“Pakistan 🇵🇰 ~We Are in Kallar Kahar; Valley of Peacocks”

It’s been a long day, but we have transferred by van, from Abbottabad to Kallar Kahar. It was mostly highway and not all that interesting. Soon we could see Kallar Lake in the distance, and we knew we were close. We have already seen Peacocks!

This will be as far south as we travel in Pakistan, though perhaps a bit southwest to Chakwal by the 24th. We were fortunate to meet a nice Pakistani family during our first stay at Alaf Laila in Abbottabad. From the acquaintance, we hatched a plan to spend some time together, as a group, to enjoy each other’s company and experience more culture.

We are staying in a remote area, and at a hotel which is the only show in town, so we are glad to be here. The WiFi is okay, and we will do our best to keep posting over the next several days. As always, the Pakistani people are warm and welcoming. We will always remember our time here in Pakistan, because of the care we have been shown by the people, while guests in their country.

We have a few days of fun lined up, and look very forward to more experiences to come!

The Escape Hotel. Home for the next four days
I first discovered Russian Salads in Nepal. I get it every time I see it on the menu. It’s a variation of a Waldorf Salad, but with a potato salad mixed in. It’s delicious!
This was a big miss, but typical for a foreign menu. It is hit and miss a lot! I ordered Spaghetti, and this is what came. I asked the waiter what it was and he pronounced it “Splagechi.” I checked the menu again and it was definitely Spaghetti. My guess is, this is a Pakistani dish and the spelling isn’t correct. I couldn’t eat it, as the no chili please was not adhered to. Hence the spaghetti choice to begin with. I can’t eat spicy foods.
We have made the leap from summer temperatures, to winter temperatures. It happened almost overnight! We are currently experiencing night time temps in the 30’s, and daytime temps in the low 50’s. In Abbottabad, we had a very efficient gas heater. Here, we have two electric heaters. We are pretending we have a comfy fire in the fireplace, for our stay.


THE BEST LAYED PLANS

Just the other day, as I continued planning and preparing for our flight to Armenia; as is the norm now a-days, checked luggage is not always included in international flights. AND international flights are treated like a domestic flight. Sad but true. When I purchased our flight to Armenia, from Pakistan, there was no direct flight. (Not that I expected there to be). Anyway, I purchased airfare in the bundle; which ended up being Pakistan to Armenia, via Dubai and Russia. When I purchase airfare, (through Gotogate in this case) I ALWAYS check the baggage restrictions before purchase. This has always gone two ways: “One checked bag included,” or “baggage fees may apply.”

Our first leg; Pakistan to Dubai was on Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) and the second leg; Dubai to Armenia via Russia is on Aeroflot Russian Airlines. I started with a phone call to Aeroflot, to make arrangements for checked luggage costs… no issue. BUT, imagine my shock when I called PIA, to make the same arrangements, only to be told “NO luggage is allowed in the flight!” I said WHAT? I then had to call Gotogate and find out what the heck! I was told the same by them. I told this person on the phone the baggage information (their online) did NOT say no luggage allowed, but instead “baggage fees may apply.” AND that I had never heard of such a thing on a flight, as no luggage allowed! I got nowhere with the human, though I pitched a fit. Here is why….I had to cancel this first leg with PIA, was charged $31 pp for cancellation fee, and was told to look for a credit of $190 pp on my card. I was ticked off I had to pay for a penalty, when their website showed incorrect information about luggage. The lady on the phone offered to help me search for another flight, but I told her no thank you, and that I would never use Gotogste again, either. Not only that, but when purchasing more than one plane; especially with different airlines, the first leg airline is considered the “host” of sorts, and responsible for getting us to the other connections. If they fail, it is not on us, but on them, and they must accommodate us, at no cost to us. Well, we just lost that security. As it was, we were to fly out of Pakistan at 1:30AM, to Dubai, with a layover, then connect to the Russian Airline by 8:30AM. Because we were transitioning to another plane on our itinerary, we did not have to be considered a visitor in Dubai and could skirt the proof of a negative PCR test, within 96 hours, since we were not staying in Dubai. Now that the first leg plane had to be cancelled, it breaks the booking connection to the ongoing flight, and by all appearances, we are flying JUST to Dubai, as it would appear on paper.

