Sohail Abid

Backpacking across the world on a Pakistani passport

Hun Lahore Ae!

My university campus was a good few sectors away from our home in Islamabad. I had to first take a bus to Karachi Company (G-9) and then a wagon from there to F-10. The second part of the commute was interesting.

The wagons, almost always Toyota Hiace, embark from this station in G-9. And even though they were smaller than the coaster buses, it used to take a fair amount of time for them to fill up.

The conductors preferred that the wagons left the station only when full. Sometimes they did use to leave with a couple of seats vacant. They would go with the door open, in that case and pick remaining passengers along the way.

Every conductor had a signal for the driver to go full-throttle once the wagon was full. This one guy, who unlike others was always in a joyous mood for no reason, had a very particular signal.

“Hun Lahore ae!*” he would shout, informing the driver that everything was at peace, the wagon was full.

* We are in Lahore now!

In the memory of Aapa Basheeran

Aapa Basheeran, one of the four women guardians of a mohallah in Lahore called Aahata Bakhshi Ram, and my grandfather last met at a funeral. She and my grandfather were neighbours back in the village of Suniyar Heri, somewhere at the outskirts of Patiala. Before the partition, that is.

Both, now in their early 80s, were quite happy to have run into each other despite the fact that it was a funeral. They sat next to each other, holding each others hand. We even joked that it looked like they were on a date. They asked about each other’s health and learned that they have both lost their partners. It triggered Aapa Basheeran into remembering each of her siblings who had passed away.

“We are all dying one by one, Suleman,” she said in a sad voice.

“Assi te osay din mar gaye si jadon ethe aaye si,” he remarked, remembering the time they both lost their houses, village, homeland, and many relations.

I learned yesterday that Aapa Basheeran also passed away last week.

Day 3 in Uzbekistan: A Dead Sea Will Haunt You

Called one of the world’s worst environmental disasters, this is Aral Sea. The corpse of Aral Sea, to be correct.

It used to be one of the four largest natural lakes in the world, covering about 68,000 square km in the north-west of Uzbekistan and south-west of Kazakhstan. Nobody thought it could just dry out. The Soviet irrigation projects (diverting water away from rivers in Central Asia) that have long been suspected of causing this disaster are not enough of an explanation. My wife, who has an advanced degree in environmental science, first told me about it and that it has become sort of a mystery. She also showed me a few pictures which are enough to entice any traveler who seeks adventure. But pictures don’t prepare you for the experience of witnessing a dead sea and everything that dies with it.

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Day 2 in Uzbekistan: Puttar Hor Kha

There are two ways to backpack across Uzbekistan.

1. You start at Tashkent and make your way to the west, one town at a time, taking day trips to places that are not on the main trail, and reach the furtherest city to the west called Nukus, base for taking a trip to Aral Sea, the now dead enigma of a lake that started disappearing without scientists having a clear clue about it. You then take a plane from Nukus back to Tashkent and do the same for the part of country to the east of Tashkent, the ancient silk and cotton hub called Fergana Valley.

2. You take a plane to Nukus, the furthest city in western Uzbekistan and make your way to Tashkent one town at a time and then go to Fergana Valley.

I did not want to do the #2 because frankly it’s a little frightening and because I first wanted to get a little oriented in the strange new country. Now that I am, I have found out that it’s not easy to get trains out of Tashkent (you have to book days in advance) so my only choice is to take that plane to Nukus. Having misssed the morning flight, I have chosen the 7:30pm flight which will land me arond 9:30pm and then I will begin my search for a place to sleep in a town that is not very touristy.

It’s generally not a good idea to reach a new town at night without being a bit oriented or having a contact. But that’s exactly what I am going to do today. Land at a new town at 9:30pm without having a contact or hotel staff to escort me.

Wish me luck, maybe?

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More muslim than others

So I met this Turkish origin backpacker in Tashkent who wanted to do the whole stans-trip and was going to Iran next–solely to secure a Pakistan visa.

I, another Pakistani from Faisalabad who had a visa interview with the Georgian embassy (cause they don’t have one in Pakistan), and the Turkish guy were sitting in the spacious and well-lit living area of this community art hostel in Tashkent where we were staying.

The Turkish guy wanted advice on how safe and sane was Pakistan.

“I know you guys are very hospitable but I see all this coverage around religious issues and groups, protests about every other thing and restrictions on eating in Ramzan, which I don’t see in other Muslim countries. It just seems like… I don’t know how to put it,” he was struggling – or perhaps didn’t want to say it outright.

“Like we are “more muslim” than others?” I asked.

He nodded fervently.

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