Travel Diaries: Bhurban and the enchanted snow

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Snowfall in Bhurban (photo credit: scribbleomaniac)

Last year I took a quick trip to Bhurban with my family. Bhurban is a small town and hill station in the Punjab province located at a height of about 6,000 feet. We didn’t have time to go for a grand tour, but we desperately needed a little expedition for a breather. I was about to begin my new job soon and it had been a nerve wrecking recruitment process really. After all that emotional drainage, I needed to step out of Karachi – my home city, which I dearly love because it is so happening and loud (except that it lacks greenery and beautification in abundance) and partly because I am way too loyal to it.

Anyway, so we took an early morning flight to Islamabad – the capital city of Pakistan. It just so happens that Islamabad serves the purpose of a stop-over for most of our local trips up north. We had lunch at a Chinese restaurant there and it totally sucked. So, we rushed to Bhurban , (which is only a 45 minute drive from Islamabad) without wasting any more time. Despite our many visits to Islamabad and up north, this was the first time that I was going to Bhurban.

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PC Bhurban – our abode for two days (photo credit: scribbleomaniac)

We lodged at Pearl Continental – (PC) Bhurban for the next two days that we spent in Bhurban. Being quite well-traveled by now (touchwood), I must add PC Bhurban was quite not up to my expectations. I am sure it must be rather lavish and quite the place when it opened up some zillion years ago, but I have a feeling they are a bit caught somewhere in time. To start off, they didn’t have clean pillows and bed sheets and the room floors were not properly cleaned/mopped daily. I never expected this from a 4 star PC chain of hotels honestly. Secondly, their staff in general was quite snobbish with an unacceptable attitude for being in the service industry. Oh and one more thing, they play this lousy music outside PC all day and all night. It’s not even soothing to the ears and it NEVER stops.

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Another click of PC Bhurban (photo credit: scribbleomaniac)

Anyway, we were kind of stuck and so we simply decided to ignore a lot of things while we were there.  We took a stroll outside and you can see some of the shots that I clicked during our walks. Bhurban is like a recreational, coffee hang-out place for people in general. People from Islamabad and near-by areas such as Murree take a little drive and drop by over the weekend only to have fun, sip some tea or coffee, click selfies and off they go by night time to their homes. PC Bhurban is open to visitors for this purpose for a meager entry fees.

On the first day, we had dinner at one of the restaurants in PC only. The food was good considering how disappointing everything else was. We relaxed in our rooms and called it an early night.

As if God understood how sad our little outing was turning out be, He gave us a surprise. The next morning, we were welcomed by this unexpected snowfall all over Bhurban. I went into the balcony and the view had changed drastically. The same place was all white and now I figured, this is what makes Bhurban so special, although we quite accidentally happened to witness this enchanting snowfall, thanks to mother-nature.

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Waking up to a snow laden Bhurban (photo credit: scribbleomaniac)

We couldn’t of course be inside our rooms after God had sent us snow. We decided to take a walk outside and man was it a great stroll or what. It’s these little adventures that make life so much more wonderful. I have to admit, I make most of my life-changing decisions in such moments. They clear my brain and allow me to see things in a different perspective. I may still struggle as a course of action, but I have never regretted my decisions amidst God’s heavenly creations. They are just too powerfully blissful.

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Whattay fun walk it was! (photo credit: scribbleomaniac)

We reached a club and walked to the local restaurant there. We literally paved our way because the snow level on the ground was almost 2 to 3 feet by then and in some places even higher. The scenery was exotic and mind boggling. We also met this sweet dog along the way who was such a lovely sight but hopefully, he reached a warmer spot to rest up as we said goodbye to him.

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The sweet encounter. My sister is ever so friendly with all the fur kids she meets. (photo credit: scribbleomaniac)

The food at the club was Pakistani to the core; freshly cooked and tasted so fine I couldn’t stop eating. I was freezing and I couldn’t take nice pictures to show you how good their food was, but trust me it was one of the finest lunches I have ever had in my life.

The next day we bid farewell to Bhurban and drove back to Islamabad. I have to admit, the snow did its magic and made my Bhurban trip so memorable, but I might really never visit PC Bhurban after my sorry experience (at least not on my expense). However, let me be honest, despite my negative review, it is the only decent place where most foreigners, corporate delegations, honeymooners and families prefer to stay while in Bhurban – and PC  Bhurban is quite well aware of the fact that they are the only available option in the market.