I had to start searching for a flight out of Pakistan, again, but this time we are only a week out from flying, instead of two weeks. I got another flight on PIA, and paid $50 pp overall, but one checked bag is included in the price of the ticket. I had timed it perfectly with our connecting flight, giving us extra layover time to make sure we had the best chance of making the connection without issue. (well, short of a plane crash, anyhow, God forbid) We will arrive from Pakistan in Dubai at 3:30AM. When we arrive in Dubai, we will collect our luggage, then make our way to Aeroflot Russian Airlines to ticketing and check in again, get our tickets and check our bags all the way through to Armenia. Unfortunately, due to this error on luggage, we now have to get another stinkin COVID19 test (PCR) and show proof of negative result to board in Pakistan; per Dubai requirements…. even though we are not staying in Dubai, other than for a layover.

I’m still trying to get my brain wrapped around a whole plane flying, but not allowing any luggage. I get business and first class might have just carry-on, but economy fliers have luggage from what I’ve seen in my experience.

Pakistan “Heading Back to Abbottabad”

The shelling in Neelum Valley from India had not stopped, three days later. Drivers refuse to take a risk, so we headed back to Abbottabad. 

It has rained for three days making the water grey, but the skies were clear. It was like the sky fell into the streams and rivers, turning the water grey and the sky to blue. Smiling faces were more common as the rain makes people happy. The now murky rivers were running strong with more rain; the results was the swollen torrential changes. The trees look healthier as the pines were much greener. Some of that was do to being cleaned of layers of dust. At any rate, it was beautiful.

We arranged a driver with the understanding that we wanted to  drive towards the Indian border to take pictures of the newly fallen snow and clear skies. Before leaving, the loading our luggage was like a puzzle, with the trunk sharing room with some personal prayer rugs inside. The trash bin had some tasty food inside as birds were circling above and about fifty crows stood on the edge. The driver heads the wrong way and there is no talking him into going anywhere closer to the violence. Our translator was heating up with all the failed communication, so we headed the way the driver demands, fear prevailed. 

The road was unrecognizable as it was cleaner, and washed out in some places. Half of the asphalt and road was washed away. In one spot I could see the old road two feet below the new one, where the torrents of water had washed away a section. One place the road was only dirt and only one lane wide, that certainly did not make me feel comfortable riding over it, with the canyon floor thousands of feet below. 

We round one corner with a man perched on the concrete barrier like a bird, with a drop off down a canyon at his back. In a vacant lot, some boys are playing cricket. The boy was holding the bat backwards, he still made contact and was running as we passed. The mountains in the background had clouds clinging to the top, with a sprinkling of snow from the storm. 

A transport van had a wig hanging down from the back of the rig. We saw about three trucks or lories like that, but we don’t know what it means; no less interesting. The lories decorate with ornate paint and hanging chimes dangling from chains. Each trucking company had their own design. The more flamboyant the design, the better business became. In the 1950s, Karachi became a hub of truck art, and a title it still holds today. When Hajji Hussain, an artist known for his elaborate palace frescoes, settled in town, and lacking in palaces to paint, he turned to decorating trucks, and his ornate, floral style pushed the genre forward. Today all vans and lories are painted and decorated. So the fade of jingle trucks began and is now has spread from Pakistan to countries all around the world. 

In one town the kitchens who sell a ground beef dish, piles the meat high besides the grill. It looked like twenty pounds of unrefrigerated course ground beef. If it works for one person, many will follow. We must have seen eight of these wood grilled restaurants in one area. 

The cold weather followed the rain, people were warming themselves with open fires by their shops. Many small fires could be seen all over the towns. Men wrap themselves in blankets, around their heads and drape down their backs. This seems preferred to jackets as more use blankets. Fruit stands are abundant and like many districts they may be grouped in an area.

Beards are very common for Pakistani, as many people are very religious. The last prophet wore a beard, so many follow his lead. In this country, after the call to prayer, small prayer rugs, are seen laying in the direction of Mecca. Men are standing then on their knees and bowing during prayer and they do this five times a day. Many Muslim countries are not this religious and forgo all the active praying. They still claim the Muslim Religion but not all the formality. 

The meat markets are also close together. The meat will hang in plain view on a hook. They sell everything in one day so refrigeration is not necessary. Our health departments in America, would not like this.

The skies were clear but the road was slow. Our driver was always trying to pass. As we passed, locals would catch our eyes and follow us, paying close attention to the the Bunny in the back seat. Sometime men on top of vans and trucks would all turn around to take us in. We had a nice car, this time. Tiny underpowered vehicles are the norm here. When going down hill they drive like maniacs, with the tires sliding sideways, and the seatbelt which did not work. My knees were against the dash and Bunny was wanting more legroom in the back. Women have to sit in the back seat to be separate. Bunny hated this, for she likes to take photos out the front window, too.

