Pakistan 3: 1001 chai

There are many things in Pakistan, that we do not have – the other way around too, of course. But the people here still have one thing above all  – namely time. As soon as you go into a shop, they serve you most likely a chai first and you have a nice little chat. If you stop briefly at the roadside, it is not uncommon to be invited to a chai or a snack straight away. If you refuel at the gas station, there is a good chance that you will get a chai. So you can easily have 15 chais a day. For someone being actually a coffee drinker, this is a lot of tea.

When we have arrived in Islamabad, we contact Ali, the guy we had previously met there and tell him, that we are in town. We have been staying in contact with him for our whole trip to the north.
It is already quite late and, since we haven’t got an answer yet, we settle in one of the numerous city parks. Islamabad is probably one of the greenest capitals we have ever seen. Locals explained to us, that it is a fairly young city, that was planned really well. In many places you don’t feel like in a big city. There are parks everywhere and everything is green.
We pitch our tent in one of the parks. It is a quiet spot and there are hardly any people.

The next day we get a message from Ali and we ride to his home in Rawalpindi. We are greeted with joy and even cooked with pizza and lasagna. After a shower, we wander through the part of the city, which is more like a village. Everybody seems to know each other and the news, that strangers have arrived, spread quickly.
It feels like we are greeted with chai and snacks in every second house. Everyone wants to invite the strangers to their home. We have stopped counting the amount of households, that we have been visiting. However, in contrast to former visits, Ali is always considered to ask us, if it is getting too much. After a while Tobi asks him, how people even know we are here. He then shows his Whatsapp messages. He has already received over 300 messages and gave up answering all of them. We are invited to dinner several times, but only agree to one man who owns a huge cookshop. They had massive frying pans and pots placed on the main street in front of the shop. We found it really cool. He finally insisted on inviting us for dinner and was so nice, that we couldn’t refuse.

Another cool invite is a gentleman, who restores Vespas and exports them to Europe. His employees proudly present us with all kinds of different models. All Vespas are reassembled from absolute scrap. It is pretty impressive, how these guys manage to rebuild them with a simple work shop only.
In the evening it was decided, that we go to a weekend house with his neighbour and friend to spend the night there. They have already arranged dinner there, too. Two dinners in a row? In Pakistan you usually get so much to eat anyway, that you can hardly walk. How is that supposed to work? Ali tries to postpone our previous invitation. But dinner has already been cooked – we definitely have to come. Ali has an amazing suggestion – we’ll just eat a bit of everything and leave some space for the second dinner.

We stroll a bit more through the city and are invited to tea with another neighbour. He owns a few cows, calves, goats and a chicken in the backyard. Since chai doesn’t seem enough to him, he wants to go out and organise a couple of samosas (fried dumplings filled with vegetables). We try in vain to explain to him, that we have been invited to two dinners and we already don’t know how we should eat all this. Unfortunately, the nice gentleman doesn’t seem to care, as a short time later we have a huge plate of samosas in front of us. Tobi likes Samosas a lot by the way.

The first dinner then takes place at the cookshop owner’s home. Traditionally, people eat on the floor and they bring one filled plate to the next. The dishes are absolutely fantastic, but we’ll have to have dinner again soon. In addition to that we also get plenty of chai and even dessert. When we finally leave his house, we feel quite stuffed yet. However it is time to enter Ali’s neighbour’s car and drive to dinner number two.

The property is a bit out of the way and it is very quiet and beautiful. His neighbour is his good mate and he also joins us for security. Both are really cool and we have lots of fun that night. After our last dinner we prepare for a good night’s sleep. The next day we drive to a lookout point and then back to Rawalpindi.

Ali has to go to a police station. He probably also serves as a mediator here and two village gangs have apparently gotten into each other’s hair. Tobi is also simply taken to the police station. Once there, three unimpressed police officers are sitting around. Two of them relax on a bed and the third one takes the minutes of an excited reporting guy with a face covered in blood. He doesn’t get a cloth to clean, but he doesn’t seem to care either. In general, everyone is taking it easy – it seems to happen here frequently. Then they drive the injured person to the hospital and we move around the houses again. In the afternoon we come back to the neighbour with the cows. This time he wants to invite us to stay over night, what we gratefully accept. We are again treated with tasty meals.
The next morning we leave for Lahore to meet Hamdan and Ibrahim again.

