The trip from Gilgit to Lahore, including a three hour layover in Rawalpindi, takes just about 24 hours, but I made it alive and in one piece.
Despite Lahore’s 100+ degree temperatures, there is no place I’d rather finish out my tour.
In the north, I found myself referring to Lahore as “home” more than a couple times. It’s easy to see why. Here, in the pearl of Punjab, people are friendly and inviting, foreigners are not an oddity on the street to be gawked at, and a cosmopolitan atmosphere abounds. The security checkpoints along Mall Road and surrounding Cantt have become background noise. The pat-downs when entering any religious site, shopping mall, school or government building are routine. I almost expect to be mistaken for Pathan. In saying “muje Urdu naheen ati” — “I don’t speak Urdu” — so many times to so many people, I’ve developed an accent so convincing that some Pakistanis don’t believe me at first. But Lahore is my home only fleetingly.
Even before I arrived in Lahore, people told me I must — MUST! — go see the border closing ceremony at Wagah, the only land crossing between Pakistan and India. So, I arrange to go one evening with my aunt Myna and a friend who works with her at Lahore American School.
Many Pakistanis have told me, quite matter-of-factly, that global warming has pushed the monsoon season forward a few weeks. At their behest it seems, the skies let loose at Wagah with intermittent torrents throughout the ceremony. Everyone is damp. Some are soaked through. Nevertheless, the crowd is immutable, as too are the high-stepping Rangers.
We’re sitting about 40 yards from the thick white line across the Grand Trunk Road that demarcates the two countries. From here, we can see clearly the Indian stands, with orange accents instead of green, and the Indian crowds, shouting in Hindi instead of Urdu, and the Indian guards, in brown uniforms instead of black. The rain soaks them, too.
“PAK-I-STAN! ZIN-DA-BAD!” we shout.
“IN-DI-A! ZIN-DA-BAD!” they return.