Kamis, 30 April 2015

My pocketful of Surprises in 23-hours Train: Karachi-Lahore

"Can we pack all these to our couch?"

“Are we in Lahore already?” asked fellow passenger in Karakoram Express Train after 23hours journey

“Yes, Bhai! This is Lahore station, let’s get off!” He said to me. that was happy moment when 18h-changed-to-23h train journey was about to adjourn

Yes, It was long, or very long journey from one side to another side of Pakistan connecting two biggest cities in the country, Pakistan’s center of economics and Pakistan’s cultural capital, Karachi and Lahore respectively. The journey seemed to be eternal because this was my very first time using train in more than 20 hours non-stop (I did long journey in Vietnam by 23hours bus from Da Nang to Saigon or from Banyuwangi to Jakarta by bus in Indonesia). The 1,241km journey story is just unforgettable and somehow eventually it is all worth to remember.

I asked muzzamil (previous post) about how to get to Lahore from Karachi, he told me to use Train because it was cheaper, much cheaper than by bus and more fun. I asked how to get the ticket and he had very brilliant solution as his friend, Nadeem (in first post in Karachi) planned to go to Faisalabad and he had one more ticket as one of his family member had canceled the trip and he generously gave it up to me, for free as he rejected my money.

The journey would have started from Karachi Cant station (Can’t stand for cantonment) not Karachi city station at 16.00 IST. I left Muzzamil’s house at early morning after Muzzamil had left for work as I need to check several must-see places in Karachi that I missed few days before. I went with my backpacks (two backpacks) using Qingqi to Mazar-e-Quaid or Jinnah’s tomb. After that, I went to boat basin to say goodbye to my friend Hussein (after I waited about 1hour under the unbearable Karachi’s sunny day). Then he escorted me to find the right rickshaw to the station without overpricing me as seeing me as a (stupid) tourist. The rickshaw ride took about 20 minutes and 100PKR (1USD) only, if I had taken by myself, I would have paid 5 or 6 times probably.

Karachi Cant Station in summer

I was too early to arrive in the station, at 13.30, 2 and half hours to go. I killed my time by just sitting at the gate, actually I sit outside the station as the station was “fully booked” by passengers seating and sleeping on the floor in WHOLE AREA, just left me outside. I just sat and leaned my body to the pillar of the station. People stared at me, took a deep glaze wondered why there was a foreigner with creased look. I wouldn’t finish staring at me until I paid a (not really sincere) smile to them. A family with 3 kids arrived from rickshaw bringing bulks of belonging, it was really a lot. They entered the station and found that no space left, they just returned out and seated next to me. I felt intimidated as they arrived, they surreptitiously stole my space to secure their belonging and of course they comfort. I was to inferior as they started tuning their voice louder to talk to in Urdu (to oust me for sure). I opted leaving them and found a tree outside and decided to stay under. 

"Papa, when are we leaving?"

It was, again, very hot day during summer in Karachi, hot and humid, perfect imperfection for 100% tropical man like me. The station was starting being fueled with flux of passengers coming. I couldn’t resist waiting anymore, I called Nadeem and his sister answered the phone and the conversation didn’t go well.
It was 15.20 and Nadeem and family seemed to not have any news whether they came or not. I contacted Muzzamil feeling insecure that they might ditch me for particular reason. Muzzamil answered that Nadeem and his family would come soon. I felt relief at the moment but this insecurity lead me to call Nadeem and he told me they just started leaving home. What? It was 15.20 and the train would depart at 16.00 and they just left home. I couldn’t help myself but keep murmuring for being dependent to particular reason ad I thought that I would have better booked the ticket by myself without being dependent to others.

Luggage and water container are perfect companions

It was about 16.00 and a train arrived (I was pretty sure it was my train) and Nadeem, however, was not there. I started crying inside feeling this insecurity. From distant, I, furthermore, saw Nadeem and his family walking, yes WALKING. I started being crazy and a bit mad to them that this was late and they just walked. I greeted them and with smile I got along with them. Nadeem wore white shalwar qameez, with big backpack, even bigger than mine with umbrella (yes, another weird thing). He came along with his two sisters, brother in law, and cute niece. 

