Note: This article is based on a train trip from Karachi to Islamabad.
Pakistan is blessed with a plethora of scenic beauty. While we may turn to Europe and other parts of the world for adventure and natural scenic splendor at times, more often than not we forget about the beauty hidden away in our very own backyard. In the fast-paced world of today, it can become difficult to make time to set about and explore the world around us.
Ibn Battuta once said that “Travelling leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller”. So what better way to explore Pakistan and experience a never-seen-before side to it than abandoning the comfort of an airplane and taking a train ride instead? So let’s take a journey together to experience a train journey through Pakistan and look at all the different things you encounter along the way.
The old-school train interior.
Source: Pakistan Rail
First things first. How do you think an economy class train ride would be? These are NOT the same Economy class seats that you see on an airplane. You’re thinking green old-school interior, with worn out, three-tiered berths on one side of the aisle, and seats by the window on the other. Just like in the old Lollywood/Bollywood movies!
Diverse range of colorful Pakistanis.
Since trains are an inexpensive mode of travel for the average Pakistani, you are bound to see a majority of the people who make the majority of Pakistan’s population. If there’s one thing Pakistanis are proud of, it’s their ability to not keep their kaam say kaam. Sitting in close proximity to the same people for more than 24 hours with nothing to look out at, you should expect a ride where your conversations are interrupted by the uncles who have life advice to give.
There are people who are sleeping all the time.
Then there are some rare ones who choose to spend their time reading a book…
… or falling asleep while quietly staring out of the window.
While some people who are ALWAYS bored.
You would also see some heavy travelers, who have so much samaan that it takes an army of loaders to get it in and take it out. Bags, plastic bags, cartons, suitcases, metal chests, food baskets. You name it and it’s there.
Also, the typical Pakistani aunty also SOMEHOW makes it there! Complaining about the delays and the food and so much more.
Note: The jumpy train ride coupled with the countless crying babies is hardly a place where you, yourself, could sleep. So if you ever decide to take a journey in a train, make sure you get plenty of sleep before stepping foot in that old, green interior surroundings.
“Special” food on the train and at the stations.
Unlike the formally dressed crew of an airplane, the train crew is composed entirely of Shalwar Kameez donning men, who walk past you every 10 minutes, calling out the menu of the day.
Garam Aanday. 20 rupee tea (that has more cheeni than patti, instead of it being the other way around). Biryani (that tastes like karelay gosht with chaawal).
Pakistani train stations are also your one-stop destinations for cheap yet delicious, unorthodox main meals.
Liquidy Chana Chaat, Naan-Tikki (a potato Kebab, served on a typical Naan Roti, on a bed of chopped Mooli), samosay, pakoray, packs of Multani Halwa, some more candy-flavored terrible teabag tea.
The 5-star train toilets.
Seriously, though, you wouldn’t know what perfect balance is until you step foot in the toilet of a train, which is basically just a small, square room with a hole in the floor. The athlete in you would soon be forced to wake up and you’d realize that to relieve yourself, you just need a hole in the floor and a good aim! Sorry for the mental image if you’re eating/drinking while reading this…
Sand storms and sandy hair.
The thing with economy class seats/berths is that you don’t have the privilege of an air-conditioned seating area. And so you open up the windows and let the air come in. Usually, the cool air brings in loads of sand and dirt along. You might have luscious, silky hair when you step on the train. But when you get off, you have more mitti on your head than hair. If only there was a vacuum cleaner for the hair…
Unwanted stops and unnecessary delays
When you get on a train, be prepared for one thing – you will NEVER get to your destination on time. Sadly, one and two hour delays are a norm. Expect the train driver to stop the train at every junction, every station, every stop, for every animal crossing the tracks.
The not-so-common sights of Pakistan.
The best thing about these train rides is that they show you a side of Pakistan that people usually don’t get to see (as vague as that sounds).
The supposedly dry, barren plains of Sindh have a strange and haunting magnificence about them, like a scene out of a story you might have heard.
While the greenery of lower Punjab and later the hilly areas surrounding Islamabad make you realize that scenic beauty is not only confined to the Northern region of Pakistan
The essence of any country exists in more than just national landmarks; the same applies for Pakistan. Although traveling in a train may not be the ideal way for many people, it’s probably one of the best ways to experience Pakistan – in all shapes and forms. So the question is, how much do you really understand Pakistan?