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The Girl In the Spider’s Web

August 29, 2015

There has been a lot of controversy over Swedish author David Lagercrantz and his sanction to continue the mega popular Millennium series (roughly 80 million copies to date) originally authored by the late Stieg Larsson. I’m an uber fan who couldn’t quite convince his wife to read past the first 10 pages of the “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”.

Its been 5 years since the last novel of the trilogy was published and available stateside.  I subsequently learned about David’s commission but decided to stick my head in the sand and conveniently ignore the dilemma that would ensue from deciding whether to continue with the series written (typed?) by a hand other then Larsson’s.  That spell broke a couple of days ago when Goodreads sent me a notification about the upcoming release of the book.  Since then, I’ve been debating whether or not to pull the proverbial trigger.

Spider's Web


Well, I was on the fence until yesterday.

What changed?

a) The early reviews are mostly good. The New York Times, The Independent and The Guardian all recommend it with ‘The Washington Post’ being the only hold-out so far.

b) I came to the sudden realization that I just couldn’t stay away from Lisbeth Salander anymore.

c) Simon Vance is still the narrator of choice for the audio version!


Lahore Diaries-Love at First Bite

August 4, 2015

After weeks of thinking about the the best way to introduce the best Halwa Puri in the world, I’ve come up disturbingly short.

You could say a lot of things about Kamran. You could say that he’s passionate about food.

Its killing me not to have a good descriptor, no creative one liner, no praise worthy enough.

Empty handed. Like an amateur beggar.

Welcome to Day 2 in Lahore.

It was early Friday morning. The food from Salt & Pepper Grill (see last post) digested overnight, it was time to start anew.  The cousin drove, adamant to change my life one bite at a time.  The destination? Capri Restaurant in Liberty Market.

Capri is one of the most popular breakfast destinations (if not the most popular breakfast destination) in Lahore.  Its Halwa Puri, jaw droppingly, mind numbingly, finger lickingly delicious.  The hot but not over-crisp puri is amazingly light, but with a taste that screams the weight of the dough, the skill of the shaper, the richness of the ghee.  For folks dining in, the aalo bhaji is combined with cholay in your plate so your hand doesn’t have to wander far, for there is also achaar (mixed pickles) to distract your senses. And the Halwa (oh the halwa) while not overbearing, whispering sweet nothings in your mouth.


The Inspiration for the name: Capri Cinema right across the restaurant

The Whole Enchilada

The newspaper cut-out magically soaks up excess oil

It would be tragically unfair if Capri hogged all the limelight for I was with great company.  Intellectual heavyweights such as Mosharraf Zaidi, Musharraf Ali Farooqui (who kickstarted my giddiness by handing me a signed copy of his novel “Between Clay & Dust’ right before we stepped in to Capri) and Dawn columnist Umair Javed, who suggested that I check out another famous Halwa Puri joint by the name of ‘Sadiq Sweets’ before I left Lahore (I did).

Then it was back to the hotel.  The original plan was to visit Badshahi Mosque for Friday prayers but that plan was waylaid by an unexpected trip to the Chief Ministers house. I ended up praying there. Afterwards, we had a little one to one chat before we said our goodbyes.


The Chief Minister was very welcoming

The Halwa Puri had digested by now, which was great because it was time for lunch.  As we pulled away from the Chief Ministers house, we decided to take a break from desi cuisine and try something American.  Perhaps it had something to do with Musharraf Ali Farooqui’s ringing endorsement of a non-desi restaurant called Cosa Nostra.  So thats where we ended up and had a good ol burger (doesn’t get any more American than that!) It was pretty good.  So thanks Musharraf sahib.

Then it was back to the hotel again.  Since Badshahi mosque was missed earlier, I decided to check it out before the planned (and much anticipated) evening reunion with my high-school friends who reside in the city.  I stole my cousins driver for this short excursion.

I didn’t even bother to come up with a description for Badshahi mosque. There’s no point.  There are no words that can capture the beauty, the magnificence, the sheer stature of this mosque.  Even the pictures below don’t do any justice…


The entrance gate to the Mosque.

View from the archway of the entrance gate

View from the archway of the entrance gate

It looks beautiful from every angle.

It looks beautiful from every angle


The inside portion was surprisingly small

Front and Center.

