Monday, November 13, 2006

Smoke and more smoke

After 2 weeks in the camping we leave Islamabad for Lahore, looking for the motorway that leads directly to Lahore. As we reach the toll gate, the police turns us down: the motorway is forbidden to motorcycles.. of course, all they ride here are 70 or 125cc Honda/Yamaha. So we have to get to the other side of Rawalpindi to reach the normal road, which is quite okay except when it crosses a town's bazaar.. All this means that when we arrive in Lahore, it's quite late and we have to find our way in the totally chaotic trafic. We end up giving the address of that backpacker hotel to a rickshaw and ask him to lead us there. Easy enough in any "normal" city, but here the rickshaw drives like a maniac to be able to find a way through this chaos, and the only way I don't lose him is to stick 50cm behind is rear wheel (and of course Anders has to do the same with my rear wheel). But it also happens to be the dirtiest rickshaw in the city and I can hardly see the road through the black smoke. My lungs must now look like I had been smoking for the last 20 years..

We arrive in "the" backpacker place in Lahore, but all rooms are full, so we lay our sleeping bag in the (outside) smoking room.. a bit worried by the mosquitoes as there are rumors of Dengue fever around here. And also we met 2 people who allegedly cought malaria in Pakistan. But as the local wisdom goes: the mosquitoes like clean water, and there is no clean water in Lahore..!

That same night, the hotel owner organizes a trip to Lahore's must see event, Sufi drumming and dancing. This has to be one of the most bizarre "concert" I've ever been to. It takes place in a Sufi shrine where hundreds of Pakistanis sit down to smoke charas and listen to the hallucinating rythms played by drummers. Then come the Sufi dancers, who shake their heads like madmans or turn around at incredible speed like dervishes, for hours, in a surreal atmosphere. Foreigners are welcome, they even make room for us to sit and a few Pakistanis spend the night rolling joints that they pass around to us (only to foreginers..?). Totally amazing experience, very hard to describe.

The next morning we meet again with Tom and Peter and decide to go see the flag lowering ceremony at the Pakistani-Indian border. As much as the Sufi dancing was mesmerizing, this one event is monty-pythonesque weird. Those guys (Indians and Pakistanis alike) actually built a stadium on each side of the big gates that close the border, for the sole purpose of bringing people to see their respective border guards perform a very aggressive marching and screaming ceremony in front of each other. The spectators participate as if it was a cricket game, and keep screaming "Pakistan-Pakistan-.." louder than the Indians just meters away. They disagree on many subjects, but it seems they at least they came up with a common choregraphy that takes places every night for years. Now, these are the same guys who point nuclear missiles to each other..

When we actually cross the border we must make our way through a huge line of Pakistanis and Indians passing each other hundreds of tomato crates (or onion bags), that they must unload in India and reload in Pakistan on Pakistani trucks.. that's how far the Pak-India cooperation goes.

From the border to Amritsar is a short ride, and our first impression of India is not very different from Pakistan (okay, the first thing we do is to buy a beer, that's different). The traffic is just as bit as chaotic, a bit less aggressive but more messy. I'm not sure if it's because of the cycle rickshaws, the cows strolling the road or because many more women are driving..

First to see of course is the Golden Temple, and that truly is a very special experience. When you pass the gates and walk around the inner lake, around the Golden Temple, you're surrounded by a feeling of serenity and peacefulness that makes a striking difference with the city's constant noise and activity. Here the Sikh priests read in huge sacred boks all day long, accompanied by musicians, and pilgrims and tourists alike walk around them in quietness. Fantastic impression.


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