Travel

The Day I Surprised My Parents in Lahore

On 21st December 2016, I set out to do something I had never done before. I decided to surprise my parents, by coming back to Lahore 3 days prior to my expected arrival back into Pakistan for the holidays. So a day before, I told my parents that I am travelling to London, and that I will be busy, don’t call, plus the reception will be terrible (I don’t know why I told them that). I packed a small suitcase for 2 weeks, which was full of gifts. And together with two other friends I went to the airport. Normally when I would be travelling alone, this was the time my parents would call, ask me about the boarding and the flight etc etc. But no one was checking up on me, and I was a free bird. My friends however, did have parents calling them and checking up about their flight schedule. There began a series of events that will illustrate the struggles of how to effectively surprise your parents.

Once boarded, I purchased the in-flight internet, just incase my parents wanted to contact me. My Whatsapp was flooded with messages from my family, asking about my whereabouts and why haven’t I spoken to them in so long. I had also blocked them on snapchat, keeping up with the whole surprise charade. My father wanted to talk to me, and I kept telling them I cant talk on the phone. I was in the aircraft for another 5 hours, and the sound of the airplane would have given me away. My sister in her overdramatic way was messaging me, trying to convince me to talk to Abu. I kept insisting on Skype-ing with them the following day, but they wanted to talk to me on the phone in that moment. I did feel bad, but I also laughed at the situation. I nearly caved, and told them I am on my way to Lahore. How I kept that secret for those crucial 18 hours, I have no idea. The longest I have gone perhaps without sharing anything with my parents.

Thinking that I had pacified my parents, I relaxed a little. Stopping over in Dubai for about 6 hours, my friends and I devoured our first halal McDonald’s in 87 days. After the customary ritual of chocolate shopping, we settled into the Marhaba Lounge. When I finally sat down in a chair to put my feet up, my phone started to buzz, and Abu flashed across the screen. He was direct calling me. I lept out of my chair, and ran towards the washroom, and into an empty cubicle. By this time the call had disconnected, but Abu called again. Doing the hard mental math of which time zone I am in, what time is it in England, what time is it in Lahore, I decided to tell him I am going to sleep. And that I just got back from London, and that I am at home, and I will Skype tomorrow. Finally, I had managed to satisfy my father. But as I opened the cubicle door, I had 6 desi aunties staring at me. All had heard my conversation with my father. All had made assumptions about my character, and how I was lying to my poor father. Imagine their horror, listening to a girl telling her father she is back in Coventry from London, while in a washroom cubicle in Dubai. I casually walked to the vanity to wash my hands, ignoring the 6 set of eyes boring into my back and then escaped into the lounge far from their prying expressions. I could hear their silent judgements. The entirety of the situation, and the horrified aunties did crack me up.

Finally, boarded on my flight from Dubai to Lahore. My friend was to drop me home, in her car. Thrilled at the thought at surprising my parents and my sister, I ran inside. Only to be surprised in return. No one was home. My mother had left to pick up my sister, and had planned an extensive trip to the tailors, and my father, he was out of city. I decided to wait for my mother, and didn’t call my father because I did’t want him to rush drive into the city. So a good 45 minutes passed, and my mom didn’t show up. Finally I called her, and my sister picked up. And as I spoke, she hung up the phone on me. Annoyed at her for thinking someone was playing a prank on her (imagine that!!), I called again. This time mama picked up, and I told her I was home.

After that, I took a bath, and slept in my fathers room, waiting for him. Around 6pm I finally called him, to ask when was he coming home. At first he thought it was my sister, and then when I told him, he couldn’t believe his ears.

So folks, always surprise your parents after getting their days itinerary, and don’t just show up hoping they would be at home sitting around wasting their days waiting for you.

 

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The Day I Was In A Spa… Bath Spa!

So after a short hiatus (read: long procrastination break), and excessive bullying from my sister I am finally back to reminiscing about my travels.

Almost a year has passed since I visited the beautiful town of Bath Spa in the South West of England. A three hour journey from Coventry brought us to Bath, with two train changes in between; one at Birmingham New Street and the next at Bristol Temple Meeds. Finally getting there at about 11:30am, my flatmate and I were starved. We strolled through the city, from the train station to the city centre, which was a nice 10 minute walk. The first thing that caught my eye about this city was the stark difference in architecture from the rest of England. I have always been fascinated by the old world charm that London promises, yet Bath was exquisite, and instantly made me fall in love with the place.