“Suko, how are you doing? Let’s find our couch!” He said to me

“I am good (not really as I have been waiting for you).” 

“Don’t be mad, this is Pakistan, being punctual will bring you upset” He said to me again.

Actually, he was totally true as the train left at about 17.00 (I should have been somewhere else instead of waiting with no idea).  Nadeem and his family brought so many belongings, Bags, backpack, foods, and for sure Water container. It was very essential to bring water container with you anytime you went throughout the country during the summer as water was free and everywhere we could take it and refill to our container. 

We found our couch and yes, we occupied one “compartment” with 6 berths, I had my upper berth. I was quite lucky as several passengers had no seat number and they just sit randomly wishing that the owner of the seat miss their train or cancel it. From Karachi, the train was full, but everybody was on their seat.

Nadeem’s sister started putting curtain on our compartment to let nobody see us. Actually , I was a bit shocked as it was economy class and magically Nadeem and his family turned into private “compartment” with this flowery curtain. I, furthermore, realized that it was not only Nadeem’s family did that, almost all “compartments” were installed the curtain by the passengers especially if they had women traveling with them. Sadly, I found a man who was traveling alone and had seat number but he had to squeeze with other 5 passengers who were the same family, they didn’t let this man sit there, no matter what and his man had to find another place.

It was my very first time using sleeping train, it was cool. The train in Pakistan was quite old and slow even compared to his neighboring, India. However, it was all smooth and just good for me.

My 23-hours Train

Finally, train departed from station at 17.20 (as subjected to depart at 16.00). I found the seat empty so I just escaped from nadeem’s family conversation and left them privately talking to each other. I stared at the window and along the way only dry, hot, dusty, and wiped out also overpopulation housing. The train officially let the Karachi city behind and I was not in Karachi anymore. I had no idea how to kill the time but to read. I played some songs with me reading and enjoying the nature of Pakistan than unspoiled and unfriendly enough to live. Suddenly there was a man coming and sat next to me. He started the conversation with me.

“China? Japan?” He asked me with the same question as others did before.

I just smiled at him and said “No bhai, Indonesia.”

“Ahaaan, What are you doing in Pakistan? Are you working here? Or studying” He ask me curiously
Nahin, no, I am traveling here. Where are you heading to?” I started exchanging questions

“I am going to Multan, I had internship in there. I am physiotherapist fresh graduate, I have worked in famous hospital in Islamabad and have my private physiotherapy.” He told me and he sundered me his business card, his name was Naqeeb, a private physiotherapist in Attock, a city near to Rawalpindi.

He started asking me several questions, about what I am doing in Jakarta, my family, and for sure this, 

“Suko is your name, are you muslim?” This was the mandatory question once they found me Indonesian.

I just smiled at him without saying anything.

Alhamdulilah” He said to me

All these were the common questions I had to answer and of course after several days I knew how to handle that. Naqeeb bought a coca-cola as it was very hot, and he bought for me one, as always Pakistan treated their guest hospitably.

silhouette of amazing Nadeem

Train arrived in Sindh provice’s second largest city, Hyderabad (do not be confused with India’s Hyderabad) and suddenly Train was completely full and I had to give up my seat and back to my “compartment together with Nadeem’s family. Naqeeb had to return to his place too.

The day shifted to night. We had dinner. Nadeem’s sister offered me a chai and Naan bread with chicken And invited me to get down from my berth and to have dinner with them. 

“Do you like chicken tandoori?” She asked me

“Yes I do love it. My favourite Indian-Pakistani food”

“Do you have it in your home?

“Yes, but it is very pricey as it is only served in Indian restaurant.”

And the conversation went along well together with my Bollywood obsession matching with their favorite, we sang along our favorite hindi song,  Balam Pitchari. Then I found out how they adored so much Bollywood’s Salman Khan.