Front and Center


My driver took some parting shots before we left

Any Pakistani who hasn’t heard of the famous red light district (or what used to be the red light district) behind the Mosque must have lived under a rock.  Perhaps up until the 70’s, that is where the famous courtesans resided-music, classical dance and even literature, part of the mix.  An entire row of buildings (situated between the mosque and more shadier parts of town) that were once the playground of extra-curricular activities of commoners and nobles alike, have been converted to restaurants.

Ironically called ‘Food Street’.


Food Street is to the left of the sign. Sandwiched between the mosque and Diamond Market

I had sought out recommendations for Food St (of the culinary kind) and a vast majority of friends directed me towards Coocos Den-some for its food but most for its majestic views of the mosque.  This history of Coocos is very fascinating, but is beyond the scope of this post.  I encourage readers to Google it separately.  The driver dropped me at the entrance and I walked up to Coocos, the very second building on the right.  I was guided to the stairs leading to the rooftop.  The waiter waiting there was a bit disappointed to see a party of ‘one’.  I asked for a cup of chai (his disappointment level increased) and to be seated at the best possible location for photos.  The latter request wasn’t a problem as it was early evening and it wasn’t crowded.  He did ask me if I was sure if I just wanted tea. I said yes.  He asked again, Milk Tea? I smiled and nodded.  He vanished for 20 minutes. I helped myself to the table by the balcony and then my jaw dropped.  If anything, my friends had understated the view.


Walking up to Coocos


This view is etched in to the furthest recesses of my memory.


View sans balcony


Doesn’t the wood speak volumes?


I thought this was a pretty unique water fountain

Making my way down a narrow circular stairwell with an old lahori door to greet me at every level

Making my way down a narrow circular stairwell with an old Lahori door to greet me at every level.  Wonder what these rooms were used for?


Lights were on by the time I left.


Food Street entrance. Mosque is to the left. The Foot St sign that I posted earlier is to the right.

Then it was back to the hotel for the (sorry I lost count) time.  After a brief freshening up, my two high-school friends showed up. We spent an hour chatting at the hotel and debated where to head for dinner. They convinced me to go back to Food Street, but to a different restaurant called Fort View.  According to them, the food was markedly better than Coocos and that I would also get to the enjoy the night time view of the Mosque.  Who was I to argue?

Hotel Fort View.

I wonder how many people actually opt to stay at the hotel?

View 1

View 1

View 2

View 2

View 3

View 3

Dinner.  The Food was delish.  The Badshah naan to the left was amazing.

There’s a reason why they call the bread Badshah (King) Naan

For the second time this day, I was in the midst of great food and even greater company.  We topped dinner with Gulaab Jamans and Kashmiri Chai, walked around for a bit to digest our food while planning our sightseeing and culinary tour for the upcoming day.

Actually, the next day was so epic, that I posted a teaser blog on Facebook the day after it was done.  That was roughly nine months ago.  Shit, I gotta look that up now.

Why is Munni Begum Singing from the Bathroom?

June 9, 2015

I was told to have my bags packed and be ready to hit the road by 8 am.  My hosts didn’t realize that I could’ve met this deadline in my sleep.

Its not everyday that you’re visiting Lahore after twenty years…

Two loaded cars and the four hour (and change) drive on the M2 motorway was uneventful except for when our driver felt nauseous and my cousin had to take over the wheels for a while. I guess he didn’t anticipate ever driving the driver but there’s a first time for everything.  And since we were on the motorway (vs. GT Road), there flew my second chance to hit up Mian Jee’s for his legendary daal at Lala Musa (roughly half way between Islamabad and Lahore).  I guess it was not meant to be…

It was around noon when we entered the outskirts of the city. Soon we were on Mall Road, entering the heavily fortified entrance of Hotel Avari right across from the Lahore Zoo.  My cousin had booked two rooms for the Islamabadian entourage.  Avari Lahore is nice (certainly better than its counterpart in Karachi) and the staff knew my cousin well since he was a regular.

The first item I checked off after settling in to my room was to inspect the bathroom (an old habit) both aesthetically and functionally. I closed the door shut and went on about my business (recall that I just endured a 4 hour drive)

And then it happened.

Munni Begum started singing.  Her melodious voice, unmistakable.  It had to be her.

