Slowly, Slowly (What's Urdu for that?)... Islamabad, Pakistan

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August 4th 2019
Published: October 20th 2019
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Days 5 and 6

Aug 3

My stomach hurts, you know in that crampy way. Lousy night, clearly I was a very considerate roommate- Mary had no idea I'd been up half the night. She slept well in between coughing and had no issues whatsoever with her chicken last night. Headed gingerly into the Shelton House dining room where we met 2 of our group- Lynton from Victoria (who I had conversed with by Messenger in Aust but hadn't actually met before- I think we "met" when he made a post about the trek on the Australian Long Distance Hikers FB group!) and Danny from the NT. Attempted small talk between crampy waves, trying not to let it show ahead of our big expedition. Forced down some tea and toast.

Made the executive decision that Mary needed to go see a doctor about her chest, so after breakfast we Ubered to the local emergency department/clinic (located very close to the dreaded chicken resto-a coincidence?). Not having a clue how to go about getting an appointment we headed to the reception desk and tried to explain the situation, obviously explained very efficiently because we managed to secure an appointment with a Respiratory Specialist (!!!!!!!), "would it be OK if you could wait for 1 hour?"- AMAZING! Mary paid in advance for her consult and we found a cafeteria in the basement that may or may not have been for staff, they bemusedly brought us some chai for 30c and we waited out our hour. We also managed to secure the hospital's WIFI password so it was a painless wait. The Resp Consult took about 30 minutes, the doctor had trained in the UK and wrote out a prescription for antibiotics, inhalers, a neb in the ED and his mobile phone number with strict instructions that she could call him if she needed any help- day or night! The small ED downstairs delivered the neb and the pharmacy next door delivered the meds- the entire exercise cost less than $20. Fingers crossed it all helps.

Afternoon was low key, had a bit of a rest and went out late afternoon for a walk. Benefits of Shelton House- walking distance to coffee and food. We meet Ali, he is our Islamabad liaison person for Snowland Treks, he is small and wiry, very friendly, looks exceedingly fit (I'm getting nervous). He assures us that whatever we need before the trek he can help. Can he help me with my visa? Doubt it... the daily rejection email from Visa people at the Ministry want better document quality. Shelton House can't help either- they have a virus in their computer so I can't use it. I'm tempted to transmit it to the Visa people anyway. Give up. Early night.

Aug 4

Feeling better, hungry, breakfast today is porridge. Porridge for 2 comes out and feeds the entire table. More animated discussion with Danny and Lynton, and we meet Anthony from NSW, another of our new trek buddies. They are off on individual training walks! It's boiling hot and it's only 08:00. We are going to make the most of the day by not going on a training walk (despite my increasing anxiety about my lack of fitness) but by trying to see some of the sights of Islamabad. Once again do a deal, this time with our fixer- Ali, he has a driver lined up to take us to the ancient city of Taxila and the Faisal Mosque on the way back. For PKR 6000 we have a driver called Enam, a nice car with cold a/c, bottles of water and 8 hours ahead of us!

Taxila is 32 km northwest of Islamabad, but first, the money changers. Located right next to the hospital! Speedy transaction. Back into Enam's super cold car and we are off and racing. A bit about Taxila- some ruins date back as far as 3360 BC (neolithic period), the ancient city though was said to have been established in 1000 BC, it was occupied by all the big names over time- the Bactrians, Alexander the Great, the persians, the Greeks, the Buddhists, the Hindus, the Huns, the Indians.... everyone who's anyone! The archaeological sites were rediscovered in the mid 1800's by the British engineer, Alexander Cunningham, who was the first director-general of the Archaeological Survey of India. Excavations began in 1903 by another Brit, John Marshall who laboured for over the next 20 years. Taxila was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980 in particular for the ruins of 4 of 18 settlement sites which "reveal the pattern of urban evolution on the Indian subcontinent through more than five centuries".

Want more info?

Our first stop was Dharmarajika- ticket please- PKR 500 pp. Guide is extra. Dharmarajika is also known as the Great Stupa of Taxila, it is a Buddhist stupa dating back to the 2nd century BC and was built to house small bone fragments of Buddha, a large monastic complex later developed around it. It is a sprawling complex with some relics remaining, our guide talks at a million miles an hour and is intent on selling authentic ancient coins. Mary now possesses an authentic ancient coin from the time of Alexander the Great for the bargain price of $10! Interesting site, good information board.

Next stop is Sirkap- ticket please- PKR 500 pp. Guide is extra. Decline on the guide. Sirkap was a large ancient city founded by King Demetri, Greco-Bactrian fellow, in 180 BC. Ruins of stupa and city battlements, jain temples and the double headed eagle stupa. Hot and desolate wanderings, glad I brought my trusty Kathmandu umbrella to admire the Greek/Hindu designs. Mary is flagging and spends the hour under a tree chatting with Enam.

Next stop is Jaulian- ticket please- PKR 500 pp. Guide is extra. Try to decline on the guide but he is very, very, very persistent. This is my favourite ruin of the day. Apart from partial shade it is a Buddhist stupa and monastery on top of a hill. Dates from 2nd century BC until 350 BC when it was abandoned after being destroyed by the Huns. It is still impressive- large and small Buddha statues on display but they have been desecrated with the faces hacked away, the same as many others around the world which have also been damaged in this way. Some have been relocated to museums. The monastery section is still partially intact- it had 56 rooms over 2 levels, the persistent guide had keys to one of the cells which he opened up for us.

Next stop is the Taxila Museum. ticket please- PKR 500 pp. Guide is extra, luckily not a guide in sight. Fascinating little museum built 100 years ago with a great collection of artefacts from Taxila. The power was mainly off while we were there which added to the atmosphere of it all, every so often the lights would flicker and the whirr of ancient fans would kick in and then splutter out. Very nice gardens to sit in and an onsite small shop with fizzy drinks, icy poles and chips. Enjoyed all 3 under a tree being photographed with and by local tourists.

Last stop of the day, Faisal Mosque. Massively huge, contemporary Islamic design. 4 minarets measuring 79m tall. Capacity about 75 000 worshippers. Boiling hot. Worth visiting but I preferred the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore TBH. Enam gave us a lesson in cleansing prior to prayer which he insisted we should video and send to him. Enjoyed chatting to people in the courtyards while he went off and prayed. Mary slipped down the stairs as we were leaving, luckily only a bruised knee. That marble is lethal (Reminiscent of my tumble at the mosque in Surabaya in 2017)!

Back to Shelton House by 18:30, got to pack for our departure to Skardu in the morning. We meet 2 more of our group- Fernando from Spain and his wife, Chistao, born in Japan now resident in Spain. They also look very fit. Nervous and excited. Looking forward to getting closer to the mountains.

And..... just in case you were wondering... have given up on the Ministry of Interior Visa people, they are dead to me ... dead.

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