We were assured it would not rain during our stay in Pakistan. The end of April, beginning of May is when it starts to get hot in Islamabad and there is no rainy season to speak of in that part of the country. We left a cold and wet Wales safe in the knowledge our destination would offer the sort of dry heat which doesn’t get to you.
A few miles out of Islamabad International Airport the pilot announced that, due to a thunderstorm. we would be circling until he considered it safe to land. For the next 45 minutes the flight plan on the back of the seat showed us alternating between Islamabad and Kabul as possible landing sites. We had no rooms booked in Kabul and more to the point, no armoured convoy to get to the nearest hotel.
In addition to this mild anxiety the plane itself bounced around like a cork in a bathtub. Initially stoic, good cheer gradually turned to cautious discomfort and eventually to stomach churning fear. By the time the pilot told us we were beginning our descent there were no sick bags left in the backs of the seats. If they hadn’t been used they were being held in readiness. It was the length of time we spent being buffeted, rather than the severity, which got to us in the end. It was very severe though.
Once in the airport we began the familiar wait to be processed at arrivals. All down the line people’s phones were going off. Mine lit up and Pak Mobile welcomed me to the country. Pak Mobile was to be a constant and reassuring presence for the rest of the trip.
Once through customs we got a better view of the airport. About the size of a large bus station in Britain it was fantastically busy. Our group spent the first fifteen minutes finding each other and comparing notes. The next fifteen were spent fending off local entrepreneurs eager to help us with our bags.
Eventually (our host) arrived along with the bus which was to become our second home for the next two weeks. We climbed aboard, the clouds parted and we pressed our faces against the windows. This was it. So few westerners get to go to Pakistan these days. It’s a real privilege and we wanted to make the most of it.