Islamabad to Waga
It is a 70 mile journey from Abbottobad. In 1961 the capital was moved from Karachi to Islamabad.
We arrive in Islamabad and on our way into town we stop at Toyota to book the car in for a service and to diagnose the intermittent gear box problems we are having. At first the service manager tells us it will cost about 60,000rp for a service (£431). After some more discussion we get the price down to 23,000rp (£161) which would include new filters and new brake pads, break service, oil change, ATF change, wheel balancing, alignment, replacing various bulbs, fixing our bumper, fixing our exhaust, replacing the stabiliser bar, greasing the UJ’s plus cleaning and diagnosing the gear box fault too.
We head to the B&B that our guide had arranged for us, and decide to pop out for some lunch. Nicole spots a Pizza Hut so we decide to eat in a western restaurant for the first time in several months.
In the evening we decide to have some food in our B&B, however this is a bad decision as Nicole ends up with food poisoning.
23rd November – 29th November
We are due to apply for our Indian visas today…However, with Nicole still being sick we are unable to go, so we spend the day in the room. In the evening I pop out to grab some takeaway from a local restaurant.
Nicole is ill for several more days, so we end up housebound for a few more nights, although it’s not so bad as we have cable TV, Wi-Fi and films to keep us occupied.
Once Nicole is better, we spend a couple of days walking around Islamabad buying up the essentials needed for the car, and other items like mosquito repellent and coils etc.
We have a couple of nights out in local restaurants which are relatively cheap. There’s not really that much to see in Islamabad as far as tourist sites go.
We grab a taxi to the diplomatic enclave to apply for our visas. First we must use the diplomatic shuttle service to gain access to the embassies. A few years back a there was a terrorist attack in the enclave, so all visitors must now enter the enclave using an authorised shuttle service. The shuttle cost 200rp for economy or 500rp for a premium service. We have to leave all bags, mobiles etc at the shuttle car park before going through metal detectors to board the shuttle. As we approach the enclave we notice a lot of security, and checkpoints. Once inside, again there are check points and armed security everywhere.
We arrive at the Indian embassy. After a short wait we are able to apply for our visas and are told they would be ready in one week from today.
30th November Murree
We drive to Murree as this is where Martin’s granddad went to school and wanted us to take some photos. Passing through the Korang valley and lush green hills, we drive to 2000m up winding roads.
We reach Murree, which is situated at the beautiful foothills of the Himalayas at a height of about 2000 metres, the town has breathtaking views over the surrounding area.
We have one guest house in mind which we had found on trip adviser. However we are unable to find it; a local man approaches us and promises the best rooms at the best prices. Taking what he says with a pinch of salt, the man hangs on to the side of the car to direct us to the rooms. Winding through the streets to the other side of town we are surprised he manages to hold on so well. This is quite a common sight in Pakistan although it’s the first time for us! Being out of season there’s lots of deals to be had with the rooms.
As we continue to try and find a hotel we pick up more helpers all chasing some commission. We find they are difficult to get rid off and have to drive fast out the hotel car park so they cannot jump back on the car! We finally agree a discounted price with the Jawa International hotel and stay in for the evening.
After breakfast we drive to Lawrence College, Martin’s granddads school, where he was head boy in 1942. The school was built in the 1860’s by Sir Henry Lawrence as a school for orphans and children of the British army. Today the school is still classed as one of the best in Pakistan.
At first we have difficulty gaining access to the school and after some waiting we are asked to go to the principal’s office. Once there we are given an escort to the headmaster’s office.
We are shown around the grounds which are filled with landscaped gardens and pine trees, definitely a nice setting for a school. We wait patiently outside the headmaster’s office…Memories come flooding back-more so for Martin than for me! We are let in and have a chat and some tea and biscuits. The headmaster is a bit of a character and even has his own button under the desk to summon waiting staff. However if we thought that was a good set-up, more was to follow in the form of the principal’s office.
As we are shown around the grounds, Martins precious camera starts malfunctioning, his pride and joy-I begin to feel trouble brewing….. He was hoping to get lots of photos for his grandfather but luckily, I have mine on me and we are able to get a few.
