Rawalpindi. If this shopping Mecca does not carry it, then you do not need it.
My driver brought along his female assistant today, Faiza. As he explained, “The ladies shop. I park the car and carry the packages.” Zulfiqar knows.
But first I needed to procure Rupees from the Bankomat, in case I might find a rug. The Bankomat at the Serena was (still) a non-starter, so Zulfiqar drove over to the Marriott and its two Bankomat machines. Armed with my and Tony’s Austrian Bankomat cards, Tony’s Austrian Visa (remember, mine was back in Vienna with Anna) and our American CitiBank Mastercard I boldly attempted to withdraw 80.000 Rupees.
Sigh. Neither of the machines spoke, “Give this rug-purchasing woman her cash.”
Out of desperation I tried one of the machines again, this time extracting multiples of 20.000 Rupees. Success!
The drive to Rawalpindi was unremarkable with its traffic and dust and car horns. Faiza and I had struck up a conversation of the same questions I had been answering all week; mostly, though, she seemed very excited to have a Western client who wanted to shop.
Zulfiqar wove his Benz down a couple of lanes that I would have been scared to ride my bicycle down, depositing us first in Pashmina Heaven. Imagine your living room walls lined floor to ceiling with Pashminas. Now, multiply that room by several hundred, and I dare you to leave Pakistan without many, many of these beautiful shawls. I certainly did not.
Next, Zulfiqar took us to the carpet district. Afghani carpet stores were like forests, the soft wool (not to mention the heavenly aromas) shushing out the noises from the street. Though I came armed with piles of Rupees, alas, that magic carpet eluded me.* I am a Kilim-kind-of-gal, and could not find the love for the plush and gorgeous Afghani carpets that were in every shop.
An intermittent stop for luscious almond-stuffed dates and assorted dried fruit to bring home. The final stop was in the jewelry district. Now Tony, over his previous visits to Pakistan has brought home to me (and Anna) several stunning bracelets and earrings, but never any rings because of the sizing issue. As I was in Pakistan in person, I remedied that little matter. Anna Grace as well had given me a “Claire’s” ring that she hoped might become substantially upgraded. I remedied that matter for her, as well.
On the streets of Rawalpindi, everything goes. Men walking monkeys; and men selling sparrows. Men grilling Chicken Boti, which Zulfiqar brought to we tired ladies to nosh in the back of the Benz, and even men who will deliver Golgapa right to your car! Almost culinarily mind-blowing.
Looks like the American chain, “Subway” does it not?
Can you smell the aroma of spicy grilled chicken?
About that garlic sauce…
Sweet and spicy goodness delivered right to our car!
*A funny thing happened on the way to dinner this final evening…
…I was lamenting having extracted a tall stack of Rupees from the bank machine and not having found a carpet, when Tony suggested we just “take a look” at a carpet store adjacent to the hotel. Oh. I swooned over the selection of Persian and Turkmenistani Kilims, but set my expectations accordingly given that the carpet shop was near to the hotel.
Dusting off my haggling skills from my Marrakesh trip a couple of years ago, I dove in. Kilim after kilim was unfolded before me, every one with a story of the toil and tears woven into each square meter. Eventually I had my choice narrowed, and the haggling began. When all was said and done, a deep blood red and dark blue Persian beauty was folded, wrapped and prepared for travel. As I write, it is resting most comfortably on our living room floor. Oh, and I even had Rupees leftover.
That evening Tony and I were too tired and now, too uninterested for a sit-down dinner following our carpet escapade. We retreated to our room, showered and rang room service for…burgers. Hey, the burgers were delicious!
I needed to depart the following morning (Tony would remain one more day), and the hotel staff suggested an 0300 shuttle for an 0630 flight. Yikes. I groused a bit and requested the 0400 shuttle. At Oh Dark Thirty I awoke and prepared for the flight home. By 0420 I was at the airport, where exactly one flight was departing—mine. In my bleary state I wandered into the “Men’s” security check-in queue before the shouting and hand-gesturing alerted me to the “Women’s” queue. Once through security I attempted to purchase a coffee, a bottled water, and a toasted Chicken Tikka sandwich from one of the two stands at the airport.
Guess what. I had left the remaining Rupees with Tony, so I only had my Bankomat card with me (remember, my Visa was with Anna in Vienna). Neither of the two snack stands at the new-and-improved Islamabad International Airport accepted Bankomat, and there was not a cash machine in sight. Only Visa or Mastercard was accepted. I was thus cashless and starving.
So what is an intrepid traveler to do? I started crying, of course. It was 0430 in the morning and I had neither food nor water. The kindly snack stand operator handed me a bottle of water and I thanked him and walked away, settling into a sofa and bemoaning my first world fate.
Moments later, a Pakistani woman placed the small Chicken Tikka sandwich before me. She said, “I know. It’s just not easy in this country sometimes.” I laughed, thanked her for her dangerous hospitality and we chatted before it was time to catch our flight to Istanbul.
My savior connected on to London, while I boarded my flight to Vienna. On the flight home breakfast was served: an awful egg and spinach creation. As it goes I am allergic to eggs, and asked if I might have a piece of fruit or something else. The Turkish Airlines crew rejected my request with a, “No.” Several minutes later I asked if I might have a roll, as I was feeling ill from not eating. “No” was the response.
With about 30 minutes remaining on the flight (and once again, not even horrible airplane Chai being offered) I approached the galley crew and asked if I might have either a piece of fruit or a roll from the Business Class menu (that I had seen), as I was really feeling rather ill. More, “No.”
A few moments later I became ill. Only then did the crew offer a roll. Too late. Soon I was landing in Vienna. Immigration and baggage claim was a snap, and I was home in no time.
“Shukriya” Pakistan. I had a spectacular time in your beautiful country filled with friendly people.