Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Pakistan - the Second Love of a Latvian Backpacker

Artyom, the Red Bag and Karakoram
Artyom Kozmin is a young Latvian traveler who visited Pakistan during his big Asian road trip. He kindly wrote a piece on Pakistan experiences which is produced below (headings and captions are mine):

Hello everybody! Sorry for the delay and sorry if my English is not so clear. I will try to do my best!

First of all I would like to tell about the idea going to this trip around Asia. Sometime ago I’ve read a book about one traveler who managed to hitchhike around the globe in three years having only 300 dollars then he left his home. I’ve realized that I can do something similar. I’m young and have nothing to lose – no job, no wife etc. 

Looking at the map and reading different travel stories on the web, I’ve decided to go overland around Asia because it’s probably the cheapest region in the world. I’ve started in December that’s why I took a cheap flight to Tbilisi, Georgia, thinking that it would be snowy winter in Europe and it’s better to begin somewhere close to Iran.

So! From Caucasus plan was to go to Iran, Pakistan and staying in India for a while as you usually get half year visa. After, somehow, I need to reach South-East Asia (no plan yet), and coming back to Europe via China, Mongolia and big Russia.

Spent as less money as possible. I try not do more than 5 dollars per day. Hitchhiking and sleeping wherever possible without paying. Using Couchsurfing as well a as great chance to see real life of local people which hosts you. Learn their traditions and culture, hear that they think about their country and government. Couchsurfing is one of the best ways to travel for sure!

I did not know anything about Pakistan before coming here. All I’ve heard was this “Taliban stories”. So I was thinking to cross Pakistan as quick as possible. But as you all know reality sometimes is different from one you see on television. Yes, there are problems, but there is simple life as well in a country with more than 170 million people.
Artyom Roaming Arund Karachi in a Traditional Kurta
After second day in Karachi there I was also using Couchsurfing, Muzzammil brought me to a CS gathering where I’ve met a lot of nice people, who told me what’s going on in Pakistan, which places should I visit etc. I’m happy that I met all these people. Now I knew that Pakistan is all about. After staying in Karachi for a week I went up North to see Karakoram.  On the way I’ve visited Multan, where I played cricket on old main stadium, and Islamabad there I was staying in men dormitory.
Visiting Multan
An Evening at Badshahi Mosque Lahore
Shah Faisal Mosque
Before I’ve reached Pakistan I was hitchhiking all the way, but here everybody told me that it’s quite dangerous in Pak. So I was using public transport all the time. But after staying for two days in a village Jalalabad not far from Gilgit I’ve hitchhiked to Hunza all the way on top of the bus. Never felt so cold in my life. But it was just great! I had probably the best panoramic view of Karakoram!

Karimabad was totally empty. I was the first visitor in the hotel there I stayed since 5 days. But it was something I really needed. Stay in a quiet place hiking every day in the mountains. And the nature in Hunza is out of this world!
A Pakistani Truck
Truck Art
Going to Karakoram Roof-hiking
A View from the Truck Roof
Is This Colder Than Latvia?
On the way back I stayed in Lahore for 4 days. My host had to leave so he just explained there I can find the key from his apartment. So I was totally alone. Every day I went to old city there I was meeting different people on the street who were happy to see tourist in their city. Never had so many invitations for chai in my life!

Traveling in Style
In Iran I was robbed in a very stupid way. I was hitchhiking then it was already dark. All I had was my passport, money and good trekking shoes. Very dangerous mix! And yes, I continued my travel. After couple of days carrying toothbrush and piece of soap I realized that this is a great chance for me to travel with less things as possible. I’ve found a small cotton red bag in Bandar Abbas, and traveled with it till it got damaged. So I bought a used small backpack on flea market in Islamabad. It’s already 2.5 months as I’m “traveling with toothbrush” and it’s just great!

A Funny Experience in Karachi
First of all people who made my Pakistan part better as I could expect. Thanks to everyone I’ve met – from couchsurfers to freaky personalities on the street.

But there was one funny story in Karachi. Walking around the city I went inside one garden with an old mansion in the middle. There was a music video shoot there they saw me and asked if I’d like to participate.  It was fun. Quite good for a second day in Karachi.

Long live Pakistan! 
In the end in Lahore I’ve decided that I should extend my visa and stay for one more month in Pakistan. But as it was Friday and office was closed little bit earlier. So I got late. Eh, what can you do? Bad luck.

I fell in love second time in my life. Now it is Pakistan. And this is the first country about which I can tell for sure – I will come back definitely! Long live Pakistan! 
Artyom Kozmin can be reached at:

Monday, April 23, 2012

(Trip Report) The Gadani Graveyard of Ships

A Vessel Anchored at Gadani Ship Breaking Yard
Last week, I got the opportunity to visit the Gadani Ship Breaking Yard where big vessels are converted into scrap after exhausting their useful lives.

There were more than a dozen ships scattered on a scenic coastline; some had already been hammered while a few were waiting for their turn. It was amazing to see such gigantic structures turned into truckable pieces only with the help of human labor and basic tools.

Seth Orders

In clusters, those mammoth objects were visible from far, however, we were not sure initially which spot to select. One of the yards was walled and looked suitable to park the car but the security men there were reluctant to allow us inside because of the Seth orders. Most probably, those Seth did not want the external world to know the working conditions their poor labors are exposed to.

