Wednesday, January 8

Film: Jojo Rabbit

Jojo is very good, but not great. This is a big shame, because it appears to have all the ingredients required for a modern classic - a good story, some great acting and bags of superfluous charm and smarts. But where a real classic would always be greater than the sum of its parts, Jojo doesn't quite manage to go farther than its own great production.

I guess that all a fancy way of saying that it lacks depth, and fails in fulfilling the promises that it makes. Take Adolf, the imaginary friend, for instance. Such a vehicle should have either been made a core part of the story or character - but here its actually just a bit of timepass comic relief. It's an example that's representative of the film as a whole.

But this isn't to say that the film is a failure. No, as I opened with Jojo is very good, and I'd recommend it to anyone. It's just hard not to consider the wasted potential it represents.

Tuesday, December 24

Film: Jumanji: The Next Level Click for more info

The (second?) sequel in the Jumanji franchise plays it safe. It is essentially a remix of the first (second?) film, with essentially the same plot, progression and hammy acting. Even some of the jokes are recycled directly from the previous installment.

But you know what? It didn't matter. If you're going to see this, then you'll know exactly what to expect; and that the film delivers on it all is no bad thing.

And that's pretty much why there's not much more to say about Jumanji 2 (3?). It's recommended to those who loved the fir... previous one.

Saturday, December 21

Food: Neat Burger Click for more info

I've been eager to try these new breed of meat like vegan burgers for a while, and although Beyond has been available in certain supermarkets for a while, it was only until I had heard of Neat Burger that I really believed I could give it a go. The marketing is a bit strange on this one though - when it was launched the restaurant was quite explicit in where the meat was from, with the Beyond brand plastered all over the menu. This has since changed to "Neat Meat", so even though I visited today I'm not actually certain that I've tried Beyond meat.

But perhaps that's not really the point. Regardless of where they source their patties, it's the end result that matters the most, as well as how Neat Burger is as a place to eat overall. The place is certainly clean, modern and, yes, neat, and although there's not actually any table service what is provided is with a smile. It being a hipster joint is most certainly reflected in the price, with my double burger with trimmings (I had opted for cheese and to make it spicy), but no sides, hitting the £10 mark. And yes, you need the double.

Which brings us to the food. Although it wasn't the best burger I had, and clearly wasn't meat, it certainly wasn't shabby. It had a overcooked texture, but I wasn't sure if that was due to the nature of the substitute or excess time on the grill. Otherwise it was tasty enough and I would be more than happy to go back if not for the price.

Thursday, December 19

Film: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Click for more info

You know, I'd be the first to say I'm more forgiving than otherwise with regards to this current trend of milking nostalgia. I enjoyed both TFA and TLJ enough for me to consider them decent films (although I also enjoyed the prequel trilogy too so...) Heck, I'm even happy to be described as a Star Wars apologist.

But try as I might, I just can't bring myself to defend TROS. I find it equally difficult to explain why it was so bad. Is it a hack job? A cash grab? Does JJ just not care? I sadly smile while I revisited my review of TFA which warned about Abrams' potential to ruin all our lives, and here we are.

It was just all so flat, so hum drum, so... convenient. I found myself thinking about the MCU, and how easily they managed to serve us such a rewarding experience - was it really not possible to do the same? I guess not, and it turns out that fanservice isn't easy after all. One highlight was Babu Frik, but it wasn't enough to save the film.

I'm even struggling to recommend this for a cinema watch, where the event vibe of such a release would compensate for any shortcomings in its quality. So no, my official recommendation is to not watch this, even if you are a die hard fan - it's perfect for a home viewing though, something to watch with that new Disney+ subscription you'll all be getting.

Tuesday, December 17

Book: Star Wars: Resistance Reborn, Rebecca Roanhorse Click for more info

It turns out that it takes an event to force me to read these days. Enter Resistance Reborn, a Star Wars novel set soon after the events of The Last Jedi and the Battle of Crait.