For a fraction of a second, I felt an intense invasion of privacy. You know that horrifying feeling when you realize that you’re not the only occupant in what is supposed to be a very private place? That horror was immediately replaced  by an extreme curiosity.  Where the hell were the speakers?  And finally, awe.  How did Munni know I was in the bathroom?

Mind blowing.


A little, yet significant touch of Avari’s brilliance. A complimentary set of Ispaghol in each room.

My cousin had to attend some meetings so I was on my own for a few hours. I arranged for a rental (with a driver) and was on my way shortly after checking in.  First stop? Bundu Khan.  Dining hours started later in the day so I had to order and eat in my car, which felt strangely conspicuous.  Perhaps it was a case of jitters, being by myself for the first time with nothing but my wits and placing trust in a driver who I had only known for 20 minutes (Bundu Khan is just down the road from Avari).  Basically, my first culinary experience felt a bit (for lack of a better word) forced.


Not a bad way start things off in Lahore.

Now it was time be a typical tourist.  Based on previous recommendations, I opted to check out the Lahore Museum.  What’s interesting about Lahore Museum is that while its facade is drop dead gorgeous, the inside is anything but.  It also didn’t help matters that I had to hand over both my cell phones to security before going in.  The lack of a companion coupled with a decidedly dull interior pretty much guaranteed that I wasn’t going to stick around for long.  The only section that I spent comparatively more time in was the pictorial history of the subcontinent from the tail end of the Mughal era all the way to the creation of Pakistan.  Captivating, to say the least.


Side view of the museum facade

There was time for one more escapade before I was due back at the hotel and the Tomb of Jahangir was next on the list.  My rental driver was a bit iffy on the location, but he got me there without much fanfare.  This time, I asked him to accompany me instead of waiting in the car.  I paid for his ticket and we strolled inside the courtyard.  It was here when the city first tugged at my heartstrings.




View from inside the tomb into the courtyard.


Here lies Emperor Jahangir.


View of the courtyard from the roof of the tomb.


Baba ji (caretaker) allowed us entry to the rooftop and one of the four pillars for a small donation.  He wasn’t happy with how small it was.


View from pillar to pillar. These are angled outwards so if they were to break, they would crash outwards.

After paying respects to Jahangir, we drove back to the hotel in time to catch my cousin’s seminar on education.  He introduced me to the seminars’ chief guest, Musharraf Ali Farooqui, a well known author, translator and essayist, who was giving a talk on how to tell stories to kids. The session was interactive and I enjoyed it a lot.  Before the end of the seminar, I snuck out.


A master at work. Musharraf A Farooqi addressing his audience

Celebrity or not, Musharraf Ali Farooqui can’t compete with Lahori food and I had to give my two cents on dinner options.  After much debate, we opted for Salt & Pepper Grill.  Karachi boasts a branch of the same restaurant, but I heard the original flagship venue is the one in Lahore.  The setup was the same and so were the culinary options.  There’s something for everyone here.  In other words, its one of those ‘you can’t go wrong’ kind of bets when you’re going with a large contingent with multiple age groups.


I had a Firni. Or two. Or perhaps I cropped the third one out? Who knows.  What happens in Lahore, stays in Lahore.


Thus ended Day One in Lahore and the start of something beautiful.  The next two days,  an unforgettable crescendo.

A Discovery of Riches-And Other Stories (Part 2)

May 14, 2015

If you haven’t read part 1, then stop right here.  You have? Well, wait one second while I put on my wizards hat and robe.

“You. Shall. Pass!”

I’ve always wanted to say that. Ok, on to less geeky stuff.

Twenty four hundred years after Alexander the Great discovered the salt mines, it was finally my turn.

Khewra lies approx. halfway between Islamabad and Lahore-a 2 hour drive on the famous M2 Motorway (for Peshawar, we took M1 from Islamabad) that links the two cities.

Since we were going with a contingent of elderly folks and experimenting with lunch options was out of the question, it was decided that we would brown bag it.  In Pakistan, a brown bag turns in to a picnic basket and a chicken sandwich was chosen to be the marquee lunch item.  Equally interesting is where we secured the sandwiches.  My phupa and I made a prep run at a local bakery called Tehzeeb.  Interesting name for a bakery and a bit high endish as bakeries go.  You’d think a bakery with such a nice upkeep would also pay close attention to their menu, but alas, in typical Pakistani fashion, it was chock-full of endearing spelling errors. How else are you going to tell apart a Pakistani culinary establishment from it’s doppelgänger?

