Big Cities And Border Battling – Pakistan Part 6

We had just trekked magnificent mountain ranges, where we cruised The Roof of the World, conquered The Bridge of Death, found The Fountain of Youth and braved the ninth tallest peak in the world… well at least its base camp.

That was it for my grand adventure around Pakistan with a group of travel buddies. We said our final goodbyes and parted ways.

But, that was not the end of my Paksitani excursion. It was time for me to don my Pakistani pride and get ready for the urban side of one of the world’s most populous countries, as well as a battle on the border with a bitter rival. Let’s go see Pakistan’s big cities and a bizarre ritual at a hostile border.

Historic Outskirts of Islamabad

After parting ways with the group I was on my own in Islamabad, ready to spend a few days seeing parts of the country that I had not yet gotten to explore. I looked forward to spending time around Islamabad, Lahore, and Karachi, to see what these major cities had to offer.

A glimpse at Islamabad through the trees

I went with one of the same guides that had been with us the previous weeks, and we had our own personal driver to take us around. First, we went to visit Taxila, which is only about twenty-five kilometers northwest of Islamabad. The name Taxila translates to “City of Cut Stone,” and its history goes all the way back to the year 600 BC.

It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was once ranked the top tourist attraction in Pakistan. It was home to one of the oldest universities in the world and was an important stop on The Silk Road back in its heyday.

In Taxila, we went to visit the Dharmarajika Stupa, which was built by Buddhists in the second century CE to house some small fragments of bone from the Buddha. At this point in my travels, I had visited so many stupas that I find myself not knowing which one — for the sake of context — I should link to. 😉

The ancient Buddhist stupa of Taxila

After leaving Taxila, we drove back about twenty-five kilometers southeast to visit the hectic town of Rawalpindi, which is also famous for its Buddhist heritage. Rawalpindi is known as Islamabad’s “twin city,” and it is the fourth largest city in all of Pakistan. We went to see some of the markets there, which had a bunch of gun stores.

This country has the greatest number of gun stores I’ve seen thus far in my travels.

We also went to a bus painting workshop, which was a very unique experience. Pakistan is famous for having very colorful buses, so it was cool to see the place where they are painted.

Each bus is it’s own unique masterpiece.

Back in Islamabad

After seeing Rawalpindi, we went back to Islamabad for lunch, and saw some old parts of the city. We saw Pakistan’s parliament building, and the Pakistan Monument, which is meant to symbolize the unity of the people of Pakistan. It also has some amazing views overlooking Islamabad.

The beautiful Pakistan Monument is dedicated to the martyrs who sacrificed their lives for the betterment of their country.

The next day, we visited the Museum of Ethnology, which had some interesting exhibits.

A somewhat bizarre exhibit at the museum

We also went to see Faisal Mosque, which is the sixth largest mosque in the world and features some amazing contemporary architecture.

The impressive Faisal Mosque

Nearby the mosque I saw a cute monkey, which I snapped a photo of and posted on Instagram and Facebook with the innocent caption “Pakistani monkey.” Apparently, I triggered something in their system that immediately blocked me for three days as a result of this post. I guess Facebook considers it racist to call a monkey from Pakistan a “Pakistani monkey.” Oh well, we’re living in 1984. 🙊

I still can’t believe this got me a three-day block.

A Tour of Lahore

The next day, we started to drive toward Lahore. On the way, we stopped at Khewra Salt Mine, which is the second largest salt mine in the world. The mine was discovered by Alexander the Great’s army all the way back in the year 320 BC.

We took a tour there which brought us inside of the mountain on a train, although later we exited the mountain by foot with a two kilometer walk through the mine.

Entering the massive mine

On the tour, we were told about how they mine the salt. The tour guides pointed out some underground lakes and showed us many interesting rock formations including stalagmites and stalactites.

Some interesting formations in the salt mine

After leaving the salt mine, we continued the rest of the way to Lahore. I had wanted to visit Lahore because my brother Philipp had studied abroad there for a semester. He still has friends in Lahore who I wanted to meet, but unfortunately, his two closest friends who live there were not in town when I arrived. Luckily, later, I would be able to visit one of Philipp’s friends in Karachi.

Looking down over Lahore

Upon our arrival in Lahore, which is known as the historic cultural center of Pakistan, we began a tour of the city.

Having a little fun with some local guards 😜

Lahore is the second largest city in Pakistan and the twenty-sixth largest city in the whole world. It is one of Pakistan’s wealthiest cities, and its history dates all the way back to the first century CE.