First up a spoiler: no, you don't need to read this book to get any insight into either TLJ or The Rise of Skywalker. Reading in that hope will, like it did for me, only result in disappointment.

The good news is that otherwise the novel isn't that bad. It's accessible, well written and manages well in the characterisation it offers to the reader. It's very much a "day in the life of a resistance fighter" kind of tale, and as such could be seen as quite flat, mundane even. But it's such a low effort and quick read that's not the problem it could have been.

Overall I'd recommend the book for those who want something to tide them over till the release of the next film, or just as a quick timepass for those who miss the SW universe. For everyone else there may be little to see here.

Wednesday, December 11

Film: Charlie's Angels Click for more info

I mean, for sure, Charlie's Angels is a badly made film. The editing is poor, the acting uninspiring and the plot passable. And yet... I really enjoyed the film.

Maybe it's the charm, or how easy going it is, or that it never takes itself too seriously, sometimes even going as far as to mock itself. It was very laugh out loud at times, and held a constant level of FGF.

It's one of those films that is much better than it has any right to be, and for me just about comes recommended. Just don't go in expecting Little Women, I guess.

Wednesday, December 4

Film: Frozen II Click for more info

It was in looking at Frozen II that I realised I had also watched the first in the cinema way back in 2013. I do feel that my opinion of Frozen has changed - it's a better film after repeat views I guess - and in an over-saturation of animated films it does sit quite high up.

It's ironic then that I could write exactly the same review for its sequel.

I still don't know what was missing: the lack of a decent villain maybe, or just the jarring pacing issues throughout. At the end of the day it just felt like an excuse for another Frozen movie, which if we're honest, it probably was. Still, Toy Story 4 managed to pull it off so there was no reason why Elsa and Anna couldn't have either.

There were some highs. The technology has improved and the film looks great - particularly the water (as boring as that sounds). Oh and that Chicago-esque 80's power ballad was definitely the best part and was possibly even what saved the film for me.

So yes. Frozen II is just another animated film, rather than a Disney classic. But hey, who knows? Maybe when the second sequel is released I'll appreciate the film before more.

Tuesday, November 26

Food: Mak Grillz Click for more info

Halaloodie burger reviews are more or less completely commoditised now, so I won't spend too much time subjectively talking about yet another gourmet burger place open in East London. So yeah - the service was great and more importantly the food didn't disappoint either. I went for the safe choice of a burger with turkey rashers and was sufficiently satisfied with the whole experience.

The price was middling which I supposed is a polite way of saying it was a little overpriced. A quid or so lower and Mak's could have become a go to place, but as it stands it ends up just another option in an already saturated and optimised market.

Film: Knives Out Click for more info

Although mainly billed and received as a throwback to the classic whodunnit genre, I would say that most assessments of that sort really aren't doing the film justice. In fact I'd go as far to say that Knives Out was a poor murder mystery - it was just contrived and convenient enough to always stay ahead of, so if you're looking for a chewy brain busting story to make yourself feel smart when solving... this isn't it. Similarly don't expect too many surprise twists or big reveals here.

But here's the thing: I really didn't mind because the whole thing was so much fun and a joy to watch. It was smoothly made (if you forgive some of the stretches it makes for the sake of the mystery), with some great shot work and as a commentary it managed a lot so concisely without being overbearing. Expect political satire, the contemporary mixed with old fashion and lovely characters just going at it. This is a film with a mansion, a murder mystery author, social justice warriors, alt-right trolls and even Instagram influencers.

I did have some issues with the film, but I can't quite say much about them without spoiling the film. But in any case they don't matter - as long as you're not dead set on a Poirot, you really can't get much better. Recommended.

Wednesday, November 20

Film: Le Mans '66 Click for more info

It pains me to start any review with a comparative, but Le Mans '66 (elsewhere known as what I see as the lesser title of Ford vs Ferrari) is just not as good as Rush - and that on multiple levels.