Water Buffaloes were so happy indulging to river

It was about 21.30 and everybody seemed to be tired, I returned to my upper berth and scanned my berth to have best position to sleep over the night train. I didn’t check out what happened outside my compartment as I was too tired of heat in Pakistan. I slept under electric fan which brought me coolness to combat the heat. I slept beautifully after all.

somewhere, kids were simply happy just outing by the small river during summer

At about 07.00, Nadeem woke me up and gave me a cup of chai (again) and several packed snacks for my breakfast. This was more than any generosity of him and his family and till now I still owe a lot to them. I was completely awake at 07.20 and realized that Nadeem’s family would get off soon as the schedule to arrive at Faisalabad was at 08.10. 

“Good morning, suko bhai!  How was your sleep?” Nadeem asked.

“It was all good. I enjoyed my sleep. So are we near to Faisalabad?” I said and asked.

“No, we are about to arrive in Multan, about 3 more hours to arrive in Faisalabad.” He confirmed.

It was almost 8.10 and it was not even in Faisalabad. I started going crazy with all this. I checked out the aisle and yes, another surprise, the aisle was completely packed with people, with no space and several people standing with crumpeled face.

I woke up and then ......

I decided to stay at my berth till the train arrived officially in Multan. Train stopped at Multan quite long, about 30 minutes. Nadeem’s brother in law invited me to check out the station. Together with other fellow passengers, I ventured out and heat stroke me badly. It was so bad, heat was at its peak it seemed. Multan is very close to desert, I didn’t wonder how it could be this hot. Nadeem’s brother in law refilled his water container with free water fountain inside the station. A myriad of Halwa, Pakistani’s sweet, stalls packed the station deliciously. Multan is well-known for its outstanding Halwa.

I left him alone and returned to my compartment. Then our onversation started again. Obviously, Hindi movies topic was the sexiest amongst other to start the conversation. Nadeem’s sister was quite surprised how well I knew Bollywood, even better than her. Yes, I am a freak Bollywood fan, if not a die-hard fan.

After about 3 hours, at 11.30 Train arrived in Faisalabad (from schedule at 08.10).

“Suko, later if the ticket inspector asks your ticket, just give him small money, 100 or 200 Rupee as your ticket is only to Faisalabad.” He suggested me this best deal option. “ We are about to arrive and we need to prepare. I wish you enjoy Lahore and northern areas. Just do text me once you arrive in Lahore!” He continued and we parted officially. I waved to them and it was the last time with them, the precious moment with authentic Pakistani family, friendliness overload and hospitability unspoiled.

Train started emptying himself, and then a young Pakistani couple sat in front of me. They seemed to have fallen in love. I guessed they were eloping as they held their hands, something strangely to see in Pakistan as I assumed they weren’t married yet.

I started conversation, “Assalaymualaykum, what a nice couple! Where do you guys head to?”

The man started realizing that I was foreigner.
“oh, can you speak Urdu? We are going to next station after this.” He said to me.

They started romancing each other in front of me, he additionally asked from where I was, my job, my purpose. I was thinking to have FAQs with me and they could read it right away. He asked my facebook page and my email. I said that I didn’t use facebook and I gave my wrong email, also he asked my skype and checked through his mobile phone, I couldn’t help and gave my skype id. He later checked it and added it (sorry I didn’t confirm your request).

Train stopped at next station and this couple got off from the train and left me alone, or with few people, inside the train. And it was about 3 hours to arrive in Lahore.

My 18 hours journey changed to 23 hours journey. The train started reaching big city, my heart was in my mouth, one of my best time of my life when I was so nervous to arrive after this long and fun journey. 

“Pleas bhai, let’s get off. This is Lahore!” A passenger told me nicely as I saw the sign of “LAHORE” above the british building. 

this name made me so much happy


p.s: Train journey in Pakistan is so much highly recommended to enjoy the authenticity life in Pakistan