Sunday, May 27 - Trip to Murree
On Sunday we visited the Murree Hill Station, a beautiful scenic outlook in the middle of a mountainous region 45 minutes outside of Islamabad. I have heard a lot of good things about this place and it is touted as a popular tourist destination in Pakistan. During our stay we had really only traveled back and forth between the office and the hotel, so the most we had seen up to that point were sites around Islamabad. This would be the first time we would actually get to see the “real Pakistan.”
We left for Murree around 11 AM and stopped at Lake View Park on the way, a nice park popular with the locals where you can find paintball, go carts, and nice outdoor areas to sit and view Rawal Lake. As we walked around the lake I noticed how low the water level was, it had to be twenty feet down from where it would normally sit. Our HR manager Hammad explained that there had been a drought in the area for a while now. The Rawal Lake feeds Rawalpindi, the twin city of Islamabad. Many people in this metro area live in Rawalpindi and commute to Islamabad each day.
After our brief stop, we drove out of Islambad toward Murree and our real adventure began! Through some smaller towns and villages, the roads became more narrow and winding, but the traffic did not decrease. Our driver was in a huge hurry for some reason and performed many illegal maneuvers as we raced up the mountain, like passing cars while going around curves, not knowing if a truck would appear any moment. It was quite the ride.
One major thing I was reminded of on the way up to Murree was the number of people living in this country. Pakistan has 180 Million people living in an area only a little larger than the state of Texas, about half of which I would say is not habitable due to mountains and deserts. To put in perspective, the entire U.S. has 310 million people in the fourth largest country by landmass, so I was not accustomed to seeing so many people sharing such a small space. The busses that passed us were so overcrowded that 50 people were seated on the uncovered top and hanging off the sides while people inside had limbs hanging out of the windows for room. To make matters worse, the buses didn’t have air conditioning going because that would bog the engine down too much. It looked absolutely miserable. On the way up we saw a few of these busses broken down with all their passengers sitting on the side of the road, fanning off their children and trying to give them water. Each town we passed seemed overflowing with people sitting around by the streets and buildings. It seems likely that the population density must also be adding strain to the water levels of the drying lake that so many depend on for baths, drinking water, cleaning, etc. Coming face to face with such looming water scarcity gave me a new appreciation for the resource and my own use back home where it is hard to remember that is not unlimited.
These things I write about are not necessarily good or bad, but they are just different from culture in the U.S. I have observed that most people in Pakistan don’t plan too far ahead in their lives like we tend to, rather they live day to day or week to week because, unfortunately, the majority population of third-world nations are just trying to survive each passing day. A father will stand on the side of the road for hours trying to find work to load a truck, so they will pay him enough to feed his family for the next day. This is very common around the world and Pakistan is no different.
After we wound, raced, and blew past everyone on the road, we finally reached the Murree Hill Station where we met the rest of the company. The station was packed with people and our driver was just mowing through the crowd with the car. People were banging on our windows to try to get us to buy things and the overwhelming crowd became a little unnerving. I felt much more relaxed once we were among friends.
We ate lunch with 35 of our guys and they gave us gifts for ourselves and our wives, including traditional Pakistani clothing. After lunch we headed out to do some shopping. We walked in a large group and were told to just point at what we wanted and one of our guys would negotiate the prices. It was very surreal, like shopping as a celebrity, but a lot cheaper!
When we were finished shopping we began our 20-minute trek up the mountain for the scenic views. The guys thought Bryan and I should ride up in the car because the journey would be too tiring for us. We assured them that if they can go up the hill we can as well, but they had the car follow us closely anyway in case we grew tired! The walk was beautiful and once we reached the top, we took a ton of photos with everyone.
After we walked back down the mountain we returned to the office and played several games of Ping Pong before people left for home. I t would be the last time that Bryan and I would see most of them and it was pretty sad. There were a lot of hugs and goodbyes; in the time I was over here I really feel I have grown much closer to the team here, and I know that they really care about us just as we do about them.
Bryan, the managers, and I left for a nice restaurant with amazing view of Islamabad / Rawalpindi, live music, and a huge menu of food. The managers treated us to a very fine dinner and everyone enjoyed each other’s company. These managers honestly mean everything to this company. Most of them have been with us for over two years and began with us as developers. It was very sad to say our goodbyes to these guys as we have really formed a special bond with each and every one of them.
We were able to see a different side of Pakistan today. We saw sights and heard sounds that we had not heard in the five days we’d been here. Going from a five star hotel, to our very nice office, and back again just doesn’t give you the real feel of the entire country. Today we were able to learn more about the country of Pakistan, and how the people of this country live. I’m thankful for all of the adventures we’ve had on this trip, and I value all of my time spent here, for the new perspective I have gained, the experiences I have had, and the people I have gotten to know better than before.