The film itself had its set pieces, even if they were alongside some wonky pacing. It was otherwise made well enough but overall misses the spice and energy that a racing film is supposed to have.

But more than that, its the rivalry that comes short in this film. There is not much of a "vs" in this film, with our heroes actually only ever battling their own managers and bosses. We don't even hear the opposing drivers talking.

I'm being unfair of course. Not every racing film can be a Rush or Fast and Furious, and if you don't look too closely Le Mans '66 is a decent enough time pass. It's just not a film that'll win any races.

Wednesday, November 6

Film: Doctor Sleep Click for more info

The best way I can describe Doctor Sleep is to call it an appropriate sequel to The Shining. Those looking for more Kubrick levels of cinematography and mindscrewery might find themselves disappointed - this is first and foremost a horror film from the modern era. The story and direction are all more explicit, and therefore I suppose far easily digestible.

And yet the film doesn't suffer at all for it. On the contrary I suspect if it had chosen to ape The Shining it would have been a bit of a failure. That's not to say it totally disposes of its heritage: there's more than enough fan service here to satiate all but the purest fans of The Shining.

So yes, all in all Doctor Sleep is a well built and enjoyable flick that gets my recommendation.

Wednesday, October 30

Film: Zombieland: Double Tap Click for more info

Quite shockingly, it's been a decade since the first Zombieland came out, and since I appeared to have enjoyed that back then (I can't claim to have remembered it, so thank heavens for this blog) I was mildly excited about its reprisal.

And Double Tap does a pretty decent job - the ten year gap has clearly stopped the producers from making this just a cash in, and instead we get a film that takes what makes the first so great and turns it up a notch or two. The cast are great, the story more than ample and the action firmly of the slapstick genre. At this rate in 2029 I might even be making a claim for best trilogy.

Fun, tight and well built Double Tap gets a recommendation from me.

Wednesday, October 23

Film: Terminator: Dark Fate Click for more info

Despite many flaws, Dark Fate does what the (first two) Terminator movies do best. They each portray a menacing chase against an insurmountable and never-tiring enemy only to come out tops at the end. In many ways then, Dark Fate is just a remake of Terminator 2. That isn't necessarily a criticism though.

Most of the flaws come from the story and perhaps the pacing of the film. The time travelling and other holes are simply magicked away (not least by completely deleting T3, Salvation and Genisys from existence), while some of the special effects fall short of what is otherwise a great spectacle.

It's easiest to consider the film a series of highly enjoyable and high adrenaline set pieces, and forgive the rest. And as someone who also doesn't mind a bit of fan service, the homages all act as the icing on the cake.

A recommendation from me.

Tuesday, October 15

Film: Ready or Not Click for more info

Apart from looking like a fun romp, I was particularly looking forward to Ready or Not due to it's lead actress, Samara Weaving. I felt that a lot of 2017's The Babysitter's decent comedy horror came from Weaving and hoped the same for this film. And it seems that it was a good bet to have made.

Ready or Not is a lot of fun. It's not the smoothest of films, but does have some genius within. It also doesn't pull any punches - I was surprised at its 18 rating but on balance it was well earned. It also manages to balance its simplistic set up with a rewarding enough payoff, although this is a film that seems to solidly follow the playbook so don't expect too much novelty here.

Ultimately the film, and Weaving, both do enough to earn Ready or Not a recommendation from me.

Tuesday, October 8

Film: Joker Click for more info

Joker is a good film. It's actually a great film. It's been wonderfully produced and the acting treads that fine line between class and comic that very few comic adaptations manage to do. It tackles some pretty high level topics like mental illness and civil revolution, and yet provides enough basic entertainment (be that comedy, drama or even violence) to remain accessible. It's multidimensional too, and gives the viewer plenty to talk about post credits.

The problem is that all these things make Joker merely a very okay Joker film. I'd even argue that it would have been far better, perhaps even reaching classic status, if the film was set outside of Gotham. As it stands the superhero (or rather supervillain) context is superfluous at best - and distracting at worst.

