The heart of Pakistan

Lahore is often called ‘the heart of Pakistan’, it’s also named by many ‘the culinary capital of Pakistan’ and of course ‘the cultural capital’. There is also a popular saying ‘jinay Lahore tai wekheya o Jamey nai’, meaning ‘if you haven’t visited Lahore yet, you aren’t really born. Something like ‘pedi Napoli e poi muori’ or ‘see Naples and then die’. Well, whatever saying or name we’re here to Explahore!

What is her story?

I’m sitting in front of a mosque. Waiting for Yuri to explore the mosque and tell me how it looks like. I’m not allowed to go in. I’m a woman with uncovered hair. After three months of covering my hair in Iran I’m a bit done with doing things I don’t want or feel like. It too hot to fully cover myself, thus I’m okay with sitting outside and wonder about the splendour of the mosque. Next to me is a woman, fully – and I mean fully, covered in black. I cannot even see her eyes as a black veal is covering her face. Her little child plays with her veal while she’s begging for money. I wonder what her story is.

Where is she from? Why is she begging? And is shame the reason she is fully covered? She asks me for some money. Points at her little boy. I tell her I don’t have any on me. She’s asking for food. That too I don’t have. A man comes and tells her to leave me. I’m saying it’s alright. She’s not bothering me, she’s just doing what she has to for her child. I see some people ignoring her, or looking at her with disgust. That moment I feel shame. It’s all down to luck that I’m sitting here with my hair free in the wind and a mobile phone in my hand in a country far away from my own and she’s sitting here on the ground asking for a penny. She’s not less than me, I’m not better than here. We’re just born in different countries, societies, circumstances. So I never ignore, I never look down upon, I never despise, because it could’ve been me. And the children grow up, they didn’t choose this life and I don’t want them to feel less than others by ignoring kids.

Let’s expLahore

Lahore is the capital of the Pakistani province of Punjab, is Pakistan’s 2nd largest city after Karachi, and is the 26th largest city in the world. Little is known of the history of the settlement prior to the Muslim period. Hindu legend attributes the founding of Lahore to Lava, or Lōh, son of Rāma, for whom it is said to have been named Lōhāwar.

Inequality in front of the mosque

I see so much inequality just in front of this mosque. Women wearing headscarf’s and long sleeves whereas men wear whatever they want. People begging for some money, other ignoring them. Me, a foreigner, sitting here with a passport that allows me to travel as far as Pakistan. The men comes back to me telling me I should sit in his shop. I’m telling him it’s okay. I’m okay here. He has a shop next to the mosque, one of our photos of different places. From the mosque next to the shop to faraway dream destinations as Venice. 

Ah Venice, our starting point of the Silk Road. A beautiful city that filled our hearts with joy. It is where famous Silk Road merchant Marco Polo lived and where silk went from just a material to a priceless piece of clothing. Only kings and queens could buy the finest silk from Venice. What would the silk worm think of that? That it made such material that Kings and Queens were paying huge amounts of gold for it. 

And suddenly in between my musings and the sound of rickshaws I hear the music of the Hobbit. The road to the Lonely Mountain being an inspiration for all my travels. The long journey, the adventure into lands unknown, the path faraway from home. It’s the one and only travel story that caught a hold on me. Reading the books so many times it’s what installed the idea of many of my travel adventures. But while in the Hobbit it’s orcs they battle, I battle the insane heat of Lahore. It’s so hot that even my fingers are sweating. And I don’t even sweat when I play a volleyball match.

Yuri takes his time inside so I bet it’s beautiful. It’s a pity they don’t let people enter who believe differently. I don’t believe in disrespecting one’s culture of religion by being and keeping to themselves. It’s not my religion or culture to wear a headscarf, but I do respect anyone who choses to wear it. I respect Muslims as much as I respect their mosques and the Koran. But wearing a headscarf is not my choice, and it’s not my idea of respecting. Yuri comes out, finally. Time to explore more of Lahore. I say goodbye to the woman and her kid and we wander off. 

Our first interaction with Sikhism

“Hello, where are you from?” We can hardly walk a couple of metres or people are talking to us. We try to great everyone and be kind enough to have a little chat, but we decide to turn into a tiny alley so we are able to actually make it to our other highlight of the day. 

Donkeys, rickshaws and motorcycle dominate the road, while people are selling their goods on the side of the street. The sky is almost invisible due to the amount of electricity cables. And while the electricity cables make up the skies view, rubbish and waste does it on the ground. The smell is indescribably bad. While we close our noses a hairdresser is cutting the hair of a man on the street. Beggars come and go asking for money or food and men are sitting in the shade chatting. It’s Sunday and shops are closed, it’s actually quiet in the city. Which to us is unexpected. 

