Getting three consecutive days off is a rarity, and getting them in relative comfort weather-wise of Islamabad even rarer. Thus it was that my three days off became packed in a ‘What to do in Pakistan’ kind of way that was a vertical slice through the middle class at play — and it seems they are rather enjoying themselves.
Lok Virsa has had its ups and downs and is currently on something of an up courtesy of a new director who has given the place a much-needed shake-up. It is the closest we have got to a museum of national heritage and culture and I have visited regularly over the last 20-odd years. ‘Decidedly dusty’ would be a fair description of the state of play of late, with tired old exhibits and an indifferent array of shops selling tat and some very basic grub.
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But hist! What is this? Yes indeed lazees and germs it is an evening of music designed to launch a series of DVD’s that are a celebration of our national diversity — and it was not bad at all. Well attended — and free — it kicked the weekend off in fine style. In slightly less fine style the following day was a screening of Anna Karenina, the Russian 1960’s version that suffered from faulty dubbing and was seemingly oddly edited with at least one key death in this tale of angst and misery incorrectly sequenced. Attended mainly by up-market begums of a certain age it was also a freebie which included popcorn, a nice touch I thought. So six-out of ten for Lok Virsa and it was onwards and perhaps inevitably — downwards.
Rewat Fort would be well worth your time if whoever is responsible for maintaining it could be bothered to put a sign on the GT road indicating its existence, and secondly making some attempt to explain what is a significant part of our national history. Rewat is not a grand fort in the style of Derawar for instance, but significant nonetheless. I poked around in complete ignorance for an hour or so and got interviewed by a TV crew who were present investigating the state of preservation of national treasures. Needless to say they got a piece of my mind. A visit to the Mankyala Buddhist stupa was similarly unenlightening, not even a plaque that I could see, and yet another hidden gem.
Sunday it was time to have a day and night in the hills and headed for a perch in a gated community of houses that cling to the hillside in Kalabagh, an old Brit hill station. The perch was a delight and getting there was where the vertical slice really showed to its best effect. Revelation number one was that the latest must-have item is a selfie stick and the roadside sellers of knick-knacks and gaudy umbrellas have caught on. You could buy a selfie stick in any colour you liked and they were selling like hotcakes.
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The mix of vehicles and number plates was interesting as well. Predominantly from Lahore and Faisalabad it was not just the SUV’s of the wealthy but the battered and massively overloaded Mehran’s of us more ordinary folk. Pakistan was out to play and domestic tourism was clattering along fit to bust — a healthy sign I thought even if it exposed the chronic failure to provide roads that were sufficient to the volume of traffic, but perhaps that is in the future. Perhaps.
Peace and tranquility. Sitting on a lawn feeling the grass between my toes and looking between the pines at The Far Pavilions on the horizon. Birdsong and the Sunday papers and a good book. A quiet meal in the evening and an early bed — and an oddly sleepless night. You win some you lose some, I guess.
What my three days break re-emphasised is that Pakistan as a destination has a huge amount to offer and is depressingly bad at marketing its wares. There is clearly huge potential in the leisure sector and most of it underexplored and unexploited. It is not difficult or remotely dangerous to access and a lot of it is as free as the air we all breathe. So get out there and enjoy! Tootle-pip!
Published in The Express Tribune, August 4th, 2016.
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