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From Germany to India: Chai and contradictions in Pakistan

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This is the travel blog of backpackers Rochssare Neromand-Soma (28) and Morten Hübbe (30) who met at the same university in Germany, where they both studied Literature and Media. They finished school in 2011 and started travelling immediately.

Their journey started with a trip to South America. They planned it as a six-month visit but ended up falling in love with the warm people and the breathtaking beauty of the region. It all started with hitchhiking (which is really common in Argentina and Chile) and enjoyed it so much that they kept travelling until they had discovered the entire continent.

They ended up staying back for over two years, and had by then, hitchhiked more than 50.000 kilometers, mostly with truck drivers.

On the way, they met a Frenchman who told them about his hitchhiking adventures in Europe. He went from Paris to Istanbul all in just four days. This impressed the couple enough to decide to hitchhike all the way from Germany to India.

Today, they are in Pakistan. And look forward to travel throughout the country before proceeding to their last destination.

Read Part-I here. You can also follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

Karachi, the mega-metropolis

Coming from Quetta, we arrived in Karachi after a long and dusty train ride. Before we even reached the Cantt station, we had already seen the poverty; people living in tents next to the rails, all but surrounded by garbage, the dust and dirt. At the colonial-era station, goats roamed about outside as we had our breakfast in a fancy bistro café.

Our first impression: Karachi contains all social classes. And nothing seems to be impossible here. The city is a real mega metropolis, and together with the district next to the Arabic Sea, it hosts more inhabitants than the whole of Australia.

Karachi’s global image is supposedly not very good – it is regularly mentioned in all rankings of the most dangerous cities in the world. They say there is no other city in the world where more people get murdered. But all this, we got to know when we had already left the city.

The time we spent in Karachi was phenomenal. We met pleasant people and interested observers everywhere we went. We had good fun with friends on the beaches of Hawksbay, watched wonderful decorated camels at Clifton; hung out with musicians, producers, journalists; and every new day, learned a little bit more about Pakistan.

Camels at Clifton beach, Karachi.Camels at Clifton beach, Karachi.
A view of the market in Saddar, Karachi.A view of the market in Saddar, Karachi.
A corn vendor at the beach.A corn vendor at the beach.

Here, we were the most comfortable, and time seem to fly by. All of a sudden, 10 days had gone by and we realised it was time to move on.

Although we are on a mission to hitchhike from Germany to India, many people recommended not to do so in Pakistan.

‘It is uncommon and might be risky.’

However, our experiences were nothing but good. We never had to wait for more than 15 minutes before some nice folks picked us up.

When we reached Multan, we were not allowed to stay because of ‘security issues’. It was not the first time and definitely not the last time that we had some hassle with the authorities here. It is always all about ‘our security’, but the attitude of some of the policemen and military folk was at times arrogant, even rude.

The twin-cities: Islamabad and Rawalpindi

In the end, we were escorted directly to Islamabad overnight, with the vehicle changed every couple of kilometres. As soon as we entered the capital, we felt like we had left Pakistan altogether.

All of a sudden, the chaotic traffic disappeared, so did the donkey carts creeping forward in tiny lanes. Instead, we found a systematically constructed city; wide roads; western cafés and restaurants – a notable influence of foreign diplomats and expats.

Faisal Mosque, Islamabad.Faisal Mosque, Islamabad.
A view of The Centaurus, Islamabad.A view of The Centaurus, Islamabad.
A sugarcane juice vendor in Islamabad.A sugarcane juice vendor in Islamabad.

And next to it, is Rawalpindi, ‘the ugly sister’ of Islamabad we were told – but, we’d much rather call it, the more charismatic one. The streets are narrow and crowded again; mobile salesmen offer fruits, blossoms, socks or whatever you like; chai wallahs crossing from one side to the other. In Pindi, we felt that Pakistan is a place where anything can happen. There are no restrictions as long as you know how to handle the circumstances.

View of a street in Rawalpindi.View of a street in Rawalpindi.

We fell in love with Rawalpindi, but Islamabad was an excellent place to recollect some energy for the upcoming adventures. Again, we met many friends, many different kinds of people. We were invited to visit some universities, spent time with private and government employees and had inspiring chats about culture and life in this great country of contradictions.

Going north — the beauty of the mountains

Again, it took us a while to leave the capital. There were quite a few lazy days in between as we waited for our Indian visa.

