Pakistan: Happiness and tears in Concrete and Marble
As we wanted to take a little break from the heat in Lahore we decided to go north. Far north. We dreamed about going deep into the Himalayas: we wanted to visit the K2 Base Camp (yes, it is located in Pakistan!), we saw ourselves frolicking on the lush green Fairy Meadows, explore the large Karakoram mountain range with seven of the 11 highest peaks in the world in the background, we wanted to hike through the Kashmir Highlands and stay in the luxurious Eagles Nest Hotel in Hunza, high above the clouds.
But after some research we realised that we have to delay the fulfilling of those dreams for a while. For two reasons:
- We were not aware of the fact that as a foreigner you need special permission by the Pakistani government to travel Kashmir. Due to ongoing territorial disputes between India, Pakistan and to a certain degree China it is a very restricted area to enter. It is not impossible, but requires some careful planning as well as some security restrictions (like a local guide that is with you 24/7). You have to formally apply for permission at the government office and wait for them to approve your request which also leads to the second reason we decided on not going during this stay:
- Lack of time. With our tight time frame we would have had to avoid climbing the massive mountain range by car. This can take up to 24 hours where a flight from Islamabad to Gilgit-Balistan, one of the few airports in the region,only takes an hour. Now here comes the big BUT: Due to the unpredictable weather conditions up north it is not certain on any day of the year that the airplane can actually leave Islamabad. You book a ticket, go to the airport in the morning and hope that the plane can access Gilgit. If you are unlucky you have to do this for several days, everyday. And then the same on the way back. Ain’t nobody got time for that!
But nevertheless we wanted to go up north, also because I wanted to do a stop over in Islamabad. Not for sightseeing around the city since my Pakistani friends were united in the fact that the modern and quickly erected capital itself does not have much to offer.
But to see Faisal Mosque, a Pakistani landmark I read and heard so much about. Ever since my studies in Art History with a focus on architecture – which also provoked an absurd love for modern concrete buildings – I knew that one day I have to see this mosque myself.
Designed by the Turkish architect Vedat Dalokay the mosque was given to the people of Pakistan by Saudi Arabian King Faisal bin Abdul-Aziz in 1986.
Dalokay’s innovative and modern mosque broke with many traditional architectural rules and therefore caused an outcry among the conservative muslim community. It is missing the mandatory dome as well as the decorative round, soft arches which got replaced by sharp edges and clear lines that resemble a beduin tent. The thin and high corner minarets are uncommon for the region, but a tribute to the architect’s Turkish heritage. Furthermore the proportions of the four towers in their height and the distances between them are equal to the proportions of the Kaaba, the centre of Islams most sacred mosque in Mekka.
While Chris and I were overwhelmed by the beautiful balance of concrete and white marble surrounding us, our driver and friend Ansar tried to convince one of the guards to the inside space to let us enter. Because of an ongoing wedding it was closed to the public. Just when I accepted that we would miss out on this part of the mosque, one of the guards flashed his biggest smile at us and led us the way to a side entrance. He just realised that we were foreigners who came all the way from Germany and Australia to visit the mosque. Of course he did not want us to leave without seeing it all!
Inside the mosque the boys were allowed to wander around freely, while I was kindly asked to go on the balcony which is the ladies area. A group of women of all ages, dressed up in heavily embroidered traditional dresses and with their hands covered in floral henna patterns was busy taking photos of each other, laughing and smiling. In the corner was sitting a girl, wearing the most beautiful of all the dresses and silently sobbing into her red vail. After a while I understood that she was the bride.
We continued our road trip via Muree, and as the sun set, accompanied by a bunch of monkeys we finally arrived at our destination: Nathiagali.