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The snow did its magic and made Bhurban so memorable (photo credit: scribbleomaniac)

When we came back and shared pictures of the snow-laden trees of Bhurban with our friends, they actually thought we went to Russia or some place in Europe. But, we were so proud to correct them and show-off that it is Pakistan. It is true, people have no idea how much beauty Pakistan has in store and sadly our state doesn’t do much to enhance tourism in every province. At least, through my blog I will do my bit of sharing how amazing Pakistan is.

Well that’s a wrap and I hope you enjoyed reading about my Bhurban journey as much as I loved writing about it. Please do give your feedback on how can I make things better on the blog – remember I am still a novice at this 🙂

Beauty and the Beast – A tale as old as time

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Few people in my life are aware of the fact, that as a child I showed immense potential of becoming a movie director. I was good at story-telling and movies were always a powerful medium that could not be ignored unless you’re maybe damn dead. Little did anyone know what the future had in store for me!

So yes, as I may put it, ain’t no glamorous shit happening here guys and movie making is way out of my line. Though still a fairly decent story teller, I have lost the nag of talking much. And movies, well, I just watch them…and watch them a lot!

Now that I have a blog up and running, I have decided to cover my movie reviews from time to time. Please don’t get me wrong, I am not an expert at this at all and there are plenty of reviews around (which are so boring, clichéd and in all honesty quite off) so I do find them misleading. However, the one reason why I want to write these reviews down is because I suffer from a short term memory loss; things (not people) often get erased from my mind and so these reviews are only a mere record for my memory lane.

There that I have it all clarified so I might as well begin by covering a movie that I recently watched. I hope you’re not going to take my words to the heart, it’s just my way of looking at things 🙂

Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast has been my ultimate Disney favorite since childhood. I have watched it probably a zillion times and can never get bored of it. So, when I heard they are making a remake of the 1991 animated film, I was excited. When I saw the first trailer, it did grab my attention. And now that the movie is out and we all know what a phenomenal success it is at the box office, we can’t deny that they did make something truly entertaining.

I am not going to talk about the story because who wouldn’t know that really. With a beautiful message of a simple girl having such a lovely, non-judgmental heart that she ended up truly loving a beast, but let’s be honest this is so far from reality. Regardless, it is this kind of love that makes it so enchanting and charming for the common peeps. Perhaps, the fact that such pure love is so rare is what really attracts us to it, in the first place. But we are neither Belle nor the Beast and that pretty much ends the discussion.

The movie was epic and they couldn’t have done a better job at it! I loved how the set designs and detailing matched the original and was not too superficial. Each and every scene was adapted stunningly as was in the animated film. The songs being an important part of the romantic were also not played around with and that made them fairly nostalgic (although I am not a big fan of having too many songs in any movie, be it a Disney classic even). My favorite numbers remained ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and ‘Something there that wasn’t there before’.

The choice of actors was smart. With such a stellar cast, each and every character was so meticulously selected keeping the original in mind and it was no surprise that they played their roles to perfection. I, in particular, loved Gaston (played by Luke Evans) who actually made the character even better than the original. He depicted self-love in a way that we actually enjoyed watching him rather than disliking him. Of course, the beast was and has always been my favorite both in the animated and the movie adaptation. Dan Stevens added his flawless flavor as the famous Beast and callous prince. From the opening scene till the closing, his attitude and dialogue delivery was impeccable and powerful.

Among the other characters played by Ewan McGregor (Lumière), Emma Thompson (Mrs. Potts), Kevin Kline (Maurice) and Josh Gad (LeFou) were so fine in their own special way. However, Ian McKellen as Cogsworth was a bit mediocre, looking back at some of his brilliant acts over the years.

The only character, I was not too pleased with was Belle (played by Emma Watson) because I feel they could have chosen someone way better than her. Unlike all the other actors who actually made the characters even better than the original, Emma Watson was not really close to Belle’s character at all.

For me Belle didn’t do well the very moment I saw her holding a book and she absolutely failed at personifying a well-read book lover. Watson acted just the way she acted in any of her other movies and for me she was an absolute downer. The only reason, I gulped down her presence was because one day before I had watched Kong: Skull Island and its female lead was so sad that Emma Watson seemed bearable in comparison – if that could be a reason at all to accept someone in such a crucial Disney adapt.

