Today, for 20km, I took my life in my hands and settled it firmly on a (somewhat out of line and shaky) handle bar. Competing with the Lahore traffic on a bicycle is not something you take lightly. Competing with the traffic of Lahore’s Old City is not something you do willingly, or frequently, or at all if you have any common sense and even vaguely appreciate your overall well being and safety. But doesn’t it sound cool? Trans-versing through the narrowest of ally ways to explore the pockets of a city that lives and breathes as if it did 100 years ago? It does and you know it.
We started our journey in a bicycle shop, scouting for something made for humans above the height of 5’5. No luck. With each peddle push my legs came no where close to straightening, but every time I felt like complaining about my achy knees I looked at Neil. Poor Neil whose seat came to his mid-thigh; who looked like an over grown baby balancing on a toy half his size. Once perched on our ill functioning bikes we joined the traffic. By traffic I mean we joined the cars, the motorcycles, the tuk tuk’s, the donkey carts, the horses (some with drawn carriages), the livestock (sheep, goats, chickens and the like), the pedestrians and the kids sitting three on a bike who raced beside us, grins splitting their face. This was madness. There is no bicycle lanes, there is no personal space, there are no rules, but there is a flow, and it took all of my sensory skills and mental aptitude to, as seamlessly as possible, go with this flow. It is like the driving here but at 1/10 of the speed and without the buffer of car doors and windshields. It is scary and exhilarating.
Yassir, a friend of a friend who lead the way, meandered along the road as carelessly as if it was a wide suburban street in North America, all the while giving me his personal perspective on the merits of biking in Pakistan. It went something like “Tourists (and the wealthy Pakistanis) come to the old city and look at the people through their car windows. There is always a shield between them, there is always a barrier. This is how you understand what Pakistan is and who the people are; you ride beside them and you feel what they feel with them”. In Yassir’s case the ‘riding beside them’ also encompasses cussing them out. “I’m going to get seriously beat up one of these days” he said with a grin after yelling an ear-splitting “Would you talk to your mother with that mouth you foul ass of a dog?” to someone who was not being courteous to ‘Pakistan’s guests’. The only person I managed to yell at was a police paddy wagon that slow-motion cut me off, throwing me out of the flow of traffic and in the path of an oncoming tuk tuk. I am learning how to bite my tongue.
The things you see on such a ride are enough to life your spirits and keep your mind reeling for days. People staring, people laughing, people shouting “long live Pakistan!”, children chasing your bike for miles, roller bladers who attach themselves to your back and cars who turn around for a second look. For me, our entire ride can be summed up in one statement: “Miss! Your stand!”. I had a faulty kick stand. It wasn’t the worst thing about my bike but it was obviously a big deal in these parts. One boy biker, who followed us from the beginning to the end of our ride, made it his personal mission to get my stand up. This sometimes involved grabbing onto my shoulder and weaving us both into traffic (and Neil). Through the old city one man chased me for half a block, intent on fixing my stand (almost as intent as I was not to stop and lose my party in the twisted streets). It was a conversation starter. It lead to a constant smiling and exclamation of “Thank you!” as I reached my foot back to kick it up, followed by it sliding back down a second later. It did show me a couple things 1. Pakistanis really notice your kick stand, 2. they care enough to tell you and help you and 3. they know some random English words.
I didn’t have enough skill to ride and take pictures simultaneously so these are from our mid-way pit stop at Janhanger’s Tomb. I hope the grins and enthusiastic waving can impart you with a sense of the curiosity, the slight mischievousness and the warmth I feel from the people here.