“You seem brave, to me”, someone said at the buffet as I ladled myself yet another portion of channay. Here I was in Pakistan, wholly enjoying myself in this beautiful country, trying to endear myself to my wonderful Pakistani hosts by eating all their food. I’d travelled to Lahore to attend a dear friend’s wedding, and although I was only there for a matter of days, I was having a fantastic time. “Why?” I asked my new companion. “my best friend is getting married, plus I really wanted to come and see Lahore. There’s nothing brave about that”.
I think their point was that not many people visit Pakistan just for the hell of it – especially not many young white women, dressed in full Pakistani garb, trying so hard to fit in. Sure, I had my reservations about coming – I was very nervous about going somewhere Western media portrays so poorly, especially as a female traveller.
But Anaab was getting married, and I’d be damned if I was going to miss that. I knew I’d regret it for the rest of my life if I did, so myself and the groom’s best friend, Venu, booked ourselves a flight to Lahore. The fun was just beginning. The next few blog posts are going to be all about our adventure, so please do follow us as we eat our weight in parathas, dress the fanciest we’ve ever dressed, and get a taste of life in Lahore.
The majestic Badshahi Masjid, coated in Lahore’s trademark smoggy fog.
Day 1: Straight into the Action
We flew from London to Lahore via Muscat on Oman Air. It was quite the journey – so much so that it warrants a separate blog post, which I’ll write up soon. By a stroke of luck, the bride’s brother-in-law was flying on the same plane from Oman to Lahore, so we met up with him in Muscat. He was a fountain of knowledge about all things Pakistan, and instantly made us feel like beloved guests – even before we’d got there.
As we landed, the city of Lahore was shrouded in morning mist, so there wasn’t much to see. We got off the plane and chatted to our new friend about plans for the coming days, when another Pakistani bloke turned around and asked us a rather ominous question. “Is this your first time in Pakistan”? he said to me and Venu. Then, forebodingly, “You’re in for a real experience”. I wasn’t really sure what this meant, but it sounded exciting, so I couldn’t wait to get out there.
First, though, we had to face border control. After my ordeal in Morocco, I thought I’d get an absolute grilling for maybe being a journalist. But, as Anaab had told me, Pakistanis don’t care. All the bloke said was “Hello, how are you?”, looked at my visa, stamped my passport, and gave it back to me. We collected our bags from the conveyor, which was filled with boxes of holy water imported by travellers from Mecca, and headed on out.
There was one final layer of security to go through before we left, as the airport had those body scanners on the way out. Pakistan is really hot on security – but apparently not when there are innocuous-looking white women involved. Anaab’s brother-in-law and I turned up, and the guard asked him “is she with you?” He nodded, and we breezed past, without going through the scanner. Apparently I am not a threat. Also, white privilege. Venu, who was a couple of paces behind us, was made to go through the scanner. It might have been because they thought he was Indian – he got a few questions of the sort – but either way, it wasn’t fair.
As we exited the building and the daylight hit my tired eyes, I saw two figures waving at us through the fog, standing above everyone else. To my delight, Anaab had come to meet us herself, along with her father and nephews. We embraced and I refused to let her go – don’t forget, I proposed to Anaab in Venice long before she got *properly* engaged. So, it was my turn to hug her before she actually got married. Her real fiancé, Faizan, turned up ten minutes later to pick up Venu, and we sped off into town.
Neither me nor Anaab could believe that I’d actually made it to Pakistan, I don’t think. We both sat there in a bit of a daze as we made our way to her house, where her family awaited me with chai, snacks, and a warm welcome. I instantly felt like a part of the gang, and from the moment I arrived I knew I’d be in good hands. Pakistani hospitality is legendary, and if you’re lucky enough to experience it, you’re a blessed traveller indeed. All my worries and reservations about coming here dissolved in an instant.
Masala chai… the elixir of the gods.
Besides, I didn’t have time for fear. After our quick tea break, Anaab and I headed out to a salon to finish off her hair treatment. In the four days I was away, I can safely say I spent more time in Pakistani beauty salons than I have ever spent in beauty salons at home, and this was only the first one. The salon ladies didn’t quite know what to make of this random white person who’d come in, speaking no Urdu and looking like a bit of a mug. I simply sat quietly and drank the tea they kindly offered me. It’s a good job I’m a huge tea fan, as Pakistan is full of the stuff.
Back home for some more food and love. Then, a quick nap.
Is this heaven? Daal and all the fresh, hot rotis you could wish for?
Soon, it was out to salon #2, where Anaab was getting her bridal mehndi done. It was taking longer than anticipated – I think she was in there for about 3 or 4 hours, so myself and a cousin were tasked with bringing her some KFC to munch on. Our job was to keep her entertained, while the artists drew wonderfully elaborate patterns on her skin with henna. You can see why it took hours, but it was 100% worth it:
I needed the bathroom while I was there, so I asked the salon ladies. One of them took me up in the lift to the loo. “Are you Christian or Muslim?” she suddenly enquired, her eyes running over me as she sussed me out. In truth, I’m neither, but I’d put Christian on my visa application for ease, so that was the story I stuck with. I figured I’d been to a Church of England primary school, so if anyone did question me I could cobble together basic Biblical knowledge. I didn’t expect that questioning to occur at a beauty salon, however. She seemed glad when I responded that I was a Christian, telling me everyone who worked at the salon was also Christian. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I wasn’t exactly telling the truth, so I went and hid my shame in the toilet.
After the mehndi paste had dried, we went back home, for it was now my turn to get mehndi done with Anaab’s sister, aunties, and cousins. It was a lovely bonding experience, chilling in the living room, watching everyone get beautiful and intricate designs done on their hands. The mehndi artist made surprisingly quick work of it, and before long my hands were adorned with a beautiful pattern. It was a real joy to be able to join in with all this pre-wedding prep.
Please forgive my weary appearance and demeanour. Focus on my hand.
I don’t know what mehndi they use over there, but it comes out a beautifully vibrant red, and stays on for ages. I’m still picking off flecks from my hands, weeks later.
Sadly, once this was done, my eyelids were drooping and I was becoming an increasingly poor conversationalist, so I bid my new family goodnight and turned in. The next day, the wedding celebrations would start in earnest, so I needed to get my beauty sleep. Stay tuned, and tomorrow you can join us for food, drums, and panicked mosque runs.