Alistair Caldicott

Batting for Pakistan

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14 - Last Days in the Mountains

I wanted to take a flight back to Peshawar.

You have a chance Sir.

These were the parting words of the man from the Riverside Lodge as I set out to attempt booking a flight. Unsurprisingly, there was a long queue for ticket reservations and plenty of paper being handed out. It felt like a raffle, but promised to be a bit of a lottery.

As everyone waited, each new arrival was greeted by everyone else. After shaking several hands, I became weary of doing this. Until, without realising, I found myself shaking the hand in charge of the Pakistani International Airlines main office. I kicked myself for not greeting him as enthusiastically as I should have done.

Around me on the walls of the airline office were exotic poster style pictures of global destinations. I only wanted to go to Peshawar which by aerial comparison felt like just down the road.

Their slogan was, Great People To Fly With.

But not to attempt reservations with or buy tickets from, I felt like adding.

Buying an airline ticket was not straightforward.

Yes, cannot reserve, but must buy ticket later.

Very well. Thank you for your help.

I felt like reminding them, as it stated on my police registration form, I was a colonel. And, if necessary, I could have shared my well rehearsed knowledge of the British royal family with whoever could be most influenced by it.

That wonderful multi-purpose phrase I had seen on one of the countrys faded tourism posters flashed back to me - For Fast Acting Relief, Try Slowing Down.

It should have been the countrys national motto. To go anywhere or do anything always felt so unnecessarily protracted. The confusion was purposeful. There was propulsion, but it did not always have forward momentum or dynamism.

Eventually, I received my piece of paper. It told me to come back at 2:30pm. This allowed just sufficient time for me to slope off back to my favourite teahouse and watch England lose eight wickets in a dramatic batting collapse, even by their standards, against Pakistan in the next one day game.

2:30 pm. I hauled myself all the back to the airline office, which was some way out of the centre. Joy of joys, I had an actual ticket. But it was scribbled with something about a bad weather warning. I would have to come back again the next day to confirm and pray for clear weather.

On my final day in Chitral, I bumped into the only other tourist I had seen for days. Typically, he was another Englishman doing his best (or worst) to escape watching England playing cricket. His name was Adrian and he was from Sheffield. He had also been labouring to obtain a plane ticket for a few days after my flight.

I thought my bumpy overnight bus journey up from Peshawar had been an ordeal, but his experiences sounded even more torturous. He had travelled across the mountains from Gilgit over the 3,800 metre Shandur Pass. It had taken him days, some of which were spent walking as the transport options petered out. On one vehicle, there had been a very strange and unpleasant smell inside, which didnt seem to go away. It was only as he went to get off that he noticed the layers of crusty vomit on the back of one of the seats. He seemed grateful to have made it here.

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