Our timetable had been set by the media company that had been issuing our Iranian visas time after time. We were to get our visas from Islamabad on Monday the 14th of July.
Three weeks had gone by with numerous attempts to obtain the visas at the Iranian Embassy in Delhi, but because of the incompetence of the media company they were unable to give us the reference numbers and every attempt had been in vain. That’s why we had asked for them to be sent to the Embassy in Islamabad.
We drove from Lahore to Islamabad with a little detour to see the Himalayas on the Pakistani side. Less than 100Km North from Islamabad there is a place called Murree, which turned out to be a tourist haven for the locals. Murree is an ideallic town on the mountaintop with hotels starting from 30 bucks a day upwards, actually they all started around 100 bucks, but most came down to 30-45 USD in hopes that we would stay.
We ended up going back to the first hotel that had come all the way down to 25 dollars, but this time the manager was there and he refused to take us in. Apparently this side of the mountain was off limits to foreigners. Taking it as a clear sign we put our hill-trike in neutral and slalomed down a total of 35Km with the engine off.
We stopped along the way to buy a few Kashmir and Pashmina scarfs, since this is as close as we would get to Jammu and Kashmir. The price of each scarf was a nice 5 USD, so we bough 6 to bring home to the women of the family. Then we found ourselves a nice place to sleep in the historical town of Rawalpindi.
The next morning we headed off to the rickshaw-denying capital of Islamabad with a taxi, and went to get our Iranian visas from the Embassy. This diplomatic enclave was from a different world, as cars and pedestrians were not allowed, and a shuttle service was used to bring people to their corresponding Embassies.
Once at the Embassy, excited to finally receive our visas, we knocked on the small iron window that was head height in the huge stone wall. Above us NATO-wire was leaning over us and riflemen were fixing themselves a fan. It seemed a little overdoing the security in this diplomatic enclave, but illusions have to be kept up somehow, and who know’s, maybe we just don’t see all the danger lurking around every corner here. We only seem to see good hearted, exceptionally welcoming people inside all of these so called terrorists.
As the iron window cracked open, a man who spoke no English asked us once again for the reference numbers. We tried to explain that we were told we don’t need them so please ask a superior about our visas. He asked us to wait and he shut himself inside the fortress.
Every once in a while we knocked on the window to ask about progress and to pressure him into calling the media company like we were asked, but all he wanted was the reference numbers and refused to help in any other way. We tried 4 hours to get the visas in the scorching sun, but were denied once again.
This was the fourth time we were told to go to the Iranian Embassy to receive the visas, and the fourth time it was in vain. We were told by the media company that the visas they had nicely issued us were for only 4 days starting from the 19th, so not receiving them that Monday meant we were really in a hurry.
Pulling our hair in frustration and sending emails to the media company in Iran as well as the counsellor in Helsinki, we decided to use this setback once again to our advantage. Not leaving Islamabad that Monday gave us a chance to visit the World This Morning, PTV:s morning show on Tuesday. It was a great way to start a new day and the hosts Maha and Shazhad were amazingly nice. Here’s the link to the video if you are interested to see it.
It was the most relaxed 45 minutes I’ve ever had in front of cameras and after the show we had a little chat with the crew. One nice lady taught us more about Ramadan and the Islamic religion.
Muslims are apparently compelled to help other human beings, which is something that we have noticed here time after time. Human rights is apparently a big issue in Islam, since everyone should be respected. The idea of Ramadan rooting from natural ways was not too far off, but it was deepened by the fact that the fasting is also done so that everyone knows what it feels like to be poor and without food.
Ramadan is to remind all to share food, and during Ramadan there are special street food restaurants that offer food for free to all those who want it. Mostly the poor go there to eat, but we too had a chance to check one out later that day. Also during Ramadan, all good deeds are seen as twice their worth in the eyes of Allah which is logical, since when hungry, it is twice as difficult to be a good person.