Can I have a Vegetable Roll, Chicken Gralic Pizza, Chicken Mashroom Roll, and a Cream Chesse Egg Sandwich

Can I have a Vegetable Roll, Chicken Gralic Pizza, Chicken Mashroom Roll, and a Cream Chesse Egg Sandwich?

I recall we also bought some spring rolls as appetizers and sped off to finalize the edible arrangements at home, which included tea and some dry dessert (cake?).  The drive was uneventful.  I had Google mapped the bajeesuz out of it the day prior trying to figure out whether there was any chance to make a pit stop at Mian Jee’s at Lala Musa (Mian Jee’s  is going to be a recurring theme for the next two posts) but it was completely out of the way.  Roughly 20 minutes after taking the exit for Kallar Kahar, we entered the tourist resort area for the mines.  Its a popular destination for schools and there were a fair number of excited children gathered up in the shaded area.  We bought our tickets (foreign wallets were gouged here too) and proceeded to enter the mine.  To describe what happened next, its best that I share it in pictures.  Words just don’t do justice (all pictures are clickable for a larger view).



Ticketing office and lunch area. This is where we unraveled our picnic basket after the tour.


Walking towards the mine entrance from the ticketing office.


Mine entrance. Loadshedding was in effect so the mine was pitch dark. It was strongly suggested by staff that we utilize a guide.  After a brief hesitation, we relented.  This turned out to be a blessing because we couldn’t see for shit inside. The guide and his flashlight led the way. I also came to the rescue with my iPhone 6 LED flash.


The touristy areas have been given catchy names. Chandni Chowk (an ironic name given the town isn’t even in Pakistan) is the first junction within the mine.


The salt in the mine wall glows when you direct a flashlight. Various hues of red, pink and white.


An ‘operational’ replica of Badshahi mosque carved out of salt.


A replica of Minar-e-Pakistan.


This cave like area (check out the stalactites on the roof) was mined during the Mughal era. The salt content in the pool is so high that you’ll never drown (if you were to topple over).


At the end of the tour is a snack bar. Look above and it will hit you that this dining area is uniquely situated under tons of rock. If I wasn’t feeling claustrophobic during the tour, I was now.

Just as we were exiting the mine, a big school group was coming in.  Considering the rowdy nature of these kids, I was glad we got to complete the tour in relative peace and quiet.  Our guide also had a good sense of humor and thus commanded a generous tip.  After lunch and sneaking a smoke, we headed up to a destination I had no idea existed-a 150 year old hindu temple called Katas Raj.

Apparently it was pretty picturesque and a half hour drive from the mines.  So, a no brainer.  After going around a mountain and various small villages, we got to our destinations (thanks to the 5 different folks who gave us directions along the way) and parked near the temple.  At the entrance, we were stopped by a cop.  Turns out that there was a hindu delegation coming to visit the temple and it was off limits to the non-hindu public.  Initially, we were pretending to be Pakistani tourists from Islamabad (which failed to rouse any sympathy from the cop).  It was time for plan B, which was to reveal the true nature of our origin-a contingent from NY and NJ.  Thankfully, the cop relented and allowed us a five minute entry to take pictures. I took the following from my iPhone (again all of these pictures are clickable for a larger view).


Mesmerizing View. Love the reflection.


A slightly wider angle view.  You can see a cop patrolling the roof.


One of the temples


Sign near the entrance


After this brief but memorable pitstop, we headed back home to Islamabad, where after consuming some delicious home cooked food, I decided to call it a night.

Early tomorrow morning, we planned to leave for Lahore.  It had been twenty years since I was last in this great city and I couldn’t wait to be back. But that my friends, is another blog post…

p.s. shortly after my trip on the M2 Motorway, a brave family man averted major disaster on the same highway (coincidentally near the Kallar Kahar exit for the Salt Mines) by jumping in to a ‘unmanned’ 22 wheeler.  The driver had bailed because the brakes had failed.  This dude managed to stop it by banging the truck in to the median.

