I arrive in Lahore, my first visit to Pakistan and I am here to install a Hunter Grinders Series 5 Jupiter, and provide training for the greens staff. A driver has been sent to collect me in a Suzuki 4x4, and off we go from the airport down a sliproad to the motorway ... and come face to face with a wagon coming up towards us! My driver swerves, avoids the lorry, and slips onto the dual carriageway with a loud and cheerful "Welcome to Pakistan, Boss!"
And so the scene is set. Several near misses later, having dodged oncoming traffic, gone around roundabouts the wrong way, overtook, undertook, ran red lights, and avoided all manner of obstacles in the road, we arrived at the first police block. At this point, the driver went faster (causing a minor panic to course through my veins), and didn't stop until we reached a military check point. This was my first taste of how the military run the show, not the police.
Defence Raya Golf and Country Resort is owned and run by the military. The 'Brigadier' rules and, although rarely seen, is constantly being used as a threat by Course Manager, John Tate, to get things done; "I will let the Brigadier know that you refuse to fix the pump"; "Wait till the Brigadier hears that you can't deliver all of the fertiliser needed". It seemed to do the trick, the pump got fixed, and the fertiliser got delivered on time. If it wasn't so sinister, it was like threatening children with dad's slipper.
The 'Brigadier' also opened doors for the trip to the infamous Wagha Gate, VIP style. We raced through the streets of Lahore, complete with military escort, full sirens blaring, motorcycle lights flashing, and with little consideration for anyone in our path.
I stayed in a villa near the golf course with other operatives, including the golf course construction manager and the architect. Each day of my five day visit I was protected by an armed guard outside my door and driven, under guard, to the greenkeepers' sheds. John assured me it was merely for my own peace of mind, and because the 'Brigadier' insisted that I was to be given full military protection at all times.
The others ate in a communal area with food prepared by the resident housekeeper, but John preferred to send out for a takeaway curry every day! Usually, this was chicken and seemed to be based on the principle that nothing should be wasted, including every part of the chicken I would rather not mention. Needless to say, my stomach rebelled pretty violently.
Work started at around 4.00am to avoid the incredibly oppressive temperatures of around 40 to 45OC and 90% humidity. The sheds were concrete and tin and, although modern enough, had no air conditioning. Even at this early hour, I could only work for an hour before retreating to the only air conditioned room (John's office) for a refreshing ten minute coffee break.
The staff were brilliant, willing to learn, eager to please and very stoical about their conditions. Everything is about making do with what's available. For example, I needed a driver or spline shaft to drive a unit. One of the men handmade one there and then out of a metal bar. All by hand, no lathe, just patiently working the metal into the required shape and size. They were a pleasure to be around, full of jokes and good temper. One character, who spoke good English, translated on the first day but was nowhere to be seen on the second. It turned out that his brother had been stabbed and killed the previous night. He was back on the third day without a word. Welcome to Pakistan! Brutal yet human.
After five exhilarating days, I headed back to the airport, where my bags were whisked out of my hand by a complete stranger. An instruction to "follow me" was obeyed without question. My bags disappeared and I was led through rooms and corridors until we reappeared at security ahead of a huge line of fellow passengers. Suppressing my embarrassment and natural desire to apologise for jumping the queue, I turned to my benefactor who held out his hand. Just before I reached to shake it, he said "you pay me dollars?" He had to settle for the ten quid note burning a hole in my pocket, which is probably a month's salary for him, if the truth be known.
Back on the plane at last. Did I mention I had travelled Pakistan Airlines? Don't ever do it, unless you like curried scrambled eggs for breakfast - and I only know that because it was still on the seat from the last passenger!
I was the only non-Pakistani, English speaking person on the plane, which came in handy because it got round that I could fill in the UK entry visa cards. A queue rapidly formed and, being the helpful chap I am, I advised a would be visitor to the UK that it would be better if he didn't state he was staying in the UK for four years, when his university invitation was only for eighteen months!
And, finally, I was glad to be of help when one passenger asked which of his two passports looked most like him (although neither did) for getting through passport control.
I am a seasoned traveller, but I have to say Pakistan was a unique experience, a mixture of fear, humour, generosity, bizarre characters and, above all, good natured, lovely people.