During this conversation we got a call from the Iranian counsellor from the Embassy in Islamabad that the visas would be ready to be picked up as soon as we bring back the receipt of visa payment for 11,500 rupees each. We left straight away and Shazhad was kind enough to take us there with his government licence plate car so we could enter the diplomatic enclave without the shuttle service. This meant that we had an Urdu speaking man with us so we were almost certain we were going to get the visas this time.
We knocked on the iron window once again, and listened as Urdu was being spoken in front of us. We were denied the visas because the receipt should say 11,600 rupees instead of 11,500. We had been advised incorrectly over the telephone.
We hopped back in Shazads car and headed to the nearest bank to deposit the rest of the money. Seemed once again pathetic to still be running around for these visas, but bureaucracy is bureaucracy and money doesn’t move by itself.
Once we returned with the 2 USD receipt, we were asked to return the following day at 2pm. There was nothing to stop them from issuing the visas then and there, but instead they’d rather practice pure idioreaucracy.
Thankfully Shazhad was nice and took us to his home to eat his mothers tasty dishes and offered us a hot shower. He also took us to hang out with his friends at the comfiest bachelor pad I’ve been in for a long time. It didn’t take long for us to power up the X-box with the new Fifa and immerse ourselves into hard core gaming.
Pro Evolution Soccer, or PES as we call it, has been ‘The Game’ for us for decades. They had no PES, so we took the challenge and plunged ourselves in to it’s rival FIFA. To tell you the truth, due to this instance, I may have been turned into a Fifa player after wholeheartedly dissing it for years. I must admit the new FIFA is better than the new PES, and it might be because FIFA bought the programmers of PES a few years back and they seem to be the genius behind the game.
So it happened that for the first time during this voyage I forgot I was travelling. I forgot I was in Pakistan, I forgot I had a tuk tuk, and I forgot I wasn’t with my own homies back in Finland. I was deeply touched to find exactly same setting in Pakistan that I’ve found in Finland, Brazil, Thailand and all countries I have ever visited with such natural and comfortable rapport. This is a universal language, and Pakistan is no different.
That evening we went to eat at the street kitchen that makes food for the poor, and once again it was a wonderful experience.
We did make a huge mistake though, an emämunaus as they say in Finland, by eating the food once it was given to us. We were told to eat so we broke our fast and thought everyone was just amazed that two foreigners were eating with the poor. Then we quickly realised that it’s not after 7 that the fast is broken, but after the muezzins prayer.
It’s hilarious to go through the footage as it is so clear that only one man is eating, which is Pyry, and being so hungry that he is oblivious to noticing the other 100 people staring at him in dismay. The good thing is that learning the hard way makes the info stick.
On Wednesday we returned to that ever shrinking gap in the fortress wall in the hopes of finally receiving our Iranian visas. Finally after nearly a month of wasting money in vain we got the visas. We had been informed falsely once again as they were not issued for only 4 days, but instead for seven days within a ten day period from that day.
This gave us the benefit of the doubt for losing the few days, but we still only had ten days to drive 5000Km, through the scorching desert from Islamabad to Turkey and it was already afternoon. There was no point in leaving into the darkness, so we did an interview with a nice journalist called Shiraz, who took us out to see the old town of Rawalpindi. Here’s a link to the article.
On Thursday we woke up early to get a head start to the day. All three of us were really tired, stressed from the situation, and maxing out our performance. It was still open on which measures we would cross the dangers of Balochistan, and the media company from Iran decided to boost up prices for the compulsory ‘translator’ from a 450USD a day to nearly 700 USD a day plus flights plus this plus that.
Not knowing what else to do we drove to Lahore. On the way we decided to make ourselves feel better by stopping at one of the local pimp my truck shops and giving our third wheel a makeover. Now our Vehicle of Peace is tuned up Pakistani style, though it’s still no match for the local trucks.
By evening time we had arrived back to our friends at the plant nursery, and after breaking fast headed straight into another TV-interview. We were finally asleep by midnight.