The blue couch in my living room holds testament to all the major events of my life in the past few years. When I first bought it, I was conned into wiring 7K to a prank caller who I assumed was my carpenter. Yes, my life is strung with such stories.
And the most important ones always revolve around this tufted blue denim couch. It’s a modified copy of a West Elm one, only cheaper and sturdier. There isn’t a stain that a pail of soap water and some old rags can’t weasel out of it. It’s an old friend.
And a friend it has been. The past few weeks have perhaps been the most difficult ones for me in recent years. All through them, I lay curled up like a ball, sharing my pain with the blue denim that took my tears one by one. K on one end, I on the other. I’d find solace in Shamsie and he in PUBG.
Later, when things started to look up a little we decided to watch each and every movie directed by Wes Anderson. I had never watched a single one and so we’d plop on the couch, a box of cajun chicken pasta between us and revel into a world of colors and words, one scene at a time.
Life is inching towards normalcy again. And yet, there is a void in me. A void that the blue couch bears witness to, a stain that can never be wrung out, a story that never completely ended. I don’t know when I will be able to talk about it or even if I will. When I sit to write, I can never seem to be able to write about anything else and so I try distracting myself with stories of blue couches among other things but all things circle back to the void.
K might kill me for this sudden bout of honesty but we shall risk it, shall we? The thing is we both like cheap thrills! Just like the song. No, I lie. He won’t kill me, he’ll just spend more hours playing PUBG. That might just be worse. I digress.
Four years ago, when I moved to Pakistan we almost never had a car to ourselves. We were just kickstarting our careers, managing rent, gas money and horrendous cafe bills.
Now and then we wanted to escape the city, run up to the mountains and breathe real, smog-free air for peanuts. There was limited info available online on travelling within Pakistan but we are persistent people and we, you guessed it right, like cheap thrills. We made it to the north regardless. The next couple of blogs are our attempts at providing you with the necessary information on how to get to the mountains on budget, without a car.
I am kicking off this series with a guide to getting to Changla Galli. For two consecutive years, a mutual friend, K and I travelled together to Changla Galli on my birthday weekends. While it doesn’t have any hiking trails or mind blowing sceneries, it is a perfect weekend getaway. We are talking no crowds, good food and walks in the mountains and under the most starry sky you will ever witness.
First Leg: Getting Out of Lahore
There may not be a bus going straight to the Gallis but there is always a bus leaving from Lahore for Rawalpindi and there are many options to choose from.
Daewoo bus service is great if you’re looking for reliability and when you have time to call in advance and book your tickets. The bus takes you straight to its Rawalpindi bus terminal with a one 15 minutes stop over at Siaal.
However, if you are on a tight budget, get to the Niazi Bus Terminal . You will find many affordable options, cheaper than Daewoo. The only bus service I have used from here in the past is Skyways. Buses departing from this terminal will drop you off at the Faizabad bus stop in Rawalpindi.
If you took the Daewoo bus from Lahore and have arrived at their Rawalpindi bus stop, hop off and get on the shuttle leaving for Murree. This should cost you about Rs. 150. You will need to take a cab or get on a local bus to get to Changla Galli from Murree.
If you were being a true local and have found yourself at the Faizabad stop after taking one of the busses from Lahore’s Niazi Bus terminal, cross the parking lot and spot the black taxis. Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate! A cab shouldn’t take cost you more than PKR 3000 and it will take you straight to Changla.
You can also wait for the next local bus. Theses busses run from both the bus terminals in Rawalpindi and through almost all of the Gallis enveloping Murree.
The local busses charge 150 – 200 rupees per person and are not as comfortable but a great option if you are a single girl travelling alone or travelling with people from the opposite sex who you are not related to. We have been stopped too many times in cabs on the account of me travelling with two men.
Pro tip: Try getting to Rawalpindi during the day if you are planning on travelling cheap and local.
Note that the local busses do make multiple stops. The driver will tell you how much before you board. You might not have space to sit but this is cheapest and safest option.
