ON THE HIPPIE TRAIL

LAHORE – Welcome to the Nightmare

It was just after five in the morning when I woke up Janette to tell her that we were coming into Lahore. It was then that she realised her jacket was gone, along with all of her money, which had been in one of the pockets. She had lost £80 and $110 in traveller’s cheques and $160 in cash, but at least she still had her passport, which was in a little bag around her neck.  My initial reaction (although I kept it to myself) was, “how could you be so fucking careless”?  We pieced together what had happened; at around four-thirty a guy came into the carriage and sat down a couple of seats away, then moved to an empty seat near me. I thought I felt him trying to get his hand to my bag and looked up at him. He moved away to the toilet and squatted on the floor near a group of sleeping students. I didn’t think too much more about him and slipped back into half sleep. Janette remembered moving her legs out of the aisle to let him pass a short time later. Once more he went into the toilet and then she saw him appear with a briefcase in one hand jumping off the train while it was still moving. At the time neither of us suspected anything, in fact Janette asked me what time it was and we changed places so that she could stretch out.

Once  we had figured out what had happened Janette became inconsolable and the sight of her crying brought us to the attention of the students who wanted to know what was wrong and if they could help. Then they realised that they also had lost things; shoes, clothes, books, 500Rupees and a briefcase. One of the students (Mohammed, would you believe?) said, ‘Madam is not to veep. I vill tell the police and everything vill be OK.’ It was good of him to offer to help us report the theft but we were less than optimistic about everything being OK. Fortunately, in situations like this, one doesn’t have the time or energy to be angry or depressed, you simply have to do what you have to do. And I knew that this was going to set off a whole chain of events that we hadn’t planned for and that were probably not going to be a whole lot of fun.

Immediately the train pulled into Lahore railway station we went to the nearest office of the Railway Police where we were directed to another, larger office. This was a vast cavernous room with an enormous wooden desk and a large dining table with chairs. In one of the chairs, under a slowly-turning ceiling fan, swathed in a grey blanket and with a scarf wrapped around his head was a policeman, fast asleep. He was less than happy at being woken up by Mohammed and being made to listen to our tale of woe. Mohammed was doing most of the talking and the policeman kept shaking his head and looking away as if to say that it really wasn’t his problem. Eventually one of the other students began shouting at him and sent two of his friends out to find the man’s superior officer. A short time later they returned with the Inspector, a fat, greying man in his late fifties who moved very slowly and who’s main concern seemed to be whether or not we were married. He rummaged around in a desk drawer, found some paper and a fountain pen and, in long hand, wrote down all the student’s statements. Then there was a long discussion, all in Urdu, so we had no idea what was going on. It was apparent however, that no action was going to be taken to catch the thief and that it wasn’t the job of the Railway Police to alert the banks about the stolen traveller’s cheques. Then, and for no apparent reason, we were all moved to yet another office a hundred yards along Platform 5, where statements were taken from Janette and I and we were served tea. I wanted the Inspector to telephone the British Consulate because we didn’t seem to be achieving very much and he agreed to do this. Of course, in the unfathomable way of the Railway Police, this required us to return to the office we had just left. It still took another half an hour before the call was finally made and someone at the Consulate advised us to get a taxi and go there immediately.

Three quarters of an hour later the Inspector, Mohammed, Janette and I piled into a taxi and set off. The British Consulate was like a little piece of England that had been uprooted and placed in the middle of Lahore. It had an air of calm that made one think of Sunday cricket and village fetes. Janette and I were invited into the cool office of a Mr Wicks who was very Public School in immaculately pressed white shirt and striped tie. He was extremely polite and helpful and informed us that the first thing we must do was to visit the Am Ex office and the Australasia or National and Grindleys Banks to get the cheques cancelled and refunded, of course there was no chance of seeing the cash again. He said that if we had any problems with the refunds we were to go back and see him. We walked with our bags in the baking heat for about a mile along streets that stank of heat-baked human urine to the Am Ex office where Janette filled in a couple of forms. She couldn’t get a refund until the Consulate had officially stamped the forms and we returned with a police report. We took a taxi to Bank Square and found the Australasia Bank only to be told by the manager that, even though it was an associate bank to Barclays in England, they did not have the authority to refund the cheques. On hearing this Janette burst into tears again and caused a great deal of consternation amongst the bank staff who rushed around bringing tea, cakes and sympathy, looking as if they were also going to cry. The manager suggested that we send a telegram to Barclays explaining the problem to them. We also visited National and Grindleys but with the same outcome. Janette was getting increasingly upset at having to repeatedly tell her story and  constantly coming up against a brick wall. By this time we were both tired and stressed and decided that it would be a good idea to find a hotel, at least then we wouldn’t have to keep humping our bags from place to place.

