Originally I had thought Peshawar would make for a wonderful, if long, day trip from Islamabad, but common sense prevailed and I scaled back this day’s plan to Wah Gardens and Taxila.
You know the drill. The morning head housekeeper asked if I might have laundry again (I did). Tony procured his omelet and I, something labeled “Emperors Chicken” (glossy chunks of chicken basking in a gravy thick with smoky Kashmiri chiles) and a healthy serving of Fattoush.
Along the Grand Trunk branch of the Silk Road today we went first to Wah and the ruined gardens created by Mughal Emperor Akbar the Great. For many years the elaborate gardens were abandoned, but now the Pakistani Department of Archaeology has taken them over and begun restoration.
The Wah Canton in the background.
Three of the guys in this photo followed me around the garden thinking they were cleverly sneaking photos of me. Eventually I turned the tables on them when they gathered around the gentleman playing the Sitar. 🤣
Leaving Wah Zulfiqar pointed out to me the Wah Bazaar, but lamented that not even he could go in easily, the reason being that after the 2016 suicide attacks in this region the local government declared the bazaar open only to residents of Wah. All other Pakistanis who might want to go to the bazaar are required to obtain an NOC, and it’s just not worth the hassle.
From Wah to Taxila, home to Buddhist ruins that date from the 1st century BC. Now a UNESCO Heritage Site, the ruins are scattered across the Indus Valley. As much fun as it might seem to drive around the valley and photograph these piles of rocks, I opted instead to examine the relics unearthed at these sites by the British in 1913 at the convenient Taxila Museum: a collection of “Toilet Articles” and the inexplicably unlabeled woman in a red box among the oddities in an otherwise breathtaking collection.
The “Toilet Articles.”
Birch Bark manuscripts in Sanskrit, 4th Century A.D.
An Aramic inscription, 3rd Century B.C. Aramic is a Semitic subgroup of languages linked to the Afroasiatic languages.
Lastly, a modern history stop to view the origins of PimpMyRide, Pakistani truck painting (Zulfiqar said that I was the first client who has ever wanted to learn about this nearly century-old tradition; let me just write that I also turned quite a few heads when I alit from his car).
The painting HQ.
Inside, a worker trims the reflective sheets into designs.
What began as a way to distinguish the British-imported Bedford trucks in order to attract business has now become a competition–the more elaborately painted truck, the better the business will be is the belief. Impressively a truck can be hand-painted by three guys in just one day! The following day, the reflective stickers and other bling are added. This too is now part of Pakistan’s intangible cultural heritage and is making a comeback.
It was not just the sights themselves that fascinated me on this outing. Along today’s modern Silk Road traffic is more of a concept, the lines between motorway and footpath blurred. Travelers come and go on foot and by horse-cart; by bicycles electric and pedal-powered, all under the watchful eyes of the roadside Pakistani Army (following the 2016 suicide attacks near Wah) and the ever-hilarious Pepsi-sponsored Police Checkpoints.
The men carrying sticks work for Pakistani guest houses; the sticks are used as firewood for the Tandooris. And yes, the man in the scene is caging roosters on the roof of a building. Zulfiqar had no explanation for that.
A late room service light lunch of a delicious Mezze plate followed my return to the Serena. Not certain what the tiny Ketchup was intended for, however.
Dinner this evening would not be at Dawat; Tony and I had a reception to attend where, it turned out, nearly everyone attending the meetings wanted to hear every detail of my holiday. I guess he had not been joking when he told me he was asked each morning about my holiday well-being! The staff even arranged for another spouse to join the reception, specifically placing our name cards together so that I might have a female companion for the evening.
I need not write that our meal was exceptional; but I must, for it was. Pakistani Tikka Barbeque and Seekh Kebab were served atop a most heavenly cardamom-scented pilau; with cold and chunky raita, hot naan and bowls of Kachumbar, a Pakistani chopped salad along side. Rounding out this presentation was that dangerous hospitality. No sooner had a piece of smoky BBQ or spiced kebab been eaten than another one appeared, and I was quite glad I had had a small lunch. To end this feast, silver bowls of Kheer, so unlike Indian rice pudding that it is hard to believe the two desserts are related. Kashmiri Chai was served with the Kheer; it, too, being nothing like what one thinks of Chai. Gunpowder tea is boiled to release its chlorophyll; to this baking soda is added, which reacts with the chlorophyll and turns the tea pink. One completes the tea with a pinch of salt, along with a spoonful of chopped almonds and pistachios. The Chai was spectacular.
Our classic terrible selfie before heading to the reception.
Back at the Serena, the bottled water was on the table and the bed was turned down. A glance across Islamabad through the window before drawing the drapery. In the morning, shopping!