Secondly, the ball dance scene is supposed to be quite significant as it leads to the climax when the Beast sets Belle free, but when Emma Watson came down the stairs in the yellow gown, well, that bombed majorly. Though, I maybe too harsh for this comparison, but I immediately thought of how ravishing Cinderella looked in her gown from the recent remake when I saw Emma Watson, which was not such a great sign.

Anyway, I did ignore Belle for the most part and wished they had casted someone better, but well not much could be done about it. As it is for me, the movie was always more about the Beast and his people and they were absolutely amazing in every way.

Now, the only test is will I ever watch the movie again. I am not sure really but I feel, I might just ignore the Belle part and watch the overall fantastic film for the love of the Beast!

The Folly

Snapchat-2103790958I think it’s time,

To leave this path,

All endeavors gone sour,

Now gather your shattered heart,

Put an end to this folly,

On your part.

What would they know?

They be cruel!

Lies and deceit,

On which they float,

You were careless,

We warned you back then.

The world hears you not,

Blind it is,

Your tears and pain it ignores,

Now gather your shattered heart, my dear,

Put an end to this folly for good,

On your part.

A musical treat on Pakistan Day

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It is the 23rd of March, also known as Pakistan Day. Historically, the day marks a significant milestone for all Pakistanis when on the 23rd of March, 1940 the Lahore Resolution was passed. It was on this very day that the Muslim League announced at the Minar-e-Pakistan the establishment of an independent country for the Muslims of Hindustan.

Hence, the day is celebrated every year with the armed forces of Pakistan holding a military parade as part of the festivities. I cannot really say much about the patriotism that grows or sleeps in each one of us, but for most of us the excitement lies in the fact that it is a public holiday. While a majority of us patriots catch up on our lost sleep this day, most businesses come up with 23rd March coupons and discount offers to boost their sales and spread a little love here and there in the national spirit, if we may call it that.

Well, allowing my sarcastic self to rest for the day, I do wish everyone a very Happy Pakistan Day! I wish that our country prospers and stays safe forever. May we find good governance and honest leadership, but not only that may be all have the courage to love and respect our country genuinely in the years to come.

Today, I will leave you all with something absolutely Pakistani and a truly original musical treat. It was quite difficult to select only five songs, but I have tried my best to cover my favorite national songs from a gigantic list. While some I have grown up listening to, a few have recently joined the list for being absolutely fantastic. I hope you will enjoy them as much I do!

Junoon Se by Ali Azmat and Samina Ahmed

This song is from the movie Jinnah, which was one of the best movies on Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s life and achievements leading to the creation of Pakistan. Unfortunately, it is also, one of the most underrated movies in this regard, as Pakistani audiences were never really that receptive to it for reasons unknown to me. I, however, love this movie as well as this song to date.

Dil Dil Pakistan by Vital Signs

Talking about patriotic songs, it would be a cardinal sin to miss out Junaid Jamshed (JJ) from Vital Signs. Dil Dil Pakistan is a national song that changed our musical arena by miles and miles when it came out in the 80’s. Even as a kid, I remember how people went crazy after the band and this song. There is nothing I can say that has not been said or celebrated about this song before. Simply put, JJ was one singer who was unbeatable when it came to producing and singing patriotic songs. There was this honesty and passion in his voice, unlike anyone else in the country.

Jazba Junoon by Junoon

Junoon has been my favorite band and Ali Azmat is perhaps the only real rock star of Pakistan with a good voice in the real sense of the word, which is why I had to put this one on my list. Jazba Junoon is a song dedicated to cricket – a sport so passionately loved by Pakistanis as a nation. I remember listening to this back in 1999 during the Cricket World Cup and it still has the same goose bumps effect on Pakistanis when it comes to celebrating cricket. We are struggling to win yet another ICC World Cup since 1992, but this song is going strong still in the heart of every single Pakistani.

O Meray Yaar by Jawwad Ahmad

Since we are celebrating Pakistan Day, I wanted to include one song dedicated to our armed forces and this song by Jawwad Ahmad has that little extra something unlike the zillion of songs that give a tribute to our soldiers. I love the lyrics and the video both and I hope you will too.

