A 21-year old embarked on an adventure to explore the country – only to end up discovering herself anew
Imagine a 21 year old woman in Pakistan leaving her home one day in an attempt to explore the country. Now imagine where she will live, what she’ll eat, how she’ll manage her expenses – assuming she has no one to support her.
It is difficult to imagine this.
My decision to spend my gap year from university away from home was a strange one for my family and friends to fathom. During my gap year I had two options in front of me to take: either to continue staying in the safe bubble my parents had created for me, or, to go out in the world and learn to face it alone. I chose the latter.
On August 10, 2020, I decided to venture out of my hometown to live on my own in Lahore for a while. Little did I know that I wouldn’t be staying in Lahore for more than a week. After a week, life took me to Islamabad.
I asked my parents to send my bike to me and thus began my journey of self-exploration by travelling around the country.
From Punjab to Islamabad, from Kashmir to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and from Sindh to Balochistan, this journey was full of lessons. It healed many past traumas. Every destination healed something deep down inside of me and my perspective on life started changing.
Money was, of course, a hurdle. I took care of that by giving Urdu language tuitions online. I started recording my journey in Vlogs and noticed that people actually liked my account of my experiences.
Staying in Islamabad gave me the confidence to live alone. It was the first place where the boundaries of my well-nurtured thoughts began coming down. It was there that I slowly started realising that it is possible for a woman of my age to live and enjoy life on her own terms. It is a beautiful city with so much to explore in its surroundings. There were days when I would be on streets motorbiking till 3am and there were days when I went to my bed at 9pm sharp. I had the freedom to be myself in this city. The most enriching experience was to see mountains in the dark while biking towards Monal – very scary when I first began but later it became a weekly ritual.
Living in Islamabad is not easy for a person like me who loves human interaction. In the federal capital, people mostly live in their work bubble. It is not too easy to make friends there. I don’t see a point in travelling around the city alone because I think it is the people who make a place worth exploring. But one of the good things about Islamabad is that there are many good touristy places nearby.
I loved exploring the surrounding cities during my stay in Islamabad. On a motorbike trip to Abbottabad, I stopped at the magnificent Khanpur Dam on my way and the beauty of that place was enough to overwhelm my senses. Abbottabad is an amazing place to visit over the weekend, if you are in Islamabad. One can indulge in things like paragliding, parasailing and cliff diving there, apart from meeting and conversing with the locals who are some of the most welcoming people I have had the pleasure to come across on my travels – always ready to help you with anything. I learnt that you need to be vigilant in these areas. It is a good idea to never spend a lot of time alone at deserted places especially when you are travelling alone.
I have travelled all over the country on my bike, alone. But Kumrat was the only city that I had to embark upon with a travel agency, mostly because it is difficult to navigate the valley without a tour guide and proper vehicles for the rough patches. Kumrat is a step into another world altogether, cradled snugly by water and mountains. Wherever you travel, you can hear the raging water following you, and the spectacular glaciers mesmerising you with their serenity from afar. The highlight of most of my trips has been to connect with the locals. I have learnt that most people have similar dreams, no matter where they live. Most of the locals that I met on my travels told me about their dreams, I told them about mine and we formed a quiet, invisible bond.
If you want to witness cultural diversity then you must explore Karachi in its entirety. Karachi, is almost a mini Pakistan where people belonging to different ethnicities, religions, languages and social classes live together. Sea-view is not as bad a beach as it is often made out to be by those who live in Karachi. I thought it was pretty clean and worth spending a good few hours on it. The food was not extraordinary although there is much hype around. Haleem, biryani, kebab, tikkay tasted like they do at our homes in south Punjab.
After a brief stint in Karachi, I began my journey towards Quetta. From my reading about the tribal traditions, I had assumed that there would be no women on the streets. However, I saw more women on the streets in Quetta than I did in south Punjab or KPK and never faced street harassment during my three weeks in Balochistan.
The breathtakingly beautiful mountains with scant greenery; popular picnic spots like Spin Karez, Hanaa Lake and Peer Gaib - there is so much to explore in Balochistan and then there is fabulous food. Chalo Kebab and Rosh were the two dishes that I loved the most. I prefer staying with a family I know in the area or at a university hostel. It saves money but more importantly, it is safer for a girl travelling alone.
I have travelled alone to 22 cities in Pakistan. Though I did not participate in any adventure activities on these trips, for me travelling alone was an adventure. I have been working on my social enterprise, KhudKaar, which aims to alleviate poverty. Travelling gave me the chance to meet and interact with people living below the poverty line in different cities of Pakistan.
Karachi is empathy. Lahore is life. Islamabad is freedom. Quetta is beauty drenched in pain and Kumrat is peace. I recommend travelling alone to every woman because it changes you. You must never compromise on your safety and should take all the precautions but for once, breathe free. We are surrounded by monsters but we can fight them. I have still not found who I am but I realise the potential. It is time to get back to work and do wonders. I am limitless.
The writer is a traveller and a student of law. She also runs a social enterprise helping women and vendors in underprivileged areas