Harappa, Multan, Uch Sharif, Moenjodaro, Thatta & Karachi Sat 24th to Tues 10th April 2012
We finally left Lahore early on Saturday 24th March, saying a final goodbye (for this trip at least) to all the "family" at Lahore Backpackers. First stop just a couple of hours down the road was Harappa. Harappa was one of the towns of the ancient Indus civilization, one of which - Dholavira - we also visited on the Indian side, 2 years (!!) ago. Once we got there and bought our tickets we were assigned an armed guard to accompany us on our tour. Along with people taking our picture this is a small insight into the world of the rich and famous…probably the only one we'll ever have!
So we wondered around the ruins in the intense heat stopped frequently by people who wanted to have their picture taken with us, or record us on video, with our armed guards trailing behind us. Bizarre!
Harappa has been excavated officially by the archeology departments of a couple of US universities working with the Pakistan authorities since the mid-1980s but before then it was so repeatedly plundered for building materials by both the British building the Lahore to Multan railway and by locals building houses that there's not a huge amount left. The museum shows the various artifacts - seals, measuring weights, toys for children, jewelry - which indicate that this civilization was way ahead of its time. The town also had a cemetery, granary, citadel and …pretty impressively..a good drainage system.
There was a Shrine within the site, and a musician outside trying to make a bit of money from passing devotees which is quite normal, but what was unusual was his instrument. It looked a bit like an old gate hinge which he played by rattling a metal ring up and down it ..really different and quite a nice sound..though no doubt it's not easy to learn. As I said not a huge amount to see here really but it was good just to wonder around and imagine that an incredible 5,000 years ago this was a flourishing city.
After this we drove on to arrive in Multan by mid afternoon. We didn't know where we'd camp here as everyone we'd spoken to about this had looked blank and explained that Multan was a very busy city, so in the absence of any other ideas we decided to head first to the PTDC (Pakistan tourism office) which according to our LP was housed in the Hotel Sindbad. When we turned up there we found a lot of building work going on as the hotel was being completely refurbished (overseen by an Iranian architect we later met him) and the PTDC office had long since relocated. Nevertheless with true Pakistan hospitality we were invited to park in their garden (for 300 PKR ..about $3 Aus.) which was a quiet sanctuary in a noisy dusty city so it all worked out well.
With parking sorted out we headed off to find the PTDC. This lead to a futile couple of hours driving around before eventually we found that the hotel with the office had now moved …for the record the PTDC now operates out of the Taj Hotel, which, unfortunately was shut Saturday and Sunday. There's no sign and you really have to hunt it down so we can't imagine they get much custom ..the man at the desk looked quite shocked when we turned up!
Anyway not to worry - the way things panned out we didn't need any information! Whilst in Lahore we'd met a guy called John an American who has visited Pakistan a few times and is a good friend of Sajjad the manager of Lahore Backpackers. John was interested in our trip and had kindly given us the number of Hamad who is a friend of his whose family all live in Multan. We gave Hamad a ring from the hotel and he soon turned up there bearing a gift of Sohan Halwa ..a horrifically calorific but delicious sweet cake which is a specialty of the area. Hamad is getting married in about a month's time, and that evening was a pre-wedding party at his house which he kindly invited us to, so off we went by auto rickshaw following Hamad on his motorbike.
Hamid's family is huge and they all live in close proximity in an area they effectively own as a family. We were introduced to so many cousins that by the end of it our heads were spinning and we were completely lost. Hamad is currently completing a Masters in Physics and has published a few papers in journals in the UK & Europe..all a bit beyond me!
The family is fairly traditional and operate a sort of purdah so that the ladies of the house don't mix with non-family men. This meant that whilst as a foreign female I was an honoury man and so could mix and chat with the guys, Andrew didn't really meet or mix with the ladies at all.. so I felt very privileged to be invited into the female quarters ..the heart of the house effectively.
After a while we were taken to a room to rest whilst the party was set up, before Andrew was taken away by the men to play badminton and I was taken down to join the ladies where professional entertainers had arrived and dancing was taking place. Sadly Andrew went off with the camera which was a pain as dancing is far more photogenic than men playing badminton! Thankfully Hamid later emailed me a couple of pictures for inclusion here.
