A Recipe for Something...
Trip Start Oct 06, 2008
3Trip End Oct 27, 2008
I've tried explaining this to non-travelers and yes, even to serious and well-expierenced travelers. I would have never even considered traveling to this part of the world in my twenties -- I was far too busy dreaming of -- and jetting off to chic European hot spots. The hot spots, as they were, have changed to more, shall we say edgy political hot spots. It's a bit like having your first spicy meal -- the next time you feel the heat less and so you order your dish medium spicy -- later you order the vindaloo: your eyes glaze, your face flushes, you laugh as you blot your brow -- you take another bite. The question is however, just how hot is too hot, and how can you know until you've tasted it?
I could see a large illuminated mosque bathed in amber, streams of cars lights and little else as my flight was touching down in Lahore Pakistan late last night. I thought my business class upgrade a most auspicious omen and with several flutes of Moutard for courage I inhaled deeply as the cabin door popped open and I, now had the coveted position of being the first to exit --alone.
I'm also the first and only person in customs and as I hand over my passport I scour the men in the distance with their long Punjabis waving their handmade signs -- and I cannot see my name on any of them. As I come nearer I look more closely and pass the luggage carousel --there are no more men with signs. I near the exit and stand beside the armed militia and I stare.
Throngs of people -- hundreds -- are waiting to pick up the other passengers and here I stand alone between men with machine guns strapped across their chests. My heart sinks and my stomach knots. I turn to my left, "I'm looking for my driver and I don't see him." He motions with the tip of his gun for me to step back and explains that I must wait inside "you be safe --go." I spin my carryon toward the Tourist Office and the solider yells back for me, "You called Christina? Adja! Come! Your boy is here". And I exhale.
With a leveled chin and squared shoulders, I part the sea of glaring onlookers amidst murmurs, and even a gasp. My "boy", a man of roughly 50, puts his key in the car door, scrunches his face and looks inside, "Wrong car. You stay, I find the car." Cue the screeching sitar strings and booming timpani and throw in one of those deafening Middle Eastern tongue-wagging-death-shrieks just for good measure. Shell shocked I stand in a parking lot in Pakistan looking haughty and practically daring someone to bother me. I throw up in my mouth just a little bit and I'm pretty sure I turtled. I'm standing next to a truck that's parked in the middle of a row and is empty -- it's leaking gasoline. Flashes of recent car bombings dance in my head. Two men in matching long white shirt dresses walk past me staring, stop and return. Across the maiden I see my boy -- he honks and I -- I can breathe again.
We speed past rickshaws burgeoning with people and garishly festooned lorries barreling at top speed, their horns temporally blotting out the crackling Bollywood music on the radio. A family of four on a motorcycle whizzes across our headlights --the infant holding on to her mother's arm looks back.
Now as we enter the city things take a gentler turn. Down tree-lined boulevards we pass hulking Mughal architecture -- spiraling confections from the builders of the Taj. The famous Gymkhana Club comes into view and across the way faded remnants of the British Raj -- it's now easy to see why Rudyard Kipling was so enchanted by Lahore that he chose to live here for several years.
It's chaotic and charming, and edgy for certain -- it's exactly the recipe that I need at present. And it may be just about as spicy as I can handle. Or is it?