And I will start right from where I left in the previous post, the M-II Motorway.
The 377 KM long M-II motorway is pride of Pakistan and rightly so. The Motorway was completed in the year 2006 and till date, it is believed to be one of the best and most expensive roads in the South Asian region. The most interesting fact is that it can be used by Pakistan Air Force to land or take off many Fighter Jets.
If only they allowed motorbikes on this road.
All the way I kept thinking about visiting the ‘Katas Mandir’, on the way to Islamabad from Lahore, in the Chakwal District. This temple has been recognized as the World Heritage Site recently by the UN. No prizes for guessing the condition of the temple before the UN and World Bank came for its rescue.
I kept thinking about an easy way out. I asked around and people told me that you can go, you anyway look like us, nobody can tell just by looking if you are an Indian or a Pakistani. However, I didn’t want to write any sequel to Sarabjeet’s story, so I simply stopped thinking about it. He was supposedly sent by the Indian govt. and yet he suffered. Nobody would have cared about me.
I decided to put this idea on hold and think about it later.
Otherwise, if one wants to go, just get down at Kallar-Kahar on the motorway, take a bus to Chakwal and there you are! Within One Hour.
The road is splendid and so are the restaurants on the way. I have traveled quite a bit but I have never seen such restaurants on any expressway/motorway in my life, not in India at least. A cup of tea costs PKR 40-45 at these restaurants.
And people there too, love throwing everything outside their car, one the road, and just next to the trash can. We all have poor aims; we somehow miss trash cans by inches, always!
We, for sure, are lost brothers. #Similarity 5
I met a guy in the bus, Kamran, who was overwhelmed to meet an Indian. He came all the way from Lahore to Islamabad with me and told me about the easiest way to reach the Katas Temple. He dropped me at the conference venue safely, and I thank him for that.
His parents were coming back from Mecca after performing their Hajj and he was supposed to receive them at the airport yet he chose to be with an Indian. Indians too, do such crazy stuff sometimes. #Similarity 6
Islamabad-Rawalpindi are twin cities, just like Hyderabad-Secunderabad in India. Rawalpindi shows what Pakistan used to be and Islamabad shows what Pakistan can become in coming times, if only the trajectory is followed. And the suspicion is but obvious.
In India, as you might have observed, we have skinny guys as Security Guards at the MNCs’, residential complexes, and Metro Stations.
TRIG SECURITY! Remember, anyone? (Click to see Trig, India)
However, Pakistani security guards are different than what we see in India. Guns, rifles, Kalashnikovs’, and I assume bombs too, are common there.
Even a guard at a roadside restaurant was flashing his Kalashnikov. And they were, by no means, skinny security guys. The security guard at our hotel would bring a new rifle to work every day. One day it was a Kalashnikov, the other day it was something else.
For those who do not know, Kalashnikov is a gift from the Russian Socialism to the world, one stop solution for every problem. (Click here to know more)
The opening ceremony of the conference was held at the Pak-China friendship Center. It was a huge building designed and constructed in collaboration with China. The Chinese engineers painted it all red, inside out. Obviously!
It is mandatory to report at the nearest Police Station and submit your VISA form. As a matter of fact, I had lost my VISA form at the Wagha border itself and I didn’t know what to do. I was mentally prepared to go back on the same day. Although that didn’t happen, they didn’t inquire much.
However, the very next day, I saw Anti Terrorist Squad men wandering outside our hotel. I thought they were there to take me ‘home’.
Later I got to know that those ATS guys were for our security. Post Srilanka cricket team debacle, the Pakistani government has tried to behave sensibly.
The conference was fun, and that’s all it was. I met people from eight South Asian countries and everyone could understand or speak Hindi. Courtesy: Bollywood
Afghani’s, Lankans’, Nepalese, Bhutanese, and everyone else whom I met at the conference, was a Bollywood fan. Salman, Shah Rukh, and Aamir are all time favorites but I was surprised when one of them asked me about Anurag Kashyap.
As I write down this blog post, I have come to know that a delegate at the conference has learned writing in Hindi.
