Returned with Love: My experience of visiting Pakistan

As an ardent supporter of Indo-Pak peace and having many friends in Pakistan, visiting Pakistan was a long-awaited desire for me. Having worked actively as a member of Aaghaz-e-Dosti, a cross-border Indo-Pak friendship initiative, I didn’t have many pre-conceived notions about the country. I was far too excited that I would finally visit Pakistan.

The literally golden opportunity was an academic conference on inclusive education that was organized by University of Management and Technology (Lahore). When my co-authored paper was selected, I and my friend Madhavi Bansal knew that this was only the first step forward. The second and most difficult step was getting a visa. Our apprehensions were right. The struggle for visa comprised of standing in a long queue outside the embassy waiting endlessly, being on the verge of rejection with a host of terrible sounding suggestions that are not listed on the embassy website, troubling our hosts with emails to intervene more and offering daily prayers. To our great surprise celebrated with tears of joy, we were finally granted the visa to visit Lahore.

Interaction at resource academia school
Interaction at resource academia school

The moment of crossing the border filled me with emotions. The white line on the border reminded me of Manto’s stories, especially of Toba Tek Singh. I imagined seeing the spot where the story had concluded. I was to cross the border and enter the land which is prejudiced, which we have been taught is different and opposing.

In a span of six days, we were to discover if this was actually true. While we had been talking to people from Pakistan through our peace activities, the people would mainly be those who were already convinced somewhere about peace so this was the first experience of interacting with people who may have had no experience of interacting with Indians. However, as expected, it largely turned out to be a myth.

Because of our language which was apparently “Urdu”, people could tell that we are non-Lahoris, but we being Indians was not what they would imagine. We were travelling in a rickshaw. While directly, the driver smiled at some words that I used and I thought that he had found out. He asked me where we were from and on discovering that we were Indians, his eyes widened and he exclaimed, “Masha Allah!” He said that he knew that we were not from Lahore but had thought that were probably from Karachi. He shared that his grandparents had migrated from India. He told that both Hindus and Muslims prayed to God but only used different words and that there wasn’t really a difference. “There is no hatred but politics”.

The expression of disbelief, the wide eyes and giving us a second look when we would inform people that we were Indians were unforgettable and something that I enjoyed. After they found out, they would change. They would become more welcoming towards us. We were invited for lunch at home by complete strangers.

Even in the university, the environment was way beyond friendly, it was quite special. There were people who came for our presentation only because we were Indians. A more special thing was that before our presentation, the moderator of the session welcomed us with a quote of Mahatma Gandhi. We were cared for far beyond what we could ever expect.

Interaction with students of excellent education centre lahore
Interaction with students of excellent education centre lahore

Besides the university conference, our other main focus was to meet our friends and interact with people. We got the opportunity to interact with school and college students. The interactions helped me to know how people of Pakistan, especially the youth thought. People of both countries hold stereotypes and misconceptions about each other and the reason is that there are very few platforms to know each other. The sessions, thus, helped to answer the curiosities. We were asked about different religions in India and I informed that India was a land of religious diversities just like Pakistan. The constitution of India even legally recognized and respected agnostics and atheists. Similarly, a student in Punjab University asked about Pathans in India. They inquired about how they were perceived. There were questions on how Pakistanis are perceived in India, how Pakistanis serials and movies were seen there. And I spoke about the success of Zindagi channel that has provided a great alternative to the never-ending and boring saas-bahu sagas that dominate the Indian TV industry. For movies, there is still a big void and people hardly know the great movies that Pakistan has produced.

What also came out of the interactions was that youth of Pakistan, like youth of India, are not much aware of the issues, the complexities yet embroiled in the conflict, in the culture of stereotypes sustained by the biased media and lack of people-to-people contacts. In Punjab University, over the discussion on the restrictions of visa, a student justified the city-specific visa by saying that Indians would come and spy on our weapons. Another important part of the discussion was on the role that people can play in improving the relations. Interestingly, I was asked the same question during a discussion in a university in Gujarat (India), some months back.

The questions that we were asked in Pakistan were exactly the same as asked during discussions in India on this issue. This shows that people on both sides are curious, have the same apprehensions, perceptions about each other. Having these interactions also helped as they highlighted the fact that on both sides, people preferred peace over conflict. The students were excited to hear us and wanted to interact and connect personally.

While the six days in Pakistan gave way to new bonds, it also strengthened the existing ones. While Lahore didn’t seem much different and definitely not part of a different country, my friends, three of whom came all the way from Islamabad and one from Peshawar made sure that it didn’t even seem like a different city. Six days in Pakistan and few hours before my scheduled departure, I was wondering if I could stay back even for one more day – this says enough of how Pakistan treated me. I came back with new thoughts, knowledge to break some more stereotypes and more importantly, a new strength to work for peace between the two countries. Let people of India and Pakistan meet and I am confident that each one will pen down a similar story.

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22 Comments

  1. student says

    Excellent

    1. Devika Mittal says

      Thanks!

