Sunday, June 14, 2009

Maybe it's life in homogenous Dae Han Min Guk, but I have a very strong desire to travel to Pakistan. There are a few causes, I think. If I was a minority in Canada, I'm a minority within a minority in Korea as an English-speaker who looks Indian, Bengali, Nepali, Filipino, etc. I'd like to go somewhere where I look like everyone else and, believe me, my first choice would definitely be India if not for visa regulations. And, of course, I like traveling to strange places. Pakistan isn't all that strange since I lived a third of my life there, but nobody travels to Pakistan, at least not anybody I know since I don't know any Pakistanis.

After finishing my contract two months from now, I fantasized about a train trip across China, central Asia, Russia, and Europe, finishing in London. Never having been one for planning anything, I was discouraged by the vagaries of four different visas. The suffocation of spontaneity and arbitrary choices by being slave to a dozen different train schedules, such as the twice-weekly train to Kazakhstan from China, made me want something different.

Instead, I'd like to travel capriciously and aimlessly across China, from Dandong on the North Korean border, to the Himalayas and across into Pakistan via a border crossing at 15,000 feet. The problem here, however, is Pakistan. Two hundred and fifty people were killed there by terrorism last month and I know of two distant relatives who have been kidnapped (and released) in the last year.

I like to think I'll be okay as long as I buy some cheap dress shirts while in China, the more garish the better, and refrain from shaving and minimize personal hygiene while there. Still, there is a long list of do's and don't's, mostly don't's, when it comes to travel in Pakistan:

  • There is a high threat from terrorism and sectarian violence throughout Pakistan
  • We believe there is a heightened threat to Westerners in major cities.
  • We also advise against using the rail network across the whole of Pakistan
  • The World Health Organisation (WHO) has raised its Pandemic Threat Alert Phase to Level 6.
  • Avoid demonstrations or large crowds of people, including at busy shopping malls, tourist sites and public events, including religious events. Exercise caution in other public places including hotels, airports, markets, restaurants and on public transport.

    The warning extends to virtually every region of Pakistan, as well as road and rail travel. The British government advises against Western hotels as they're a target for terrorists, while the Canadian government says that "only the very best hotels, with stringent security, including metal detectors, should be used".

    Soon, I'll have to make a decision to go somewhere. The third option, a North Korean tour, is tempting in the absence of actual plans, but it's a great way of spending a month's money in fiv days.
  • No comments: