It a cool morning where I can see my breathe on the inside of the train. I’m on the ‘super’ express to Delhi from the NE Punjab state having just left Pakistan yesterday.
Last thoughts from Pakistan
I think it is appropriate to sum up a country in my final journey from the heart of Lahore to the Wagah border with India. The hour rickshaw ride highlights the best of Pakistan while making some of the challenges very obvious.
My rickshaw journey started just 100m away from the spot where an hour earlier someone had been hit by a car and taken to hospital – pretty messed up. Traffic accidents are not as common as you would think, especially if you have spent even just 5 minutes in the traffic here.
The rickshaw driver spoke no English other than numbers and his promised affordable fee of 500 rupees for the trip ($5 and NB an hour long and just me). His demeanour was warm and genuine there was no possible way this man was going to do anything except deliver me at my final point. His skills in the traffic was amazing, not dangerous or reckless just skilled and what you need to do to play ‘the game’. All of this in his lawnmower on wheels with vinyl casing and gas cylinder for it to run on Pakistan’s natural gas reserves.
In his country he is seen as illiterate and a liabilitiy in his society. I see him as the master of his domain as I know I could not do what he does and he could maybe not what I do but I feel deeply connected to this person because without his services I can not do what I do reminding me of a mantra I live by – we are all just as important and insignificant as each other.
His skills came to the front when a protest broke out just minutes alone the only road that reaches the Indian border from Lahore. The local folks had lit a line of fire across both lanes on the road not allowing anything to pass. Bad for me but good on them as I know if I was in their situation and felt passionate enough about an injustice that required this kind of action (non violent of course) I would be doing just the same.
However it did mean repointing the compass and going through a number of tightly compacted neighbourhood of happy kids, adults talking and other general toil on the Saturday morning – poor but rich communities with the people around them and the relationships they have. After a few bumps and tight fits we did manage to re-route back to the road and got to the Wagah border.
I bid my farewell gave my driver the remainder of my Pakistani cash and said my last Allah hafiz (god be with you).
The usual border formalities filled with over complication, paper trails and beurocracy what seems worthy in these countries.
First thoughts of India
Immediately I know I am in another country as I step food over the painted line on the road. First a nice government supplied bus to take us to the customs post with the same amount of paperwork and nuisance but some sort of formality to it. I also notice the polio welcome table and banners.
But the thing I notice post is the urgency and pressure on the people. The Pakistani folks in general take a pretty stand back approach and are largely respectful and happy for you to initiate anything you might need or want. Not in this new land – people grabbing, pushing, insisting, forcing themselves (as it is around many customs posts in the world). This is not meant to be a complete attack on India it is just a cultural shift.
A walk, bicycle taxi and bus to take me into the first big smoke of Amritsar. Here I find I can not get to Jind where I was to be hosted for the night by a teacher but too far and with no direct transport even close to it! So instead I go for a smaller city around 2 hours from Amritsar.
On this leg a beautiful young woman who says she speaks no English but we seem to have a non-stop conversation for the two-hour trip. She gives me a wonderful brief on religion, way of life and the highlight of our conversation when she asks ‘how old are you?’ – ‘34’ I reply. ‘Are you married?’ – ‘No’. ‘That’s disgusting!’ not sure if it was a slight limitation of English but even through her expression the point was clear that I should be married! The interesting finale to our conversation was how she was incredibly modest and not in the slightest bit interested in accepting that she was a bright and cheerful human being – maybe it was just her but she was adimate that she was not a good person and if she was, it was from the blessings of her grandmother or the gods – very cool cultural insight for me.
From this bus to the cycle taxi and the poor skinny guy carried me and my house (the 18kg backpack I carry) to the train station. Then a dodgy hotel and stroll in the streets to find some fine Indian cuisine.
I immediate thoughts were that I am in a highly populated, more abrupt and abrasive place and culture (not necessarily in a bad way). The people don’t feel like it is in the role to look after you as a guest (which is kind of nice) and either you run with the pack or you’ll have a hard time going against it.
Anyway hard to tell from a bus ride, night walk and train to the capital to base it all on.
The comparison has me thinking of SE Asian saying of – same, same but different. I know I am in a land of similar people in India but quite different at the same time.
Thanks a lot Pakistan – you were very kind, warm and hospitable and a great welcome India it’s going to be fun, I can tell…