That said, with a bit of effort it's easy enough to ignore the comic book ingredients and enjoy the film for its good parts - a dark, sad tale about how an already disadvantaged soul is transformed by the harsh environment he lives in. And with that qualification the film gets a recommendation from me.

Tuesday, September 10

North Pakistan, Day Fourteen: Islamabad To The End

The biggest issue we faced today was the holiday. It was Muharram, so almost everything was closed. I'd even go as far as to say we became pretty desperate for things to do. In fact, I'd go further and even suggest that, respective to the rest of the trip, the last three days had pretty much stalled.

Our first attempt at visiting an attraction was the Pakistan Railway Museum. The museum itself was closed, but the station itself had plenty of colonial delights to offer us. It was actually quite enjoyable even though most of it was restricted for us. Perhaps just as interesting were the slums we drove through on the way; the first indication I saw of the poverty here in Islamabad.

We then went on to the Shakarparian Friendship Garden, where visiting leaders and dignitaries would be asked to plant trees. There were actually some big hitters named here, including various past leaders of the USA, China and Iran.

Next up was the Pakistan Monument. This was exactly what was said on the tin, although I have to admit the monument itself was pretty impressive - and informative if like me visitors take the time to interpret all the murals present.

We then visited Saidpur, which was esoteric itself even before you visit the Hindu temples at the end of the village.

Our next stop was our hotel to kill a couple of hours before heading off to Faisal Masjid to offer Asr prayer in congregation. This was another significant memory brought back, and considering it wasn't exactly a new mosque 20 years ago it was doubly impressive to see just how timeless its design still is.

Dinner was then at Monal on the Margalla Hills, which offered both decent food and excellent views of the capital. We managed to stay there for sunset so got Islamabad both during the day and night.

By the end of our meal we had all gone into clock watching mode as we counted down the hours to our late flight back home. Our driver took us to Rawalpindi for tea and pakoras, which in my eyes was definitely a bonus as I had never visited the much older adjoining city before (and in fact never realised how accessible it was from Islamabad).

And that was all we had left for our trip of North Pakistan. We did a lot; more than enough, and in some ways we had even done too much on a trip that might have better been served with repeated return visits. Then again, we do still have most of the west of the region to cover, so maybe these are lessons we can forward with us after all.

Monday, September 9

North Pakistan, Day Thirteen: Civilisation

We began the day with a visit to the Patriyata Chair Lift. This was a decent enough time pass, with the chairlift itself being more of an attraction than the park at the top. Unfortunately the second cable car leg was closed, and I suspect that might have been where the real views were offered. Ultimately though, I feel that we should have stuck with Neelum Valley.

We were now in Muree proper, and spent some time in Mall Road for shopping and ice cream. It was again nice to be back in the hustle and bustle of a tourist attraction, although I suppose we didn't spend enough time there to get bored. After that it was on to Islamabad, eating corn on the cob en route.

The rest of the day played out like a Islamabad checklist: we spent some time in Lake View Park, and had a quick drive by tour of all the various administrative buildings that you might recognise from the usual news channels and the like.

After checking into our final hotel of the trip, we went for well deserved chapli kebabs at Habibi's, after which we treated ourselves to a quick drive around Islamabad.

Sunday, September 8

North Pakistan, Day Twelve: Not in Kansas Anymore

Abbottobad was the final location on this leg of backtracking. It was there that we turned east toward Muree. The original plan was to visit the Neelum Valley, but given the current climate that was thought to be too risky.

This was an area near Islamabad that we had also visited all those years ago. Back then it was an exotic trip to the mountains - now it looks like a commercial suburb that the City Folk go to for a couple of hours' jaunt. If that sounds like a complaint, it's not - after ten or so days of road travel and sparseness it was comforting to be back on familiar ground.

We visited the Samundar Katha Lake, a man made lake-cum-park that was a bit of a bust even if you discount the single road lane bottlenecks going up and down to the site.

