Eva zu Beck in Pakistan
Eva zu Beck
And this is what pains me: in the West, we are told to fear Pakistan and Pakistanis. The reality is totally different.
On several occasions in Pakistan, I heard the heart-breaking words: “Just tell your friends and family back home that we are not bad people.” Nobody should ever have to say this to a visitor, and I still recoil when I remember these words.
Of course, Pakistan has gone through some very troubling times in the past, but the security situation has improved enormously over the last few years. Karachi, its largest city, was pretty much a no-go zone less than a decade ago; right now, it’s a blossoming metropolis and key economic hub. Certain areas of the north were under Taliban control up until a few years back; but now, they’re extremely safe, with the government investing heavily in tourism infrastructure like hiking routes, new resorts, and skiing facilities.
BW: That all sounds great for the country and the people. You mention Pakistanis being very approachable – what about when it came to eating out? Were you eating out alone most of the time during your travels or did you receive any interesting invitations to eat with local families?
EZB: I think I had a meal alone only once or twice during my 10-month tenure in Pakistan! As a foreign tourist, even if you are sitting alone in a restaurant, even if you WOULD LIKE to be alone, you’re almost guaranteed to attract guests to your table. People in Pakistan are so friendly to travelers that sometimes entire families will come over and invite you to share their meal.
For one of the largest ethnic groups, the Pashtuns, hospitality is even part of their explicit Code of Honor (the Pashtunwali), which dictates that guests must be respected under all circumstances, even if they are your sworn enemies. Don’t be surprised if people randomly invite you to their house for food or ask if you’d like to join their table – and don’t refuse the honor, either!
On one of my trips, I got a chance to travel as part of a delegation to Waziristan, an area of Pakistan that is still very much off-bounds to tourists. Here, the Pashtunwali truly reigns supreme. Despite the instability in the region and its perception as a conflict zone, it was hard not to see and feel the hospitality of the people there. Everyone we came across invited me to their house to meet their wives and daughters (a privilege granted only to women, of course) and share a meal with them. Trust me: when you’re eating with your hands from a single large dish and sharing that meal with others… it really brings you closer together.
A word of warning to those with sensitive stomachs: Pakistani food is an explosion of flavors and a flurry of ingredients, so while it’s super delicious, it’s not for the faint of heart!
BW: On one of your most immersive experiences in Pakistan you lived with a Wakhi family in Jamalabad for a week. You created an incredible vlog on the experience and the five life lessons they taught you. But my question is, how did you plan this experience? Was it particularly difficult to get to this region and to the family?
EZB: The village of Jamalabad is one of the very last settlements in the country before the Chinese border. Getting there involves a 24-hour drive from the capital Islamabad, or taking a flight to Gilgit, the nearest airport (very prone to cancellation) and a long drive.
But once you reach it, it’s the kind of place you stay in for a while. The village is surrounded by snow-capped peaks in all seasons and explodes with greenery in the summer. The families who live there live quiet and peaceful lives, farming and herding animals. Every morning, a couple of villagers gather all the sheep and goats from all the households and take them all to the pastures to graze – they work in shifts, with a different family performing the shepherding duties every day.
This, remember, is the land the West thinks of as “Taliban territory.”
It’s an idyllic place for a visitor, but very much a real place for the people who live there. I got to stay with one of the families through a friend, who put me in touch with a household that had a French visitor staying with them a few years back. I wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle of my life at the time; and they were happy to welcome a foreign girl traveling alone in those parts. That’s how they became my “Wakhi family.”
I actually ended up spending three weeks living with them: after my initial visit, which led to the vlog you’re talking about, I came back a couple of months later to help organize a family wedding. It’s hard not to feel like you’re part of the family when everyone does their best to welcome you as their daughter.
BW: What was your favorite memory with the family?
EZB: It was the mundane, daily routine that creates a spectrum of happy memories we shared. Those moments spent sitting around the stove (“bukhari”) in the one room of the house, helping out with lunch and dinner preparations, performing the duties of a chai (tea) maker – or apprentice, I should say. It was those bursts of laughter when the women of the house would rate my kneading skills as subpar, when selfie-taking sessions were followed by selfie-approval sessions, when we collected hay from the land, and milked the cow in the morning.
Life like this exists in many parts of the world, but not everyone knows that such a peaceful, quaint way of life can also exist high up in the mountains of Pakistan.
BW: With all of these remote regions to explore and travel between, what are the best ways to get around?
EZB: Although it was a popular destination for international tourists in the 1980s and 1990s, the events of recent years meant that the government didn’t invest in tourism infrastructure for many years. Even today, getting around the country can be tricky for the inexperienced traveler – but a fun adventure for those of us who don’t mind leaving our comfort zones once in a while.
Eva zu Beck left everything behind in 2018 du lich quang binh when she quit her job and moved away from London in search of the world’s most extraordinary experiences.Eva zu Beck
A network of public buses – as basic as they may be – run across the country, and a few airlines operate flights between the main cities. Flights to the north, however, are easily disrupted by weather conditions, and the mountain roads can be tough and tiring to navigate. Pakistan may not offer the same level of convenience as some of its neighbors to the east, but that always made my travels there feel all the more accomplished. If you want to fully enjoy the experience of traveling In Pakistan, you just have to come prepared with patience, a solid dose of trust in human beings, and a sprinkling of intrepidity!