The dancing was all ladies and I again met numerous cousins/second cousins, Hamad's bride to be is also a distant cousin, which is quite common in Pakistan as a way of keeping wealth /property within families. She wasn't there, they have been engaged for 3 years and Hamad has never met her though he has seen a picture. He will actually meet her for her first time on their wedding day. Pakistan is still very traditional in this way, though particularly in the big cities things are changing, and "love marriages" are becoming more common. We even met a guy in Lahore who was marrying a white girl from Manchester whom he'd met whist studying in New York, though this is a bit of an exception.
The ladies dancing were professional though some of the ladies (the gathering was all women of course, though Hamad as groom was present and his father made a brief appearance) did get up and shake their stuff! The dancing/music was really good and this being Punjab similar to Nimar and Reet's wedding in Chandigarh. Also similar to other weddings we'd been to people were "blessed" by having rupee notes held over their heads which the dancers came and collected. As a guest I was blessed a great deal and made very welcome, though in my old travelling clothes I felt a bit under dressed cf the ladies in their gorgeous finery. After the dancing finished we had a really nice mutton curry, before Hamad and a cousin (!) took us back to the hotel. Thanks so much to the family for including us in such a special occasion and making us so welcome.
It was pretty late when we got back to the hotel and we got a bit of a telling off from the night manager. Not only was it now very late (as is common in Pakistan the evening meal was eaten late ..around 10pm so by now it wasn't far off midnight) but we'd failed to leave our passports or copies behind so he'd not been able to inform the police of our arrival as was his duty etc. All in all we were in the bad books! At the time I was a bit shocked at this attitude ..being told off like a curfew breaking teenager by the hotel ..but when we saw the hoo ha around security here the next day it put it a bit more into perspective.
Next morning Hamad kindly came to begin our tour of Multan, though he had to leave by mid-morning as he had a friend's wedding in Lahore to attend. He offered us another cousin from his endless bank of them to take over as our guide but we really didn't want to intrude on his all important weekend ..and besides we already had a guide service lined up!
After we were duly registered with the police they arrived the next morning and made it clear that we were not to leave the hotel grounds without them whilst in Multan. This surprised us as we'd arrived in Multan alone, and driven around its streets in a frustrating but safe search for the elusive PTDC office. There were 2 aid workers kidnapped in Multan a couple of months back and maybe this is why, but whatever the reason we were told that we shouldn't use our car (too visible and anyway a nightmare to park in these old twisty streets) and would travel around in the police van. Cool!
Multan is mainly famous for 2 things ..its numerous Shrines and its blue pottery which is found in abundance decorating the shrines. An ancient city Multan was once taken by Alexander the Great, years later it became a great Hindu pilgrimage centre, until the Islamic invasion in 711 and it has remained a major Islamic centre to date. There is an old fort though it is now in ruins, having been destroyed by the British in the late 19th century to avenge the death (at the hands on the Sikh governor) of 2 young British civil servants who just seem to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Within the fort's mound there is a monument to them.
The best shrine just nearby was the 14th century Mausoleum of Sheikh Rukn-I-Alam. Built out of brick and timber and covered in the trademark blue tile work the structure is beautifully and very skillfully built ..more Andrew's area than mine but I could see it was impressive. Security was incredibly tight but we got in to the main shrine which was full of devotees praying.
There was a lovely smell, as, as we've seen before, the shrine was covered in rose petals which are for sale outside. The art work inside was also very impressive. Walking outside is an area with a great look out down over the city of Multan.
Many of the shrines look in chaos as a great deal of restoration work is going on. This is in part funded by an architectural Italian heritage organization, who are supervising things so that the shrines are rebuilt in a historically accurate way. It'll look good when it's all finished.
This was the most impressive shrine but we went around a few others, and an impressive Mosque (Eidgah) all of which were very worth seeing. I'm loathe to parrot off details like a history book and to be honest they all started to blur after a while ..but definitely worth a look particularly if you're interested in architecture. Thanks to Hamad for fitting us in in his busy schedule and coming to see us again, we really appreciated it and look forward to seeing the wedding pics!