We had been told that the YMCA was a reasonable place and, as luck would have it, there it was, right across the street. The young men who booked us in weren’t particularly friendly but we got a bed each in a dormitory for 4Rupees each. It was pretty dirty and infested with ants but we were too tired to care. I couldn’t quite get my head around the fact that Janette was allowed to stay at the Young Men’s Christian Association, and in a dormitory. But that was the least of our worries and after a short rest we took a hair-raising trishaw ride to the railway station to see about getting the police report.

Back on Platform 5 the door to the office was ajar. I could see the Inspector sat in his chair with his hands placed flat on the desk in front of him. His eyes were tightly closed and tears were streaming down his cheeks. We crept inside and I tapped lightly on the desk. He squinted at us through one eye and told us to sit down. Before him were numerous bottles of pills. He told us that he had to put drops in his eyes because they were very painful due to the amount of sugar he consumed. I took this to mean that he had diabetes. After a few minutes he wiped away the tears with a grubby handkerchief, swept all his medication into a drawer and gave us his full attention. Handing Janette a piece of paper he dictated his report while she wrote it down. This done the Inspector insisted we had tea with him and while were waiting for it to arrive he asked me if I liked charas. I tried to be a bit vague, he was, after all, a policeman. He pulled open a drawer and produced a piece of gold, crumbly hash, saying that he had confiscated it from someone.  At that moment the chai boy appeared and was ordered to make a joint for us, which he did by emptying out a cigarette, mixing charas with the tobacco and carefully packing the whole back into the  cigarette. The Inspector then told me to take the charas as he had no need of it.  After the tea and the joint we were sent to yet another office where it took two hours for the report to be entered into a ledger in English and Urdu (one policeman wrote in long hand while six others offered advice).   It was crazy. We were very stoned.  We drank more tea. The report was then taken into an adjoining room and we waited while a barber came in and gave the Sergeant a shave with a cut-throat razor. Two young Pakistani guys who wanted to report their scooter stolen from outside the Station joined us. One said that he was a film cameraman and the other was on leave from the army. They both spoke perfect sing-song English and, in due course a friend of theirs also joined us. It turned out that he’d borrowed the scooter and driven it home. Still waiting for the report, we visited the station restaurant with the three guys and drank yet more tea. Finally the Inspector turned up holding our copy of the report but it was now too late to get it stamped at the consulate so we took a taxi back to the YMCA. Inside we met our dorm mates for the night; two middle-aged Swiss guys, who we had previously met on the journey from Mashad to Herat, and an English guy called Dave from Cheshire. That evening we treated ourselves to a relatively expensive meal of mushroom omelette and chips in a western-style restaurant and hurried back to our dorm before they locked the doors at 10:00pm.

The following morning we woke up early and, on being confronted by the reality of our situation, we smoked a spliff and slipped back into the safety of dreamland. Two hours later we found ourselves being rudely awakened by the manager of the YMCA who wanted our passports. We had eggs and toast in the restaurant, retrieved our passports and took a taxi to the consulate. Once again Mr Wicks was supportive and reassuring and didn’t charge us for the official stamps we required. Janette was starting to be a little more positive as we walked out into the morning sun, past the park to the American Express office where the cheques were refunded within an hour. The staff at the Am Ex directed us to the post office where Janette sent a telegram to Barclays in the UK briefly outlining the situation. She thought it would be a good idea to also send a letter explaining everything in detail along with a copy of the police report. We returned to the YMCA only to find that the room to the dorm was padlocked. The manager couldn’t tell us why but said that the man who had the key would be back in half an hour. We went out and drank freshly squeezed orange juice from a stall on the side of the road and returned to the YMCA. Janette told the manager that it was important that we get into the room, as there were important papers she needed to get. He said that he would telephone the guy who had the key. We listened outside the door. He didn’t phone anyone. He simply waited another half an hour and then came out with the keys. He’d had them all the time. So what was that scenario all about? Just another part of the surreal movie we had become part of since entering Pakistan. We’d been shot at, robbed and caught up in a bureaucratic nightmare and now the manager of the YMCA was playing mind games with us. We just wanted to get out, to cross the border into India and leave all this madness behind.

It was much too hot to be walking the streets so we took a taxi to the railway station to obtain another copy of the police report. Our friendly Inspector wasn’t around but the report was issued immediately, much to our surprise. We retired to the cool of the station restaurant where Janette wrote her letter to Barclays, telling them that she would contact them again from Delhi where she hoped that she could pick up the replacement cheques. After one more taxi ride to the post office we felt that we had achieved everything possible in Lahore and would leave for India in the morning. That evening we dined on egg curry and rice with hot chapattis, it was delicious and we deserved it.

Back in the YMCA dormitory we struggled to sleep.  The beds were simple wooden boards devoid of  mattresses and, without a ceiling fan, the humidity was oppressive.

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2 Responses

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  1. Golden Barbrick said, on September 16, 2010 at 10:28 am

    I have to say that I really enjoy this site. I just wanted drop a comment and say what a sweet job you’ve done. I wish other people would put so much energy into their website. Keep the posts coming.


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