The last stop on my trip to the 'stans is Lahore, capital of the Punjab region and with a population of ten million, the second largest city in Pakistan. It's right on the border with India (you may have seen the chest puffing ceremony of the changing of the guards) and was previously a part of the Mughal Empire.
Most importantly, it's known for having the best food in Pakistan.
Fruit Vendor, Old Markets
Most host is Geoff Walker, formerly of Fonterra, now in charge of the Pakistan Dairy Development Corporation (on which more another time). He picks me up from the airport – "Would you like to go to the Museum of Lahore, or go to the club for a beer?"
Twenty minutes later I was sampling the local brew at the Lahore International Association. Sitting under the trees in the early evening, watching bats flit about and perusing the evening's dinner menu, I couldn't help feel like the British might, a century earlier. The wine came out over dinner, and so did the debate, especially once Geoff admitted he was a big fan of a certain other New Zealand blog. Geoff was incredulous the various foreign correspondents in Lahore hadn’t sought the expats’ opinions on recent events. I suggested perhaps that was as likely as me seeking out the opinion of the Pakistani expat community for a story on New Zealand politics. We debated some more.
Wheel vendor(?), Old markets
The wine kept flowing and it was a great, albeit surreal night, eating steak and drinking red wine in the heart of Pakistan.
The next day after attending to some journalism, I had time for an afternoon of sightseeing with Mary, the charming wife of another PDDC employee (the PDDC seems to be almost entirely comprised of New Zealand and Australian dairy experts). With little time –and chaotically coagulated traffic throughout the city slowing our progress– we walked briskly around the Lahore Fort, Mary and I fending off eager guides like two young Christian Cullens. Undaunted, one continued delivering his tour speech until he realised he was unlikely to get anything for his efforts.
After the fort we hit the markets of Old Town. A labyrinth of stalls, we took a wrong turn and ended up walking past nothing but women’s shoes for something like an hour. (Actually, was that really a wrong turn, Mary?) The markets were crazily congested, the smell of two-stroke filling the cramped alleyways as motorbikes, rickshaws and even cars squeezed slowly through the throng of pedestrians. Exhausting? Let’s say I’d rather face St Luke’s Mall on Christmas Eve any day.
Stopping to sample some sugarcane juice (not my wisest move as it turned out, perhaps the abundant flies were a clue) we made a dash for the Wagah border, to see the changing of the guard ceremony. We’d thought we’d allowed plenty of time, but someone had moved the time of the ceremony and we arrived to see people hurrying back to their cars. Still, I’m sure it’s just as good watching it on YouTube. Sigh.
Poisonous Sugarcane Vendor - check out the flies
For dinner that night we went to the famous Cooco’s Den. Situated in Lahore’s Red Light District it’s probably the most famous restaurant in Lahore (even my hosts in Karachi recommended it) with a fascinating history. Beginning to suffer from my ill-advised sugarcane experiment, I can’t tell you much about the food, but the view from the rooftop tables was incredible, and I found it hard to draw my eyes off the beautiful Badshahi Mosque.
Badshahi Mosque seen from Cocoo's rooftop
Perhaps more than any other stop on my trip, Lahore struck me as a city of contrast. From those living in the verdant luxury of the Defence district, being driven in air conditioned comfort, to children hawking perishing fruit from a wagon drawn by a malnourished donkey, it’s impossible to ignore the gap between the haves and have-nots.
But if the PDDC succeeds as it seems to be, the life of the average Pakistani farmer (each owning a few woefully underproducing cows) will improve immeasurably from its current subsistence level. Such a change will be a remarkable thing to witness, and I envy my hosts for being part of that.
Special thanks to Geoff at PDDC for his hospitality; and Bill & Mary for seeing a sick young man safely onto his plane.
Damian's visit to Pakistan is made possible with a grant from the Asia NZ Foundation. Thanks, Asia NZ.
Check out the Gallery link for more images, including a cool bumper sticker.
Taking milk to market