It is July 7th, 2008. We are at Karachi Cantonment Railway Station. Today's the day that we have been planning for for the past month or so: our trip to Lahore, Murree and Naran. Admittedly, what I'm most excited about is getting to spend the two weeks with my whole family, and also the short break from Karachi. I mean, I love Karachi but living in the city can be a bit hard on the lungs and I'm dying to see something green for a change. I feel simultaneously extravagant (it's the First Class boogie!) and adventurous as I clamber onto the train. Soon, the train (along with my stomach) rumbles to a start and we're off!
Busy with the card games that are our newest obsession, we are at Lahore Railway station before we know it. It's the perfect place to get a first glimpse of the culture that, even though it's in the same country, is distinctly different from that of Karachi's. I should mention here that the cultural rivalry between Karachi and Lahore is deep rooted. I, being the loyal Karachiite that I am, honor Lahore with no more than a condescending glance-and-shrug at each of the places we visit but, I must admit, any non-Karachiite would definitely be impressed by the beautiful city completely soaked in history. Our itinerary includes Minar-e-Pakistan, the gorgeous minaret built in commemoration of the Pakistan Resolution; The Badshahi Mosque, built completely of red bricks and home to an impressive set of Muslim artifacts; and last,but the place in Lahore that I am most looking forward to: the epic Food Street. Whether it's succulent kebabs or a peppery sajji (whole roast chicken) or desi-style chowmein or chicken tikka; the tantalizing trail of scents and the consequently frequent stops make it almost impossible to actually get to the end of the street.
Next, we go to Naran. Admittedly, the journey there is long and, because of the frequent and sudden changes in altitude as we wind round and round the mountains, nauseating. But once we're there all the ear-popping and stomach-lurching seem a scant price to pay for the literally breathtaking beauty that we are now in the midst of. Snuggled inside a stunning valley, our guest house,The Himalaya Inn, is perfect. From gliding over the mountain tops on cable cars and dining right among the clouds (really, I could actually TOUCH the clouds) with the added bonus of a waiter who is also a talented violinist, to swooshing down a sloping glacier on make-do tire sleds and waking up each morning with a wade in the ice-cold mountain spring streaming right into our backyard, our stay in Naran is truly rejuvinating in every sense of the word. No one wants to leave this paradise on earth but, being the city dwellers that we are, the lure of Pakistan's most famous shopping centre, Mall Road (pronounced 'maal') is enticing enough to convince us to go onto our next stop, Murree. Apart from being home to the afore mentioned bazaar, Murree, cozily nestled in the Margalas is also easily Pakistanis' favorite hill station.
Our five-day stay in Murree involves, primarily, long forrays into Mall Road's captivating streets with everything from frequent magic shows and the cheapest, most delicious ice cream cones I've ever had, to a never-ending variety of merchandise and a line up of impressive craftsmen (especially in woodwork) so that getting us out is no mean feat for our parents…errr…dads, since the moms, needless to say, are in heaven.
Back at the guest house, we become good friends with the neighbours: poor and simple people but one of the happiest families I've met. The darling of the family, adorable, 5-year-old Hashir, is surprisingly outgoing and friendly (considering his family's rather secluded lifestyle). He's hilarious; so cute you just can't help but pinch his cheeks everytime you see him and delightfully chubby…that is, until he demands that we take turns on the swing with him on our laps…With very sore arms, but laughing nevertheless, we leave Murree, not sure whether we'll ever be able to go on such a memorable vacation again.
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