Mode of Transport
Rawalpindi to Changla Gali
Cab or local bus
35 minutes to an hour
PKR 150 – 3000
Third Leg: Accommodation & Food in Changla Galli
Arrived? Drop off your bags at the hotel and head out for food. My advice: Date a man who smells good food from afar. K discovered this dhabba at Changla that we love! Two men manage the roadside hotel and make food to order. We usually stick to fries, pakoras and vegetable curries but we have had kickass mutton roast here too! On average, a plate of vegetable curry should cost you anywhere between PKR 80 – 150. There is no way for me to describe the exact location of the spot but it is opposite the only grocery store in the Galli. If you are reading this blog, you cannot come back without trying the dhabba.
But first you need a place to drop off your bags. We always stay at a friend’s vacation house in Changla and we love love love it there but there are two hotels to pick from: Mahgul & Le Grand. A friend had previously stayed at Mahgul and he advocates it. His room rent was 5500 PKR per night. It might have gone up. The friend in question is ancient. Remember you can always share rooms and ask for an extra mattresses!
Go get on that road!
PS. The same bus that goes to Changla Galli will take you to Nathia Galli, Doonga Galli and all the other ones. I am always a comment away. Let me know if you have any questions! Hope this was helpful!
You! Yes, you! You ought to be on a date with yourself right now.
How many times have you treated yourself and only you alone to a nice meal at a good eatery, devoured every bite, jumped into the umami and bounced back into random thoughts, treasured memories and maybe (just for a little time) the realm of Instagram or Twitter? Mind you, I don’t consider Facebook and Snapchat sacred enough to pierce into the me-time bubble. But seriously, how many times?
It is about time, you plop yourself on a bar stool or sit cross legged with a book and lose you to you. It is important, well deserved and much needed. We are constantly texting, snapping, talking. Give yourself a break, take out time for you and enjoy your own company. It’s a meditation of sorts. It is life changing.
All I am trying to say is you ought to disconnect to connect. Confused? Here’s where you want to roll on your first date with yourself in years:
Model Town Park
I am going to say it out loud, confess. My idea of romance includes long walks restricted to the side of Race Course Park that borders G.O.R. If you’re a Lahori, you’ll be judging me at my choice of a date spot but this is not a date with your significant other, it is one with yourself. Go on over to Model Town park. Take a journal, a coloring book or just your thoughts. Stretch them legs. Maybe vent out on a sheet of lined paper, or write a letter to yourself? Let lose the inner you.
Pro tip: Go in the afternoon. No one will notice you. All the men will be too engrossed in their burqa clad dates to oogle. Yes, ’tis true. There’s a reason I chose Model Town Park over Race Course for this one.
Mocca – Mall One
Welcome to the cafe with ah-mazing coffee, bland food, gazillion charging outlets and pretentious people pretending to work on their MacBooks. Up on the rooftop, past dinner time amidst the smoke and the shop talk is where you might want to find yourself on a weeknight for the place never discriminates. It is the only place in the city where sitting alone is actually the norm. It is cool. It is expected. It is appreciated. You won’t feel like the odd one out. Just don’t order anything other than drinks. Take my word for it, pretty please.
Rina’s Kitchenette – Gulberg
I have talked about Rina’s before too but it is both super close to the heart and home. Confession: I am mildly obsessed with this place, head over heels in love with their smash burger and equally crazy about their buttermilk fried chicken sandwich. I mean I suggest you go here to establish a relationship with food and just you. Pure bliss. What else does one need in life? Okay maybe a few texts from your favorite person while you dig deeper into your slice of nutella caramel cake. But just that. The waiters are extra ordinarily nice and the best part is the communal table. I just love it. Things to try: Everything. Okay, maybe not steak and eggs. The American in me gets offended by the portion size of the steak, every time.
Jade/China Town – Kasuri Road
There was a time when K and I were gaga over China Town. We had approved of one another over a serving of beef chilli dry. The twinkle in his eyes at the sight of a cream cheese filled french toast still amuses me but that’s for another day. China Town’s house special soup and beef chilli dry are great for a proper date with yourself. Put on a red lipstick, sit on their comfy chairs with your legs crossed and think about random things like how yogurt came into being. Soon you’ll be devouring fish crackers and peanuts. Later, you’d be so lost in the food, you won’t realize you are alone. Stagger out with a full belly to Jade and ask for their kickass Masala chai. You’re welcome.
Araamish Spa – Gulberg
Yes, I know it’s getting expensive by the day but it is still my favorite place around town to be on Saturday mornings. Think of it as prepping for the week ahead. Get yourself a manicure or a massage. Loosen those knots. Let go. I sometimes go just for the complimentary tea and organic eating options and take a book along. Ps. Check out their trainee packages. They are just as good and fit right in the budget too.
