Thursday, 26 November 2009

Big cities, little danny

Lahore and border ceremony
After the media frenzy of Islamabad it was real nice to get out of town and down to Lahore and the cultural capital of Pakistan.

One rule in the cities of war torn Pakistan: stay out of crowded areas and be careful at night. My first night I found myself surrounded by 1000's of people in a passionate mood in the pitch black.

I had an invite to a Gypsy festival, only one hour away. Why not? 3hours of driving later I am still on a bus squeezed onto 3 seats with 8 people, our legs and knees entwined. If the bus had decent breaks and had tried to stop it would have been 'goodbye dans future children and hello agonising pain!!' - luckily the buses breaks didn't work so it just swerved left and right round any obstacles.

(I've got a lively Pakistani next to me who's singing at me and talking to me none stop in Urdu - it's really hard to concentrate!!)

I was given prime positioning to the right of the spiritual leader as the singing and drums started (dad you would love it!!!!) - my hair stood on end and my body convulsed with the energy and passion of the music!! I can see how it plays a massive part in the religion. I was given a wedge of 5 Rupee notes to throw over the singers before the big guns got involved and threw them into the air - falling like rain all around me!!!

Yesterday we went to a Sufi night of music with additional dancing - if you can call it that. The music wasn't a touch on last night (still awesome) but the dancing was out of this world. The Sufis are religious icons and relax and become the music. The most prominent feature being the wobbling of the head - they started slowly and then increased in speed some the features blurring to make them look featureless - occasionally making your eyes feel as though they have faces on both sides of their heads. I had to look away when they really got going coz it looked like their heads were going to fall off. The music went on to have a real 'drum and base' feel and the Sufis danced very similar to the big 'house' nights of my past.

One person in the whole crowd was asked to get up and dance with them. Who? That's right. Little Danny. So i did a bit of spinning, then tried the head wobbling. they were impressed with my head wobbling - relaxing all muscles and throwing it around whilst keeping shoulders still. I had a head ache for 1 hour afterwards and felt a little sick. The pressure they put on the Brain can only be compared with whiplash in a road accident or going a round with Mike Tyson. Is it any wonder some of them were losing their hair in chunks and seemed a little brain damaged.

I'm off to India today - the final country of my trip. It feels like I'm almost there but I still have a quarter or a fifth of my miles to go!!

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

A bit of 3B action....

I thought I'd liven up the blog with a bit of 'stop frame animation' from the legendary 3B and 3C.

Whilst we're at it I'd like to say a congratulations to Olivia Moore for breaking the record for the number of Bushy Park 5k races completed. How did the school Cross Country go? Did you and Holly kick some butt?

And a belated happy birthday wish to 'cheeky chap', Kasper, and an early bday cheer for the 'terror', Charlie B.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Big guns - and I'm not talking about my Biceps (this time)

Long and dirty road
(Click on photo for rest of pics)
Soon after M&D left my poo started exploding again. Which was quite nice timing as election fever really took hold, with accusations of rigging and bribes fervent. Tires were set on fire to block streets and there were a few minor clashes. These clashes between the Shiites and the Sunnis had got a little out of hand a month before – with a grenade being thrown into a shop and then, in retaliation, someone opening up with a machine gun into a packed mini bus. On my final day in Gilgit the results were announced by the government, we were locked into the hostel (a good excuse to get us to spend our money there) as bullets flew through the air. We were assured they were in celebration but I couldn’t help feeling some of them screamed with malice.

The next day I set off south with Sander, a Dutch guy I’d met in Kyrgyzstan months before. That night it started to get dark which was a bit worrying due to the fact that the area is well known for bandits and the police guard foreign workers in case of Taliban attacks. Again the police (who I have always found lovely) welcomed us into their camp, feeding and watering us and telling us all about life in the area. Women are not allowed to leave the house, if you have a lover without marriage you will both be shot, one man in the area has 4 wives and 25 children.

The following morning I was allowed to fire off an AK47 into the air without any bullets and use the officers revolver. Neither touched me in any way. Guns are common here and having it in my own hands was neither exciting nor scary.