Back in Muree town, St Matthew's Church was closed, and many other sights were just overly bust due to the Muharram long weekend. Even when we popped out after checking in at around 8pm the place was still busy.

Saturday, September 7

North Pakistan, Day Eleven: Back to Backtracking

Today we continued with our backtracking, visiting many places we had already passed before, but of course this time in reverse order.

So we again saw Babusar Top, Naran (where we stopped for a pretty excellent lunch at the Mountain Top Restaurant), Kaghan (but sadly with no chapli kebab this time) and finally settling in at Bisian near Balakot for the night.

Friday, September 6

North Pakistan, Day Ten: The Long Road Back

A 4:30am start was required for us to take on the Skardu Road.

That said, any fears I had of becoming bored of the driving here vanished as we were treated to yet another winding, albeit very unfinished, mountain road. We stopped for breakfast at around 8:40am - or rather we decided to have breakfast while we were stopped by a temporarily closed road.

We stopped for a break at a PTDC hotel, this one with a stunning example of how obnoxious badly planned commode toilets can be. I didn't fit, and so I requested my preference of the squatting type.

Back on the road, and things still were not uneventful. Lots of roadworks, waterfall stops, valley-traversing-trolleys and even a landslide, all before noon. All that, and accompanied by some stunning views of Nanga Parbat.

Jummah was offered at the same mosque in Juglot that we visited what now seems like months ago. After that, it was more backtracking, and we finally reached Chillas at a decent hour where we had a night's stay.

Thursday, September 5

North Pakistan, Day Nine: Forth and Back

To start what could only be described as a day of time pass, we visited the Amburiq Mosque, said to be the first of Shigar.

We then travelled West on to Skardu for what was supposed to be a brief ATM stop but turned out to take over an hour. Still, we got to see the Old Market at least.

After a brief diversion to see a dried up lake and some sand dunes (and eat a bag load of Apricots), we continued to Kachura Lake.

The best thing about the lake? The fish lunch. Trout? Herring? I didn't care. It was great.

Interestingly I noticed a lot of polite yet very public instruction for women to wear and respect the hijab. I've yet to see any kind of similar material in Karachi. And it's probably going to get me into trouble to say it but the girls did appear a little more discreet this far north.

On the way back from the lake we stopped off at the Shangrila Resort where we paid 500 rupees each to wander its grounds. Needless to say this was a waste of both time and money. A late evening tea was had at the Skardu PTDC overlooking the Indus River. We took the opportunity to visit an exhibition on the K2 and the impressive services provided to those who wish to challenge the mountain. The sense of national pride was palpable.

We then headed back to Shigar, which was a little irritating as a big chunk of our journey tomorrow will be to retread most of the road that we drive today as we finally start making our way back in the direction of Islamabad.

Wednesday, September 4

North Pakistan, Day Eight: The Palace

Like Hunza, Shigar is also a "dead end" on our itinerary, a location from which we plan to turn back from. So we spent today travelling east for the last time, along what now seemed like a less exciting mountain road to Khaplu. I admit, I'm probably becoming desensitised to the mountains.

We reached Khaplu by 1pm, immediately noticing the Tibetan roots in the people here. The main point of interest here as the palace, one of the more impressive I've seen this trip. Unfortunately another sight, the Chaqchan Mosque, was closed due to a Majlis, so we had to make do only with photos of the exterior.

After lunch we headed back to Shigar, stopping off at Manthokha Waterfall for sunset.

It was quite the inefficient day, but in the same way easier than the most recent. We also returned back to our accommodation quite late, which among other things gave us a chance to finally see the stars... as well as the horrific aftermath of a car accident.

Tuesday, September 3

North Pakistan, Day Seven: The Great Plains

Another early start, this time continuing along the Astore Valley Road in the direction of Skardu. After a wrong turn (which honestly didn't actually bother us since any road offers unique views) we were back on track and reached the Deosai Plains by noon.

