One Day In Bahrain

One Day In Bahrain

The Al-Fateh Grand Mosque just got served


Our flight back to NYC from Lahore required a daylong layover in the Kingdom of Bahrain, of which we fully took advantage.

It’s a country most recently famous for being the nearby (and relatively more liberal) weekend destination for vactioning Saudis who need a conveniently located outlet for shopping, drinking, and partying.


Lahore International Airport


Arriving around 9am in Bahrain’s International Airport, we got a 2 week tourist visa on arrival for 6 dinars (around $16 USD) each. You can pay in Dinars or in USD.



Unfortunately for us it was raining in Bahrain, so it wasn’t at its prettiest. The city is also designed to be not very walkable; the only way to get around is by car.



The airport is located in Al Muharraq, a 10 minute drive from the capital city of Manama. We got a car pickup and first headed to the old souq to drop off our bags at a cheap inn.

There are no hostels in Bahrain, and the “cheap” lodging goes around $300 USD/night at hotels designed for Saudis on their weekends off. The cheapest you can do is a business hotel for $60 USD/night.



Other than the Bahraini forts located near the airport, the only “sight” in Manama is the Grand Al-Fateh Mosque, one of the largest in the world:



You have to register at the front desk for an official guided tour to see the interior of the mosque. Since we were running low on time and wanted to relax a bit, we opted to get back in our car and drive around to a few malls for shopping and brunch (our favorite was Aroma Café in Seef Mall).



Because it can get blisteringly hot in the summer and people prefer to stay indoors most of the time for their social gatherings — Bahrain has a huge mall culture. There’s even a water park (both indoor and outdoor) on top of the biggest mall of the city, the City Center Mall:



We then visited one of Mariam’s cousins living in Bahrain, Mohib, whom we had last saw at the wedding functions a week ago in Lahore.


Abraj Al Lulu Residence Towers

The view of Bahrain from Mohib's 41st floor apartment


After catching up over dinner at City Center Mall, we then headed back to the airport to catch our homebound flights back to Paris and then NYC.

Thanks for a pleasant day, Bahrain!



- At time of posting in Bahrain International Airport , it was 15 °C - Humidity: 77% | Wind Speed: 25km/hr | Cloud Cover: few clouds


One Last Day In Lahore

One Last Day In Lahore

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


Where Are Salwar Kameez Born?

Where Are Salwar Kameez Born?

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


A Wedding (The Walima) In Karachi: Part 3

A Wedding (The Walima) In Karachi: Part 3


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


Kool Karachi

Kool Karachi


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


From Lahore To Karachi By Train

From Lahore To Karachi By Train



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:


Looks legit


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