Smitten with this town, I begged my friend to stay here overnight, so we could easily explore the city.  I didn’t know then that this town would be easy to go around in a day. Eager, I looked up hotels to stay at, and my friend looked up the nearest Primark, to get our night suits, lols. However, we soon learnt that it is a small town, everything connected with a 10-15 minute walk, which was what made exploring the city in a day so comfortable. We paused for a minute next to the Recreation Gardens right in the centre, next to the famous Pulteney Bridge, to just take the city in. Although January, we were lucky that the sun was shining. No rain meant exploring the city on foot (our most favourite way of adventure).

Pulteney Bridge is not the usual bridge, which allows space for walking,  rather this bridge has coffee shops, bars and restaurants made on it, so every inch of it is covered with construction. My friend and I, initaially spent time looking for the bridge around the same area, before we came to this realisation.

After giving ourselves time to absorb the very subtle Roman vibes that this city was radiating, we found a nice pizza place “Real Italian Pizza” where I remember having the most delicious Margarita Pizza. After satiating our hunger, we decided to visit the famous Roman Baths. Opting for a tour of the place with a guide, we were introduced to the world of the romans who resided there centuries ago, and their famous bathing areas. The Great Bath still had hot water coming in from natural springs, and was the area reserved for the men and women at the time. Later on, a separate area was constructed for women.

A two hour long detailed tour ended with us thoroughly fascinated. With almost about 3 hours to spare in Bath, we headed towards the Jane Austen Centre, to get the feel of the celebrated writer. Tea cups, plates, snow globes, car stickers, refrigerator magnets amongst other merchandise, full of famous quotes from Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility were available. Costumes were available to dress up like one of the Bennet sisters too.

After getting lost in the world of Jane Austen, we decided to go to the Royal Crescent, a beautiful building in the shape of a crescent. Everything after the Jane Ausen Centre is simply connected by a road The sun was out in full by now, and there were people sprawled on the fresh grass, soaking up the sun in front of the Royal Crescent. The sight was too alluring, yet we couldn’t stay for long. Having taken the customary picture, we decided to make our way to the Recreational Gardens. Our journey to and from the Royal Crescent was fun. Even though we had a deadline to meet, we were casually strolling on the streets. We saw jewellery stores with the most unique and intricate designs, and fashion houses, with clothes extremely different from what we had seen in Coventry or in London. This was my first exposure to small congested streets in England, with shops on either sides, and beautifully designed balconies on top. It was love at first sight!

Getting ice-creams from the “Real Italian Gelato” shop- yes that was the name of the shop, come to think of it we didn’t have any “fake” pizzas or ice-creams that day. We settled in one of the Recreational Garden’s bench, over looking the river that ran below the Pulteney Bridge, to just soak up the city and its Roman vibe, before we had to run to catch our trains.

This day was the first time I had actually explored a city on foot, and had a specific checklist with me to cover the city and all there was to see. At times I would forget I am in England, because the architecture reminded me so much of Rome, and Italy. If you are a sucker for architecture, Bath Spa should be on your list.

Bath is a small town, with immensely beautiful and unique architecture, lovely cooperating people, with lush green gardens, and a captivating history behind it. March should be the perfect time to visit this town. Taking the Big Bus tour is only recommended if you think you cannot walk and explore the city. However, the only way to truly do justice to this town is to walk on foot and devour all that it has to offer.

 

Travel

The Day I Stepped Foot in London… 24-10-16

Have you ever wanted to, or had a dream city that you always wanted to go to all your life, but never got a chance, and it never even looked like you will get a chance? And when finally you had stopped dreaming and wishing, that chance fell in your lap, like an apple from a tree? London was that for me. That wish upon a star that comes true. This post is not for your benefit, but for mine, where I go down happy memory lane, and reminisce about the trip of a lifetime.

I had been in England precisely three weeks, but I was caught up with classes, friends and being in the new place, that I faltered on my resolve to go to London the first week I was in England. Honestly, I couldn’t find the courage to go this big city alone, for the first time. Yes, I had traveled alone to another country, but somehow, this fear crept in. My cousin then invited me to London, to stay with her for the weekend, and I gladly obliged, secretly thankful that I will have someone to show me around (since then I have showed goras around London! Lolsies!). Much was my excitement, that I purchased my train ticket 6 days in advance! I had my travel bag ready, my travel playlist ready (consisting of Bollywood songs featuring London duh!, and a list of places that I wanted to see in those 2 days. The list covered all of greater London, something which was absurd. But my cousin (who although being there for more than 2 years was a tourist herself) and I set out to achieve the impossible that day.