Climbing a minaret in 40 degree heat. Below me, you can see Wazir Khan Mosque, which is known as the most ornately decorated mosque from the Mughal era.

We went to see the old walled city, which dates back to around 1000 CE and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There we saw the old mosques, the ancient palace, the old gardens, and the amazing city walls.

Badshahi Mosque is one of Lahore’s most iconic landmarks, which was the largest mosque in the world from the 17th century until 1986.

Battle at the Border

Next, we went to the famous Wagah Border, which divides Pakistan and India. A few hundred miles north, India and Pakistan are still fighting over the Kashmir region. At the border, which is quite well secured, the fight continues in the form of loud music and impressive dances, which was hilarious to see. 🤣

Ready to make some noise for Pakistan!

On the way there, after passing through many security checkpoints, we finally saw the big Pakistani and Indian flags. They have basically built two stadiums, or arenas, next to each other at the border.

Pakistani and Indian flags at the stadium

At the border gate, you can see the Indian people cheering in their stadium, and the Pakistanis cheering in theirs. Since I was on the Pakistani side, they painted my face with the colors of the Pakistani flag. I got some popcorn and waited for the show to begin.

Do I look like a real Pakistani now? 😆

The show was the changing of the guards — on both sides of the border. Basically, it was a very pompous show with loud music and a lot of noise as the Indians tried to be louder than the Pakistanis, and the Pakistanis tried to be louder than the Indians.

I guess it’s a fun way to alleviate some aggression between the two countries that are both neighbors and bitter rivals. They say that the ceremony indicates the rivalry between India and Pakistan, but also signifies the love and brotherhood shared between them. It was pretty fun to be there and take part in this silly ritual.

The bizarre border ceremony begins

From there we headed back to town, but first, we picked up a couple of Germans on the way who were also taking a tour of Pakistan. They had not arranged transportation back to Lahore, so we caught them hitching a ride by the side of the road to get a ride to the next subway. After dropping them off, we went back to the hotel, where I worked in the evening (as usual).

Kicking it in Karachi

The next day, I headed to the airport in Lahore and flew to Karachi, the largest city in Pakistan and the twelfth largest in the world. I only had a short amount of time to see Karachi, as later that evening I would be flying off to Djibouti, on the horn of Africa.

Welcome to Karachi, my final stop in Pakistan.

My original plan had been to fly from Lahore directly to Djibouti, but that flight was canceled around the time that I left Islamabad. I had to change my schedule on short notice, and I noticed that flights from Karachi to Djibouti were much better than the ones from Lahore, so I decided to take that flight instead. This change allowed me the opportunity to visit the industrial and financial center of Pakistan.

Karachi is certainly not the most beautiful part of Pakistan, but it was interesting to see.

The first thing I noticed upon landing is that the landscape was drastically different than anything else I had seen in Pakistan so far. I enjoyed a day tour of Karachi, where I saw many things both modern and ancient.

The Mohatta Palace, built in 1927, is now a museum and one of Karachi’s famous landmarks.

I checked out some buildings that dated back to the British colonial period, plus I saw a big tomb, an old library, and a big domed mosque.

Masjid-e-Tooba, the famous dome mosque of Karachi

I also visited a beach in Karachi, which was very dirty and not that nice, but it was full of people. There were people trying to offer me camel rides, and tons of people trying to swim even though they didn’t know how to.

Sundown over the industrial city of Karachi

There was quite a lot of activity going on at the beach, but it wasn’t a nice place that I’d want to return to.

A somewhat chaotic, very crowded sunset at the beach

I enjoyed a good lunch and a nice seaside dinner there in Karachi, and later briefly met up with Philipp’s friend before getting dropped off back at the airport. I spent about half an hour at Philipp’s friend’s very fancy villa. His friend is an entrepreneur who is bringing German supermarkets to Pakistan. We had a brief chat, and I enjoyed seeing how wealthy Pakistanis could live with butlers in amazing villas.

Enjoying my last dinner in Pakistan by the sea

After meeting Philipp’s friend, I went to the airport where I flew from Karachi through Sharjah (in the UAE) to Djibouti and Hargeisa in Somaliland. They gave me a hard time at the airport because I was coming from Pakistan, which they were concerned had some kind of variant of the coronavirus. I almost had to go into quarantine for two weeks in Somaliland, but that is a story for a different day.

Ready to begin my next adventure in Somaliland!