When he left to go to Lahore Hamad left us in very good hands. We had thought that the police would want to be shut of us, but not at all they really went out of their way to show us things and ensure we had a good time. Off we drove through Multan's crazy traffic. The donkey and pony cart is a big mode of transport here, and the city is hot chaotic and dusty.. but very atmospheric.
On the way we had a look around an old building , once a British administrative centre it's now ear marked for a museum of Multan, and then on to the old city, with its old gates and it's crazy jumble of stalls and traffic. The old wooden buildings within the old city gates were once the homes of wealthy merchants -it would have been stunning in its heyday.
There were a mixture of shops from scary butchers shops, to fruit and lots of glitz which is part of wedding planning here, but what took our eye was the taxidermist shop. The 2 animals on display a lion and a deer ?? were so mottled and decrepit looking I thought at first they were abandoned toys! Hard to believe they bring in much business.
Just inside Pak gate, we were about to leave when a man came up and became very agitated with the police. We thought he was reporting a crime or some such and we were off on official duty! ..but no he was determined we didn't miss an amazing shrine just nearby.
The Tomb of Yusuf Gardezi was founded 800 years ago by a Muslim saint from Iraq..via Iran and Afghanistan, and was very beautiful. The tile work was exquisite and inside the tomb itself every inch of the walls were covered in mirror work which was very striking. We were really lucky when we were there as a man came and introduced himself and he was the Saint's direct descendant ..30 generations on! His whole extended family -a great many of them now- all live here still and many of them are buried within the shrine's walls, though space must be getting scarce.
There is a hole in the Saint's coffin where, allegedly for 200 years after his death he would produce his hand in order to shake hands with devotees! Sadly we didn't witness this.
Finally the police hunted down a blue pottery shop for us to see, and we were able to watch the craftsmen working.
The Institute of Blue Pottery development was actually shut that day being Sunday, but as we left the city the next day the police made a point of stopping there and we had a look around. The institute has been going since the 1980s and employs 50 local people who are trained up in this local tradition. We got a full guide tour and then bought a couple of things in the gift shop so thanks to the police for going out of their way to track this down for us. They really took their duties seriously as tour guides as much as protection!
As this is all new to us we had asked the hotel and Hamad what the protocol was with the police, i.e.) should we tip them etc. We were told not to do so, though it would be good to provide them with refreshments during the day. Thus we tried to do this offering them a drink but they went and got drinks and snacks for us, absolutely refused to accept any money for them ..the Islamic hospitality to guests again.
As an aside throughout the next few days when we were rarely without a police guide we sometimes provided meals and drinks but we never felt obligated and we were never asked for money or a tip (though we were later in Sindh asked for diesel money !) and we really have to say that the treatment we got from the police was really honest/courteous. We'd been prepared for the opposite and were pretty impressed. A Pakistan friend said cynically this was due to us being foreigners and that they can be awful to locals ..maybe so, but what we saw was all good.
Back at the hotel we had a quiet day using the free Wi-Fi and updating the website. The police had told us not to leave the hotel without them but to feel free to call on them but we didn't feel like the hassle of it so we just ate in the hotel. Next morning they were there to pick us up at 9am, so we said goodbye to the hotel security man (who'd taken over guarding us when they left!) and headed off going via the pottery institute, as detailed above.
The police left us at the Multan district boundary (about 40km on) and then onwards we had a tag team of guards all the way to our next destination another centre of shrines Uch Sharif. Just as well we had them really, not that there was any sniff of trouble but it was off a road without any sign and we'd never have found it! The scenery was very lush lots of date palms, greenery and rolling fields of golden wheat, must be almost harvest time.
Uch Sharif translates as "high holy place" and is a small town again once visited by Alexander (supposedly he once named it after himself though it didn't stick clearly!) and has long been a cente of the Sufi branch of Islam. The Shrine and Mosque of Jaluddin Surkh Bukhari was built in the 14th century and are within a brick compound with blue tile work. The Shrine has some stunning woodcarvings on its wooden beams, and there was a lot of renovation work going on when we visited.