Aye Rah-e-Haq Ke Shaheedo – Coke Studio version

Last but not least, here’s something new and extremely old. This song is the finest song dedicated to our brave soldiers back in the days originally sung by Naseem Begum, but I am sharing the Coke Studio season 9 version launched last year, because it is simply so bloody good! No one can NOT love this!!!

Voice of the Voiceless

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A glimpse of the Karachi Protest to end dog killings (via Pirzada’s Pets Clinic )

The week that passed has been a crucial one as people from different walks of life gathered on a single platform to protest against the unnecessary and cruel practice of dog culling through brutal shootings, poison and perhaps some other inhumane measures.

The community in Karachi and Lahore, though not that gigantic in size, but was determined enough to raise the voice for the voiceless.

As mentioned before, I’d emphasize again this horrendous act of killing dogs on sight is not required because every dog in the city is not ill, crazy or infected with rabies. Dogs do not attack people as is assumed by the general masses.

It’s sheer stupidity to believe that killing this entire specie will solve all our issues. No, it will not! In fact, science, research and history gives us enough evidence that wiping out any specie brings a disbalance in our eco system. Dogs clean up a lot of human mess and other smaller, dangerous animals/organisms in our surroundings as their routine, which once they are gone will keep on populating and eventually lead to unusual diseases or plagues. That, is what our lack of intellect is preparing for actually with the never ending exercise!

Being a Karachite, I can safely say we have bigger problems in this city such as the dire need of cleaner districts, access to clean drinking water, safer and secured lifestyle to name a few. Our city mayor, who is an arch fan of killing dogs needs to take a closer look at the city to resolve the real issues.

We need to be a little more educated on this topic. Dog killing is no solution…Trap Neuter Release (TNR) programs are the only humane solution. It’s a common practice globally to spay and release stray dogs and cats and we have plenty of veterinary associations who can actually work in collaboration with the government to make this program a success.

Apart from that, it’s time we need to educate our people, both the kids as well as adults through advocacy programs on animal rights to ignite the missing compassion. In Pakistan, people are quick to judge those who speak up for animal rights and instantly assume that these individuals don’t respect human rights. We need to get out of this shell of labeling which cause is more important, as they are equally important!

The issue has been covered both by local and international media for sometime. Here’s a report by the Daily Mail. Last month I shared a personal account of how our family lost our adorable neutered dog Angel due to dog shootings by CBC Karachi.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed on this one and hope this might help in ending the horrendous ritual of dog killings in our cities.

Travel Diaries: A Thai Experience

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Clicked while taking a late night walk at Patong Beach

A visit to Thailand is a must for all travel buddies. It is by far one of the most economical and adventurous travel destinations of the world both for younglings as well as the senior lot. I have visited Thailand a few times over the course of years and I believe all my trips have been quite enjoyable. Today, I’ll share some of the highlights of my Thai trips.

A lone trip to Thailand gives the feeling that one has championed the chart of independence and absolute confidence. Though, I would always recommend going with a group of friends for a safer and more pleasant journey. As mentioned before, you don’t need a lot of money on you for this trip. If you’re a working person, saving two to three salaries or utilizing that bonus, which  you were recently awarded, will easily cover your ticketing, hotel booking, recreation as well as shopping.

Though most people would only go and explore the beautiful islands and the exotic beach resorts of Thailand and happily return with an impressive tan while diving in the sea, I would recommend that whenever you’re planning a Thai trip try to manage your itinerary in a balanced way by exploring both the islands as well as the city life.  Bangkok, Pattaya city, Phuket island, and Patong beach should be on your list for sure.

It’s always best to start with the adventurous part with a visit to the beaches and the islands. I, in particular loved the Patong beach resort in Phuket where you can’t miss out on parasailing and the jet ski ride. Pattaya city, on the other hand offers similar tourist attractions, so it’s up to you how you wish to plan the trip. Do try a day package where you can visit several islands, each with their own specialty. It depends how much of a sea lover you are to experience such boat rides and island stop overs. One island trip was more than enough for someone like me.

If you happen to visit Phuket, a walk down the Walking Street at night time is a sure shot. No one should miss it. Don’t get overwhelmed when you hear ‘How much? How much?’ all around you. Do remember, prostitution is as common as the air out there so we must not judge anyone.  The best thing to do is to walk and observe, visit a few clubs and pubs. For girls, and especially younger ones, do go in a larger group, if you could, as there can be times when strangers start following you, so it is better to avoid such encounters by being a little vigilant.