Next day was very slow going, Sander was already sick and with the rough road with rougher traffic he was left coughing blood due to the diesel and dust. We finally made it to Chilas – our last stop before the police bundle you onto a bus – the next 200k are real tribal and bandit country. In Chilas itself a bus had been hijacked leaving the driver with a bullet hole in his forehead and all the passengers without belongings and the bus, smouldering in pieces on the road.

The bus ride was typically Pakistani – a few seats with a huge amount of people. My legs were horribly twisted, my shoulder was embedded in my lung and my other arm was coming out of my behind. Surprisingly I managed to drop off once or twice in our 12 hour journey, but it was punctuated with primitive tire changing using rocks to jack the car up, meals stops where human sewage decorated the floor and also a delay caused by a crash at the end of the swat valley (Taliban area) – the delay was partly due to the 100’s of police that had arrived just in case it was a trap.

We arrived in Mansehra where me and Sander parted ways – he’s still there now and not allowed to leave the hostel unless he has police escort – gun fights are common in the street.

I took the road to the capital Islamabad. 2 lanes for traffic are filled with six – with the outside lane – your usual cycle lane used for traffic coming in the opposite direction. 50k away a dome of smog started to show on the horizon – it got bigger and closer and soon I plunged headlong into it. The mountains disappeared as did the cars in front. Dust and diesel coated me inside and out. My boogies are still coming out solid and black, whilst I have to cough up the muck each morning.

Despite this Islamabad (or Pindi – where I’m staying) is quite beautiful and colourful in it’s own special way. Flocks of eagles swoop left and right, whilst Pan is spat colouring whatever it hits red, cars hoot, goats casually graze on the piles of rubbish in the street, Tuktuks swerve round the traffic, calls for prayer are drowned out by break beat Indian tunes emanating from the shops, beautiful material is used to cover the women and the men chatter round burning rubbish to keep warm. What am I doing? I sit in the juice shop. That’s it. Drinking in the sweet sweet fruits whilst everything around me goes crazy. Mmmmm juice.

Oh oh oh, I have spent a lot of time in the juice shop but I did make time for a press conference organised by someone I met up North and was on TV constantly last night on all channels. People across Pakistan have been contacting me to say they saw it. Awesome!!! This celebratory status kept the hotel owner turfing me out on the street. My visa has expired again and the offices are closed till Monday. I was told avoid the police :o)

NB On an off note the guy who organised the press thing picked me up from my hotel and looked into my room and almost vomited. I hadn’t really looked at it in a critical way but it’s pretty gross – the walls a coated with dirty finger marks and stains, the floor covered with dust and unidentifiable stains has never been cleaned, smoke has stained the roof, whilst mould hides in every corner, holes punctuate the walls, the stench of sewage penetrates every fibre of your body, the curtains are torn netting, and the door is held shot with a single nail. But at less than two quid a night in a capital city you can’t complain.
M&D pay a visit
(Click on pics for more)
Mum and Dad’s visit didn’t start off too well. A sleepless night on the plane over followed by a sleepless night in a disgusting hotel in Islamabad, and two days of cancelled internal flights to the north due to the weather meant that they had to brave the 20hr sleepless journey over unmade roads to the North and Me!! :o)

3 days without sleep – I was imagining the sorry state they would arrive in. Miserable, tired, grumpy. They’re not 20 anymore – 3 nights without sleep isn’t easy. But Oh no!! They arrived looking fantastic (life without me has been good to them), full of love happiness and laughter. Raving about their adventures so far. Defying 50m cliff drops in the car, police escorts, coloured trucks full of blue eyed buffalo, making friends, women locked away in houses etc etc

They arrived and the hostel I was staying at was gripped by their presence. Mum and I took a short walk round town and I was like a parent on a childs first day at school – so so so proud to have my mum by my side in such strange surroundings. But we couldn’t stay, we were heading up North to the big mountains and the beautiful scenery.

After arriving at night, I woke early at first light and peaked out of the curtain. I’d been doing a no cloud and blue skys dance the day before and ‘YES’ it’d worked. Blue blue and more blue sky. Not a cloud in sight. Mum was next to wake and I made her pull the curtains ASAP revealing a glass wall looking out over the 7000+ peaks with the autumn reds, and golds all around the hotel. Awesome!!

After trekking, glaciers, lakes, a few mountains, defying death on a rickety old wooden suspension bridge, drinking tea surrounded by panoramic white peaks, views that blow your mind Mum and Dad were intoxicated with Pakistan and had intoxicated it’s people.