A Discovery of Riches-And Other Stories (Part 1)

March 5, 2015


The sunlight was fast receding and he’d finally made up his mind. Rearing around to face his commanders, he called out:

‘Thats far enough for today’, signalling an end to the days march. The soldiers would dutifully set up camp for the night. Their irritatingly slow homebound journey would have to wait until daybreak tomorrow.  There would be many such infuriating stops along the way.  The price you pay for ambition.

He was a man of few words now. What is left to say when you’ve mastered countless opposing armies, 3000 miles of land and its inhabitants?  That said, his last battle at the Hydaspes River had proved to be the toughest in his campaign so far.  King Porus-the local ruler, had really tested the Macedonian army with an elephant infantry! He’d survived and won the historic battle, but not without heavy casualties.

He had wanted to press further east, but his loyal, battle weary men had refused to go further.  The greatest conqueror of the world had finally succumbed–to his own men. Smoking his pipe while taking a stroll through this latest campsite, he couldn’t help ignore the irony of his defeat.

Before turning in for the night, he made his way to the makeshift stable, wanting to check in on Bucephalus, his beloved war horse.  He had tamed Bucephalus at the age of thirteen and some claimed he was more close to the horse than any human being.  His critics got a lot of things wrong.  This observation was not one of them.

What he saw next blew his mind. Becephalus and other horses of the Companion Cavalry, who had already been fed their quota of hay for the night, were furiously licking the ground.  He bent down and tracked his finger across the strange red rock that glowed when he brought his torch up close.  Instinctively, he licked his finger to taste what the fuss was all about. Amazed, he slowly rose up and cast his torch along the area behind the stable. The strange glowing red rock was everywhere!  As far as his eye could see.

Alexander the Great had just discovered what to this day is considered the second largest salt mine deposit in the world.

The area?

The site was not too far from from the Hydaspes river.  But that was 326 BC.

Today, the river is known by another name. ‘Darya-e-Jehlum’ and the salt mines are in a town known as Khewra.

In modern day Pakistan.





Peshawar Ki Kahani-Meri Zubani

January 27, 2015

I almost gave up on writing about my trip to Peshawar.  Twice.

First: After what transpired during my trip, I was keen on just sharing the following:

“What happens in Peshawar, Stays in Peshawar”.

However, certain misguided interpretations of such a comment had me second guessing that particular line of action.

Second: Sharing my culinary escapade didn’t sit right after what happened on the sixteenth of December, 2014-a mere three weeks after my first trip (but hopefully not the last) to the city.

But then, the terrorists would win.  So here goes:

I spent a considerable time researching where to tour in Punjab (besides ISB and LHR) during the first week of the upcoming trip.  This eventually led me to the Daewoo Bus Service to figure out routes and rates.  It is here where I discovered (to my pleasant surprise) that Peshawar was only a two hour drive from Islamabad.  A day trip was totally doable.  The lure was apologetically simple. Peshawar is the home of the Chapli Kabab.

I love Chapli Kababs.

I would be only 2 hours from the mecca of Chapli Kababs.

No Brainer.

I asked my uber-talented ISB-based cousin if he was familiar with the area and if he would kindly drive me?  I half expected a tongue lashing but it was a ‘Yes’ on both counts.

Peshawar was on (despite the protestations of my wife, my mother-in-law and other acquaintances who thought I was nuts).


Source: A look at Namakmandi-Home of the Charsi Tikka

During this time and the actual trip to Peshawar, I had learned that besides Chapli Kababs, Peshawar was also known for its Namakmandi and home to ‘Khayber Charsi Tikka’ an uber-famous 40 year old food joint known for its delicious mutton karahi’s. And perhaps for that ‘unique’ name. Charsi can loosely be translated to “someone who consumes Cannabis on a regular basis’.  The story goes that the current owners father was a pothead.  Some folks will tell you that the amazing taste comes from certain “off the book” ingredients.  Take your pick.

Here’s one of the articles I came across during my research phase. Was I excited? Yes. Was a wee bit concerned about how I was going to stuff both kababs and karahi in a matter of hours?  Hell, Yes!

I kept repeating:

Himmat-e-Mardaan. Maded-e-Khuda.

So with that context at your fingertips, here’s how the Qissa (story) unfolded:

On the third day of my trip to the motherland, I had a light breakfast in anticipation of the feast ahead.

I had packed a shalwar kameez (that I typically don’t wear) to blend in.  That’s when I got the tongue lashing from my cousin.