Reaching Euston, I paid the much sacred visit to King’s Cross (9 and 3/4), and then left to get lost in the streets of Westminster.  From Buckingham Palace, to Westminster Bridge, Big Ben, chilling at Southbank (which to this day remains my most favourite London thing to do), posing for pictures in the iconic red booths (which stink of beer, and rotten food jbtw). How did SRK and Katrina manage to look lost in love, with that massive stink bomb exploding in those booths?

Next came Tower Bridge. I distinctly remember when one tower came into view, and I was mesmerised. I had difficulty keeping my eyes on the busy street. My cousin and friend had to manoeuvre me through that crowded street, because the sight of the bridge had me transfixed. Such a grand piece of architecture, and such insight and innovation all combined into that bridge, which oozed royalty.

My first tube ride was exciting and fun, when my cousin showed me how to tap the Oyster, where to top it up, and where to stand on the elevator. It took some time to absorb all that was happening around me, and I too gave my self time to let all this sink in, and to savour every moment. This was my first exposure to the fast paced life that big city folks lead, which was inspiring me and intimidating me at the same time.

Between jumping from place to place I stopped my cousin, somewhere around Hyde Park to lie down in the green dewy grass. I just lay there for a couple of moments, reveling in the feeling of complete freedom, of being able to do this in a land far away. I did this again on Southbank right below London Eye, and it is still my most favourite relaxing technique: lying on the grass, and looking at the clear blue skies.

Next on the list was 221 B Baker Street, and the Sherlock Holmes museum. However overpriced the museum was, I saw tourists going overboard in collecting souvenirs for themselves. I too donned the iconic hat, and clicked a few selfies, before being told that pictures were not allowed.

London. This city has the power to pull you in, until you surrender your self to its streets, its way of life, and its strong rooted culture and history. I have heard people say “What is so great about London?”, only to see them giving into the spell this city casts on them, and forever holds them prisoner. I, on the other hand, was too willing to be held in, of my own free will.

London Red BoothAlthough, I have been to London countless times since then, and have explored places on foot that seldom would have been explored at length, this trip will always hold a special place in my heart. I relived each moment when penning down my thoughts of this trip, and there is so much more that I want to share about this magnificent city, but more for next time…

Travel

The Day I Jumped Off A Cliff… or 8

I remember my first trip to the North of England, to the very scenic and breathtaking Lake District. A long three hour journey, with a train change at Oxynholme got us to Lake District. During the train journey we decided to try Zip Lining by GoApe in the Lake District National Forest. Not exactly knowing what it was, I agreed. And since it was an impromptu plan, I thought I should not worry my parents, and tell them quite exactly what I was going to do.

Once in the GoApe office, signing our waiver forms for Zip Lining , two of the girls in our group started to panic. They were scared of what they got themselves into. However, for me, seeing them afraid, made me less apprehensive of the adventure we were about to undertake. Weird right? Lolz.

Still, I have a flare for the dramatic, and thoughts like what if I die, what if I fall down, what if I get stuck mid air gave me serious paranoia. It was completely unnecessary. A friend trying to comfort me very casually said “Rehmat zada se zada kia ho ga? marr jao gi? kuch nai hota” (Rehmat what is the worst that can happen? You will die, that is all). The seriousness of her tone and her straight face, made me laugh.

There were 8 jumps planned, with each getting higher than before, and a trek in between each jump. So with our gear on, we headed towards the first jump. This was also the trial run. Once on the small cliff, with a small autumn leaf covered clearing just below, our instructor asked who would go first. Here, I remember my legs turning to jelly, and I could feel my heart pounding in my chest, and my whole body going numb. I couldn’t volunteer to go first, instead a friend vouched to go first, followed by another friend from our group. After this, I mustered the courage to go next and volunteered. When standing on the high ground, with my latch secured to the rope, and double checked by the instructor. I was given the green signal to jump. My hands were shaking, and even though I was standing on the tip of the cliff, I couldn’t jump immediately. It was then I thought: “jo ho ga dekha jai ga”, and with this thought I jumped.

This was the shortest and the lowest jump, of all 8. Yet, in those short 25 seconds, I felt adrenaline kick in. The cold October wind hit me, and I felt the freedom of a flying bird, which was exhilarating. Although, this trial zip line was just 25 seconds, but I felt I was suspended in air, as all these thoughts crossed my mind. It was exciting and nerve wracking simultaneously.