Lahore is the second largest city in Pakistan and with over 11 million inhabitants, we are pretty deterred first and primarily haven’t planned to stay longer than 4 days. But in the end everything turns out differently than expected.

Hamdan wants to organise a hotel for us in advance. Although at our asking price, he says, we won’t get anything decent in Lahore. When we finally arrive in the city center at night after a chaotic and exhausting ride in donkey carts, ghost drivers without lights, insane animals jumping on the street in the dark and absolute traffic jam chaos, we are picked up by the two of them and taken to a leisure property on the outskirts. There is a small house with a bathroom, a kitchen, a barn, a few chickens, cows, cats and a meadow with table tennis and a volleyball net. In case we don’t mind, we can use the couch beds to sleep for free.
The area is very quiet and the property is located behind a market garden off the road. Four friends, including Ibrahim’s father, bought this property many years ago and it is used as a recreational place for relatives and friends to escape the noisy city.

Two permanently employed guys take care of it and are also responsible for serving and catering. We are told: “If we need anything, no matter what, we can tell the boys – that’s what they’re here for!”. Sokander is one of them and he is a bit shy in the beginning. However we are not used to servants anyway and just treat him as a normal friend. Therefore he warms up quickly and we have a lot of fun together after a short time. It is just a shame, that he speaks almost no English.

Every morning they prepare breakfast for us. It’s on the table at 10 o’clock sharp. Earlier is impossible, as “the kid” (Miriam) needs sound sleep. So her day always begins when the steaming omelette is on the table in front of her. During the day a lot of people come to visit us or just drop by to have some chai, to eat or to play table tennis.
Our planned four days for Lahore will eventually become three weeks. We will even overstay our visa for a week, which interestingly works for free and without any problems in Pakistan.
A typical daily routine looks something like this: We get up and our omelette is served at 10 a.m. It happens every morning and we don’t dare to ask for anything else. At around noon, Amjad comes by to have chai. Amjad is a passionate hunter, has travelled to many countries and always goes for hunting to the north of Pakistan for two weeks in winter. We then drink two or three chais and have some cool conversation. Sometimes more people join in, but Amjad is usually the first to come every noon.

Major Yahya arrives between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. He can’t come earlier because we get caught up in discussions until well after midnight every day. Yahya not only calls himself the “Braineater”. He likes to talk a lot, about life, God and the world. He has something to tell about every topic and also loves to tease (similar to Tobi) – preferably about women. We end up spending most of our time with him. In the afternoon we often stroll through the city. We visit the golf club – but only to eat and not to play golf *haha* – we get accessories for the motorbikes, visit friends and relatives, go to markets, etc. When we come back in the evening, a lot of people are already sitting in the garden waiting for us to have dinner. We can talk about everything and are able to asked whatever we want. So we learn a lot about Islam and Pakistan.
For the whole 3 weeks we are never alone and we are treated like a big family. There is no boredom, because we are constantly busy. We go on city tours, attend a Sufi concert at an ancient shrine, visit the Wagah Border ceremony, take a night ride through the city with the Lahore biker club, meet an incredible number of people, with whom we drink an even more incredible number of chais. One day Brother Yahya brings us to a hospital, since Miriam has some trouble with her elbow. We meet Umber and she treats Miriam’s arm professionally. We also spend some of the following days together and have a great time. It is especially nice, because Miriam has a girl to talk to – usually we mainly deal with men in Pakistan. As we finally drive on to India after such a long time, it is really sad for us to say goodbye.

Pakistan even surpasses hospitality in Iran. It is really difficult to get rid of your money here, because you are not allowed to pay for anything. Even when we had an engine guard welded and painted for the mopeds, neither the welder nor the painter accepted any money. The people are incredibly warm. They want you to feel as comfortable as possible in their home country. They are happy that strangers come to Pakistan and they want a better image in the world.
We did not feel threatened anywhere in Pakistan. Of course, that doesn’t mean it is completely safe to travel here – but with a little common sense, the chance of something unpleasant happening is very low.
We are already in no doubt – Pakistan is one of our highlights so far and definitely a country, where we are going to travel again. Many thanks to Brother Yahya, Brother Hamdan, Brother Amjad, Umber, Ali and all the other fantastic people we have met there.

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