I guess as all great plains would, it seemed endless.

We spent what felt like many many hours crossing the plain into the Skardu Valley Road which matched, if not beat the Astore equivalent for sights.

We hit Skardu at 1630, which is when I realised that we weren't actually staying there - no, we continued on a little further to Shigar, where we found the fort we were going to stay in.

Yes, that's right. A friggin' fort.

Monday, September 2

North Pakistan, Day Six: Backtracking

After a touch of morning souvenir shopping we continued with the backtracking that had begun yesterday.

Even though it hadn't been long, and we hadn't really stayed much in these places, it was almost poignant passing back through the Nagar Valley and seeing Gilgit and so on. We eventually stopped for a Chup Sharo lunch we had taken away from Hunza at a little stop near Jaglot (the first one), before turning into The Astore Valley Road.

What a road. This was the quintessential narrow and winding valley road and offered us sights I thought I could only see in films. It was quite the road in other ways too; slow going, we finally reached Astore itself by 4pm.

We carried on to Rama for more vast views, arriving at our hotel for 5pm.

That was enough for today, and even not having any wifi, phones, or hot water didn't bother us... much.

Sunday, September 1

North Pakistan, Day Five: Hello China!

Today we headed north. Of course, we've always pretty much been heading north so on the face of it there's not much new here. The thing is, today we're heading as north as we can without leaving the country. As a result this is as far as we're going to go this trip.

On the way to the China border we stopped off at Lake Attabad to hear the story of the flooding of Gilmet and the rebuilding of the Karakoram Highway.

The rest of the journey was pleasant, yet varied. We stopped off at Khyber to eat apricots off the tree, and were fed some amazing rice when stopping off at a police checkpoint for the bathroom. It was another example of the continued hospitality we received on our trip - many conversations were essentially "Salaam, wasalaam, chai?" and it was endearing to experience.

We also spotted Ibex and Yak as our altitude increased.

It was around 1pm that we made it to Kunjareb Pass and beyond that, China. As an islander I've previously talked about my fascination with land borders, and this one was no different even though it was accentuated with, well, a mountain range.

Alas borders, natural or not, are a reason to change direction... and so the backtrack began. We passed back through Sost for a Yak lunch, and grabbed some Apricot cake at Passu.

Our final stop was to visit the Hussaini Bridge - ultimately just another rope bridge but the sunset we had while there was worth the stop.

Saturday, August 31

North Pakistan, Day Four: The Two Forts

We left Gilgit at a leisurely 10am under a surprisingly strong sun. Most of our driving time would be through the Nagar Valley, the start of which was marked by a visit to a woodcrafter in Jaglot (confusingly not the Jaglot we offered Jummah in yesterday).

After lunch we continued on to Hunza Valley, passing though Allahabad on the way. It was en route that we finally got to see our first glimpse of the 7.8km tall Rakaposhi.

Our first real sight was in Altit for its fort. This building was impressive enough, but it was also our first contact with local ethnic people who weren't your typical Punjabi that one would typically find in this region. Their Sheena language was almost musical.

Interestingly this was the first time we had encountered white tourists. Thinking about it I don't think I've ever met a white person in Pakistan, but its a testament to both how accessible the area has become, and how exotically it's now viewed, that Western tourism is now becoming visibly commonplace here.

We then headed to Karimabad for the Baltit Fort, and if I thought I had already witnessed the peak of the tourism in this area, Baltit proved me wrong. The fort itself was okay; larger than Altit but the latter was nicer in multiple way. Sunset was spent at Duiker, otherwise known as the Eagle's Nest, and we treated ourselves to some local walnut cake after dinner.

Friday, August 30

North Pakistan, Day Three: Passing The Heights

So much for sleeping well. Full body aches ensured a rough night. So an update to yesterday's conclusion then: both Siri Paye and Saif-ul-Mulk were ones to skip.