Coal mines could be seen along the side of the roads with men standing outside. Their skin and clothes would have a layer of the black mater all over them. I imagine the sink would also, in the morning, coughing up the black phlegm. The coal would be another reason for the poor air quality, we have seen so much of. 

Coming back into town, we see a balloon salesman with colorful helium balloons rising above his head. The photo almost looks like a black and grey photo with the only color coming from the balloons and people up close. 

We made it back to our home in Abbottabad, with its excellent cook, heat, and comfortable bed. Soon the birds broke out in a flurry of songs, seemingly saying; “welcome back, our friends.”

“Pakistan🇵🇰 ~And the Winner Is…..Armenia!”

We are going to Armenia!

Unlike pre-pandemic travel, where we got to pick where we wanted to go, and just go; now it takes a bit more planning and preparing, as visits are now dependent on whether or not borders are open for tourism. Plus, finding a county in Asia we haven’t been to has turned into quit the short list! (no complaints). Our plan was to go to Oman from Pakistan, but no dice, since they have closed their borders to tourism, again, and are not processing Visa requests at this time.

We’ve been looking forward to the day, we would get to self-tour the Caucasus: Armenia 🇦🇲, Georgia 🇬🇪, and Azerbaijani and Russia 🇷🇺. With Covid19, I no longer plan in advance. It’s one country at a time, now, because each country has their own COVID19 rules and they change all the time. Armenia requires we must fly in, as land border crossings are not open to tourists. What this will mean for getting to the other parts of the Caucasus? We do not know, yet. But, we hope its like our touring of the Balkans, so we can rent a car and really have freedom to explore! If we can’t cross borders, due to the pandemic, we will happily stay in Armenia for Christmas and New Years.

What are the Caucuses? The Caucasus region is separated into two parts, which fall into two continents; the North Caucasus or Russia (Ciscaucasia) in Europe, and the South Caucasus (Transcaucasia) in Asia, respectively. The Greater Caucasus mountain range in the north, is mostly shared by Russia and Georgia, as well as the northernmost parts of Azerbaijan. The Lesser Caucasus mountain range in the south, is occupied by several independent states, namely, and mostly, by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia.

Believe it or not, we do not need a visa to enter Armenia 🇦🇲; with a stay of up to 180 days. We also do not require a PCR test this time, prior to arrival, but the airport is set up for PCR testing, should we be instructed to test, after arrival into the country. (so much easier). 

Here is where we decided to have some fun. To help keep the airfare costs down, we chose a longer route for less money ($997 for the both of us is still a lot, but it could have been worse). The hassle of flying is never our first choice, but often our only choice. So, if we have to go through the security and layovers, why not choose an interesting layover location?

We will fly from Pakistan to Dubai, first. We’ve already visited Dubai and loved it, so no big deal there, and it is the shorter layover stop. But, from Dubai, we fly to Moscow Russia and have a five-hour layover there. 

Flight path from Islamabad to Dubai
Flight path from Dubai (UAE) to Russia

We have not flown to Russian, before, but we have had to apply and pay for an “Incidental Visa” while in Mongolia, since we were on horseback, searching for the nomadic Reindeer tribe, who often go as high north; as Russia. If by chance, in our searching, we crossed into Russia Territory for our (2) nights stay with the tribe, we had permission to do so, from Russia The area is so remote, there are no fences or official border crossings. Anyway, it is most likely we crossed into Russian Territory on that trip, but nobody could confirm this.

Why did we not plan a trip to Russia after Mongolia? Well, we wanted to, BUT, in order to apply for our Russian Visa, we can ONLY apply from our home country. In our case, home is America. With our own nomadic lifestyle over the last several years, plus more years to come, we are unable to obtain our Visa from “out in the world.” Due to this fact, our planned Russia visit will most likely take place after we are done galavanting around the world, and back home, living our RV life; a few years from now. Then, Russia will be planned as a vacation, getaway.

In the meantime, we will technically, not only say we have been in Russia, by the time we get to Armenia, but we will also get to claim being in all of the Caucasus countries, by the time we are done visiting Georgia and Azerbaijan. When we make the planned trip to Russian, in the future, we will be focusing on a boat trip between Moscow and St Petersburg.  

Flight path from Moscow to Armenia (next to Azerbaijan)

We still have a few fun things lined up for Pakistan, before we depart on November 28th, right after we celebrate Thanksgiving, privately, just us two, here. We might not eat turkey, per say, but we are familiar with spending our Holidays in foreign lands, by now

Gobble Gobble and Ho Ho Ho

Still here in Abbottabad, and enjoying the tweeting from about a hundred Parakeets in the aviary on the grounds. They are very happy birds.