The story of “How I didn’t leave Pakistan”

22 06 2009

22nd of June, 07.20 AM: the date of my departure from Karachi towards Doha, then Istanbul, then finally Bucharest.

22nd of June, 04.15 AM: I’m on Jinnah International Airport in Karachi. I change my Pakistani currency into dollars, I light up a cigarette and think of the great moments had in Karachi

22nd of June, 04.25 AM: I pass one security check point and head to Qatar Airlines officers

22nd of June, 04.30 AM: After I weigh my luggage I find out that it has 10 Kg over the limit and I start thinking of how much would I have to pay extra. The guy doesn’t let me finish my thought and comes up with something like 9000 Rupees the equivalent of 110 USD

22nd June, 4.27 AM: My sharp senses notice that when the neighbouring luggage of a fellow citizen is taken of from the weighing machine my luggage doesn’t have 10 Kg extra anymore but 6 Kg instead. I notify the guy from Qatar office and he seems to restart some calculations. The result: I don’t have to pay anything!

22nd of June, 4.35 AM: I got my Boarding passes and then I loaded my luggage on the outgoing conveyor belt and got my control receipts.

22nd of June, 4.38 AM: I’m heading towards Gate nr. 24 but first I have to pass Customs of course. There were 2 types of Custom wickets  – one for Pakistani passports and another one for foreign passport. I obviously chose the foreigner’s wicket.

22nd of June, 4.43 AM: I arrive in front of the Immigration Lady Officer, I show her my passport and Boarding pass. She looks through them and notices that my Pakistani visa expired a couple of days before. I say to myself that this shouldn’t represent an issue as I knew that I had a 2 weeks period to re-new it or leave the country.

22nd of June, 4.45 AM: The lady officer doesn’t seem impressed with my explanation and tries to say something but English was not her best ally right now. In fact her colleague from Pakistani passports tells me in a fluent nice English language to wait a bit.

22nd of June, 4.55 AM: After waiting for 10 minutes a mustached Immigration officer appears and addresses some questions such as “Who am I?”, “What was the purpose of my visit in Pakistan?” and some others. He also doesn’t seem impressed with my answers but now I already now that this might happen because his lack of English skills.

22nd of  June, 5.05 AM: After leaving for a few minutes with my passport and boarding passes he comes back without boarding passes, and with a big stamp on my passport: OFF LOADED!!!

22nd of June, 5.06 AM: The mustached dumb-ass (I changed his status meanwhile) tells me “Come, come!” and I understand I have to follow him. He takes me into a Customs office where there was another mustached officer and a guy with a pajamas blouse, bell-bottoms pants and slippers snoring his heart out on a couch. I repeat the same story over and over again to the new mustached dumb-ass (his status was also changed quickly) of course interrupted at some points by strong and loud rounds of snoring.

22nd of June, 5.20 AM: The mustached dumb-ass nr.2 finds himself in trouble with my case so he decides to wake up the snoring dude which in fact was his superior.

22nd of June, 5.20 AM – 06.20 AM: The snoring guy first wakes up, then he is updated on the issue, he barely moves from one end to another of the room, he looked for one pen for 5 minutes and solved nothing. He gave me back my passport, and said I cannot leave Pakistan since my visa expired.

22nd of June, 06.20 AM: a guy appears with my extra 6 Kg luggage which was called back. He hands me over a receipt and then asks for a tip, which of course in the heat of the moment I found it to be totally outrageous. I tried to say something to him but the only English word he knew was “tip”. Of course, I didn’t tip him.

22nd of June, 06.30 AM – 07.00 AM: I am on my way back to the Intern’s House where Jeremy greets me with the traditional: “What the hell?!?”

22nd of June: 07.10 AM – 09.40 AM: I went to bed dreaming of heading back to my country.

22nd of June, 09.40 AM – now: I checked with Qatar, I can leave Pakistan on Thursday, 25th, of course only if by then I get my visa extended (AIESEC is working on it). Qatar guys also became dumb-asses when they told me on the phone that my round trip ticket to Pakistan is expired since May  – and this considering the fact that the round trip on the ticket is 22nd of June first of all, and second of all – in the morning when I got my boarding passes there was no such issue.

LESSONS to keep in mind: Pakistan might be the only place in the world where if your visa expires you have to spend some more time in the country; the immigration officers are so stupid that they are not worth getting mad at; when people would ask me if I want to leave Pakistan then I would say for sure yes, considering that during the last week I kept telling people around me that I would wanna stay some more and here I am;


Me in Islamabad and Murree

19 06 2009

After a 40 minutes bumpy flight from Lahore to Islamabad, here I was in the capital of Pakistan, a young city, built especially to serve as a capital as  Karachi already became to crowded, to exposed, and it was not close to the center of the nation.

So, in the 1960’s the Pakistani Government decided and started to build this city, near the town of Rawalpindi, in the middle of the woods. As per this reason, Islamabad is one of the greenest and well organized cities in South Asia. It is said to count up to 1.5 million people nowadays and if you would ask somebody from Karachi or Lahore how the life in the Capital is, the most probable answer you would get is: “boring”. You could say so, but then again what city doesn’t seem boring compared to the near 18 M people, agitated and nervous Karachi or 10 M people, fascinating and filled with history Lahore?

