Monday morning meant shops were open. Before moving on from Lahore we wanted to clear a couple of practicalities. Firstly we’d discovered that we need exact change for lots of things – auto-rickshaws, small shops, even the hotel didn’t have change for our big notes. There was a bank on the corner of our street so at 9am Emma took some big notes and got lots of change.
The second was asking our driver to Islamabad to take us to get a SIM card. It took him a bit of asking around to find a franchise that could sell us one and when he did for some reason he had to give his details in what looked on the paper like some kind of sponsor. But we didn’t care about the hows or whys, we’d got one and that meant connectivity, at least in the cities.
It felt odd to us to be in a tidy Toyota Corolla with the aircon blasting and being driven by a driver in a uniform. We felt disconnected and like we fit the stereotype of rich tourist in a poor country, but we also couldn’t argue that it was a much more comfortable way to travel.
As we left the city on a big wide Chinese built road it was a flat landscape as far as the eye could see ,in the humidity haze caused as the wet ground from monsoon rain dried out in 37C heat. Given the heat there was surprisingly quite extensive flooding in places.
A positive side to it being monsoon season is just like in Amritsar everywhere is very green. Also like in Amritsar there were the chimneys of brick making kilns dotted on the landscape everywhere, some at work belching out thick black smoke. It’s scary to look at the buildings, so condensed and all made of brick and know we are in a significant earthquake zone. But it really is the only sustainable option that could meet the demand for buildings.
Somewhere on the way we picked up Tabish. One of the guides with the company we had booked the border pick up and trip to Islamabad with. He had been home to vote in the General Election and was now returning back to their base in the mountains.
When we stopped for lunch Tabish ordered dhal and bread for the 4 of us from a roadside restaurant. It was amazing, as has all the food been that we’ve had so far. Lahore in particular is known for its gastronomic delights and we can see why.
We’d organised a driver to take us to Islamabad because we wanted to visit Rohtas Fort. Located on a backroad to Islamabad it would have been difficult/impossible for us to have got there on public transport, visited and up to Islamabad all in one day. That’s without the extra challenge of the heat and humidity.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site Rohtas is a garrison fort that was built during the 16th Century to subdue tribes in Northern Punjab. It took 8 years to complete and it’s 4km circumference follows the contours of the hilltop it sits on. It could hold up to 30,000 soldiers and is the only surviving example of military architecture of that period. Another unique aspect is it was built in an Afghan/Persian and Hindu style.
When we arrived we paid our entrance fee to two old men sat at the side of the road with their ticket bag slung in a tree. A policemen was called from the house opposite and he took our passport details. With a gun slung over his shoulder it quickly became apparent that he was our tour guide.
A very knowledgeable guide he turned out to be too, as he took us on a circuit of the main part of the site explaining to us in broken English and using Tabish to translate the more complicated parts he wanted to explain.
Neither Tabish nor our driver Yaseen had been before so they had both come along too. We were all melting in the heat given the guys had got the car aircon set to ‘arctic’. It was well worth the effort it had taken to visit.
As we entered Islamabad it was clear it is a totally different city to Lahore. Very open, flat and expansive. It has large highways in a grid (it’s a planned city). It also had the feeling of being calmer and much more modern. Maybe this initial impression was because traffic was comparatively calm, seatbelts were worn, the vast majority of people on motorbikes wore helmets and there were no auto-rickshaws to be seen.
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