Over the last year I’ve been eyeing my college friend, Maryam Khan’s Facebook newsfeed green with envy (and very excited that I now had a new place to visit someone I knew). Besides going to college with me, Maryam also lived in the apartment across the hall during my brief stint in a closet-sized bedroom in Gramercy. Now her life seemed to be filled with gorgeous vistas, bright smiles and decadent mosques. So, when she announced on Facebook she would be launching a new @capturePakistan instagram account, I decided to catch up with Maryam and see what she was up to. As a side note, I was quite keen to do this piece as I believe it to be one of the fundamental principles of what ’N A Perfect World… is all about. Challenging preconceived notions, breaking the mold, going off of the beaten path.
‘N: Where are you from? / Where did you grow up?
Maryam: I was born and raised in Lahore, Pakistan.
‘N: Where do you live now?
Maryam: As of last year, back in the hometown!
‘N: Why did you move there?
Maryam: After college in Massachusetts, I moved to New York and lived there for four years. It was an intense, exhilarating and exhausting experience all at once. By then, I’d lived away from Pakistan for about 9 years. I knew I wanted to be home while I was still in my 20s to reconnect with the place I grew up in, and on a professional level, to scope out the social enterprise landscape.
‘N: What is your favorite part about life in Pakistan?
Maryam: It sounds cheesy but the people, and by that I don’t just mean my family and friends. Life here can be messy and chaotic and you can forget all about personal boundaries the moment you land, but through it all there is an electrifying humanity. Pakistani’s are warm, they care about you, and they’re hilarious! Everyone is always down for a good time or a laugh no matter how down and out they might be. No occasion is too small to celebrate, no time of the night too late to grab a cup of tea. Moving from New York, where I was walking around with “busy” blinders on too pre-occupied to appreciate the small things, it has been a really great experience to re-learn how to be present.
‘N: For first time visitors to the country what are three places / areas they must visit?
Maryam: I would say Lahore is a must because it’s the cultural capital. It’s an old, stunning, lush green city with epic heritage sites (including the Badshahi and Wazir khan mosques) old-school bazaars, and the food here knocks it out of the park. Then, the Northern Areas of Pakistan are an absolute must see. These include – but are not limited to – Swat, Hunza, Naran, and Gilgit-Baltistan. I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel to some gorgeous places in my life, but the north of Pakistan still possess the most breathtaking natural scenery I’ve ever seen. Finally, I would say for a totally different feel, fly down to Karachi, by the coast! Lahoris are a little jealous of Karachi because it’s the cosmopolitan cousin. It’s a bit of a paradoxical city because although it’s sprawling and cramped, Karachi has a laid back and easy going vibe with fun beaches and excellent shopping and food. I would add though that its best to be visiting someone who already lives in Karachi because of the iffy security situation.
‘N: Pakistan packing tips: What are 5 must-haves for packing for a week in Pakistan?
Maryam: It reaaally depends on the season. By the way, can I add that I love we have four seasons here. In general, the best time to come visit the cities is between November and March although the Northern Areas should be seen in the summer. In the winter regardless, bring jeans, boots, sweaters, a jacket. People often underestimate how cold it can get in Lahore. If you’re planning a trip to the north, throw in hiking shoes and a down jacket. oh, and always keep a pair or two of heels — you’re definitely going to need them. For the summer, loose cotton anything is your best friend. tees. mosquito repellent. sunglasses.
‘N: Tell us about Pakistani cuisine. What’s a dish that I have to try in Pakistan?
Maryam: I know I’m biased but I truly think Pakistani food is the best. Unlike in India though, it can be a bit harder for vegetarians here although they do some good things with spinach and lentils. If you’re not vegetarian though, you should plan for a carnivore carnival all day everyday. Its really hard for me to choose but I would say, you have to have try real Pakistani BBQ which is accompanied by hot fluffy naans and flaky parathas. Or okay wait, biryani which is a one-pot mixed rice dish that any Pakistani would tell you is best made by their mother.
‘N: Tell me about @capturePakistan? Why did you decide to start this instagram feed?
Maryam: @capturePakistan is an instagram account curating pictures of cool things and pretty places in and around Pakistan. I started it for two reasons. First, I wanted to challenge the general image people have of the country. Forget that media portrayals of Pakistan aren’t always too kind, infact, often they’re very insultingly for Pakistanis who are very proud of how beautiful their country is, even the landscape they show on BBC and CNN is grim. Pakistan is a stunning and diverse country. We have deserts (and they’re gorgeous), but we also have forests, and rivers, and a sea, and lush valleys, and snow-capped mountains, and salt caves, and white sand beaches. People here go skiing and boating and flying and running and scuba diving and biking and I dunno, organic grocery shopping and movie-watching. People don’t really see that side of the country. And the other reason was to encourage Pakistanis to document the things they saw or experienced daily; there is so much life and beauty to be captured here (as a very amateur iPhone photographer I find myself constantly clicking) but I found that my feed didn’t reflect that.
‘N: Lastly, anything you want my readers to know about life in Pakistan / What is the most annoying misconception you’ve seen portrayed about Pakistani life?
Maryam: I guess circling back to the reason behind the account: life in Pakistan has its ups and downs like life everywhere, but the country is a very warm, very hospitable and very, very resilient place. A lot of people I meet outside of the country are always shocked to realize we’re people too! I am always more than happy to try and dispel stereotypes of Pakistanis as havoc-wreaking terrorists, just as readily as I want to help refashion the troubling things here that actually should change.
Whether you’re an adventurer or leisure traveller, I really would recommend a visit here. I know there’s been some security concerns, but its not unsafe provided you take precautions and don’t travel to certain areas.
Check out some pics of Maryam’s time in Pakistan and be sure to follow @capturePakistan!
Have you also had a wonderful time in Pakistan? Comment below!