In at the deep end


February 6, 2009

I arrived at the Regale Inn still fuming from being ripped off by the tuk tuk I paid to navigate me through the crowded and smoggy streets of Lahore and loudly enquired “Do you have any beds?”. The proprietor led me in to a clean enough dorm room and explained the cost was 190 rupees.
“Surely not? I’ve had private rooms for 200!”
“Sorry sir, this is the price”
I haggled briefly, convinced it was ‘pull one over on the tourist’ time until a French chap piped up from behind his lonely planet “That’s what he charged me as well” which didn’t convince me that it wasn’t a tourist price but at least made me feel better about paying it.

Me and the Frenchman (whose name I sadly forget) assaulted the nearest, cheapeast, cleanest resataurant, or so we told ourselves, such a combination is in reality, unlikely. Over a cup of chai and the 800th plate of Daal (or so it felt) I’d had in Pakistan we asked the same barrage of questions every traveller asks every other traveller in a hostel. Where are you from, where are you going, how long are you staying.

As it turned out this particular chap was staying only the one day which left me with no-one to talk to tomorrow and reminded me that I should email the Dutchmen I met cycling down the KKH from China and tell them the address of the hostel like I’d promised.

It’s amazing how much more interesting the internet seems when it’s slower than cold mollasses going at 99.99% of C, I must have wasted an hour on it while acheiving not much more than checking my emails and signing on to MSN briefly, which was, admittedly far more than I was generally able to do at Pakistani internet cafés…

I flopped on my bed and pulled my lonely planet out of my handy-bag(tm) in one fluid movement. Pakistan was one of only two countries I had lonely planets for and although I’d originally turned up my nose at the concept as ‘akin to package holidays’ I found it rather useful.
Looking up the listing for where I was staying I noticed that the editor placed great emphasis on the rooftop. ‘What rooftop?’ I wondered to myself, I’d seen only the pokey reception-cum-internet-café and the dorm room, so I decided to go exploring up the unlabelled staircase, which after a tale from a traveller I’d met previously about exploring top-floors and finding drug-labs held an air of forboding about it.

I leapt up the top step and leapt into the bright sunshine of my Shangri-La.

Lahore? Nope, not been there, I stayed a week in the confines of the Regale though! City sightseeing has never been a favourite of mine and with the crowd at the Regale I felt no need to leave that rooftop except for food and (shh!) booze!
When I arrived it felt like everyone there was an overlanding cyclist, there must have been 5-6 of the buggers there all talking bicycle-shop and figuratively if not literally looking down their noses at bicycles with petrol engines.

I spent the better part of 10 days at the Regale just sitting on the roof top reading trashy novels from the library while overhearing other peoples conversations and interjecting with pithy, poignant and insightful remarks.
It’s a wonderful thing (from my perspective at least) that the common language of travellers is almost invariably as English, the Dutch, the Chinese, the Korean all yammering away in my mother-tongue, bliss! 

While I was there there was a English chap of Indian-Punjab descent who was hanging around for a few months learning Urdu so he could do volunteer work in Afghanistan (as I recall); which was a testament to his will to do what he wanted as he’d already been to Uni for three masters before realising he didn’t want to be an academic. Another chap from England was driving every-which-way-but-home in a Toyota Hilux, and as a group we would draw a discussion out of the rest of the crowd on the roof top and before anyone knew it there was a debate going on as to whether you could objectively judge morals or whether travelling in a country really gave you a less biased opinion of it than reading a tabloid.

All told, even though I didn’t actually see much of Lahore, it’s one of my fondest memories of my trip due to the people I met and the time I had just… talking to people with a brain…

This is the only photo I have from Lahore for some reason, even though it was the most beautiful city I saw in Pakistan, this bookshop window struck me the most…