As soon as we got our passports back from the consulate, we hitchhiked north towards Gilgit and Hunza. It was an epic voyage along the famous Karakoram Highway (KKH). The twisting road, partly unsteady and in a bad shape, offered some spectacular views overlooking the Indus River and the valleys along the road.

We were lucky enough to find trustworthy drivers who gave us a lift to a rainy Gilgit within three days. In the middle of a lively bazaar, we spent hours chatting and drinking chai together with the merchants.

A man sitting next to Gilgit River.A man sitting next to Gilgit River.
Overlooking Gilgit River.Overlooking Gilgit River.

Later, we proceeded to Hunza Valley and Karimabad.

This was truly like entering heaven on earth. Hundreds of blooming apricot and almond trees welcomed us in a valley surrounded by mighty, snow-covered mountains and towering peaks. Hiking in this astonishing landscape was undoubtedly one of our best experiences in Pakistan.

Overlooking Hunza Valley, Karimabad.Overlooking Hunza Valley, Karimabad.
A woman stands amidst apricot blossoms in Karimabad, Hunza.A woman stands amidst apricot blossoms in Karimabad, Hunza.
View from the Baltit Fort, Karimabad.View from the Baltit Fort, Karimabad.
Hiking in Karimabad.Hiking in Karimabad.
Hiking in Karimabad.Hiking in Karimabad.
Karakoram Highway in Pasu.Karakoram Highway in Pasu.

However, when we went further north and crossed the Attabad Lake, we found it much more difficult to find a ride. With a disconnected road and a dearth of cars, there is almost no traffic north of the lake. Somehow, we made it to Pasu, and decided to visit Shimshal Valley.

We were so excited that we decided to hitchhike the ‘jeep road’ that leads from the KKH towards Shimshal, not knowing that we would not find a single car on the way.

In the end, we had to walk for two straight days! It was an unexpected hike without any food. In the cold evening, we had to make fire with wood that we collected on the way and slept in our tent during a freezing night before we reached Shimshal Village.

Walking along the KKH near Attabad Lake.Walking along the KKH near Attabad Lake.

Life in Shimshal is tough, and not just because it is a long way to any other sign of civilisation around. The soil is dry, the nights are freezing – it requires a lot of hard work to survive in this area.

Life in Shimshal consists of living in its purest sense. It consists of collecting water from the river, chopping wood for heating, cultivating the fields, working with the farm animals. Nothing done here is for a minor reason, for anything other than survival.

But the people of Shimshal also enjoy something unique: almost everybody is a mountaineer. They say the best climbers belong to this small village of 2000 inhabitants.

We visited the nearby Yazghail Glacier, where we had to climb up for the most beautiful view. After two days, we found transport to go back to the KKH, where we started hitchhiking towards the north again.

Yazghail Glacier, Shimshal Valley.Yazghail Glacier, Shimshal Valley.

We arrived in Sost soon enough, but to reach the Chinese border at the Khunjerab Pass – the highest international border crossing in the world – we had to wait for three more days. There just did not happen to be a car traveling that way.

Hour by hour, day by day, we kept standing there, holding a big chart saying ‘Khunjerab’, to no avail. Only friendly policemen inviting us for chai kept our hopes alive. By the third day, we were about to give up when some other tourists and their local guide invited us to join them. At the border, at an altitude of almost 5000 metres, we met some Chinese people who were hitchhiking, just like us.

Together, we celebrated Pak-China friendship and rolled back to Islamabad and then further to Lahore.

Getting close to India

The bustling city close to the Indian border was our last destination in Pakistan. We were only freshly out of the cold from the Northern Areas when suddenly, we had to put up with 35° Celsius and more. We still enjoyed walking around the old city, with its narrow and crowded lanes, the enormous Shahi Qila and the beautiful Badshahi Mosque.

A street in the Old City of Lahore.A street in the Old City of Lahore.
Queue at Badshahi Mosque, Lahore.Queue at Badshahi Mosque, Lahore.
The back entrance of the Delhi Gate in Lahore.The back entrance of the Delhi Gate in Lahore.
Badshahi Mosque, Lahore.Badshahi Mosque, Lahore.

But the best part about Lahore were its friendly and hospitable people. Smiling faces all around us; people invited us for chai and food, and asked us for pictures, the whole time we were there.

We are glad to say that all over Pakistan, we met the most heartwarming people and never once had an untoward incident.

As we leave the country, we will remember the joys we had here and let the outside world know of the Pakistan we had so much fun in.

Thanks a lot, people of Pakistan. You are the best.

— Photos by author


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