Luckily the Sikh temple and Lahore fort are open. The Sikh temple only to us, foreigners, god – or guru’s – knows why. 

We found out while walking through the temple that we actually know nothing about the Sikh faith. Do you? Probably not, so I’ll write down what I’ve learned today. 

Sikhism is the world’s fifth-largest religion with more than 25 million Sikhs worldwide. The Sikh Gurus, known as spiritual guides or teachers, established the religion. Guru Nanak was the first Guru and was born in the 15th century in the Punjab region of India. Sikhs believe in the oneness of all beings and the equality of everyone. 

The Sikh faith is a monotheistic religion, meaning Sikhs worship one God. Guru Nanak taught that one must honor God by honoring others and the Earth, God’s creation. Nine more Gurus succeeded Guru Nanak, and continued to spread his teachings across the world. Guru Gobind Singh was the last Guru; he named the Sikh sacred text, the Guru Granth Sahib, to be the eternal Guru that would guide the Sikhs going forward. 

The verses of the Guru Granth Sahib are written in poetic verse, and are intended to be sung. Singing is a crucial component of Sikhism; Guru Nanak himself was known to sing his teachings as he travelled across South Asia on foot. The hymns of the Gurus are known as Gurbani, the Guru’s word. 

Sikhs see the temporary distractions of the material world as an illusion, or Māyā. The five qualities of ego, anger, greed, attachment and lust are known as the Five Thieves that rob a person of their ability to realize their oneness with God and creation. Sikhs work to counteract the temptations of these qualities through the Sikh values of service, equality, and seeking justice for all.

Sikhs believe that one’s form on Earth is only a temporary vessel for the eternal soul. Thus, the death of the physical body is a natural part of the life cycle, while the soul remains. Sikhs believe in reincarnation, meaning death is not an end, but merely the progression of the soul on its journey toward God. 

While the guide was explaining about Sikhism I got very interested. How did I know so little about this faith that believes in equality? 

That equality was immediately clear at the gate where both me and Yuri were asked to cover our heads. EQUALITY!! Nonetheless, the equality does also stop at the door of the Sikh temple though as we are allowed to enter the temple but the locals are not. To my question why not I don’t get an answer. Or at least not a satisfying one. I guess equality for the Sikh also has its boundaries. 

We get a quick show around. It’s our first Sikh temple and definitely not the last, nor the most beautiful. When we get out little kids run towards us, asking for money. They shoot a bullet through my heart. So small, so innocent, so painful. People ignore them, shush them away, push them even. My heart in thousand pieces. And there’s nothing I can do. No money I have will get them off the street. They need education, structural help, their parents a proper job. And at this moment I’m not able to offer that. So I’m just standing here, talking with them and joking a bit. Never forget, how annoying they might be, they are just kids, born in a difficult situation, in a life they couldn’t choose. 

Visiting Lahore Fort

We moved to the Lahore fort. A beautiful huge fort in the centre of the city. It’s a walk through time as almost none of the buildings is built in the same time as the other. It’s not really well preserved. We saw lots of damages. But there wasn’t much waste and there were a lot of explanatory plates. Unfortunately they contain so much words that I couldn’t read them all in the heat. But a picture is quickly made and reading I’ll do when I find a nice spot in the shade. We walked around a bit, got to see the elephant stairs (stairs which are made so that elephants could walk up), took some selfies with locals (on their request, we don’t just go around taking selfies 😉). 

The Fort and Shalamar Gardens in Lahore are two masterpieces from the time of the brilliant Mughal civilization, which reached its height during the reign of the Emperor Shah Jahan. The fort contains marble palaces and mosques decorated with mosaics and gilt. It is also a UNESCO site.

It’s been a busy day so we head back to the hotel. Here we do some work, Yuri watches the grand prix and later on we watch the cricket match between Pakistan and India with a delicious Papa Johns pizza. Pakistan wins and while Lahore parties, apparently just below our hotel, we call it a night cause tomorrow morning we have to go to Islamabad and back again to pick up our passports and Indian visa. Yeah people, after almost six weeks of exploring probably the most surprising country on our Silk Road trip, it’s time to cross yet another border. It’s going to be country no. 27 on this trip: India. And with that we also leave a piece of our heart behind. 

Love, Milene & Yuri

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