There were a couple more Shrines but the most impressive and the one in all the brochures is the striking Mausoleum of Bibi Jawindi, overlooking the river below (though it's just a river bed currently)which was built in the 15th century. Though you don't see it at first the building and those tombs around it is actually cut in half due to a bad flood in 1817, so the back of it is missing. It was still a beautiful building though. Worth a look if you're in the area definitely but it's not easy to reach on public transport so in the days when police escorts aren't still functioning (which will be a good thing I guess) probably just see Multan if you're short of time.
Off we went again..following the changing cast of boys from the "Punjab Elite"! We hadn't decided where to stay that night but a couple of hours down the road as night started to draw in a bit we looked at our map and picked out a town -Sadiqabad and asked if we could plan on stopping there. They assured us that this was ok "much accommodation" so off we went again, stopping enroute to full up our water tank.
Sadiqabad is still in Punjab but 40km short of the border with the next province of Sindh, and the whole area is way off the beaten track tourist -wise and so doesn't rate a mention in our guide book so we didn't have any clues as to where to camp (we generally have a look for a hotel that hints at a garden or other ample parking area) so we kept our eyes open for hotels to stop and ask, but we didn't see any and by this time it was getting dark and anyway our police guides had put on a spurt and it was all we could do to keep up with them. After winding down a few roads they pulled up at what we realized was likely to be our home for the night..the Sadiqabad Police Station!
We were brought in and introduced to a few policemen..the only problem being that none of them seemed to speak much English. They got the head of police in Punjab on the phone (VERY good English ) and he translated for us. We were their guests and we were welcome to stay the night there..in fact we were going to stay the night there whether we liked it or not! We were not to let the police out of our sight for any reason …we were to remain inside our room in the police station - though as the only room we saw was full of prisoners, mercifully this was expanded to allow us to stay in our car!
So, we had a night of benign captivity, and boy did the police take it all seriously. I went out once to get my book from the car and got a telling off for going outside ( still within the police compound) without permission, then later 3 policemen stood around me as I brushed my teeth! We can't really complain as they were on the whole very welcoming and even treated us to a very nice take away meal "you are the guests of the Punjab police. So when your people say that Pakistanis are bad and terrorists you can say .."no they are good peoples they give us food" " Fair enough!
This concern about the negative press they get elsewhere is a constant backdrop to dealings with Pakistani people, indeed the well-spoken police boss explained to Andrew that the reason for the zealous measures was that they really didn't want any further bad press so foreigners were to be treated with kid gloves. So after a good night's sleep we woke up waved goodbye to the prisoners in their cell (who were surprisingly smiley/cheerful!) and headed on.
As we drove out of Sadiqabad we passed a police tank on the road side! That would be the ultimate overland vehicle we thought. We headed straight for the border (they kept us moving briskly without even a hint of a morning cup of chai!) and arrived in under an hour. Our prearranged Sindh police escorts were waiting, and so we left the Punjab Elite (all hugging each other and hi -5ing in celebration of a mission completed !) and headed on.
Looking back once we left Punjab the standard of the police guards took a bit or a down turn. Whilst they were still friendly the Sindh police seemed to be less well organized, we often had to wait between guides, and they ran out of petrol and needed money for it. When this happened once we genuinely didn't have any cash left so we had to drive on some way on our own. All in all it was far less impressive ..I guess less funds/training in this poorer area.
On the drive through Sindh we made a point of stopping at Moenjodaro, a World Heritage listed attraction and the real jewel in the crown of the Indus Valley sites. Due to time pressures (and as we were heading to the more renowned National Museum in Karachi) we gave the museum a miss and headed straight away to look around the site. There were no English speaking guides when we visited, so no doubt we missed a bit but it was amazing just to wonder around and see the remains of this quite sophisticated town which flourished an incredible 5,00 years ago, contemporary with ancient Egypt.
