We took the motorway back to Lahore and again had the same hassle with the cops. Again the IDP did the trick and we were glad we brought it. we arrived into Lahore and wound our way around the streets to find the house of Ijaz and Shamila. Helen had met Shamila while working in Belfast and mentioned to her about our trip. We were grateful of their invitation to stay after the distance we had come.
Their house was a large spread out building provided as a part of Ijaz‘s remuneration for work in a senior position of the civil service. The family car was also part of this inclusive though perhaps absorptive setup too. As seems to be the norm there were staff on hand in the house to cook, clean and drive. One even offered to wash our bikes for us but seemed confused when I explained there was little point and besides, I like them that way.
Unfortunately Shamila was actually over in the UK at work. Her kids were looking forward to visiting and seeing Justin Beber, We felt a little guilty being here without her and probably being a strange imposition, but were warmly welcomed and very hospitably treated indeed.
We were invited to Shamila‘s brothers birthday party. First heading over to their house for birthday cake and then onto the 5 Star Continental. Eating out played a big part in their lifestyles although with the safety situation nowadays they tended to stay near home most of the rest of the time. Shamila‘s father seemed an interesting, experienced man, in his 70‘s still practising medicine.
As we drove around the city Ijaz pointed out the newer housing developments and restaurants in the new half of the city that we had not seen before on our first visit. It was similar to Islamabad with the usual big names like Pizza Hut slowly creeping in. We also saw the roundabout where the Sri Lankan cricketers were attacked, and would not have known it to be any different to the other places in the city.
As we stopped at traffic lights beggars came to the window as they do at most traffic lights. Ijaz explained they work in cahoots with the police and effectively rent the junction to avoid being moved on. He thought they make a lot of money and go home to nice lives though I was not sure what to believe. I don’t think they live in the same plush estates that we had seen that night though the police thing was plausible. However, it was enlightening to see some of the state of the art free public hospitals in the city and the excellent emergency response teams that had vehicles all over the city.
On our last day Ijaz arranged a tour of the walled city with members of the team charged with the restoration project. We started by meeting with Mr Abbasi, the director of the project, funded by the world bank. The walled city had fallen into some disrepair, mostly because it was being used as a commercial centre these days. One feature they mentioned was the power cables strung everywhere which they planned to have rerouted and buried within an ambitious 2 years. The IT systems behind the project seemed pretty huge with a large GIS platform in the background, cataloguing every building in the city with over 1000 attributes each. The surveyors must have been pretty busy for a while.
We were introduced to Fatima Atta, Media & Communication Strategist who kindly took the time to show us around. We entered through Delhi gate and then turned left to the Shahi Hamam, a traditional bathhouse now restored but with a marble floor instead of the pools. The guide demonstrated the acoustics by singing and we were allowed onto the roof for a different view of the spice markets below, which export all over the world.
We saw 2 mosques and a traditional partly restored (privately owned) house. It was interesting to see several of the houses being restored at the time we visited with the traditional lime plaster and building techniques being used. I asked Fatima what the local people thought of the project to receive the refreshingly honest reply that initially they were against it until they came to see the benefits it was bringing. People everywhere have a fear of the unknown but gentle reassurance seems to be the way forward.
Overall it was a truly fascinating and different experience to that of our first visit to Lahore. Only with a little local knowledge were we able to get below the surface and see another side to the city. I wondered if our view of all other places we had been and were going would be dependant only on our perspective and people we happened to meet at the time. In the end I found it impossible to figure out the real story of Pakistan. Its everything and nothing all at the same time. What is true though is that the people seem very vibrant and alive. I am not sure what I was expecting but was more than a little sad to leave.