Fear. It’s both a vital gift housed by human nature and an insidious enemy of the human race. On one hand, it whispers warnings and protects us from danger. On the other hand, it has the tendency to dramatise risk, rationalise rumours, glorify assumptions and conjure terrifying truths in order to fill gaps in knowledge and experience. . In this regard, fear often places two hands over our eyes and blinds us from hidden opportunities. It closes the gate on enlightening international relationships, thrilling life experiences and character-building adventures.
I recently started fear in the face and told it take a back seat. It knew of my plans to explore Pakistan and it was starting to freak out. It kept replaying the frightful imagery and headlines I’d consumed through international media. My inner devil’s advocate didn’t have any good news stories to fight back with – so it seemed, positive tales about Pakistan weren’t getting much airtime.
As I started to share my travel plans with others, fear got it’s “I told you so” face on. Every time I mentioned that Pakistan was my gateway to “The Stans” and Europe, I was met with one of two responses:
“Why are you going there? It’s not safe,”
“Good luck!” (backed by incredulous laughter).
As I spent my last night in India, soaking up the intense atmosphere at the infamous Wagah Border Closing Ceremony, my sense of trepidation reached fever pitch. I watched the Pakistani crowd from the Indian bleachers with nervous curiosity. Stretching my neck like a meerkat, I fought to decipher any cultural clues, which would put my mind at ease. From what I could tell, the men and women were sitting in different sections but both sexes were releasing a passion-fuelled fire from their bellies like revved up dragons. Their intense patriotism was hypnotising.
Wagha border, Lahore
Funnily enough, at this point, my biggest fear wasn’t getting killed in Pakistan. It’s that I’d offend the locals with my cultural naivety and lack of sensitivity and, as a result, represent my home country poorly. I desperately wanted to put a good Aussie foot forward and assure the Pakistani people I was eager to understand their community better. I quickly learned their intentions were exactly the same as mine. The locals knew they were battling against a major international PR challenge, and they were hungry to champion Pakistan’s endearing qualities and little-known strengths.
Indeed, it wasn’t long before Pakistanis became one of the most hospitable communities I’d encountered. From the moment I entered the border at Wagah to the time I left the country through China, they slowly chipped away at my armour with kindness and found their way into my heart. The locals have taught me a lot about Pakistan, Islamic culture and the power of media. They’ve practically demolished my fears and rebuilt my perception of their home country. Let me explain why…
WHITE BEER (Lassi) - the drink of choice for Pakistanis who generally don't drink liquor due 2 Islamic culture
A wall of Royal fort, Lahore
So many bees and delicious honey in Pakistan (Kaghan Valley, KPK)
Cutting ice to make way, (Kaghan Valley KPK)
Sheaps in Kaghan Valley (KPK)
Famous Pakistani trucks.
Altit fort, Hunza valley, Gilgit-Baltistan
Attabad Lake, Hunza, Gilgit-Baltistan
Beautiful couple and authors, Sophee and Been @Fasil masjid, Islamabad
Sophee in Gilgit Baltistan
TRAVEL IN PAKISTAN CAN BE SAFE
“If you look for trouble, you’ll find it. If you stay safe and play by the rules, you’ll come out the other side unscathed.”
I’ve carried this advice with me through every travel destination I’ve visited. Risk, danger and even terrorism are a reality in most places around the world, not just Pakistan.
While this complex country certainly has its challenges and “danger zones”, which should be well-researched by travellers prior to visiting Pakistan, my experience in the north felt safer than manyother parts of the world. Just to be on the safe side, Ben and I followed these local tips to ensure we enjoyed happy trails throughout our journey:
Respect Pakistani culture
Respect Pakistani culture (which has strong Islamic influences) and try to blend in. Mimic the locals when it comes to dress codes, social customs and body language (we discovered an open-fingered wave with a forward thrust means “Shame on you!”, so keep your fingers together like the Queen of England!).
Ensure you have the necessary paper work to pass through police checks
If you’re travelling between towns in your own vehicle, ensure you have the necessary paper work to pass through police checks (e.g. passport with valid visa, an NOC and drivers license plus photocopies of them all). When interacting with police, it’s always good to offer a friendly smile and handshake. Before hitting the the road, check road conditions (online forums like Horizons Unlimitedare handy) and try to travel during daylight hours.
Contact with a local club, association or individual with similar interests as yours
Before you enter Pakistan, touch base with a local club, association or individual with similar interests to your own (Facebook is a good starting point). Based on a friend’s recommendation, we contacted the Motorcyclists’ Association of Pakistan and they made sure we experienced their country in the safest, most enjoyable way possible. Having local insights on hand was also a brilliant way to really get under the skin of Pakistan and understand the country better.
Read an extensive range of articles about Pakistan
Read an extensive range of articles about Pakistan before travelling to this country, including: local, on-the-ground stories; travel blogs; news articles; government websites and beyond. Don’t limit yourself to one source of information.
While this advice certainly came in handy, I believe our best safety tools were a smile and an open mind. Ben and I were hungry to get to know the “real” Pakistan and understand the perspectives of the local people. We entered the country with a desire to uncover its beauty and good news stories. Sensing our friendly curiosity, the Pakistanis jumped at the chance to help us fulfill our mission. If we’d entered their home country armed with stubborn prejudice and overt animosity, it’s possible our travel experience would have been different.
Boating in Attabad lake, Gilgit Baltistan
Inside view of Badshahi Masjid, Lahore
Borait Lake, Hussani, Passu, Gilgit Baltistan
Snow Leopard seen in Gilgit Baltistan
All photos & Content: MEET BEN & SOPHEE SOUTHALL
This post originally appeared here.
Find out more and check the PART-2 of "Unveiling Pakistan by Meet Ben & Sophee Southall"