The civilization was incredibly ahead of its time, plumbing- wise with many public wells and (incredibly) several homes having private wells and bathing areas and the entire town having drainage. There was also a large central bath probably used in religious rituals. Archeologists think that the Moenjodaro people had a ruling caste of Priests , and a religion based around worship of a mother goddess figure as well as animals and trees but years after the civilization died out (there are various theories why though no one knows exactly) the Buddhists of the Kushan era built a stupa on the site's highest point, which was what lead the archeologists to the site.
All in all it's worth a look, though it's important that you look at the security situation before doing so. Take a lot of water too ..it was baking hot.
The rest of the day we just drove … stopping a couple of times for tea with our police at open air truck stops where we sat on the Charpoys ..string beds on wooden frames ..very comfortable.. and drank very sweet tea. I was the only female in this most male of domains and felt a bit conspicuous ..though no one was at all unfriendly.
We'd meant to drive onto the city of Hyderabad that night but after a few waits for our police guides time got away and darkness fell when we were still some way short so we had another night at the police station ..this time in Moro.
Next morning we woke up very early when the polices' private mosque went off about 3 feet away from us..no way were we sleeping through that!! We got up to find all the new police who'd come on duty crowded around us, and at the gate the entire population of Moro peering in at us! I guess not a lot happens in Moro and we were BIG NEWS, even the local Sufi came in to have a look! The idea had been to get away early, and then arrive in Karachi that evening going via Thatta where we wanted to see the Shah Jahan Mosque.
Best laid plans and all that… we got up to find that on the rough roads of the day before we'd lost a bolt. Not a huge problem on its own ..but the spare was ..of course ..right under the car. Thus the back wheel had to come off, and the surf board's et al come out ..all a big shock to our audience!
They found us a mechanic and he turned up and worked alongside Andrew for 2 hours replacing the lost bolt and tightening any others ...and eventually charged us just 200PKR (under $2 Aus.) for the whole thing! We gave him a good tip. When we first set out on the trip we'd invested in a carton of Marlboro cigarettes thinking they'd be good for bribes/gifts. Since then we forgot all about them and they'd ended up in the darkest recesses under the car but we pulled them out now and gave some out to the police who were very happy. Imagine they might be stale by now!
By this time we'd given up on going via Thatta and just decided to head straight to Karachi. Romana our contact in Mobil had been in touch to say that Karachi was a experiencing a bit of trouble so we made sure we had an escort all the way. Karachi is a very multicultural city but sadly this has lead to a lot of sectarian/political conflict between rival groups.
Probably we would have been fine driving on on our own but as we didn't know the city (and with the above mentioned police warning ringing in our ears still) we really didn't feel that we should. This made for a very protracted journey as we were often left for a long time between escorts -though our previous guards remained whilst the others arrived so we weren't left alone. The situation got worse when we hit Karachi and a couple of times we just sat in the middle of the city for 40 minute chunks of time whilst the police waited for the next car. You'd think just sitting there would be worse security -wise but they wouldn't let us move until the next car arrived. Then for some reason the next car took us to the US Embassy compound rather than our hotel so we had to back track and try again! We asked repeatedly if we could just go by ourselves but they wouldn't let us. The whole area was full of armed police and army and quite a few tanks, as there had been quite a bit of trouble -it really felt like entering a war zone. Poor Romana who has looked after us so well was very concerned and kept calling us, until we finally arrived at the Beach Luxury Hotel at about 11.30pm. Whew!
Update: Wednesday 4 April 2012:
As I write this we've incredibly been in Karachi for a whole week. We have been sightseeing in bits and pieces …first time we wanted to see the National Museum and Jinnah's Mausoleum..but both were off limits due to the shut down in the city. After a couple of days we managed the Museum (very good they opened it just for us) but most tourist things have been shut for the duration of the troubles.
It's bizarre we sit here in comfort in a lovely hotel and read each morning at breakfast about cars torched and people shot elsewhere in the city..but mostly here life goes on as normal and you wouldn't know anything was amiss.
It was great to finally meet team Mobil and be able to thank them in person for sponsoring us with their great product and all their kindnesses to us. We really enjoyed the press conference they organized for us.
