We decided it was time to go a little further, and Fiona had wanted to visit Aleem for ages, so we got it together and scraped a few pounds up and set off into the unknown.
Actually there are several thousand people who were born and raised in Pakistan who are living in Scotland. We just didn't get round to asking them what they remembered.
Leaving Scotland in late October is no great strain if you are heading south, and in spite of the rather peculiar effect that Glasgow has on your sense of direction, the maps, any compass and/or electronic Navigator, we got to the airport without too much trouble.
A note to the uninitiated; Glasgow was designed in a different set of dimensions to those that other people usually live in. Nobody knows why, but it must be something to do with a sort of negative worm-hole. Normal worm-holes let you leap between places, negative ones put you somewhere at right angles to where you thought you were going, try four left turns anywhere in Glasgow and you won't end up where you started.
However, and notwithstanding we arrived in Dubai and had a good look around since we had about twenty hours between flights. (We started with a trip up Dubai Creek, It's actually more of a saltwater inlet, but a worthwhile sight seeing opportunity) There are plenty of opportunities to spend money and magnificent new buildings of every conceivable shape. In fact I don't remember any that were essentially oblong, and the area gives the impression that the plans are rejected if it looks too easy. The old town and its souks on the other hand are classic, old, crumbly, and delightfully unhygienic, with shifty types who will sell you a genuine fake Rolex or whatever for a reasonable price.
(second note to the uninitiated. If you cannot halve the asking price, you will not get any respect.)
Having had an exhausting and entertaining day we took a taxi to the airport. Well actually, when looking for a taxi-rank, the first person we asked directions offered to take us there for the very reasonable going rate. He runs a shop in the heritage village on the west side of the Dubai Creek underpass.
Emirate Airlines have a well deserved reputation for good conditions and reliable service, we were pleasantly surprised to get decent knee room, The first 7 hour flight (Glasgow to Dubai) was particularly luxurious considering the price. Even with that treatment we got we were fairly tired by the time we got to Lahore Airport and were delighted to be picked up straight away by Aleem and his driver.
Then it became a little surreal, on two fronts. The first was the traffic, it's difficult to explain, but essentially there are few rules or at least few are observed. At night for instance red traffic lights only apply if accompanied by a blue flashing one, you can go the wrong way round a roundabout and the primary directive is "Me first." followed by "there's room for a small one."
The second was that Aleem had arranged a rapid and comprehensive tour of Pakistan, from the foothills of the Himalayas in the north to the Kyber Pass in the West, East to the border with India and down to the Southern Plains. Far from having to make our own way around, we had a guide in Aleem, his car, a driver, red carpets, front row seats, personal train, armed guards, Tea with every high-heidyin (Scottish for important person) in the wildlife and conservation organisation of the country.
They even turned the fountains on!
We had to stand in for Prince Charles and Camilla. Well that is exaggerating a bit, but we turned up at Jahangir's Tomb and they didn't.
Actually we did get to be ordinary tourists for a bit now and then, It's a bit strange being the exotic foreigner and being surrounded by school children who think, well gods know what they thought, but they took lots of photos. That was in the Faisal Mosque. Well worth a visit.
The traffic was probably more dangerous than any supposed terrorists, and that was OK once you get used to it. It does get a bit unnerving however, when a truck overtakes you on the blind bend of a mountain pass, and plays chicken with two trucks doing the same thing coming uphill towards you. It came as no surprise when our driver did the same thing except he didn't go the wrong way round a traffic island in the process.
The tractors (dripping with decorations and mirrors) are amazing, hauling extraordinary loads. Mind you the humans, bicycles, motorcycles, rickshaws, buses pickups, lorries and Donkey carts all carry gigantic loads, and get away with it, as the majority of the land is flat. Most of the accidents we saw were more or less because the "squeeze one more in" principle eventually squeezes somebody off the road.
So, what's Pakistan like? Amazing, friendly, polite quietly spoken, tolerant, addicted to tea, hard working and driven by a powerful urge to do better. The gunfire was for wedding celebrations, (So Aleem told us, though I noticed he looked a little concerned at the time). The parking attendants carry machine guns. The traffic is chaotic but nobody gets angry and the only time the police took us in for questioning was to ask us if we would like a cup of tea, which they paid for.
We came away with a deep respect for a sincerely religious, hard working people who always have time for a cup of tea
Take a supply of immodium and maybe a pocket of small change for the beggars, but remember there are dozens of children watching, and they'll want some too.