twenty rupees." Well, that wouldn't do it so we agreed on 150 rupees. Less than three bucks for a ninety-minute tour from a guy who did his best to give me a decent tour? Yeah, it's worth it.

And that was pretty much my trip to Lahore. The guide offered to take me to a few other sights in Lahore, which I'm sure was a legitimate offer, but my stomach was still crampy and the temps were pushing 41 Celsius (about 106 Yankee degrees), so I bagged it.

The following day I did nothing more than make my way around lunchtime to the Daewoo bus terminal and grab an express bus (four hours and twenty minutes on the motorway) back to Rawalpindi.

I would like to have seen more of Lahore as well as I'd like to have seen more of Pakistan, but time limitations and ultimately stomachaches prevented that.

I'm certainly due for a return to Pakistan. I didn't do Lahore justice nor the wilds of the north.

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Islamabad/Rawalpindi

Peshawar

Lahore

Practical matters for visiting Pakistan

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All text and photographs 1998 - 2006 Gordon Sharpless. Commercial or editorial usage without written permission of the copyright holder is prohibited.