The first time we locked hearts was over China Town’s Beef Chilli Dry and Delicatessen’s Nutella Crepe. We had stared at food in unison with googly eyes and subsequently stumbled upon the realization that we had found our respective companion. It’s been three years now and we celebrated the date of his birth with s’mores and homemade mac n’ cheese this weekend. Needless to say, I’ve smothered him and now feel akin to that extra dose of maple syrup drowning a beautiful golden French toast in all its sappiness. Am I calling him a beautiful golden French toast? I embarrass myself at times. I embarrass him too. And before I tell you that tonight I plan on shaking off that nauseating smitten self, I will let you in on a secret.
You don’t need to start a bonfire to enjoy s’mores, neither do you need special equipment. Find a terra cotta pot in your backyard. If you’re feeling a little giddy, paint over it. If not, just line the pot with aluminium foil, throw in a bunch of coals and get the party started. You’d need marshmallows, chocolate, digestive biscuits and lots of nauseating sappiness before you give up on the idea and realize that you’re going to suffocate him and yourself. Till then, keep looking at him googly eyed. He’s worth it!
Call me frugul but I window shop at Habitt and do the actual shopping at a landa. Don’t get me wrong, Habitt is all dreamy and glitzy but I’d rather shell that money out on food and technology than spend it on plates, pans and fondue pots. Oh! Wait! Habitt doesn’t sell fondue pots. A shop at the Haji Camp Landa does.
My first year in Pakistan, K and I located three shops at the Haji Camp Landa that carry old telescopes, vintage suitcases, buddha statues, cutlery, crockery, paintings etc etc. We went there week after week, sometimes for curtains, sometimes for mason jar mugs and sometimes for Ikea lamps. Since then, we have discovered the Daroghawala Landa, the Mayo Hospital Landa and the used stock piles at the Pioneer store in Main Market, Gulberg.
If you can buy it cheap and good, why give into all the drama of great packaging. By shopping at the landas, not only do you get a chance to support small shop owners, you also get to buy good quality items that have stood the test of time. And yes, all that jazz is from Europe. Think about it, landa shopping or London shopping?! One and the same, my love. One and the same!
Gourmet Bakery maybe all glory but trust me! I’ve had enough of it. When I first landed in Lahore to live by myself, it was during Ramadan. A mutual friend, K and I would scour the city looking for suitable housing and Gourmet was our prince in shinning armor. Suprizingly enough no real estate agent earned that title until Shauki Boy sauntered into our lives a year and half later.
The thing about Shauki Boy is he’s got no office and he’s no real real estate agent. He’s someone’s guard who looks up housing for people like you and me – the outcasts. The boy doesn’t judge. Tell him you want your freedom, friends from the opposite sex staying over, separate entrance, the life, the works! He won’t bat an eye. He’ll just get to work. Out of the 100 houses he will show you, you will only like 2 to 3 but know that he’s got your back. And no, he isn’t a boy boy. He’s an old man!
Shaukat Real Estate Agent: 0300-4156691
Note: Always ask for a separate electricity/gas meter when renting a space for yourself. Real estate agents get half of the rent as their payment and the landlord gets two months rent as advance and one month’s rent as security when you finally settle upon a place. Come out clear early on. If you’re going to have parties, be honest. At the end of the day, its your house. You’ve got to be able to live on your own terms.
I scare me at times. I had taken Woolf too literally when she had said that a woman must have money and a room of one’s own if she is to write fiction. I threw three cats and no fiction into the mix and am living my own interpretation of her famed essay. Though I’d like to think I’m living a beautiful Austen story instead, except I’m not. I am yet to master the art of silence, of punctuated breaks and articulated thoughts. I pour my heart out over texts, essay after essay sent to his inbox. And before he has the time to read the love letters imploding his phone, I send another one for silence scares me. I try to fill it, the harrowing silence, with words. Words upon words. And let me tell you a thing about words. They become meaningless after a while when you use them to fill voids. They abandon you. You’re left with empty syllables, a pinning heart and emojis for answers. These late night blunders, words thrown into black holes are coming back to haunt me. Even the cats are judging my sanity now.