Given the above context, it wasn't a surprise that we needed an early start today, the day of Jummah. We made Batakundi by 8am, Lulusar Lake by 9.15am and made it over Babusar Top by 10am. This hit an altitude of 4km which we all felt after climbing even the most simple of stairs.

As we descended back to 2km the heat was also rising. From 14c at the top to 36c at the bottom it was fascinating to watch how the climate changed.

We were now following the River Indus, driving along the Karakoram Highway to just touch the edge of Chilas. We stopped to see some Bhuddist carvings at around 11.40am, and made it to Jaglot for Jummah at around 1pm.

We also stopped to see the confluence of the Rivers Indus and Gilgit, which is also where one can see the three mountain ranges of Hindu Kush, Karakoram and Himilaya. It was a significant stop, in weight if not physicality.

Our final stop was Gilgit proper, where we treated ourselves to Kashgari Pulao. On the way to our hotel we stopped for a quick look at the Kargah Buddha and Gilgit Bazaar.

Thursday, August 29

North Pakistan, Day Two: Jeeping Along The Mountain Roads

For our first real excursion we left the Prado behind and took a bumpy Jeep ride up to an altitude of 3km to visit Siri Paye. It was nice once we got up there, but debatable if the journey was worth it overall, especially since we had to make the same journey back down to Shogran at the end.

We then hit the road to Naran, stopping in Kaghan for another food highlight, this time some chapli kebabs. We generally avoid street food in Karachi, so this was truly us embracing the tourist trail.

A surprise awaited us at Naran: another Jeep ride up to Saif-ul-Mulk, for the mountain lake there. Although a highlight in many itineraries before ours, for us the visit was merely "okay". I tried to compensate by going off on my own hike but slightly over did it (let's just say a horse might have been sent for me), so all in all today was a bit of a bust.

On the other hand I will sleep well tonight.

Wednesday, August 28

North Pakistan, Day One: Hitting The Road, Running

Ah, Islamabad. The last time I visited this city was way back in 1990 - although contrasting then and now in my mind didn't really highlight any difference. It was the first time that I discovered that Pakistan was more than Karachi, and it was possible to have clean streets and low(ish) crime in this subcontinent country. A naive view would be to say that people actually gave a poo here, but dig a little deeper and there are real reasons for the contrast.

Not that we had much time to do a more through analysis; from the airport we made a beeline to Shogran, where we were going to spend our first night.

We stopped in Abbotobad for lunch. This town was still clean, and perhaps even more affluent than Karachi, although in many ways that just emphasised the rich-poor divide up and down the country. Oddly I saw no women anywhere and was surprised when we were asked to use the family room for our mixed group of 4 people, where we had quite possibly the richest dhal I've ever tasted (I could feel a heart attack coming on as we ate - not a good sign for day one of the trip).

Our journey took us through Mansehra, Bisian and Balakot. I've mentioned before how as I get on it becomes more difficult for travel to impress me. But this drive alone had enough continuous views and panoramas that never got old. I was in awe.

We entered the Kaghan Valley, stopping off at the Makayla viewpoint on the way to our final destination via a mountain road to Shogran, the cliffs so sheer and the valleys so vast that it became difficult to make sense of the perspectives and scales of what we were seeing.

And so we found ourselves in a little mountain resort, settling in for what we expected to be a rewarding slog for the remainder of the trip.

Tuesday, August 27

North Pakistan, Day Zero: Strangers at Home

Even though I average about one trip a year to Pakistan, two trips in six months is pretty unprecedented for me. But this wasn't a usual trip "back home" to Karachi, but an exclusive tour of the north of the country where we will pretty much stay as tourists for the whole duration we're there.

My preference would have been for an internal trip as a part of a normally scheduled Karachi visit, but that idea was vetoed. As such I am once again stuck in travel hell, and Gatwick will be my new home for the next month or so.

And let us not forget the recent change in the geopolitics of the area. A part of our trip has already been changed to allow for any sparking of violence; it remains to be seen if there is any further disruption to our itinerary.