Thanks go to all of them but especially to the CEO: Mr. Mr. Khawar Jama , the Country Manager for Automotive & Marketing: Mr. Amir Bashir and Romana Khan and Sarah in HR and PR respectively who really looked after us well. Thanks to all the other guys who came and helped on the day too- too many to mention! For more information on their great products please see: http://www.mal.com.pk
The plan had been to have the Press Conference on Friday 30th and immediately head onwards ..to Quetta and then the Iranian border at Taftan within 2 days. So we could get moving a.s.a.p. we asked the hotel how we go about organizing our police guard on towards the border. They weren't sure but helpfully rang the Aussie consulate who in turn sent us on a number for the Foreigners' Registration Special Cell (FRSC) where we could get our guide from. However, this little exercise got us "into the system" which despite registering with the Government site "Smart Traveller" didn't seem to have happened to date, and soon afterwards the Deputy High Commissioner of the Aussie Embassy in Islamabad got in touch to tell us that no way should we consider travelling through Balochistan, particularly in our highly visible car as the risk of kidnapping/attack is way too high. Since then we've been going round in circles trying to decide what to do now.
We went to the FRSC and they promised they could do something to ensure we had a better police guard throughout our trip…but only if they got authority in writing from the Ministry of the Interior via the Aussie Consulate to do so ..and of course they wouldn't help.
This has been a major stress and caused quite a few circular discussions, as we disagree about where to go from here. Andrew feels we should just ship, whereas I am more minded to just go by road anyway, on the basis that the advice from Consulates has always been the same (incredibly cautious, they rarely seem to leave the air conditioned environs of 5 star hotels and think everyone else can afford/wants to travel the same!) and that the odds are in our favour we will get through with no problems ,..but then if I press Andrew to do this, and something does go wrong … ..well it doesn't bear thinking about. Before this happened we hadn't discussed it like this now we have and it's changed it. As I write we're still having sleepless nights about this pondering what to do and getting shipping quotes to Dubai and/or Bandar Abbas in Iran. Shipping (groan!) looks like it's won at the moment ..watch this space.
In the meantime we're happy to have a comfortable air conditioned environment to worry ourselves sick in! The Beach Luxury Hotel (BLH) is a gorgeous spot ..big thanks to Mobil for generously extending their initial 3 nights stay for us to 6 nights whilst we decided what to do, and to Farooq Ismail the Sales Manager at the BLH for sponsoring us for an additional night. We've really enjoyed all this luxury but we're back in the car from tonight …parked up in a quiet corner of the car park..how are the mighty fallen!
The hotel is lovely with great service, a great place to stay and with a really good restaurant right on the water see www.avari.com/hotel-beachluxury.html for more details.
We managed to get out and about again with Mobil when Asif and Mohammed, two Sales Representatives took us (and the car) on a tour of various outlets in the city. It's a huge city Karachi and we covered a fair bit of it and met lots of their clients all of whom made us very welcome. We also enjoyed a great lunch with them and other Mobil colleagues and got to see the office. Thanks again to Mobil for all they've done for us ..we really appreciate it.
We also stopped at Central Toyota who (along with Indus Toyota here) have been a huge help giving the car a full service and much needed clean before our press conference and providing us with some spare parts.http://www.toyota-indus.com/
By chance we met up with Mr. Sami Mustafa when he and his son came in for dinner at the hotel and saw our car. Sami is principal of the CAS school which he set up in 1981 after returning from the US where he was a lecturer in International Relations. The CAS ( Centre for Advanced Studies) is a really progressive school which focuses on looking beyond just academia by fostering artistic musical and community skills to create rounded individuals. Please see their site www.cas.edu.pk for more about what they do.