For the second jump, we had to trek higher, in order to reach a clearing quite high. From here I witnessed the most spectacular views. The green forest below me. Tall trees surrounding that small clearing, and a clear blue sky above us, with a gentle breeze. I didn’t have the guts to get my cell phone out and capture the moment, yet that particular scene is forever in my memory. When I finally made this second jump, I felt more rush than I had before. I chanced to look down, and saw a small winding road below me. And just the height, and the views gave me a thrill unmatched. I passed through trees with their branches hanging out, and I reached out to let my hand touch them, but I couldn’t reach them. Here, I felt like a vampire, and a scene from Twilight crossed my mind, where Edward flies from tree to tree with Bella on his back. I grinned at the ridiculousness of this parallel. But, I wished to have that freedom, to fly. Between, being able to read people’s mind, and being able to fly, guess which one I was more bent on, at that moment?

The next 6 jumps were each better than before, and gave us the opportunity to perfect our jumps, and landings.

As invigorating and intoxicating I found this experience, I remember not being able to fully enjoy the moment at times. I felt scared each time before the jump, and was never able to let go of the rope, except for that one time I reached out to that tree. Before and after the jump, I was always uneasy, in anticipation of the next jump, which I wish I had been able to let go off. Yet, I felt pure joy and jubilation, during those 30-40 seconds I was racing through air.

After this stint in the Lake District National Forest, I had the opportunity to go Zip Lining in the Swiss Alps, and in London. But those anecdotes are for another time…

 

Travel

The Day I Went Horseback Riding… in Wales

When you are a girl in Pakistan, and live with your parents, often you will need to inform or more often ask your parents of any trip, or outing you want to go for. A good enough time would be 3-5 days before the actual event, or in some cases even more. However, when you are living alone, a 3-5 day deadline does not exist. And at first I found this unsettling.

6 days into living in UK, I had an opportunity to go horseback riding in Wales. Now, I had never been on a horse, yet I decided to go for it just a day before the adventure. At first I was confused at the liberty of the decision I made myself, without consultation with my parents. I did however, inform them.

I woke up at 5am that morning and by 6am expected my friends to pick me up. We were to meet our trip organiser at a designated pickup point. Once there, we were abandoned outside this random restaurant, for how long, I have no idea. It was before sun rise, that we reached this pickup point. Sitting on cold damp benches my three friends and I talked about the possibility of never getting picked, or the organiser having run away with our money, since we had already paid.

Proving us wrong, the trip organiser finally came, after sun rise, and before long we were off to Wales. After a good two hours of being crammed in a van, we reached a shabby pub in Monmouthshire, where we had a less than appetising breakfast, and signed our waiver forms. From there, with our hunger half satiated, we were off to the final stretch of our journey to Llanthony Priory. A narrow road led us up to the point where we were to get onto our horses. We also lost our mobile connections by then.

On both sides we were surrounded by lush green bushes, and green fields beyond the bushes, with cows and sheep grazing. A light shower accompanied us on this long narrow road. In spite of this cloudy, rainy weather, everything was clean and fresh. My eyes feasted on the washed greenery.

Upon reaching the stable, we were greeted by a horrible horse stench that I was encountering for the first time in my life. After we were each assigned horses, we were given instructions on how to ride them. Here panic overpowered excitement, because for one I had never gone horseback riding, and second, I had certainly never gone horseback riding on a narrow path, with a cliff on one side, and a stream down below on the other. After the initial set of instructions, however, we were off. I soon found that my horse was trained, and well accustomed to the planes and turf we were on. He skilfully waded through the uphill ride at the start which gave me confidence, and henceforth, I gave up control to my horse and lifted my eyes up to enjoy the fantastic landscape of the hills in Wales.

The views were breathtaking. Green hills expanded before my eyes, far and wide. The rain showers had stopped giving way to light sunshine, which was soothing in the cold.

This excursion on horseback ended after nearly three hours, after which there was a lunch break. Post lunch break there was another horseback ride on a different terrain. However, my friends and I skipped that and embarked on the little road back, from where we had initially come. The rest of the party went for the next session. We were to meet the rest of our group down that road, in a pub.

So, with our backpacks, we started our journey back, on the road which had led us up. Here, light showers again accompanied us. Luckily we had our water proof jackets with us. The beautiful green fields that were on either side of us, were far more exquisite up close. We passed through the winding road, not keeping track of time, only worrying that the van would leave us behind, and that we do not have any mobile connectivity. We stopped along the way to pick up some berries from the bushes, and occasionally to stare at the many cows that were on these fields.

Tree canopies covered parts of this trail, something which I did not notice on our way up in the van. They shadowed the entire road, making for a natural tunnel. After sometime on the road, walking, we stopped near a field to rest. Just closing my eyes, and resting on the cool grass was rejuvenating. Breathing in the cool air, we lay there for a time, which seemed too short. Our walk back ended too soon for my liking. And before we knew it, we were on our journey back.

