22nd August 2014
The Pakistani people are a delight – warm, friendly and incredibly hospitable. Our two American clients talked about adopting an honourary Canadian status at the start of the tour believing that they would not be flavour of the month, but they have been bowled over by the reception they have received which they have stated is unprecedented in their experience. The females in the group have also been able to reach beyond the veil so to speak and have found the local women charming and open and wanting to 'chat'. This directly contradicts the western media's perception of Pakistan being filled with radical fundamentalists who want to chop off the heads of the western infidels who dare to enter their country.
However there is a knock-on effect from the incident last year at Nanga Parbat when a number of tourists were shot and killed. The Government has taken to task the provision of security for visiting tourists by providing armed escorts in the form of friendly policemen. Our first experience of this was our overnight stay in Naran. Naran is a busy market town and very popular with domestic tourists who come and stay in one of the many hotels and campsites and sample the 'snow', which is an unfamiliar commodity to those from the south of the country. We decided to have a wander around the bazaar before dinner in a local restaurant. However we soon adopted an entourage of big burly policeman armed with kalashnikovs, who were sporting large bushy Osama bin Laden style beards – the archetypal Pakistani look. However they were courteous and friendly and were quite happy to pose for photos, so hardly the menacing and fearsome warriors. I am pretty sure we would have attracted just as much attention without their presence given our colouring and western dress and the fact there are few western tourists now visiting Pakistan due to its 'dangerous' reputation. It felt like we were VIPs being escorted on a shopping trip.
We were 'minded' as we ate our dinner in a local BBQ style restaurant and then escorted back to our hotel. They took the job very seriously indeed and inspected our rooms on arrival making a show of their position and responsibilities. One of our female clients became a little concerned when one of the young policeman put his gun on one of the beds in her room. Was he staking his claim to a bed for the night to ensure she was 'safe' or had she inherited a 'toyboy'?! All turned out fine as they left us to enjoy a night's rest. However since that day we were accompanied on our journey by at least one armed policeman to ensure that our journey through Pakistan was a safe and enjoyable one.
Out of the view of their colleagues they will not only pose for photos but allow you to hold their guns! The underlying message here is that the Government want to keep their visitors safe, but that the people offering this service are polite, courteous and human.