Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Terror, fasting and feasting

Everyone is looking up into the morning sky. It's a beautiful sunny day, we're waiting for two more people to fill our jeep, and there's a buzzing sound in the air. Finally we spot it - an American drone? - flying high above us. "Looking for Osama", someone says. We have said goodbye to Jules and we're heading south from Chitral with Jef and Els to Peshawar, which is getting a reputation for bombings and trouble with the local Taliban. We have thought twice before embarking on this journey because of the potential danger passing through areas where there has been fighting between the army and militants, but in theory there should be no problems.
The jeep heads southwards and begins climbing the Lowari pass on a dirt road of about 40 switchbacks. It's full of trucks and at one point we have to dodge rocks and debris which is being swept into our path by a mindless road crew above us. The view from the pass is stunning - a green sweep down to the plains of Peshawar. Quite a few of us transfer to a minibus with a mad driver for the next stage of the journey. The fear of meeting armed men in black turbans is soon forgotten as our driver seems intent on his own personal jihad on the roads. An expletive is
muttered as he overtakes an already overtaking van on a bend in the face of an oncoming bus. It's enough to lead to a reoccurance of the old bowel trouble. As we descend the heat also increases, and what with a few close shaves, we are all sweating freely. Thankfully it seems our driver is blessed, and we arrive in Peshawar just in time for iftar. The streets are not so busy at this time of the day, as everyone is sitting poised in front of food waiting to tuck in. In fact Peshawar seems a fairly sane place and we enjoy walking around the old city's back streets crowded with street vendors and shoppers. We even come across some women - in the streets full of women's clothes of course. However, the heat is tiresome and we try to be discreet when we sneak a drink.
Our bus to Lahore is a Daewoo. There's fully-functioning air-con, comfortable seats, lots of legroom and a hostess. It feels like we're in a spaceship after all our other journeys here. Mind you, the fare is astronomical (for Pakistan). Lahore is obscenely humid and we stumble along the busy roads and through the street markets in a fug of sweat and deafening horn blasts.
The evening scenes are the best - there's almost a festive air as everyone eats their evening meal and then goes shopping. My favourite stall is a wig
seller. He has false moustaches and there's a young man trying on an awful piece that makes him look like an asian David Cassidy. And, at last, we seem to be in a Pakistani city where women are out in numbers. Despite the heat, we are enjoying our last days in Pakistan.

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