“Freedom means being comfortable wearing whatever you want (within reason of course), wherever you want”. I’m going in a suit dawg”.

In his defense, he had a meeting arranged with a govt. official towards the tail end of the trip, so a suit made sense.  I put on some Levi’s.

My phupa is an avid juicer and was blown away when I told him about this technique of de-seeding a pomegranate that went viral on Youtube earlier during the year.  He had try it right then.  I ended up receiving the fruit (no pun intended) of that exercise.  He also bought and fed me some Pakistani Guava (God bless that man).  Just like Mangoes, you don’t know what you are missing if you haven’t tried the Pakistani variety.  But I digress.Juice

With healthy Pomegranate juice in my system (to counter the greasy food to come later), I set off with my cousin and his driver on the motorway.  It was my first time on the highway and I was kinda blown away.

This ain’t too different from the NJ Turnpike. Minus the EZ Pass.

Two hours later, when we paid the toll at the Peshawar Toll Plaza and entered the city, it seemed like a typical traffic congested metropolis.  Pesh Toll Plaza


The city was littered with billboards–hundreds of them.  However, what stood out was that most of the billboards depicted female models.  It seemed that Peshawar was more laden with female billboards than KHI and LHR combined.  Not what I had expected.  You know what I didn’t see? A single gun or rifle. Odd right? Apparently, Peshawar is not swarming with ammunition toting, shalwar kameez wearing, bad guys, which is the common perception.  The Peshawar I saw (albeit from the car) boasted of the magnificent Bala Hissar Fort and the grand Islamia College (one of the oldest educational institutions in Pakistan).  Did you know that Quaid-e-Millat Mr. Jinnah donated a portion of his will to the college? Mega cool.


Islamia College’s facade Gives Princeton U. a run for its money. Source: Pukhtoogle


Pesh Bill 1

One of many billboards depicting a fashionable model


We had a local friend of my cousin join us in the city and he guided us to the Charsi Tikka shop.  The two hour drive had adequately whet my appetite and I was ready to dive in to some hot naans and karahi. But wait, what did this waiter dude just say in Pashtu? Luckily our local guy was with us to translate, although I wish I could un-hear it at the time.

“Sir, today is meatless Tuesday”.

The KPK govt. in an effort to conserve the welfare (and quantity?) of animals doesn’t allow meat consumption on Tuesdays.


I was in so much shock, dismay and denial, that I didn’t take any photos of the establishment.  What was the point?

An empty karahi not only leaves you unfulfilled, it also doesn’t get you any ‘Likes’ either.

But, I’ve got you covered.  Just because I didn’t take any photos, doesn’t mean photos don’t exist.  They exist aplenty.  Here’s a front view picture of Charsi Tikka taken by brother Waseem Shahbaaz in 2011.  The board now is white, with its trademark dumba (fat-tailed sheep).

With karahi out of the way (quite literally), things didn’t look good on the chapli kabab front either.  Our local guide told us that one of the most famous kabab shops was not too far away and that we might as well check it out.

I didn’t argue but I had a sinking feeling this was not going to end well.

However, Jalil’s was indeed open for business and were making kababs!

Wait, back up.  How were they making kababs on a meatless Tuesday you ask?

Because they were making Chicken Chapli Kababs…

Jaleel 2 Jaleel 1

Apparently, Peshawari’s don’t consider chicken as meat.

But I still did.

Yes, it was a major disappointment not having beef, but those chicken kababs looked mighty delish.

So we ordered a couple of plates and dug in.

Needless to say, they were the best chicken Chapli Kababs I had in my life.

With our tummies full, we took an unintentional 45 min tour of the city on our way to the Directorate of Elementary and Secondary Education KPK for a meeting my cousin had arranged beforehand.  Mind you, the distance between the two points was a mere 3Km, but traffic was horrendous.

In fact, we lost so much time in traffic that I didn’t get to visit Qissa Khwani Bazaar before heading back to Islamabad.  Legend has it that Kanishka merchants (dating back 127 AD) used to stay at Inns within the bazaar and in the evenings, while sitting around a fire and sipping Qahwa, would share/tell stories.

I guess thats a “Qissa” for another day (as long as its not a Tuesday).

The Terracotta Trap

January 4, 2015

‘Damn. If I can sell Taxila, I can sell anything.’
(Kami-thinking of what to write about Taxila after the trip).

