Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Streets of Rawalpindi

I am back in the saddle again after a week of home rest in the Islamabad Diplomatic Compound, recovering from what I discovered to be an intestinal infection, likely brought on by lunch in Mansehra, where I ate some (freshly washed!!!- should have known better) tomatoes. After 6 days of suffering and hardly eating, I was invited to one of my new friends, Dr Shaukat Malek, an eminent cardiologist, for a going over. After a quick visit to his house on a Sunday (try that in Canada) I left with a prescription and a recommended diet (all on the same piece of paper). I went to the Chemist's, had the prescription filled in a matter of minutes and was again happily on my way. One day later- Cured! Unfortunately my remaining days, since I had shortened my trip due to the 'troubles' including a suicide bomber close to our compound area, had been sucked up and all I had was one day left to take advantage of Shaukat's, and another new friend's, Syed Kazi- President of the Photographic Society of Pakistan, offer of a tour of neighbouring Rawalpindi.

Rawalpindi, or Pindi as it is known here, is the big sister city of neighbouring Islamabad. Where Islamambad has only been around since the 1960's, Pindi has been there a lot longer. A city of 4 million+ inhabitants it can be best described as bedlam spread. Intense traffic, noise, pollution, and a potpouri of smells all blend together in a urban whirling dervish except without direction.
Syed and I hit the streets just as the temperature was hitting 40 degrees, not too hot yet according to some residents. We were in the market area of the city, famous throughout Pakistan for the variety and sheer amount of saleable goods including one section, called the smugglers area where items, that had 'fallen of f the back of trucks' was openly displayed and sold. You can get anything you want...... and so on.
We wandered the market streets and back alleyways for a couple of hours shooting stalls, colours, people, beggars, anything and everything, If my camera had a barrel it would be hot to touch after a couple of hours of amazing images,. Every direction I turned their was image magic, all made better by the friendliness if the people. 'where you from', take my picture', 'how are you', and hello were the introductions of welcome as business people and residents welcomed me into their midst.
The back streets, better described as alleyways, are much like the alleyways of Marrakesh, but dirtier, rougher, and smellier as raw sewage runs in narrow culverts on each side of the elevated sidewalk. Power wires run everywhere, political posters cover the walls and the remnants of old campaigns, paint jobs are random and often incomplete as the if the paint ran out and no more was to be had. Motorcycles, donkeys, all manners of beggars, shopkeepers, and all the other myriad of humanity that is needed to create a city coursed up and down the streets like ants going to , and retuning from, their daily errands. One of my favourite memories, and one that I will likely propose to my city council on my return to Vancouver Island, is Pindi's imaginative way of resolving badly parked cars- they simply pick them up with a forklift and head off to a parking lot where the car can be reclaimed for a price. What a sight to witness, a car, 15 feet in the air, travelling along and above the heads of hardly interested shoppers. Such is life in the Pindi mall.

I was not a rare site in the streets, just a long not-seen sight, as few tourists visit Pindi anymore when compared to several days ago when the political situation was more stable and foreigners need not fear for their lives. In reality in all my time here I have never feared for my life. In fact I have felt more welcomed here than some of my travels around my own country. I am hoping that one day Pakistan's troubles will once again be over so that the rest of the world can experience the incredible welcoming warmth that I have experienced here. Alas, many Pakistanis openly do not see better days in the future.

The tour ended at the Pindi's Pearl Continental Hotel's Chinese restaurant where Syed and dined on a most amazing authentic Chinese meal, including my very personal experience with an unnoticed hot pepper (should do wonders for the tummy at risk and my 8 hour flight tomorrow), and several return visits to the vastly colourful and delectable dessert bar.
I will be back and have already stated planning for my next trip to visit again all my new and old friends that I have made here.