DSCF0251I myself liked Islamabad very much. It is somehow quiet, impressive through its organized city plan or through some majestic pieces of modern architecture such as Faisal Mosque, Pakistani Monument or Saudi-Pak Building.

One of the 3 days I spent in Islamabad was almost completely wasted as I had to confirm the already bought tickets to Gilgit – a pit stop on my way to Hunza Valley. I stayed 7 hours in the crowded, noisy and hot office of Pakistani International Airways (PIA) in Rawalpindi to get my flight tickets confirmed. It was the first time in my life I saw people fighting to get some plane tickets (the tickets to Northern Areas – Gilgit and Skardu – are limited), the first time in my life I saw an Airliner Office operating in such an archaic manner (imagine a countryside railway station from Eastern Europe and maybe you will get half of the big picture :P) and the first time when I was confused several times to a Pakistani Pathan – inhabitant of the Northern parts of Pakistan with the colour of the skin a little brighter.

Rawalpindi is a city that doesn’t say very much, but it was nice to walk around it and experience some genuine Pakistani daylife. Almost forgot: in Rawalpindi I saw a Pakistani porn Cinema :D, I had a nice cold beer at Pearl Continental and I saw the place where Benazir Bhutto was assassinated.

Next morning, my flight to Gilgit was expecting me… but then guess what?!? After waiting for seven hours in PIA office of Rawalpindi to confirm the ticket, in the morning I arrived in the airport to find out that the flight was canceled in the last minute. Facing such a “disaster” the only logical solution was to join the Lahore interns (Matt, Laura and Stefanie) in their trip to Murree – and so I did.DSCF0386

Murree is a Pakistani mountainous touristic resort 70 km away from Islamabad. It was not as spectacular and impressive as Hunza Valley would have been but still it was a very interesting experience thanks to its markets, heights or people.

Overall, this trip around Pakistan was one of the highlights of my internship, either it was hot or cold (Murree – 10 degrees Celsius and rain during night time), plains or mountains; it gave a better perspective over Pakistan and also the occasion of some new nice friends ;). More pictures you can find either here or here.

The “Garden of Mughals”

17 06 2009

My experience in Pakistan is coming to an end unfortunately. Being in my last days here in Pakistan, my company – GlaxoSmithKline – thought it would be nice for me to travel around the country a bit, to get a deeper sight into Pakistani culture, society and beauties. The plan was made for me to travel to Hunza Valley, one of the most beautiful places on Earth, thought to be the the legendary valley of Shangri-La. On my way to Hunza I was supposed to visit Lahore and Islamabad, this meaning that I would see the the cultural capital of the country and also the administrative capital of Pakistan.

The experience itself was amazing and I would like to start with telling the story of me travelling to Lahore – also known as “The Garden of Mughals” because of its rich Mughal heritage.

I had only one day reserved for Lahore, and for sure I missed a lot of interesting spots. In fact… I saw only 3 up to 4 local attractions. In stead I was fascinated to how different this city can be to what I imagined it would be. I mean, I know Karachi, I stood here for almost 3 months but Lahore is so different and I somehow feel sorry that I didn’t had the chance of experiencing more of it, but at the same time I’m thankful for being there even for one day only.

The history of Lahore is pretty rich in facts and interesting happenings. It is said to be there for the last 4000 years at least and that its founder is Loh, son of Rama (hindu epic hero from Ramayana). More recently though, meaning in the last 500 years, it was ruled by Mughals (it was capital of Mughal Empire for a few years), Sikhs and British. Now its the second largest city of Pakistan with 10 million people, capital of the State Province of Punjab, a symbol for Pakistani independence and the cultural heart of the country.

In Lahore I was accommodated at the interns house (thanks for Laura, Matt and Stephanie ;)) and with the huge contribution of some friends (Arsalaan, Talha and Syed) I visited some important sites such as Badshahi Mosque – an impressive sized and extremely beautiful mosque build by the Mughals, the Lahore Fort – the place where every  power which was present in this city set its print in the architecture and aspect of the place or Cooco’s Cafe (in the photo) – a famous restaurant in the Old Town, built exactly near the former Red Light District of Lahore. We also spotted Minar-e-Pakistan – The Independence Monument (which was closed because people have a tendency of killing themselves by throwing themselves from the heights of the Monument) and The Sikh Mausoleum of  Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

I found Lahore to be more clean and neat than Karachi, but also hotter (at least this time of the year). The temperature reached at some point 47-50 degrees while we were roaming around the city and for instance when we were at Badshahi Mosque we thought that our bare-feet got burnt.

If you ever get in Lahore keep in mind that is a place that will kindly welcome you, it will show majestic pieces of history, culture and architecture or it will impress you with its immense dishes – which I think they taste better than in any other place in Pakistan (don’t miss the Food Street ;)) 

You can find my Lahore pictures right over here and I shall be back with some information regarding the rest of the trip as well 😉