Luckily, one of the yards on the far end of the road had much relaxed security so we got the chance to see the big factory, or the converse of a factory plus a huge junkyard, from inside. We would have felt luckier if we could actually make into the amputated craft, which looked impossible without right connections.  

Where is the Nose of this Ship?
Here it is!
Another Liner Lined Up
The Rare One Has Already Lost its Walls
Steel - This is What All the Drama is About
Lifting it up
Going to the Sher Shah Kabari Market
Tax Payers Money; Who Cares

After spending a couple of hours Junaid and I decided to head back to the beach but a diversion on the way back - in the direction of the sea - tempted us to explore further. The paved road ended up in the parking lot of an inconspicuous building which was loaded with half a dozen double cabins and Prados. That was actually an advantageously located government rest house where the family of a minister from Quetta was relaxing at the expense of tax payers money.  

Out of Bound!
Not Recommended for Everyone!

As per Wikipedia, this is the third largest disbanding facility in the world so a highly recommended site for those who are interested in big objects and their engineering. With appropriate preparation, the trip can be clubbed with the beautiful Gadani beach killing two birds with one stone.

How to Get There

The place is around one and a half easy hour away from Karachi city center. Take the RCD Highway and continue past Hub city till you see the Gadani Police Station sign on the left hand side of the road. Take left and continue until the board appears mentioning Gadani beach on the right side while the Ship Breaking on the left. Continue until you chose a spot of your liking.

Gadani Junction on RCD Highway
Take Left for the Ship Breaking Yard

Monday, April 2, 2012

(Ticketing Secrets) Visiting China, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysian, and Sri Lanka in 1 Return Ticket from Pakistan!

Ghulam Abbas was planning to visit China to attend a business exhibition and taking the advantage of this opportunity he wanted to explore as much as possible and that too without breaking his pocket.

Somehow he ended up at this blog and then approached me to help him out crafting an itinerary. 

Just to mention, Abbas was initially quoted ~PKR 80,000 by a local travel agent for the simple return ticket to Shanghai, China.

At the end of the day we together fabricated an itinerary that covers around 5 countries, using the ITA Matrix Software, with a saving of ~PKR 20,000 on the quoted ticket.

And believe me, this is no rocket science:

Step 1: The Simple Return Ticket

First we used the Matrix to find out options for a simple Karachi-Shanghai return ticket with flexible dates.  Sri Lankan Airlines came out to be the cheapest option:

May 16 Karachi – Shanghai (via Colombo)
June 2 Shanghai – Karachi (via Colombo)

The fact that the Sri Lankan Airlines flies via Colombo gives an assurance that atleast one country, i.e. Sri Lanka, can be added to the itinerary without significant additional cost.

Step 2: Making it Open-Jaw

In addition to Shanghai, Abbas also wanted to visit Guangzhou for a business call, which he plans to do by road/train.

Luckily, Guangzhou is also served by Sri Lankan airlines, which effectively means that Abbas does not need to travel ~1,600 km back to Shanghai to catch the return flight.

So using the ‘Multi-city’ option, we got the following solution without any additional cost:

May 16 Karachi – Shanghai (via Colombo)
June 3 Guangzhou – Karachi (via Colombo)

So the ‘Simple Return Ticket’ is now converted into an ‘Open-Jaw Ticket’ as it allows to land into one city and flies out from the other, without any additional cost, hence saving the backtracking cost, time, and hassle.

Step 3: Adding a Destination

As mentioned above, Colombo is one obvious destination to be added:

May 16 Karachi – Shanghai (via Colombo)
June 3 Guangzhou – Colombo
June 7 Colombo – Karachi

The additional cost turned out to be less than PKR 3,000 mainly on account of airport taxes. Not a big cost to visit a gifted country like Sri Lanka, by the way!

Step 4: The Real Value Addition

A detailed peek into the Sri Lankan Airline ticket revealed that the Colombo – China flight actually takes a stopover in Bangkok, potentially adding one more destination to the same air ticket.

So, we used the ‘Multi-city’ option again and got the following result:

May 16 Karachi – Shanghai (via Colombo and Bangkok)
June 1 Guangzhou – Bangkok
June 11 Bangkok – Colombo
June 14 Colombo – Karachi

This time, the additional cost to the ticket turned out to be PKR 2,000!

Step 5: The South East Asian Surprise

Abbas was still not satisfied. And how could he be? He knew that South East Asian countries are well connected and it is now easier, read cheaper, than ever to hop between the tropical destinations.

So he planned to use the Bangkok stopover to also visit Singapore and Kuala Lumpur using the budget airline; Air Asia:

May 16 Karachi – Shanghai (via Colombo and Bangkok)
June 1 Guangzhou – Bangkok
June 3 Thailand – Singapore (Air Asia)
June 6 Singapore – Kula Lumpur (by road)
June 10 Malaysia – Bangkok (Air Asia)
June 11 Bangkok – Colombo
June 14 Colombo – Karachi

Obviously, Abbas had to arrange visas and book the Air Asia flights separately, however, the total cost of all the air tickets is still slightly less than the cost of the simple return ticket quoted by the travel agent initially.

Important Notes:
- Dates used are imaginary to keep the privacy; however, the ticket is still valid till the posting of this blog.
- Matrix Software does not support booking; however, the extracted details can be used to let the travel agent booking a ticket. Usually, a Passenger Service Fee (PSF) applies ranging from PKR 2,000-3,000.