Sami was kind enough to invite us along to show the kids our vehicle and speak to them about the trip which was great fun. Maybe we've created a swarm of young overlanders..hope so!! Thanks so much to all at the school for making us so welcome and even bigger thanks to Sami and his charming wife Nadeem for inviting us for a lovely dinner that evening …complete with Aussie red wine..a rare treat! Sami also introduced us to a friend of his a renowned Pakistani sculptor Mr. Shahid Sajjad, we met him and his wife saw some of his work and he kindly gifted us a signed copy of his book. An overlander himself, in the 1960s he drove by motorbike down to the Louvre in Paris, and then returned to settle in beautiful Rangamati (been there!) in what is now Bangladesh for many years. He has since exhibited all over the world. We get to meet such interesting people on our travels!
In the meantime in the small windows of opportunity between strikes/ shut downs and holidays we've seen a few of the sites of Karachi. After our aforesaid meeting with the FRSC we were assigned a policeman to be our personal guard whilst in Karachi. Understandably they can't spare us a vehicle so we have a policeman Shakeel - who rides with us in the car. There isn't a great deal of room in our car and (hardly being a small person myself!) Andrew said that he'd make sure they sent us a skinny one! Sadly they didn't hear (or decided to be funny) because Shakeel is over 6 foot and of a large build, then of course he has his gun…all in all we're a bit squashed! Anyway he follows us everywhere -though he gets left outside when places have a "no guns" rule!
So, together with Shakeel we've seen Clifton beach with its camels and pony rides, a few posh shopping centres and then Mohatta Palace. This latter was the 1920s home of a rich Hindu who left after partitian and generally it is open to the public but (of course!) it is currently shut, not due to the troubles for once but for refurbishment. They were setting up for some corporate event when we visited anyway so we got to have a look around. It's a nice old house.
We also had a look at Flag Staff House a gorgeous old British Raj style mansion once owned by Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Gandhi's friend and the first leader of Pakistan.
He visited here a lot rather than lived here, but his sister lived here until her death in the 1960s and there is a lot of their family artifacts on display. It was a lovey old home, very well restored with gorgeous period furniture.
The only other trip we took was out 100km to the West to see the Makli Hill shrines and Thatta. This took a few hours and was a long uncomfortable journey for both me and Shakeel!! Thankfully on the outskirts of Karachi we were picked up by a mobile guard car so he could sit with them for a while!
Covering 15 sq. kms Makli Hill is a huge complex of over a million graves. Mainly made out of sandstone the graves are gorgeously carved in geometric designs. Some of the graves have blue tile work like we saw in Multan, and many of them (some since restored) date from the 14th -16th century. The old caretaker showed us around, and was very excited to see our car thinking we were German. He told us when he was a child growing up here (his father was also the caretaker) many such vehicles would come and camp and he would play with the children. The glory days of overlanding!
Having seen the tombs we drove on just a few kms to the town of Thatta and more particularly Shah Jahan's mosque. Yes, the man who gets everywhere had been to Thatta, as had that other great mover and shaker Alexander the Great!
The town saw its glory days (reflected by Makli Hill) from the 14th century when it was the capital of Sindh but after the capital was moved in the 18th century it fell away never to recover.
The town allegedly once provided great hospitality to Shah Jahan and in return in 1644 he built them an incredible Mosque, recently World Heritage Listed. We'd really wanted to visit this and we weren't disappointed, it was stunning.
Having 93 domes built around a central courtyard the brick work and tiles are exquisite. Equally impressive are the acoustics (you can whisper into one wall and be heard at the other end) and the natural ac ..the arches create a sort of wind tunnel..a big relief in this heat!
We met the present Imam or Holy man a descendant of the original one, who told us that during Ramadan the Mosque can hold 20,000 devotees! Have to say one of the most stunning buildings on the trip to date.
As ( I write (Wednesday 4th April) Andrew has gone off with Shakeel (who's no doubt relived I'm not there!) to see the Maritime Museum and to some more" shipping" groundwork. For our last day in our room I'm enjoying every last bit of the air conditioning whilst getting this site updated.
One way or another (land or sea) we'll be out of Pakistan by the time I next write. It's been a fantastic country to visit, and we'll be sad to leave, though very excited about seeing Iran.
Update: Easter Sunday 8th April 2012
HAPPY EASTER!!! Not that it really feels like Easter here….not a chcccy egg or bunny in sight, though we have very kindly been invited by our friend Sami and family to Easter Sunday dinner this evening which we're really looking forward to.
