Entries in holiday (8)



According to the Oxford dictionary, the word exposure has four meanings: 'the state of having no protection from something harmful', 'the revelation of something secret', 'the direction in which a building faces' and (the one that comes to the mind of many readers of this blog) 'the action of exposing a photographic film to light'. This post is the first of a series from our recent family trip to Pakistan.  The title plays on the obvious photographic dimension, but more so on the experience that I knew would be a useful life lesson for our children.  I wanted them to see a different lifestyle in order to appreciate the blessings we all take for granted.  My wife's family are originally from Pakistan and this visit was to the hometown of her parents.  We spent a week hosted by her generous father who met us there from London where he’s lived since the 1950s.   He kept a house near his place of birth, and where he owns land, near family and friends.  It wasn't just him who made the journey. Yousef and Noor's London cousins arrived a day before we did. 

Like any trip, I wanted to know a little more about the place before we travelled - the location of the village where we would be staying at the very least.  I asked many of the Londoners but never got a satisfying answer, nor did I get a clear picture of the region, the towns nearby or surrounding villages.  Before I arrived, I knew roughly where the limits were, but very little else.  The mountain town of Murree to the north, Islamabad to north west, the world-famous Grand Trunk Road to the west, the Mangla Dam and Lake to the south and the Himalayas, in the very far distance, to the east.  At this point I had narrowed it down to an area the size of Kuwait.

One thing was for sure, we were going to be in the car for extended drives almost every day. This would be the first test for our children.  The longest journey in Kuwait is half an hour and it usually features at lease three performances of the famous show 'Are we there yet?' show. Our drive from Islamabad airport to the village was over two hours.  It is different, however. There is actually something to look at instead of Kuwait's electricity pylons by the side of the highway.  A more populous place offers more 'action' for lack of a better word, and the scenery of different people, vehicles, and animals to the backdrop that is different to our norm is exactly what keeps the attention of little minds.  We still heard the dreaded question - but it soon faded with the daily long drives.  I too couldn't stop looking out of the window.  The day we arrived, I was impressed how green and hilly the area is. When I asked my wife if the village is of a similar geography, the perfect answer came ringing: ‘It's even prettier, and with mountains in the distance’.

We were tourists off the tourist trail.  This authenticity brings a certain beauty in its own right and offers an interesting subject to watch all day.  We broke the usual rules of bed times and seat belts.  The kids were little rebels riding around in the small minibuses that we used to get around.  These cars seemed to be made specifically to carry the largest number of people, in the tiniest possible volume, using the least amount of fuel (which was CNG to my surprise).  The Ford vans, that look like they've been in a coma since the fifties, very quickly found a special place in my heart.  They looked perfect - at least from the outside - and seemed to fit their environment like a glove.

The trip offered many firsts and the drama that unfolded on the car windows offered hours of entertainement and entrigue.  This photo of the meters was one of the first ones I took after we arrived close to a shop that became a daily stop on the way back to the village.  The sheer simplicity for a meter reader to come to one point instead of having to go to each of the doors is contrasted perfectly with how messy and complicated they looked.  I wondered why all high streets (and residential ones for that matter) didn't follow the same system.  Soon after that I saw bricks being made by hand and a kilne with a tower where presumably they 'cooked' them.  I went back and took some shots and will post them on a separate post.

Another daily feature was this refugee camp - most likely from Afghanistan.  A small gathering of tents with families living their lives on display.  I am familiar with this on the streets of Mumbai and Colombo but it was quiet rare here.  The backdrop is a normal residential area and opposite them is a petrol (gas) station.  Not far from them is the local area hospital named - no joke - Mubarak Hospital (this is for my Kuwaiti readers).

Having visited Mumbai, Dhaka, Colombo, Karachi and the towns surrounding them, I knew roughly what to expect from towns and cities: not much.  I find south Asian cities to have very little form and not much function. The latter is probably unfair because the cities clearly do function, creaking as they turn to handle the millions of inhabitants.  But the loss of pride over the years gives a result that many call 'charming' and I simply call lazy.  There is no sanitation, no pride, no beauty - even with ample potential for all three.  This is not specific to south Asia.  Many of the third world cities suffer from this divorce of anything remotely organised. 

Food is not something I was worried about as I am very familiar with the local cuisine.  What did get on my nerves was the lack of a simple good restaurant with beardless waiters who fealt like working.  Add to this the load shedding of electicity and you get the picture. In fact the lack of consistent electricity was the excuse used when I could never get a cold enough drink.  This was the least of my worries when I started wondering what they did with the meat!
Restaurants aside, food is served everywhere you turn.  Wonderful scents and sights of cut fruit, fried specialities and local ice cream follow you as you shop in the bazaars.  The shops were bustling places of trade and again without the tourist feel.  The perfect place to kill time if the weather is suitable.  

As we got further away from Gujar Khan the towns would get smaller and smaller and the number of shops reduce to a handful.  There isn't a woman in sight in the smaller towns - but they appear in all their bright and wonderful colours when you reach the villages in the countryside.  It's there where the trip changes to a holiday.  Beautiful scenery, wonderful people, clean air and life at its simplest.

Many of the images are results of my drive-by-shootings.  It's one thing making your family wait for good light, but making extended family wait in the heat while you chase the perfect subject, exposure and moment is not something I contemplated.  The results would have been better if I had my DSLR with me, but I'm not sure how free I would have been to point it at everything and at everyone.  There is something about a large lens that puts people off.  A small camera pointed by a tourist seems much less of an intrusion than a huge lens in front of a large face-covering DSLR camera.  I fealt what I had lost in quality, I very much gained in seizing opportunity.

It was a week of experiences.  We passed through many towns and villages, drove north to the mountains in Murree (separate post coming soon) and stayed in an idylic village east of Gujar Khan (expect at least a couple of posts from this one).  We didn't get to see Islamabad the city but we did visit the King Faisal Mosque (yes, a separate post is coming soon for this too).  I wasn't too disappointed having missed Islamabad.  A Pakistani diplomat's description to me was: 'Islamabad is about six miles out of Pakistan'.  Ironically, what was disappointing was spending a week in Punjab (which translates to 'five waters') without coming anywhere near any water.  Our visit to the Mangla Dam didn't materialise, but it's always nice to have something for next time.

Reflecting on everything, it was a fantastic holiday.  I saw the kids' attitude change during the week.  TV was not mentioned until we checked into our hotel on the last night.  It was also the first time we hit a buffet without the arrogance of saying we needed to see menus.  We wanted to eat anything and everything that is not local... and drink anything as long as it was properly chilled.  In my case it was a whole large bottle of San Pellegrino.

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