Lets back-up shall we?

Before traveling to Taxila, my cousin took me to a decidedly western place for breakfast- Mocca Coffee in F-6/3.  Tragically, I neglected to take pictures of my omelette, crepes and coffee.  I do remember the omelette as being decent and the coffee being above average. And although I can’t remember where the coffee beans were from or if they roasted it themselves (which I sincerely doubt), I had them brew it pour-over style using the Hario Dripper.  The staff must have over-listened during our waiting period where I gave my usual ‘I hate Starbucks’ speech, citing the elements of ‘good coffee’.  When it was finally served, the barista seemed in awe of my coffee knowledge and seemed to be on the verge of asking me to brew a cup for him.  He didn’t.  And I didn’t volunteer.

I keenly remember that we had some leftovers, which we gave to some ‘safai karnay wala’ dude outside the coffee shop.  I don’t think he was pretty big on crepes but we encouraged him to expand his horizons.

Good deed done for the day…

Shortly after, my Phupa and I were on the famous GT (Grand Trunk) Road to Taxila, a roughly 30 min journey from ISB.  Our first stop was Taxila Museum, which is an obvious ‘must see’ item on the Taxila circuit.  We were offered a guide and we agreed. I was impressed both by his command of the english language and his knowledge of historical Gandharan art.  His commentary sure beat the time consuming act of reading microscopic font behind glass walls depicting the history of various artifacts.

Think of it as a live audio tour sans the headphones.

Musuem Guide

Our talented guide at Taxila Musuem


After taking some pictures, we visited ‘Sircap’, one of several archelogical sites in the area excavated in the early 1900’s.  Have you ever been to Zamzama in Karachi?  Sircap was the Zamzama of its time but ten times more planned. And straight. And symmetrical.

How the city planners managed such precision and symmetry thousand of years ago is mind-blowing. That, and the fact that it has survived for so long.

We also had a guide here, who was not as adept in english (not that it was needed), and a bit more laid back.  With amusement, he pointed out certain damaged Stupas.

Turns out these Stupas were not ravaged by time.

They were ravaged by local kids who like to play in these archeological digs after school.  Who needs a playground when you can play on a UNESCO appointed World Heritage Site.  Infinitely cooler dawg.

Now pull your jaw back up.

sircap tree

Dead Rosewood tree at Sircap


There was also a lot of litter (mostly empty supari packets), which is par for the course in Pakistan, but what truly takes the cake is the same excavated site being used for pasture by a local farmer dude.  I kid you not.


Only in Pakistan


Here’s a nice collection of pictures of Sircap from this facebook page:

Our next stop was at the Monastery of Jaulian. This monastery can only be accessed by climbing up an insanely high (and zigzagging) staircase. I didn’t take any pictures here, mostly because my lungs were on fire ‘during and after’ the climb. It was all I could to do stand upright and shrug in bare acknowledgement at the umpteenth Buddha statue.

It also seemed that our guides got progressively worse throughout the day.  Our third guide was 10 minutes late to the party (we were about to leave when he arrived), smelled like ass, and made no attempt to keep himself in a remotely presentable state.  By this time I was in a state of disgust, exhaustion, and indifference. So the iPhone 6 stayed within the confines of my pocket.

Luckily, Kiran Palwasha has a nice collection of pictures of Jaulian on her blog.

Next stop was Khanpur Dam.  To be honest, I had no idea of Khanpur’s signficance, until we drove through orchards and orchards of oranges.

Behold the famous Khanpuri Malta.

Our driver informed us that said Maltas would need at least another month to be fully ripe, so I missed out on that particular delicacy. Later, I found out that Khanpur is also known for its sugarcane.  Ah well…

I don’t recall seeing the actual dam (maybe we drove past it quickly), but we did end up at Khanpur Lake and took a quick boat ride.  Here’s the video of our ‘choata wala’ chakkar.


Afterwards, it was a slightly nauseating ride back to Islamabad.  That evening, we ended up going to Dynasty for some Chinese.  Its located within the Marriott that was party to a devastating bomb blast in 2008.  As a result, you have to go through airport style security to gain access inside.  But its worth the hassle. Not only for security but for arguably, the best Chinese food in Pakistan.


Capping Day Two