Last week, courtesy of one of the companies I’m currently freelancing with in Athens, I got to attend the Europe edition of TBEX 2014.
It was another event that made me feel my age and the fact that I was firmly on the wrong side of 25. Not so long ago, I was asked at an interview why I didn’t have an Instagram account. At the risk of shooting myself in the foot here in case the person who asked me this is reading (hi!) the real reason I didn’t have an Instagram account until recently is because I have no time. The average selfie takes 16 minutes to perfect. If I had 16 free minutes lying around, I can think of a lot of other things I would be doing with them.
Anyway, suitably chastened, I now have an Instagram account. What I don’t have is a MacBook. I was absolutely surrounded by these at TBEX, while I bashed away at my trusty old Toshiba. It’s nearly 10 years old now. It’s not stylish and weighs a lot, but it gets the job done.
For those of you who don’t know, TBEX is the world’s largest travel blogger exchange. I admit, I had no idea it was beforehand. It was a strange experience finding myself among so many bloggers, and it had me wondering – at what point will the travel market become saturated? How many more accounts of twenty somethings travelling the globe does the blogosphere still have room for?
Plenty, it would seem. I’ve always loved talking to the well-travelled and picking their brains about their experiences. At TBEX, I met people who had been all over the world, and heard outlandish figures like 3o countries in two years, 100 countries before I turn 30, and so on.
I listened with interest, and the question I found myself asking again and again was “So have you been to Pakistan?” The reply I kept getting again and again was “No”. The only person who responded in the affirmative was a Turkish doctor who had not only been to Pakistan, but had spent a month in my God forsaken hometown of Bahawalpur in 1990. By even more freakish odds, he had studied medicine at Nishtar college, Multan, the very same college that my own father studied at. I couldn’t get over it. There are seven billion of us on this planet, but sometimes it feels so small.
Back to my question, I was sitting at one point with Laurence of Finding the Universe fame, and I asked my standard question. He hadn’t been to Pakistan either. He asked me “Is it beautiful?” I answered truthfully “It’s stunning. It’s one of the most beautiful places I have ever lived in.” Because terrorism, corruption and general misery aside, I honestly have not lived anywhere more beautiful than Pakistan.
Then he asked me “Is it safe?” I tried to reassure him that if you stick to the right places, it’s perfectly safe. Someone with blue eyes and waist length blonde dreadlocks would be best off avoiding the less well-trodden tracks of the land. Did I succeed in convincing him? I’m not sure, though he did say he likes a challenge, in answer to which I told him to Google the Kalash tribe of Pakistan. Not only are they a photographer’s dream come true, they are located in an area that is hard enough to get to even for Pakistanis, let alone foreigners. So, you want a challenge? There you go.
It is a little sad. Back in the day, Pakistan formed a trinity of countries that had to be visited along the hippie trail – Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. At TBEX, practically everyone had been to India, and no one had been to Pakistan, at least no one I met.
I’m not saying you’re not a true traveller if you haven’t been to Pakistan. I’d place the country somewhere in between North Korea and Syria. Travellers get major brownie points for having a North Korean stamp in their passport, but you would have to be mad to want to visit Syria at the moment. Somewhere along this compass of major street cred and absolute insanity would lie a visit to Pakistan.
There’s a Greek presenter called Mayia Tsokli. She used to present a travel show on the now-defunct ERT TV channel. She used to go absolutely everywhere – she even did one show from Afghanistan. A travel show. For Afghanistan. Who does that? No one except her, probably. But even she didn’t go to Pakistan. We’re like the South Asian travel arc’s booby prize – nobody wants us.
If travel is all about broadening horizons and pushing boundaries, then travel bloggers reading this, you should go to Pakistan. Seriously, email me if you want to find out more. If you can get past the hell of getting a visa, it’s totally worth it.