| It seemed simple yet instinctively wrong to bail an international flight mid-way. But we had nothing to lose and much to gain—if all went well, we would save time and ultimately end up in the northern part of India where we were headed to begin with. The only hitch was getting our baggage—checked through to Karachi, we would have to intercept its travel upon arrival in Islamabad.
Delighting in our rebellious scheme, we didn't much notice the seven hours that passed until the familiar woman's voice came on again. "Ladies and Gentlemen, Inshallah (God willing) we will soon be landing in Islamabad airport." Inshallah, our plan would work, I thought. Local time was 6:30am; according to our guidebook, we would have until 2pm to reach the Pakistan side of the border crossing.
Inside the terminal was a reassuring amount of chaos—a sign of normalcy, nothing extraordinary as a result of the coup. I'd found and filled out an entry card during the flight, so as the first to reach the 'foreigners' line, I handed the official my documents with a look as though I'd arrived at my final destination. He asked no questions, stamped my passport, and waved me through. While Gregg filled out his card, I wandered over to baggage claim.
By the time Gregg joined me, I still hadn't seen any 'Karachi' tagged luggage appear on the carousel. We found an airport official to help out, quickly explained that we wished to take a bus to Lahore instead of flying. He checked our tickets and asking nothing more, radio-ed to the baggage crew to retrieve our luggage. It appeared what we were about to do was uncustomary, but legal.
We passed through customs without issue, changed a little money, and ventured into the tourist office just outside the terminal. Within minutes we were following our taxi driver out to his cab, on our way to the bus station. We met the our bus to Lahore on the road before reaching the station, filling the last two seats in the back. A half hour later, both our heads were bobbing with the motion of the bus—spontaneously coming to Pakistan was apparently not thrilling enough to keep us awake. I would wake up for seconds at a time, straining to see outside only to register that it was in my best interest to stay asleep. Without fail, each time I looked, we would be passing traffic down the center of the unmarked highway, heading straight-on towards oncoming traffic. At this sight, I would squeeze shut my eyes and hold my breath, reducing the elaborately decorated Pakistani carrier trucks to mere flashes of color.
Four hours later, we stepped off the bus into a sea of anxious rickshaw drivers, circling us like vultures. A few attempted to make off with our backpacks, which were being passed down from the roof of the minibus. A much needed toilet stop was out of the question; the dozen sweating faces demanded to know where we were going. Beyond them, the incessant horns, dust and exhaust urged us to hurry.
I suppose we might have decided to stop and see a bit of Pakistan properly; we were afterall in Pakistan's 'culture capital', Lahore. But 3-4 days seemed pointless, any longer undesirable—we were anxious to get to our intended destination, the Tibetan plateau of Ladakh in India, before autumn's departure made it unfeasible. Besides, we did not want to underestimate the threat to our safety in light of recent events. Voices expressed in the few papers we read on the plane suggested that things were under control; Musharraf's actions were even welcome, at least temporarily. Still, we wouldn't want to be the unfortunate victims of any anti-Americanism. (While writing this story, attempts were made to blow up the American Embassy in Islamabad.)
A harried fifteen minute ride in the thick of noon traffic and heat deposited us at Lahore's train station. We'd missed the train to Amritsar, the holy Sikh city across the border in India. We would have to go by two buses to the Pakistani border town, Wagah.
On our first bus were two teenagers, one eager to practice his English with us. He told us he and his friend were studying computers—Fortran—at the nearby college. They were both good sports about sitting sandwiched between our packs on the overcrowded bus. When the bus attendant came around collecting the fare, we realized we had no more small change and would have to break a big bill when we got off. We asked our young friend to translate, but instead, he paid for us and the seats our packs occupied. We insisted on paying him back but this seemed only to encourage greater hospitality on his part; escorting us to a bus going to border, he explained that as a Muslim it was a great honor to help guests to his country, and promptly paid our fare to Wagah. We thanked him, took his address, and promised him a post-card. As the bus pulled away, we turned to look out the broken back window—large pieces of jagged glass poking out omniously—and waved goodbye.