We found ourselves invited to a local home (one room – kitchen, bedroom, dining room, lounge all in one small concise package) – something not many people experience due to social restrictions. It started very politely sitting cross legged, talking of work and studies as our meal was cooked in front of us on a wood stove and then eaten off the floor with our hands. But it soon turned ‘Bent’. First the girl sang, then dad, then the mum danced and sang (only after the dad had been sent to the bizarre for something), then I sang, then we all sang, then we all danced. The finale was the dad, who’d finally relaxed, teaching my dad to dance Pakistani style. 4 children, 2 mums and I were in hysterics. Not coz dad was rubbish – he’s a groover – but because of the surrealism of the situation. 2 families, poles apart enjoying a night of culture and education together.

Then before we knew it, it was time to go – but not before the elections got a bit out of hand. Stones were thrown at our jeep onto the road and mass groups of men marched up and down the road in trucks or by foot with a huge police and artillery presence. The police threw us in a cell for our own safety (bringing us tea). M&D looked very much relaxed in the new surroundings – I’m sure there’s a lot they’re not telling me!!

They then took their flight to Islamabad – swerving round mountains and then generally brightening the days of anyone they met.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Some wedding pics:

I was witness and chief photographer. Not many of the womens side obviously!! :o)

Sue's Pakistan Wedding

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Few extra pics

OK more than a few sorry!!

Pakistan Northern Area

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Competative? What me? I'm not. I can prove it. Twice.

When I arrived at the hostel here in Gilgit, Pakistan, people were discussing how long it takes to get from Sost (Chinese Border) to Gilgit and the hostel by bicycle.

Some were saying 3 days, others said it could be done in 2. I couldn't help it - it just fell out. I tried to keep my mouth shut. Honest. "I reckon it can be done in 1". People ignored me and continued discussing. "Seriously I reckon you can do it in 1 day".

"It's 200k of the worst road ever imaginable. The Chinese are blasting big holes in it. Land falls are smashing it to pieces. There are climbs that take a day to do. There is perhaps 20k or tarmac. It's frozen in paces. Other parts are sand. The rest is boulders and rocks and stones. It can't be done in 1 day. Get real."

My eye twitched. The corner of my mouth curled.


So to cut a long story short. A bet was made and I was going to be taking the brunt of it. I then went down with food poisoning of the Asian variety. 24hrs on the toilet with little sleep and then two days of regular visits. The perfect preparation for a big ride. I could barely walk to the toilet by the end - all energy gone. As soon I was able to sit on a bike, without a cork, I set off up the road back to Sost.

Taking it easy and taking in the views. And refueling.

Click the link now for extra effect....

At Sost I arrived latish and got an early night. In the middle of the night I popped to the loo and who should I see in the mirror behind me when I was washing my hands but Stevie Bell. My greatest enemy on the bike, rival and best buddy. He was whispering in my ear. "You're not gonna do it Danny. No way. You're too weak."

In the morning he'd gone, but when I got outside he was there with his Time Trial Bike and aero helmet, stretching. He wanted a race.

So off we went - I took the first part fairly easy judging how much the sickness had taken out of me. I felt good, gritting my teeth, covered in dust, mud and oil, but Steve, by my side, was drifting along as though he was gliding over the stones - he had that big cheesy Baby Bell smile on his face. I knew there were some big 50m cliff drops coming so I put a spurt in (muchos matches burnt) - Steve has been known to do nasty things to his rivals and I didn't want to be near him at that point. (What? Did someone say "he pushed his good mate off a cliff just coz he was passing him on a climb", that's sick!!)

So I kept pushing on and to cut this story short I managed to make it back with time to spare and with Steve well gone by the end. I felt like a monster (great news for next season - much stronger than when I left blighty!!). A monster which perhaps I was after all the shaking and bumping - my organs have swapped places, my bones have been ground down and my fingers are having problems moving. Does anyone know a good doctor to put me back together? Ro? Do you know one? :o)

One good thing is that in the mix up my brain replaced my 'Bravados' in the top spot and I now understand what a totally and pointless bet it was!?! I'll never do something like that again. Until the dreaded C word is mentioned again that is. (That's 'can't' by the way.)