Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

Practice did not happen. As the clock ticked over to 3pm, our planned 5pm training was looking highly unlikely, but we had been asked not to leave the hotel by our guests, as they did not want us to leave the hotel without a security escort. They felt responsible for our safety, so we understood their concern, but every piece of information we found online gushed about the people of Lahore and how safe it was to walk the streets. Jim was concerned that the whole day was going to go by, and that we weren’t even going to see any of Lahore. He was getting cabin fever. The decision was made – we would go walkabout. Jim had done some research and was keen to check out the Walled City (also known as the Old City), so we grabbed our cameras and headed out.

Heading off from the hotel, it became immediately clear that Lahore traffic does not operate like any other traffic I have witnessed. On first glance it appeared to be complete chaos – while pedestrians, bicycles, rickshaws, motorbikes, cars and trucks all share the road, traffic lights are generally ignored, road lines are purely for aesthetic reasons and the everyone seems to be leaning on their car horns to get a better view. On closer inspection however, I began to realise that it was actually wonderfully controlled chaos. While everyone weaves aggressively around each other, routinely cutting each other off and avoiding collisions by mere centimetres, nobody seems angry about it. No abuse is being hurled and no roadside fisticuffs are breaking out, and it’s all due to a mutual understanding – if they didn’t drive like this, nobody would ever get anywhere. It’s kind of beautiful, if a little nerve-wracking to watch.

At the end of the day, motorbikes rule the road here. Whether the motorbike is holding a single rider, two friends or an entire family, they move in giant packs and go wherever they like. As for pedestrians, it’s quite easy to cross these roads, but you must follow simple rules – walk confidently, and don’t hesitate for any reason (exception to the rule – if a bus is coming right at you). The bikers will zip around you, basing their avoidance on your forward momentum. You just have to have faith…

After crossing a few roads, we walked down what seemed like a never-ending narrow street, lined on both sides with men sitting on chairs and loitering about in open wall shop fronts. Everyone stared at us, but many smiled and waved. It was clear that we stood out like sore thumbs in what was clearly not much of a tourist hotspot. A few would say hello and ask how we were. At one point Jim stopped to buy some bottles of Coke, and the shop keeper refused to let him pay. We had heard that the people of Lahore were very friendly, but it’s another thing to experience it first hand.

At one point I looked ahead and noticed that Eric had stopped and was waving me over. As I approached he smiled and pointed to a group of kids in one of the buildings playing foosball. Back in the day I had a solid foosball table in my house, and Eric and I had formed a somewhat formidable team. Eric would work his magic up forward, shifting the ball between the feet of the plastic men until there was an opening in the defence to slam the ball through. I would work the defence, solid as a rock. Then again, that was some time ago. The kids waved us in, and instantly challenged us to a game. It was on. The kid playing forward was a cocky little fella, mocking our play in both English and Urdu with unabashed arrogance and a wry smile. We were competitive while I was playing forward, but once I switched to defence it become apparent that time had not been kind to my reflexes. I was openly mocked by these Pakistani children, but I took it on the chin. It was great fun. The cheeky one turned to me, pointed to a pool table in the back of the room. “Now we play pool?” I wish we could’ve but we had to keep pressing on. We high fived them all and continued on our way.

Eventually we made it to what seemed like some kind of main road, complete with next-level intersection chaos. It was also becoming apparent that we needed Pakistani rupees, particularly if Lee was to buy a replacement white shirt for the one he left in Bangkok. Other than Jim’s money change at the airport, none of us had been able to get to a money exchange after the initial media frenzy.  We asked around and eventually made it to a bank. While the bank didn’t do money exchanges, a older man there told us he knew where to go, and promptly began leading us there. Finally, after about 300m of walking, he lead us down a side alley, through a narrow corridor and pointed up some stairs – it was a Western Union. Clearly not one intended for casual foot traffic. We had our rupees and decided it was probably time to head back. We had been walking for about 3 hours, and we didn’t know if anything else had been planned. We all jammed into a rickshaw and zipped home through the traffic.

Back at the hotel, Rolf was summoned by Usman to meet the President and Vice President of the Pakistan Fistball Federation, so we headed into the dining area to grab some dinner. Usman came in and helped us select a meal, and we waited for dinner to arrive. We hadn’t really eaten lunch, and we were starving. Five minutes later Rolf and the two men came in and introduced themselves. They were both very affable men, friendly and accommodating and keen for us to see all that Lahore has to offer. They asked if there was anything else we were keen to see. Jim mentioned that he was interested in seeing the Fort and the Badshahi Mosque. The president mentioned a restaurant where both sites could be viewed from the rooftop dining area. Before we knew it our dinner had been cancelled, and we were being shuffled into two cars to head to our new destination

At one point we arrived at a road that was now blocked, and a new route was formed. As we drove down the new route, I couldn’t help but notice that there weren’t many cars heading in the same direction as us. “It was because we were driving the wrong way down a one-way road,” Lee mentioned later. Makes sense. All seemed very controlled though. I should mention that the president also happens to be a high ranking official in the Lahore police force – a position of much prestige – so when we arrived at the restaurant buildings we were gifted parking spots right in front of the main gates. Very handy indeed.

What we didn’t realise however is that they had organised for us to have a private tour of the Badshahi Mosque, which was a tremendous honour. Walking through the completely empty grounds at night, across a paved courtyard designed to hold almost 100,000 worshippers lit up by floodlights from the towers was a sight to behold.  We tried to take photos, but it was mostly pointless due to the scale of the sights, so we instead tried to soak it all in through our eyeballs. Definitely one of the highlights of the trip so far.

We retired to the restaurant and feasted on curries and naan, something that is already becoming standard practice. Filled to the brim, we returned home and crashed to our respective rooms. We were told we would be playing some practice matches tomorrow at 10am against India and Pakistan. Our first real test against an opposition we pretty much knew nothing about.  We needed rest if we were going to impress.

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