Wednesday, September 27, 2006


I decided last night to see whether I'd be able to follow the rules of Ramadan for a day. To do this I would have to refrain from eating, drinking, smoking & fornicating during the hours of daylight. I didn't think I'd have a problem with the last 2. Mostly I was worried about the interdiction on eating. As it was it didn't turn out to be too difficult. It was the not drinking bit that I couldn't manage. Breakfast arrived with a bang on the door at 3:30am. 2 eggs, 2 pratha & a small pot of tea was all I ate till the fast was broken at a little after 6pm. I only lasted until a bit after 9am before thirst got the better of me. I think I started off in a hole, I was still a bit dehydrated from the day before.

There was no need for me to fast. I had opportunities to go back to my hotel room to eat & drink. I had carrying around some very nice Chinese instant noodles since Kashgar exactly for this purpose. I was doing this partly out of curiosity, partly of respect & also a desire to share a little in what was going on around me. I hope the last reason doesn't sound too pretentious. The streets of Peshawar after the fast had been broken the previous evening had been filled with warmth. Everyone seemed to be happy, not just that their stomachs were finally full but also contentment with their fellows. I enjoyed being a part of that & thought, a little naively perhaps, that this could be augmented by fasting. It also meant that my day wouldn't be poisoned by a sense of doing something that everyone around couldn't do & some disapproved of.

Once the fast broke, like the previous evening, I wandered around & tried different things. Many were simply given to me by passers by with whom I chatted a short while or vendors who wouldn't accept money. Every interaction I had with someone was positive & made me smile. The only negative note was the annoyance that one street vendor had with another who had tried to rip me off. He, a complete stranger to me, wasn't going to let it happen & made sure the little punk who tried knew all about it. I had begun the trip to Pakistan dreading Ramadan, it was quickly becoming a highlight.

During the day travel plans began to firm up. I had spoken to a few travel agencies about flights out of Lahore. I also had some fun dealing with Pakistan Railway bureaucracy. I'd read in my guidebook that foreigners were eligible for a 25% discount on the already pretty cheap rail travel in Pakistan. All one needed to do was go & see the commercial department at the departure station for a concession certificate. This I imagined would be something like like a discount card. It was more complicated than that. The whole thing started off the previous day when I rolled up to the ticket office to ask about it all at 2pm & was told to come back the following day as the commercial office closed at 1pm during Ramadan. The next day I arrived in the morning at the (open) commercial office & was told I needed first to get a 'tourist certificate' from the tourism office. I almost jacked it all in here, I should point out that I was calculating on saving approximately 1.50USD on my ticket to Lahore with this discount. However I knew where the tourist office was & it wasn't out of the way. I wanted to see it through to the end. At the tourist office they made me fill out a form containing my name, nationality & passport number; which then got signed & stamped by the head walla. I expressed my opinion that this was unnecessarily bureaucratic, to which they responded that this was how it had always been done. Back to the commercial office I went & presented them with my certificate. I then had to fill out another form stating my destination & date of travel. It dawned on me that I'd need to go through this for every ticket I wished to purchase. My tentative date of travel, this Saturday coming, had to be firmed up or my 1.50USD discount or 2 hours worth of trotting around would be lost. The details of my form were transcribed by hand to another form which was taken away for stamping & signing by another head walla. The office in which this business was conducted can hardly have changed since the British, though the desks in the room were marked with the insignia of Pakistan Rail. There were antique cabinets overflowing with cardboard folders filled with yellowing documentation. Everything was done with pen & paper.

It was quite a good thing to have been forced to have decided on a date. Though I've been enjoying the friendliness of Peshawar at the end of the fast the town itself has not set me alight. While its bazaar filled old town is interesting to wander around something is missing for me. Perhaps I'm being unfair on it & it's all because the travel bug is being suppressed by a desire to have a home again.

I cycled 0 km

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