    2. Corlis says

      Devika, Thanks for sharing your story. You lived there 6 days, we lived there 820 days. And, I totally agree with you. My life will not be the same in the future without the Pakistani People. Oh, yes, the Pakistani’s have their ways, but so do all other nations. Love peace, Archbishop Corlis Lee Dees II

  2. Syed Ali Shah says

    Devika,

    I am glad you had a good time in Pakistan. Its not about being indian or pakistani, Its more about being a good soul and a bad soul.

    Any good soul will find thousand ways to love other beings and any bad soul will find thousand ways to spread hate. Matter of fact is, at any given time, there are more bad souls then good souls in the world.

    Level of badness varies though depending on innumerable factors (very comprehensive topic). it starts from just being a nosy person to someone who commit crimes against humanity.

    I can just keep writing about it……….. but let me just end my comment by congratulating you on giving me an opportunity to connect with a Good Soul like yourself. God Bless you.

    1. Devika Mittal says

      Thanks Syed Ali ji and I agree with you! Thanks for your appreciation 🙂

  3. Zak says

    Glad you had a wonderful time here.

    1. Devika Mittal says

      Yes, thanks 🙂

  4. Madeeha Kafeel says

    Dear Devika,
    The way you have penned down your story is very impressive to read. I’m so very glad that you have enjoyed your stay here in Pakistan.
    Best Regards

    1. Devika Mittal says

      Thanks Madeeha for your appreciation and yes i loved visiting Pakistan and hopefully will visit again and soon! 🙂

  5. gunjan shah says

    Beautiful read! hope even i get a chance to visit pakistan someday! 😀

  6. Shalini Bajaj says

    Dear Devika,

    Read your article….Beautiful !!!
    I am travelling to Lahore next month could you please let me know about the formalities at Wagah Border. I have already got my visa to enter Pakistan.

  7. Devika Mittal says

    @Gunjan Shah Thanks and I hope you visit soon 🙂

    @Shalini Thanks for your appreciation and great to hear that you will be visiting Lahore! Do take the sponsor/invitation letter as they do check, passport, the visa information forms, copies of the docs that you submitted for the visa (just to be on the safe side). Immigration is pretty simple.. we had reached amritsar through train and then took a taxi to wagah. We showed all the docs, had the polio drop, several times we were asked our purpose of visit and what we carrying in our bags though they didnt check (but they can check). On the pak side also.. the same procedure. Only repeated questioning and checking of passport. Since we were crossing on foot and as there are no taxis on pak side, our hosts had to come to pick us on the border. Do not carry too much of indian rupee.. there is a limit. Also, it is better to carry US dollars and convert it in Lahore.

  8. Pakistani says

    I am glad to hear that you visited Lahore and appreciate you views about peace between both countries.you should also visit the beautiful city ofIslamabad next time.there should be more people to people contact to overcome the misconception..

    1. Devika Mittal says

      Thanks 🙂 and yes insha allah! I really want to visit islamabad, one of the many reasons being that my best friend lives there! And yes i agree… the cruel visa regime needs to be toned down and more and more opportunities to facilitate people-to-people contact in real or virtually needs to be explored.

      1. Asad says

        Hi Devika,

        I agreed with your words. Next time whenever you want to visit Pakistan, must visit Naraan Kaghaan, Skardu, Gilgit, Islamabad and Karachi. You loved it believe me.

  9. Returned with Love: My Experience of Visiting Pakistan | Demos

    […] This article was published on Dunya News Blog (Pakistan) […]

  10. farheen nasir says

    While reading all this, it seems like I was also travelling with u although I live in lahore 🙂 Your words are depicting your emotions! I am glad you enjoyed here.Hope one day I got a chance to visit dehli and Mumbai and meet my favorite stars Karan tacker, krystle dsouza,shabir ahluwalia,sriti jha,Sanaya irani & barun sobti. 😀

    1. Devika Mittal says

      Thank you Farheen ji.. i hope you may get the chance to visit delhi and mumbai and also to meet all your favorite stars very very soon 😀 🙂

    2. Jay dabholkar says

      Farheen ill call u big sister bcoz i am still 19years old i want to visit lahore bt dont know how should i come there pls help me by details

  11. Jay dabholkar says

    Devika its my wish to visit pakistan . The first stamp i want on my passport is of pakistan pls say me how can i go there here there is no one to help me for information

    1. Devika Mittal says

      The best way to travel to Pakistan is the conference visa. I would advise you to find a youth conference, paper presentation, MUN to visit Pakistan. Kindly read this for some basic information and help https://aaghazedosti.wordpress.com/indo-pak-visa/ Hope this helps 🙂

  12. AMOL N. AMBEKAR says

    Verryyy Interesting..!! I was very Curious about Indians who traveled Pakistan and their experiences.. I found dis article and I was very Happy..!!! Very glad to read each and every line of your article..! I am basically from Maharashtra and want to visit Pakistan once..!! Thanks for sharing your beautiful experience..!! THANK YOU SO MUCH..!!!

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