KARACHI: ‘When guidebooks and the internet fails you, depend on yourself’, could be the mantra of German photographer Manolo Ty’s six-week long visit to Pakistan at the end of 2013. He found little to no information at bookstores or online for tourism in Pakistan, so he decided to wing it.
“When I left Germany I did not know what to expect during my travels, as I lacked any up-to-date information about Pakistan. I could just not find anything and I did not know what the country had to offer,” he told The Express Tribune. “I knew its history and a couple of cities by their names, but that was about it. This is why I decided to just go and see it by myself. And it was one of the best decisions I ever made.”
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Ty recently launched a photo-book on Pakistan titled ‘Pakistan Now’. He documented his journey from Karachi to Peshawar and a host of cities and towns in between such as Gadani, Thatta, Sukkur, Larkana, Mohen Jo Daro, the Cholistan Desert, Hasilpur, Bahawalpur, Multan, Lahore, Rawalpindi and Islamabad.
“The world just needed to see Pakistan the way I saw it – colourful, full of diversity and with different eyes,” he said, explaining that the perception of Pakistan abroad comes entirely from the news media. “The political scene in Pakistan is fast changing and it’s hard for people outside Pakistan to make sense of what’s happening here,” said Ty.
“It’s not about terror or fundamentalism, these are just tiny parts of society that are unfortunately highlighted by the media and about which information is available online,” he lamented. Everyone is always focusing on terror and that is too short-sighted a term to describe a whole country, he said.
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Welcome to Pakistan
“I started off in Karachi, a city I wanted to visit since I read about it as a child,” narrated Ty. “As I did not plan my trip, fate brought me to many places all over the country,” he explained. Finding no information online, he resorted to Couchsurfing, an online facility that connects travelers with hosts, and found a family willing to take him in.
Through them, he met other people who offered to take him around the country. “I met so many great people and everybody added to the experience of my journey. I got hosted so often that I do not even know how many days I even stayed in a hotel,” said Ty.
He began his journey in Karachi and went straight from the airport to Seaview Beach. “I loved the circus-like atmosphere there,” he said, adding that the beach was very different from German beaches. “Karachi was crazy, chaotic, huge and had no end,” he reminisced. There’s always something new to see and do in Karachi, he said. “Karachi is all of Pakistan combined, with people and food from all over.”
“I needed to rely on the advice and information of the Pakistani people I met on my way and I think they did an excellent job of pointing out amazing places for me to go to. Often they even brought me to the places themselves,” he said. “I wanted to show the diversity of the country and the culture that it managed to retain which most other countries lost while following in the footsteps of westernization,” Ty explained.
“I was amazed to find something unknown to me around every corner and I knew people at home did not even know that such things existed. We all always take for granted that what we know is the only way things work but that is not the case,” the photographer explained. “Pakistan is the perfect example of this, with its amazing diversity of culture and people all in one nation.”
Ty’s favourite place to visit and photograph was Lahore’s old city. “Watching the craftsmanship there was amazing,” he said. Though he has not had an official book launch in Pakistan, he had an event in Berlin, the attendance at which exceeded even his own expectations.
“I just wanted to try photographing Pakistan, regardless of whether people were interested in seeing the photos or not but three weeks ago I had a book launch in Berlin and it was overbooked! I had to turn people away,” he laughed. He even has an exhibition at a state museum in Germany on Pakistan coming up soon.
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He plans to visit Pakistan again in April or May to visit the northern areas. The new photographs will either be compiled in a book or be added to an extended version of the first one. Ty is even in talks with I Am Karachi about a collaboration.
“The interest in the country is there and people were surprised that most of the attendants at the exhibition were Germans, not Pakistanis living abroad,” recalled Ty. “People contacted me after the book launch and were super surprised about the way I saw Pakistan. Germans love to travel and they told me ‘I have now found another place I can go to that I never thought about before’,” he said.
After holding 60 exhibitions around the world and visiting 97 countries, ‘Pakistan Now’ is Ty’s first published book. “When you have exhibitions the pictures don’t remain there for people to see, in a book I leave something for people even when I’m not there anymore,” he explained.
One dark spot on the otherwise joyous event was that no Pakistani embassy officials or representatives attended the book launch, despite assuring Ty of their attendance. “I don’t know if they aren’t interested in tourism or my book but this was a great opportunity for them to change people’s perception of Pakistan,” he said.
One issue Ty had with Pakistan was the lack of facilities or information available for tourists. “India has a great marketing campaign [Incredible India campaign] but Pakistan doesn’t, so the only information foreigners have is about terrorism and other attacks,” he lamented.
It was also difficult for him to get information on the country from the ministry of tourism, making it seem to him that the government was not trying to facilitate tourists. “There is more possibility to showcase the country,” he said, adding that the government does not need a lot of money to do this, just will power.
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“By opening the country for tourism you get rid of the negative perception of the country abroad,” he said. “If you don’t get to see something, you enlarge the idea [in your mind] of it being exactly like the media portrays,” he explained, adding that people are definitely interested in visiting Pakistan, the government just needs to facilitate them.
He noticed a dearth of tourists in the country, even at heritage sites like Mohen Jo Daro. “When I visited I had to sign a logbook like all foreigners and there were only 11 entries for the entire year  including archaeologists,” he lamented. To me this is crazy because the logbooks at other heritage sites such as the ones in Paris would have 11 million entries, he said.
The truth of the matter
“I’m telling the truth in my depiction of Pakistan,” asserted Ty. “It’s easy to sell a book on a scary, terrible country,” he said, adding that he received offers from German publishers who wanted him to show the darker side of Pakistan with guns and fear. On the other hand, Pakistani publishers wanted me to show the country as a super modern place with skyscrapers and shopping malls, he said. But for Ty, Pakistan is something in between these two extremes.
“I wanted to show the real thing. Shopping malls are a dime a dozen in Germany and they don’t make a county, your culture does,” he said.
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“My family told me I was crazy for wanting to come to Pakistan and the perception I had before coming was that it would be far more severe than it was, but I landed up at Seaview, which is definitely not dangerous,” he laughed.
“I think if you go with good intentions people can see that and they realise you aren’t a threat,” Ty explained, adding that he never felt threatened during his visit. Despite several incidents, including the murder of Chaudhry Aslam and a suicide bombing the day after he visited a market in Islamabad, he said others were more afraid for him, than he was for himself.
“If you let these acts [of terrorism] define how you live, then the people doing this have won,” he said.
“I was super grateful for the hospitality, which really sets Pakistan apart from other countries. I have honestly never seen people so hospitable,” he said. It was unmatched, he added. Because of this hospitality and the warmth he received, Ty wanted to show a true picture of Pakistan.
“Everyone welcomed me with open arms but when I went home and everyone said ‘wow you’re so brave and adventurous for gong to such a terrible place’. That made me feel so awful because I was treated so well,” he lamented.
“One piece of advice I have for foreigners coming to Pakistan is don’t go with fear, be open to what’s coming and follow local advice,” he said. “Give intellectual discourse a chance and don’t believe all of what you hear in the news,” Ty told prospective travellers.