Moving forward, the Taxilla Monument is 35 KM from Islamabad and I couldn’t even go there because my VISA said Islamabad only.
We got a chance to visit the Indian High Commission in Pakistan. Some of the delegates from India didn’t have bus tickets to go back to India and because the mode and place of entry/exit cannot be changed, they could not even opt for any other mode of travel.
We were stopped by the Security Guards/Officers at the gate itself and one of them indirectly asked for a bribe. After five minutes of argument, he simply put forward his demand, prize money for letting us in. #Similarity 6
We could not meet anybody at the High Commission but we got a chance to meet and speak to ISI
spies Officials. And as we were roaming around in Islamabad, we accidentally met an Indian at a grocery store who happened to be the Officer we wanted to meet at the High Commission Office.
I skipped the remaining days of the conference and came back on the fourth day itself. However, fear of being another Sarabjeet and the recent success of ‘Ek Tha Tiger’ convinced me not to go out of the way and with a heavy heart, I was on my way to Lahore.
I could not see the Katas Mandir this time and within five hours after leaving Islamabad, I was enroute India.
I thought of crossing the border on the same day. The plan was to see the Flag Ceremony from ‘their’ side, and then walk across the border leaving everybody stupefied.
However, I am not Salman Khan and Pakistanis’ too follow certain rules. No civilian can cross the border after 4 P.M. and only diplomats can cross over after the flag ceremony.
I didn’t know that. I spent all my money (PKR 800) in Pakistan. The auto guy asked for 1000, we settled for 800 and now I was on my way to my motherland. Little did I know about the rules and regulations of the Wagha-Attari border and in the back of my head, my arrival experience was telling me not to worry. They are just likes us, ‘uncle-sir-chacha bol ke nikal lenge’, that’s what I was thinking.
As I got down from the auto, I paid him 1000 instead of 800, the sight of tricolor never made me so happy.
However, once the gates are closed they wouldn’t even listen to their own father.
They asked me to go back to the conference first. Then they said go back to Lahore. Finally, we settled for one night stay at Tourism Hotel on the border, 500 meters from India. Now, the next big thing was to look for someone who could exchange the currency.
I even asked the Pak Rangers guy but he was helpless. He kept apologizing for keeping me on the other side.
“Saab asi ki kar sakde, janab ni manne andar” (Our Officer didn’t budge, I couldn’t help you, I apologize)
After half an hour, he understood my problem, and told me to go and see the manager of the hotel. The Manager welcomed me and told me even if I didn’t have any money, he would have allowed me to stay. .He wasn’t pretending at all.
I did pay him in the Indian currency before leaving the hotel in the morning.
India-Pakistan ka hisaab barabar hai, koi udhaari nahin!
I kept looking at the Indian side for four hours at night. Those poems Amrita Pritam wrote, those songs Piyush Mishra sang, and those stories Khushwant Singh told about the Indo-Pak partition kept coming to me.
My father used to tell me stories of pre-independence era, he was born in 1946. And he would say, “Making a choice in life is not as easy as it sounds, not in those times at least.”
I was the first person to cross the border in the morning. Even the Officers apologized for not allowing me to cross. Protocol is protocol, they said! And that one night at the border has certainly made me a better Indian.
The tricolor never looked so beautiful before. That was quite an emotional moment.
And in the heat of the moment, I ended up spending more than I wanted to. I let the porter carry my bag; allowed him to call a cab for me, and paid him 100 rupees just for a 15 meter walk. My plan was to go in a truck from Attari to Amritsar, and all the way until I reached Amritsar, I kept wondering why I was sitting in a cab?
That day from Wagha to Attari, I spent INR 800, 700 for cab and 100 for the porter.
The other day, I spent INR 509, from Shimla to Lahore.
That was the first time in my life I availed services of a porter.
While everyone at the conference was busy gyrating to the beats of ‘Munni Badnam’, I befriended a Pakistani mountaineer in Islamabad. He was owner of a climbing club in Pakistan, Club iBex.
That was my first attempt at Wall Climbing. I reached until 40 feet. Impressive, eh!