Adnan Afaq, living in Lahore had worked it all out. He even hosted the group at his home. It was all possible due to Sobia Maqbool who was studying at Harvard. The duo had worked things out together. She was doing her Masters in Public Administration, Harvard, Kennedy School of Government (2017).
As Sobia put it:
“From a casual conversation between two friends about going on a road trip together to explore the scenic northern areas of Pakistan, Adnan Afaq, CEO of Pakistan Credit Rating Agency, and I, then student of Harvard Kennedy School, pursuing my Master’s in Public Administration, took along 30 Harvard students on a once in a lifetime journey exploring various seasons, landscapes, people and tastes of Pakistan.”
When Sobia joined Harvard in 2015 she saw that there were trips being arranged by different groups of students to most of their home countries. She was upset to realize that there had been no trips to Pakistan. She reached out to Adnan, who was equally disturbed. An avid traveler, Adnan immediately offered to help arrange a trek to Pakistan. Together, they decided to create an itinerary that would provide the trek participants a unique opportunity to be able to gaze deep into the soul of Pakistan and gain access to an insider’s look into the lives of the locals. Adnan and Sobia wanted to create a journey filled with diverse experiences for the trek participants – from the food they ate to the people they interacted with and the landscapes they breathed in. The main idea was to give them a flavor of Pakistan. (Yummm we all know what a great flavor it is, in every sense.)
Finally, two visits have already taken place. In 2016, eight students came, and in 2017 there were over a hundred applicants and finally twenty-two came. There were students from Germany, Spain, Venezuela, US, Korea, and non-resident Pakistanis.
Adnan believes that as time passes, these students will be finding their own niches in their fields. Soon they will be climbing up corporate ladders or working with governments. Many leadership posts will be occupied by them. After such a trip, they will be better informed about Pakistan and its’ potential. Hence they will be in a position to take informed decisions, having first-hand heard the geo-political narrative of Pakistan from inside Pakistan.
Naturally, arranging a trip of this nature is no joke. Well, Adnan wasn’t one to be daunted by this aspect, and went ahead. He arranged a trip which would include Lahore-Islamabad, Gilgit/Hunza and Karachi.
Highlights of the eight-day trips:
- Adnan and his wife Naina, were the host family, and helped in every way they could. Nainas’ cooking did full justice, I’m sure. They arranged dinner with live music. Politicians, social workers, friends and family were invited to provide students the opportunity to engage with people of different background. They even celebrated engagement of one of the students with local traditions.
- Two of the group participants cooked breakfast for the entire group one day at Adnan’s residence – they were certainly getting the flavor of actual home life in Pakistan.
- Meetings were arranged with: Shahbaz Sharif, Imran Khan, Gen Shamim Wynne, CEO of The Citizens Foundation, Babar Ali, meeting a jewelry designer – Manizhe.
- Conducted tours to: clients of DAMEN (an NGO engaged in micro-finance & related activities), EDHI center, LUMS, NCA.
- Tonga and rickshaw rides in the cities of Lahore and Karachi.
- Karachi: Mohatta Palace, Mangroves plantation and walk through the mangroves.
- Tour of old city of Lahore: Lahore fort, Badshahi mosque, Wazir Khan mosque, Shahi Hamam; Wagah border ceremony.
- Islamabad: Faisal Mosque and Saidpur village.
- Gilgit and Skardu: hike to Passu glacier, tour of Baltit fort, tour of Altit fort, Attabad lake, Eagle’s nest. There was riding and dancing with the locals too.
Such efforts really need to be applauded.
Of course all of it didn’t work out perfectly. During the 2016 trip, flight from Skardu to Islamabad was cancelled due to bad weather, which meant they had to come back to Islamabad by road. On the way there was a bad landslide, which separated members of the groups, and included hours of waiting and injuries for Sobia too. However, what would a trip of this nature be, without a touch of adventure in it?
It went off rather smoothly most of the time. The Pakistani hospitality at all socio economic levels was much appreciated by the members. Even the locals of Hunza once took a few in, and entertained them with whatever was available in their humble homes. This really touched the students. One of them mentioned “I’d heard of Pakistani hospitality, but never realized the extent of it.”
In the end, it all worked out beautifully. The visit, gave the Harvard students not only a bird’s eye view of the country but personal viewpoint at all socio-economic levels.
It thrills me to know about such things, as it is the only way to make a statement; by giving the experience of it all.
Life is changing, scenes are changing, and thankfully enough, some of us can opt to be the change we want.
It’s all up to us. As we can see Adnan Afaq and Sobia have managed this wonderful visit of the students. All on their own initiative.
Stay blessed, my Reader. Travel, see the world, meet the people and make your own conclusions. Don’t listen to the media too much! (I wonder if blogs are ‘media’ too???) Well, as I’m saying ‘seeing is believing’. When you go, keep that lovely smile on your face. Go with your heart and eyes open. That’s the only fun way to travel. 🙂
Note: Photographs of group provided by Sobia Maqbool, and four pictures by Waliya Najib Khan of Northern areas visited by the group.