This will be the third international Muslim Desi wedding I’ve attended (the first was in Kashmir in 2011, the second in Lahore and Karachi in 2014), so I’m excited to consider myself an “expert” now.
We begin with preparing for Day 1 of a desi wedding: The Mehndi (or in Pakistan The Rasm-e-Heena), first stopping by Ali’s (the groom) house to meet his family.
There we began with henna for the ladies:
Afterwards we headed over to Ali’s sister’s house where we engaged in an endless night of dance practices to prepare for the Mehndi:
…complete with a surprise dhol dance party for Ali in the middle:
We’d finish up at 3am:
The next day we had a late start, making last minute alterations to our dresses and formalwear, putting on makeup and doing our hair, before heading over to the Marriott Islamabad for the Rasm-e-Heena:
If you’re going to any part of a desi wedding, make sure you don’t miss the first day, where traditionally the bride will host pre-wedding ceremonies marked by elaborate henna decorations that are applied to the hands and feet of the bride and groom. Nowadays it’s held at a banquet hall where the bride’s family and groom’s family face off against each other in an epic dance battle number.
Enjoy the photos.
It was at this point my DSLR began to sputter out of battery life, so I had to resort to the iPhone.
Unfortunately I couldn’t take as many as we all had to be pulled in for a multitude of choreographed dance numbers that we had to relearn at the last minute; you’ll just have to wait for what we get from the hired photographers there.
Sometime during the Mehndi, Elisabeth somehow managed to land her flight on time, change in the car and make it to the event just in time for a bit of dancing and photos:
I’ll post up more photos as I receive them from the rest of the group and Ali’s hired photographers.
- At time of posting in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, it was 18 °C -
Humidity: 58% | Wind Speed: 8km/hr | Cloud Cover: mostly cloudy
Jehangir's Tomb...and my jeans...just got served
Today was the day we needed to see all the major sites of Lahore other than the Badshahi Mosque. Beginning with a relatively early morning at 11am, we set off for the massive city-sized Lahore Fort:
The first major part that you’ll come upon entering Lahore Fort is the Shish Mahal, a palace of mirrors.
Walk anywhere along the edge of the fort you’ll get stupendous views of Lahore itself:
After the fort, we walked north to find the hidden Begum Shah Mosque, one of the oldest in Lahore.
To find Begum Shah Mosque, walk through a seemingly deserted and sketchy part of the red light district by the Fort:
After visiting Begum Shah, we drove northwest towards Jehangir’s Tomb (tomb of the famous 4th Mughal Emperor), coming upon a road being torn apart to install a new sewage system. That didn’t stop our driver from driving through it anyway:
Jehangir’s Tomb is immense, and a great place to stroll around and people-watch, or rather constantly being watched by dumbfounded locals who rarely see any foreigners here.
Mariam informed me I ruined a few cricket matches simply because I was walking by.
They interview her for a documentary on Pakistan
Walking towards the tomb:
By the entrance to the tomb, you can pay a guard 100-200 rupees to let you in an adjacent door that opens to a staircase leading to the top of the minarets, where you can get great views of the area and Lahore:
Leaving the tomb site, we headed back southeast towards the inner city (or Old City) for the last stop of the day: the deserted and exquisite Wazir Khan Mosque:
To get to Wazir Khan, I would recommend that you stop your car outside the gate of the inner city and walk by foot to the mosque:
Wazir Khan Mosque, the namesake of the governor of Sirhind. Unlike The Badshahi Mosque and its epic scope, the beauty at Wazir Mosque lies in the details of the walls and the buildings themselves, as well as that deserted feeling you get just by being here.
You might find yourself totally alone at Wazir Khan, and that’s what we loved the most about making this our last stop in Lahore.
And with that, we bid a sorrowful goodbye to Pakistan and the wonderful people we met here. I always say I don’t really travel for the sights, the parties, or for the location itself; rather, it’s always the people that become the reason why I travel.
That could not be any more true with the people and family I got to know here in Pakistan.
On a daily basis the media compels us to think twice about traveling to a certain place, but Pakistan is one where I wouldn’t think twice about coming back to again, simply because of the family that took me in and made me feel like I was one of them.
With the weddings, outings, family functions, and the opportunity to embarrass myself in front of a crowd of hundreds of strangers, I was given an insight to a part of a country and culture I would never have been able to access or understand on my own. I will forever be grateful for showing me what hospitality, love, and kinship truly means.
- At time of posting in Lahore Airport, it was 11 °C -
Humidity: 62% | Wind Speed: 3km/hr | Cloud Cover: nil significant cloud
Part of being in Pakistan during December is that you’ll make it in time for good weather, good food, and the annual wedding season; stay here long enough and you’re bound to get invited to one without any prior notice.
This is what happened to me today when I thought I had exhausted weddings in Pakistan at this point.
But I definitely didn’t expect to perform in a wedding where I didn’t know anyone:
First things first; we began our 24 hours in Karachi, where we woke up at 6am for our 8am flight to Lahore:
The Karachi Airport is flanked by multiple layers of security, with guards in AK-47 equipped bunkers every 20 meters. This expectedly causes a lot of traffic coming into the airport.
The air travel in Pakistan is similar to India’s: you might not need to show an ID with your ticket, but you better have all your carry-on bags (and even your camera if it has a strap!) tagged with the airline’s “carry-on tags” and STAMPED along with your ticket. If you don’t have a tag, a stamp, or both, they’ll send you right back outside security to do it all over again.
The 1 hour flight from Karachi to Lahore was otherwise quick, on time, and pleasant; the PIA flight sent us on an older aircraft, which meant the seats were ironically very very cushy!