Through the walk back, I had this nagging feeling of discomfort, of not having contacted my family for about 6 hours. I had also forgotten to tell them that I will not have connectivity for a few hours. This is where a Pakistani girl’s nightmare starts. Once on the van, with our mobile connection back, I took out my phone, only to receive numerous WhatsApp messages, WhatsApp calls, mobile calls all the way from Pakistan, messages, voicemails, and a notification on my cell phone that some one had attempted to track my location from Pakistan. Seeing the number of notifications, I nearly passed out. So much for the liberty, and independent decision making. Any desi person would know what I am talking about.

After a few minutes of trying to regain my mental balance I mustered up the courage to call back home…

Kids, moral of the story, if you are born brown, you are never independent.

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The Day I Left my Parents… For UK

Every “desi” girl has this dream, this abstract concept of living alone, commuting alone, and living an independent life. This dream is inspired by the countless re-runs of popular American TV series that we grow up watching. I was fortunate enough to get an opportunity to fulfil this dream of tasting the independent life when I got my student visa for Warwick University, UK, on the 9th of August 2016. There started my preparations for the following year. I was to fly on the 24th of September, just 5 days before my 23rd birthday.

The following month passed in anticipation of the 24th of September. My parents were to accompany me till Dubai. And on Dubai Airport I was to part from them for an extended period for the first time in my life.

I was void of emotional feelings that day. Excitement and anticipation filled me, and I had no place for crying, feeling sad, or nostalgic. With a travel bag well prepared on my back, I bid my parents farewell. Like all desi family farewells, this was not a short peck on the cheek, quick hug kind of farewell. There was weeping involved (my parents) of course, and some begging and bribing on my father’s part to not go to the UK.

Alas! they let go of me, and we went our separate ways. This scene I often replay in my mind, in slow motion, where I with my passport in hand wave back to my parents, and they stand there crying inconsolably. It was not like that in reality though…

After my parents finally let go of me, I ran to the security check, and within 10 minutes I was nestled in a cold silver chair waiting at my departure gate, with a very dear companion in hand: McDonald’s.

I was not thinking anything. I was just in the moment, devouring my Happy Meal, the last of the halal McDonald’s I would get for a while. You see, I had bigger concerns at that time. The fear of not finding halal McDonald’s overpowered my fear of moving to a new country.

Soon my flight was announced, and I headed to check in, and got on the plane, where I would be for the next 7 and a half hours.

After being seated comfortable, with my bag stashed under my chair, I closed my eyes waiting to surrender to sleep, since I had an early start that morning. However, this was the time my fears, and my apprehensions kicked in. Was I making the right decision? Was moving away for a year a good choice? Was leaving my parents for a year okay? Will they be okay? Are they okay? This is happening too fast. I wonder what they are doing now. These thoughts engulfed me at 35000 feet in the air. Yet, I reassured my self, that going away for a year is a good step, and an opportunity that is not available to everyone, heck, it was not available to me a few years ago. With these motivating thoughts in mind, I drifted of into deep slumber, only to be woken up by the air hostess, for food.

My first long haul flight was short, perhaps because I slept through it, or because the time I was awake, excitement and joy got the better of me. And before I knew it I was past immigration, at the baggage claim at Birmingham Airport. Luggage in hand, I vouched for a cab, and in another 20 minutes I was at my accommodation in Coventry, Liberty Park, checking in.

It was a windy September night, chilly, but not freezing cold. After checking in, I headed to the pub next door, where my flatmate, and some other inmates from my building were enjoying a drink. Not being able to enjoy with any of the “gora’s” and their British banter, I headed out.

This moment is clearly etched in my memory. This is when I looked up, let the wind hit my face; I just closed my eyes, and took a deep breath, with a huge smile on my face. It was surreal being in a country I longed to be in since I was 12. It is surreal still.

That night although I slept without a pillow, and a duvet, I felt I was at home.

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Welcome…

Hello Everyone!

Having set up an account for my own blog, with WordPress, some three years ago, I finally have the time, energy and some more time( yes a recent unemployed graduate has a lot of time), on my hands, to finally fill up this space with my thoughts, experiences and adventures.

I will start with relating the little travelling I had the good fortune to embark upon, in the last year. However, the content of this blog will not be restricted to travel alone, rather, I will also endeavour to talk about the experiences of a 20 something graduate, with a dash of humour and a pinch of sarcasm.

Looking forward to exploring, and sharing with my audience a lot more in this space, that Web 2.0 allows me in todays day and age.

Keep a lookout for my first post!

Best,

Rehmat