So…what a week…we both feel like we've aged a decade!! We moved out of the BLH and are now in a cheaper place in downtown Saddar, where we've been staying whilst sorting out the car shipping. I have to say this has been one of the most stressful weeks of the trip, and I feel (perhaps unfairly I don't feel terribly reasonable about all this at the moment!) majorly pissed off with the powers that be at the Aussie Consulate. I know they are trying to do their job but had they just left us alone we'd have had 3 day's drive and we'd be home and hosed and into Iran.
Instead we've had, to start with, a few days extra expenditure from staying in a hotel in Karachi (in an area where people seem to be murdered on a regular basis. Surely this is less safe than just driving quickly through Balochistan?) then the huge expense of shipping the car - $725 Aus. so far and rising when we hit Dubai, 2 flights to Dubai over $400 Aus. To add to the hassle we have to enter Iran by the 16 April ..so now it looks like before unloading the car we'll have to bolt into Iran and back by ferry (approx. $100 each person each way so $400 in all) after trying to extend the visa -which you can't of course do at the port of Bandar Abbas so we'll have to catch buses up and down the country ……
Basically you get the picture -it's an expensive logistical nightmare. We were fine to go before the Consulate put the fear of God into Andrew with talk of kidnappings/ beheadings. Yes we always knew this area was one of the diciest of the trip.. but I really feel we would odds on have been ok. We went to see the police who said they would do their utmost to find us a special police escort ..but before doing this they needed a letter from our Embassy which (of course!) they wouldn't provide.
Since committing to ship we have managed to track down various overlanders who've made the trip recently or are about to make it …wish we'd known about them before we got the car loaded. The thing is we are a bit visible as a vehicle ..i.e.) we hardly blend - and whilst I felt we'd have been ok..there was a small but significant chance something could have gone very wrong. Still not sure if we made the right decision ..and it's been a tough one on our budget..but there you go ..the die is cast now, and we're off to Dubai. Just wish the Aussie Consulate had either not got in touch or been prepared to help us out a bit with a letter. They were surprised to hear we'd met quite a few Aussies travelling by bus in the same direction, as they didn't know they are there. We thought that was what registering with the government's Smart traveller website was about, though we've not received a single Smart traveller warning re: Pakistan since arriving here. Once we'd pointed this out to the relevant authorities one arrived 2 days later!
So..looking on the bright side it'll be really good to see our Dubai based friends Corinne and Stefan, though they are off to Europe for a month shortly (we'd planned to visit later before plans changed) so sadly it'll be a flying visit. Meanwhile we're doing a bit of research and actually looking forward to seeing Dubai-Andrew has already hunted out some desert camp spots, so adventures to follow! We fly out at some ungodly hour on the morning of Tuesday the 10th.
For our last few days in Pakistan we'll remain in Saddar -a lively little area, which our police guard tells us is renowned for bag snatching so we tend to hang low a bit! We are on the 9th floor giving us a great view down over the streets below and we even have a pet eagle who sleeps on our balcony. This area swarms with eagles and we watch the show every evening as the guys on the roof top opposite feed them scraps of meat as they swoop down to catch it. All very entertaining.
We've not really done much in the last few days other than attend shipping/customs offices. This is always a pain but the process has been made less daunting by our shipping agent who was really kind, efficient and helpful to us..thanks go to Nauman, his father and all at CI Cotpak International. We'd never have survived wrangling with the customs authorities without you!
On the subject of thanks we also owe much to Mobil for extending our stay at the lovely BLH ( Beach Luxury Hotel) for 3 additional nights, and the owners of the BLH who treated us to a further additional night to allow us time to get our shipping organized. This has really helped ease the financial hardship and we're really incredibly grateful .
So our time in Pakistan comes to an end. We really like it here, the people being amongst the most hospitable we've met on our travels and the scenery beautiful, so we'll definitely be back. Hopefully, "inshallah" or "God willing" more peaceful times will follow and we'll be able to explore every bit of this fascinating country.