We landed in Lahore at 9:30am:
After settling in Mariam’s parents’ old home in Township, we went to Liberty Market to go shopping:
If you find a staircase going into a basement here, try it out as it’ll lead you to a whole ‘nother world where you get to see how clothes — saris, kurtas, and silwar kameez — are made from the first thread.
There are mezzanine floors within a floor that have workers crouched down and working hard, visuals which remind me that of those magazine illustrations of buildings cut in half to show a a hive of people doing different things in different rooms and on different floors.
Watch your bags as it can get pretty crowded here:
After returning, I found out from Mariam’s parents we have been invited to another Mehndi (by now you should be experts which part of the wedding the Mehndi fits in).
And I’m not one to turn down an invitation!
Except for Mariam’s immediate family and cousins, I knew absolutely nobody here and nobody knew me . . . so I bet the crowd definitely didn’t expect a random Chinese American guy to get pulled onstage and perform to Amrit Saab’s “Sardar”:
Click on the photo and zoom in on the crowd's faces...they definitely did not see this coming
Well, I HAD thought I knew nobody here and nobody here knew me, but then I felt a tap on my shoulder and saw a guy who introduced himself as Ali — a guy I had met last year while giving a speech to CUNY Baruch’s AIESEC organization about traveling! What a small world!
He then told me when it would be the time for him to get married, he would invite to return to Pakistan. Holding you to that promise!
Then came the jam session. And we dance until midnight because the Lahore laws don’t apply here:
- At time of posting in Lahore Airport, it was 8 °C -
Humidity: 93% | Wind Speed: n/a | Cloud Cover: nil significant cloud
The 3rd and final part of the wedding is the Walima, where the groom’s family hosts the bride’s family on their turf (their home, their city, their neighborhood, another venue, etc.), and everyone has one last dinner together.
We started our first full day in Karachi by taking it easy with Mariam’s family and then heading to the markets for some shopping and haggling.
Haggling is much easier here than in India. Since there are so few tourists (I actually haven’t met any during my 9 days here so far), the shopkeepers are absolutely determined that you leave having bought something, no matter how low you go. For items that originally had begun at around 9,000 rupees altogether, we were able to walk away with having paid only 3,000 rupees.
With whatever price they give you intiitally, start low and go slow. I always start with at least 1/4 of the original price and work up, 50 rupees at a time, from there. Pretend you’re never too interested in the item or else they’ll budge less, knowing you’ll cave sooner than they will.
After shopping, we freshened up and headed straight for the Walima:
It's wedding season! There were 3 weddings going on here simultaneously
Commence Dar/Butt family phototaking!
After a quick dinner, we did a little dancing for about half an hour before heading home:
Tomorrow we catch an early morning flight back to Lahore!
- At time of posting in Karachi Airport, it was 13 °C -
Humidity: 43% | Wind Speed: 4km/hr | Cloud Cover: nil significant cloud
After arriving in by train from Lahore, we settled in at a really nice place thanks to Mariam’s family:
We then got a driver and tried to hit the ground running:
We passed by the house of the Bhutto family (the family of Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in December 2007):
The place to be young and in Karachi is in Defence and Clifton Beach. We got to Clifton Beach first and its new main gathering place: The Dolmen Mall.
After window shopping at the mall we strolled along Clifton Beach itself. While not known for its clean waters (they aren’t, so don’t expect to be able to pe in anytime soon), it’s a great place for atmospheric people watching and riding camels:
As the sun set on Clifton Beach, we adopted a camel for 100 rupees each:
We then headed into Karachi traffic to make it to dinner:
…and met the groom’s family at Kalachi Restaurant, also on the seaside and known for its food, its outdoor kitchen that resembles a mini-Djemaa El-Fna in Marrakesh, and the whole atmosphere of eating by the Arabian Sea.
Make sure that if you’re eating here during the winter like we were, bundle up as it gets very chilly and windy here at night! We found out the hard way.
After dinner, we ended the night by having tea and coffee with a few new friends at Sattar Buksh, a cafe that plays not-so-subtly on the “Starbucks” name:
Tomorrow we attend the 3rd and final part of the wedding: The Walima!
- At time of posting in Karachi Airport, it was 11 °C -
Humidity: 57% | Wind Speed: 4km/hr | Cloud Cover: nil significant cloud
The next morning we got ready for a 3pm train leaving from Lahore to Karachi. The whole journey took about 20 hours.
Our 3pm train — The Pak Business Express — is owned by a private company instead of the government, so we were able to get reservations for a cushy Business Class car that boasted frequent tea being served, meals, and decent (although on and off) WiFi. It was a pretty pleasant ride, and if you ride with good people (like I did), it’ll pass by more quickly than you think.
From Defence to the Lahore Train Station takes about a 30min drive:
Lahore Train Station
Families can fit as many as 7 on one motorbike
Business Class allows you to stay in their renovated waiting room:
At around 2:50pm we proceeded through a few rounds of security on the platform:
Pick your berth:
The train departed at around 3:0pm:
After a few minutes of passing through the outskirts in Lahore, we ended up in the farmlands fairly quickly:
You’ll pass through a few towns over the course of the next few hours…
…before it becomes night fairly quickly:
The trains are organized similarly to that of India’s: you can fit anywhere from 2-6 people in a berth, and it comes with a TV playing the latest Bollywood, power outlets, WiFi access, and tables to play cards and eat food:
There are an occasional few rest stops where you can get out and stretch your legs:
The next morning, try to catch the sunrise on the horizons of Pakistan’s countryside:
When you reach Hyderabad, you’ll know you’re about 1-2 more hours away from Karachi:
We cross the dried up Sindh river:
And we arrived into Karachi at around 11am the next morning:
- At time of posting in Karachi Airport, it was 20 °C -
Humidity: 26% | Wind Speed: 8km/hr | Cloud Cover: nil significant cloud