Monday, February 13, 2006

Pakistan Diary (Part V) - Peshawar

There has just been so much happening all the time in Pakistan - mostly to do with work - that I just haven't been able to settle down in front of a computer with all my thoughts in place. Thus no blogs, as I realised when I checked the site a while back. And since I blogged last - which was a deferred post in any case - we have moved in and out of Karachi (for the third Test), Peshawar (for the first one-dayer) and Islamabad-Rawalpindi (for the second one-dayer).

Am back in Lahore, where the tour had started from on 4th January (was it 2005? It certainly feels so). The third one-dayer is on. Was at the ground in the morning. Got to speak to Chris Broad, the match referee. So took a break from the game and came to this extremely slow-speed Internet centre to send the story back to Delhi.

And while I was in all the three aforementioned cities - Karachi, Peshawar and Islampindi - there were a host of things that I thought I desperately needed to blog on. But now that I am sitting down to do exactly that, the mind is a blank. And only a few snapshots seem in place.

Guns rule in Peshawar. Marketplaces have Afghani-looking people toting guns. They may or may not be security people and certainly not all of them are in uniform. The best place to check out guns of course is near the Khyber Pass, but you need visas to get there. And we weren't given any. So I checked out the second best option Peshawar had to offer, which was the gun-market near Kaarkhana (the busy market area of the city).

And it's really cool. I don't know too many gun names, but there were Lugers and Mausers and stuff dumped on the floor; Kalashnikov's hung proudly from hooks on the walls. M-somethings had pride of place, placed inside glass cases.

"Take as many as you want, boy...we are selling cheap right now," the shopkeeper told me. Why, you ask. Because M-new somethings are on their way, you are informed. The M-somethings will become aloo-pyaaz like in a few days.

You tell the massive henna-haired Pushtoo gentleman that you're from India and it might be a bother trying to ferry it across. And then there's the license factor. "Tum address de ke jaao, hum bhej dega," you are told.

Bollywood influence is all over, really. Veer Zaara is fresh in the mind. And that suggests it's time to get your ass out of the store.

Peshawar really is a charming, quaint place. A lot of Peshawar reminds you of North Calcutta. Some of it reminds you of Malviya Nagar in Delhi. None of it is like a really developed urban set-up and that means there's a nice relaxed air about the place.

You can eat as much dumba meat as you want, though it's not really advisable. Because most of it is cooked in the dumba's fat, which - like in the case of middle-aged Punjabi women - develops around the dumba's butt. That's not a serious problem of course. The problem really is that it is fat. And a lot of fat. And bad.

The place to go to in Peshawar if you really want to eat is Charsi's in Namakmandi. The shop is called Charsi actually, and it's not as if the kebabs are cooked in hashish smoke or something (which sounds yum though). The ground, first and second floors of the restaurant are normal sit down places. But if you really want a different experience, go to the terrace. You have platforms with carpets on them; take off your shoes and get on the platform; lean back comfortably, because there are takias dumped all over. Then place your order. Choose the khatakhat and the chapli kebab. Have it with naans. Oooh, mama!!!

Just across the road from Charsi's is the most fantastic selection of dried fruits you can imagine. But it's a bad time to shop for dried fruits because the prices are sky-high during the one-day match. Visitors from all over Pakistan and from across the border.

The Arbab Niaz Stadium is a terrible stadium. It's small. The ground is uneven. The stands are terrible. The media facilities are worse than in the smallest centre in Bangladesh. And the organisation sucks. The ground is made to accommodate 15,000 people. There were over 20,000 people in the stands with legit tickets. Another 10,000 were waiting outside the ground with legit tickets. The result: madness.

When we reached the ground, the media door (just a door, not a proper entrance) was locked. It was locked from the inside and the key had been thrown away or something. A stampede was certainly in order, because of all the additional people inside and local boy Afridi batting...strangely, it didn't happen.

It took about 20 of us more than an hour of banging on the door and calling all the influential people we had numbers of before we were let in via the Ten Sports entrance.

Couldn't go to the Khyber Pass like I mentioned earlier. Didn't have the visas. But saw a lot of footage from when the Indian team was taken their for a's breathtaking. Throw in all the history and romance attached to the Khyber Pass, and it really was a costly miss. At par with missing out on trips to Mohenjodaro or Harappa, both of which were within touching distance from various centres that we were based in at various times. But had to be missed because of time and visa constraints.

More later...