Trip Start Aug 18, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Pakistan  ,
Tuesday, May 29, 2007

It is 285km from Lahore to Rawalpindi (which is to Islamabad what Old Delhi is to New Delhi, since Islamabad is a 'planned capital', devoid of history, interest and, significantly, budget accomadation). The day I left Lahore I rode 100km along the Grand Trunk road, which, as the name implies, was not a scenic backstreet. I pulled over as dusk was falling at a roadside 'marriage palace'. The place was not opening for another month, but after some good-natured bargaining the owner let me sleep in an upstairs room for 150rupees. Formalities dealt with, he offered to take me to a restaurant on his motorbike.

We passed the nearest roadside dhaba, over my protests, and continued on to Mohammed's uncle's relatively expensive restaurant. I scanned the menu, looking for something affordable, not wishing to be rude or churlish and insist on eating elsewhere.
-There is a problem?
-No, no, it's just a little expensive.
He suddenly looks chastened, and undergoes a total attitude shift:
-You like chicken?
-Yes but-
-You like pepper sauce?
-Sure, but-
-Ok, don't worry about money. You are my brother!
-No, really, I can j-
-Coke or Dew?
-Seriously, water is fine. I'm thirsty after riding, I just need water
[He orders me a Dew]
Before long some of the best chicken curry I've had in months arrived on the table. We ate, while Mohammed told me about his soon to open marriage palace, his rice farm, his brothers in UK, US, Saudi Arabia and Dubai, and his five children and a bump.

The evening was passed reading, occasionally distracted by the DVDs being played by the boys who were left to guard the property. These varied from Pakistani music videos, in which a woman revealing no flesh whatsoever danced in a more explicitly sexual manner than Shakira feeling frisky, to bootleg hardcore western pornography. The latter I frowned upon, which was all that was required for it to be promptly abandonned. I have heard plenty of tales from female travellers of the effect of pornography on impressionable young Pakistanis, and didn't want to inadvertantly reinforce their preconceptions by silent complicity. (Invitations such as 'you wanna fuck? if you want to, it's ok...' are apparently not uncommon)

I woke up early, and, conscious that this would be my last day of generally flat roads for a very long time, decided it was time to cross the 100 miles in a day barrier. When I got to Rawalpindi, I wrote the following draft entry for the blog:

185km. v. tired. don't know where i am.

This pretty much sums up my time in the nation's capital.

Since neither Rawalpindi nor Islamabad have much to offer the passing tourist; and since the energy sapping, sweat soaking summer heat that I had hitherto managed to dodge finally caught me up in 'Pindi, my only plan was to meet up with Rob, another cyclist with whom I bonded in Delhi over the shared nightmare of a certain hellish merry-go-round. The venue, "Civil Junction Cafe, Gol Market, Street 8, Sector F7/3" evokes an accurate image of the amount of romance and quirky historicity to be found in Islamabad.

At the very least the grid system renders orientation relatively simple. Except it doesn't. Three minibuses after setting off in the midday heat I was in a deserted alleyway in, I had just discovered, sector G4/8. Abandoning thrift and already late, a taxi later I was in sector F7/3, but there was no sign of the Civil Junction cafe, and no-one I asked could help. Eventually, after a 45minute walking tour of the sector in the company of three small children who probably should have been at school, but insisted on helping me since it was their "religious duty", I was back where I started. And there was Rob, apologising for being late and explaining that he'd had trouble finding this place as there's no sign outside. I sympathised.
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