Ashraf’s pashmina shawls…and how to get there

There is never a problem getting anywhere in the cities of Pakistan. The longest I’ve had to wait for transport on the side of the road is approximately 30 seconds.

Of course, they are not the kind of vehicles Graeme Smith and his men would choose – or be allowed to choose – but they constitute the heart and soul of Karachi and Lahore even more than mini-bus taxis do for Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town.

The ‘tuk-tuk’, or ‘three-wheeler’ as they are more commonly called in Pakistan, having carried me for thousands of kilometres in India, Sri Lanka and here, was the furthest thing from my mind when I arrived this time. The small army of soldiers assigned to ensuring the team’s safety had, inevitably, had an effect on me.

Fortunately, my otherwise excellent hotel was short of cars in Lahore so there were two options – travel with the Ten Sports production crew in their minibus at the crack of dawn or hail a tuk-tuk. Not having a ‘vision and audio check’ to attend and preferring to take my time sampling the wonderful array of Asian dishes for breakfast, there was only one choice.

Incidentally, chicken curry, spicy chickpeas and chopped banana with soured yoghurt have become staples to kick-start the day in 15 years of touring the subcontinent, but the Lahore Holiday Inn has added a new twist – one Western ‘classic’ every morning. Classic evening dish, that is. Beef stroganoff, lasagne, chicken a la King…even roast chicken and roast potatos! No effort is spared to make visitors feel at home. Although the last time most of us ate anything like that for breakfast we were students and the previous night was best forgotten.

Having travelled with a variety of drivers to the Gaddafi Stadium on all five days of the Test match, it was time to venture out on Saturday morning once the series had been won. The realization struck home in Karachi two weeks ago that Pakistan was no more ‘dangerous’ for no-name civilians like me than it had been 10 years ago when we first came here, let alone on the verge of being a war-zone, but Karachi is certainly a little more volatile than Lahore so I saved the exploring for Lahore.

Liberty market, the kind of place the team is not permitted to visit, was abuzz with activity – as it always is. The smell of shish kebabs roasting over hot coals mingled with the inevitable wafts of open sewerage drains and shops displayed the brightly coloured clothes and sparkling, jewelled sandals that make the women so striking.

The only specific shopping commission I had was for pashmina shawls, a speciality of the region. Made from cashmere, silk or wool – or a combination of two, or even all three – it was an impossible task (for me, anyway) to work out which were ‘the real thing.’

Having attempted to bargain with stall holder Ashraf and his seven-year-old nephew, Ephraim, it soon became apparent that it was not a fair contest. Ephraim was there because he knew more English than his fiercely bearded uncle, but it made little difference. Ashraf knew
immediately that I was his for the taking.

Having secured three shawls (all of which felt as soft as cashmere to me) for the princely sum of R110, Ashraf looked a little crestfallen – and revealed his knowledge of English wasn’t as sparse as he made out.

“You only tourist today, nobody come here now. Business no good.”

And with that he handed me another shawl with the words: “Take and give your friends, you tell that is good place here…Smith must come to see.”

It is not, of course, Smith and his players’ decision not to visit Liberty market and places like it, and the decision of the team’s security advisors and the Pakistan Cricket Board is understandable.

In a country which reports suicide bombings and all other manner of terrible deeds in its newspapers on a daily basis, no matter that most of them take place over a thousand kilometres away in the North West Frontier Province, security consultants take no chances. For an individual tourist to visit Liberty market is one thing, quite another, possibly, for a group of high profile sportsmen to do the same thing.

CLICK HERE for a short video-shots of tuk-tuk journeys. Enjoy the ride!


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