We visit the principle and are in a room which can only be described as similar to a presidential suite-a large grand desk , portraits of principles past, ornate looking bookcases, matching cream chairs and carpet, all within one huge room, oh and the fireplace-it’s so hot that even I remove my jacket!
The principle is very friendly, again offering us some tea. He welcomes us and tells us we can spend as long as we want at the school. The phone rings and he chats on the phone with an old friend, the language gradually going from Urdu to English. We begin to wonder if he will ever get off as we overhear reminiscences of the old days and hearty chuckles!
We walk further up to a World War 1 memorial and then to a beautiful church which has recently been restored. Before separation the church was in constant use, but we are told these days there are fewer Christian pupils and staff than before. The school even has its own separate hospital. There seems to be an award ceremony taking place today with the kids in neat rows running up to collect their prizes, and long tables with food and silverware, presumably for the party afterwards.
We say goodbye to the school and drive up to the cable car. Martin had read beer was to be found at the bottom at Murree Brewery, so we brave the steep slope and scary squeaking noises and hope it can take our weight! We make it down in the hope of finding Brewery Road. However, no-one knows the way so we give up and head back up. At the top, there are lots of white horses with owners for tourists to ride on.
In the evening we head into town, where we find a small restaurant to have dinner.
2nd December – Lahore
In the morning we head back to Islamabad to pick up our visa’s, this time driving directly to the shuttle service. It goes relatively smoothly as we only have to wait an hour and we are on our way again.
We drive along the Giant Trunk road all the way to Lahore (300km); in some places the road is a good four lane carriage way, in others it passes through the tiny towns and the congestion builds up.
We arrive in Lahore in the dark in traffic chaos-one of the most congested places we have been to so far. We find it quite difficult navigating the streets and traffic at night in so much commotion. Not having anywhere to stay adds to the stress but we find the hotel Ambassador and fall asleep easily.
We take an auto rickshaw to Lahore fort, where we decide to pay for a guide to show us around the fort and mosque, costing only £3.
The Shah Jahan controlled the fort in the early to late 1600’s; during this time he built lavish gardens and fountains, in addition to the Shish Mahal (Mirror Palace) for his wife, Empress Mumtaz Mahal, who was later laid to rest in the Taj Mahal in Agra, India.
The fort grounds are much larger than we imagined, a huge complex, with beautiful gardens and trees enclosed within its walls.
We head to the Badshahi Mosque also known as the ‘King’s Mosque’, which was built by the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in 1671. It is the second largest mosque in Pakistan and the fifth largest mosque in the world.
The mosque size is overpowering, the grounds and main hall have a capacity for 100,000 worshipers, and the mosque is covered in beautiful red sandstone.
We leave the mosque and head to the old city browsing the bazaars and street food. With Martin’s camera still not working correctly, we try and find a local repair shop. Luckily we find one quite easily and the guy diagnoses the fault straight away- apparently the aperture cable is damaged within the lens. It costs us £20 to fix, but considering the lens cost more than the camera, we are grateful he is able to fix it.
We drive the short distance to the border crossing at Waga. The building is brand new, with air-conditioning, however there is no one around…. We wait about 20minutes for a customs officer to appear who processes our documents. They check the vehicle details and are not too interested in checking inside the car or our luggage. They just say to Martin ‘you seem like an honest man so we will let you go through.’
We proceed to immigration, where the man behind the counter is frantically looking through all the pages. He gives the passports to another guy to check. They both look at us, and ask ’Have you been to Afghanistan? When did you arrive in the country? Where did you arrive? . We look at them blankly and say ‘we crossed the border at Sost- check our visas’. They reply with ‘there is no police stamp!!!’ Oops now what ?
They speak to their superiors; after ten minutes he pops out to have a look at us and says no problem you can go! Phew.
Next is the India border; crossing between two large stadiums, we enter the Indian side. The building is decrepit and falling apart. We have quite a long wait before they would process our documents as they say it’s a local border and they do not normally deal with foreigners. After about 2 hours we have our car checked, carnet stamped, and set foot in India.
After reading other travellers stories we are a little apprehensive about crossing in to India!!
Martin & Nicole