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The leap of faith at World Bungy Jump, Patong Beach (that dude took forever to jump :P)

Also, if you are the adventurous sort, which I was till a few years back, you must try the bungy experience. I went to World Bungy Jump at Patong Beach for my first bungy experience. I was excited and it went pretty well. It was a quite a feeling…a feel free from the world, in just a matter of seconds kind of moment. Go for it, I say!

On the islands, I would seriously not recommend any shopping, because that can be covered in a substantial way from Bangkok or the main city areas, where you can go all wild on a shopping spree. Let me warn you, you might end up spending more than you planned, so be a little prepared.

Negotiation is the key in Thailand and does help immensely in how you end up shopping. The natives are not always very friendly but they mean business and want to make the most out of each sale, so a good bargain expert in the group can come handy here. A Thai trip is incomplete without the thai massages and there are a zillion massage parlors all over Thailand. Just one advice don’t go over board and be smart about your choice of spa as there are so many everywhere. Also, nail art and temporary/permanent tattoos are a Thai specialty, for those who are interested.

Some other places to visit include Ripley’s Believe It or Not, safari, the numerous temples and monuments, the Sleeping Budda being a crucial one. One thing to obviously experience is the Full Moon Party, another Thai forte that is pretty crazy and that will take you in a trance mode for so many hours.

I can never say much on the food part as I normally have issues with food. I am not such a big fan of Thai, Chinese or Japanese delicacies, so I went for Burger King and other such outlets. Starbucks never disappointed me ever and how can it.

This pretty much covers my Thai trips, but there is still so much more to be explored there with so many new tourist spots opening there. I  feel a quick Bangkok visit can be so refreshing every now and then not just to re-fill your wardrobe but just to step out of the home to take that little break, which we all need so often.

Travel Diaries: A trip to Malaysia

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It was in the year 2008 that I took my first international trip without my family.  I never really felt alone, because I went with a considerably large group of colleagues and business partners. As goes my story, it was yet again a psychotic working year for me with some nerve wrecking pressure on all ends. Thus, this was a rather pleasant break.

During my visit to Malaysia two things that I vividly remember about this country is the cleanliness I witnessed in every corner I visited and secondly how vital it was for the natives to be punctual at all times. We were young, stupid, of course excited and being Pakistanis time was least of our concerns, but our guide was quite harsh about it.  So strict that he would actually leave us and go on with the day’s tour plan. We, therefore, had to take his word seriously.

I want to quickly share some of the highlights of this trip today.

Needless to say that if you’re in Malaysia you have to visit the Petronas Twin Towers. I didn’t realize the big deal about them then, but they have their own charm, regardless. On our first night in Kuala Lampur (KL) we had dinner at a rooftop hotel from where we could see the beautiful view of the city’s skylines and of course Petronas right before our eyes.

During the next two days, which were no less than an army training (thanks to Mr. Guide), we visited Genting Highlands, the beautiful hill resort in Malaysia. My favorite place was of course the Genting Theme Park here. The rides, food, shops – it was all fantastic to put it mildly.

The last and third major attraction was a day trip to Sunway Lagoon Theme Park, yes the water theme park. I am not really a big fan of water parks, but I had the right company and I did have shit loads of fun here.

Shopping options are great in KL and I did most of my shopping from Suria KLCC and a few other malls. Food was not really a problem there for Muslims obviously, but my favorite spot was Burger King.

Just sharing that at that time, I didn’t carry a camera and as for my cell phone, though hard to believe, I was not too big on selfies or photography back then. Sadly, I was the fool who visited all these amazing places and didn’t take any decent picture. This was one of the reasons why I delayed my first travel post for so long, because I just wanted to kick start with my Malaysia tour (but with almost zero pictures) and then move further. So, folks spare me for not being too articulate and chronically correct here because I actually relied heavily on my memory here.

Looking back, this trip brings back awesome memories. It gave me the exposure and confidence that I couldn’t have gained otherwise. It was then that I realized how significant traveling is for one’s personal growth in life. As I was writing this post, I really had this urge to visit KL all over again and experience this beautiful country all over again.