A foreigner’s perspective on Pakistan: The land of the misunderstood

Published: November 5, 2015

I hope that all Pakistanis appreciate and take the opportunity to enjoy the incredible beauty and history of their great country and advocate for its preservation. PHOTO: ROBERT LOCKE

As someone who grew up in the United States, I have sadly grown accustomed to hearing about drone attacks, suicide bombings and terrorists whenever Pakistan is mentioned. To an average American, Pakistan is nothing more than the place where Osama Bin Laden was killed or one of the most dangerous countries in the world with its mountains and caves inhabited by terrorists. Most Americans grow up knowing and believing this image of Pakistan with no compelling reason or need to challenge this perception.

I am half-Colombian and have had the pleasure of spending a lot of time in the South American nation of 48 million people best known worldwide, unfortunately, as the home of cocaine, drug lords and kidnapping. For more than 50 years now, the country has suffered from an internal that has killed thousands and displaced millions from their homes. People are disillusioned by the political process, corruption, rampant poverty and crime. Despite an undeniably persistent sense of cynicism, Colombians are some of the happiest and most energetic people in the world. Little known or appreciated by too many, both inside and outside, Colombia possess incredible cultural and physical beauty.

With this in mind, I wanted to see if Pakistan was similarly misunderstood and so I started my journey from the City of Lights in search for an answer. My trip was met with cautious optimism from my friends and family, and I hoped to come back with a clear, unbiased perception, free of media influence, of Pakistan to share with the world.

If I had never read the news and somehow ended up in Pakistan, none of the aforementioned characteristics would come to mind. Rather the green, peaceful streets of Lahore, the majestic shores of the Indus River, or maybe even the incredible energy of a local bazaar would paint a very positive image of the country. During my trip, this peaceful tranquility was perhaps most apparent atop a grand 500 step staircase that leads to the ancient Buddhist ruins at Takht Bhai in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) – an area Americans know as a safe haven for the Taliban.

Tucked in between two mountains about two hours from the border with Afghanistan, the numerous stone structures at Takht Bhai soar into the sky as reminders of the widespread influence of Buddhism as far back as the first century BC. The view of the surrounding valley and distant mountains was as breathtaking as that of Machu Picchu, a tourist attraction in Peru visited by millions each year.

I stood alone at the very top of the temple in awe of my surroundings, yet overcome with sadness that I was the only visitor there – the average American, and perhaps even most Pakistanis, have never even heard of Takht Bhai. The history and diversity of Pakistan is extremely impressive and can be found no matter which province you might call home.

In Islamabad, I met a Pakistani who went on a road trip through 37 states in the United States. She had seen more of my country than I have. As I feel more compelled to explore the country I was born in, it is my sincere hope that all Pakistanis appreciate (and if possible) take the opportunity to enjoy the incredible beauty and history of their great country and advocate for its preservation.

Whether I was enjoying chapli kebabs or pulao in Peshawar, driving by some of the most beautiful mountains I’ve ever seen in K-P, or wonderfully serene Punjabi countryside, I could not help but be impressed with the delightful Pakistani flavors, scenery and people I met along the way. Throughout my time in the Land of the Pure, I couldn’t help but draw similarities with Colombia. Despite geographic, cultural, and linguistic differences, exceptional natural beauty, delightful people, scrumptious food, and sure enough a unique combination of pride and cynicism welcomed me. It felt like home.

All photos: Robert Locke

Robert Locke

Robert Locke

The author is a recent college graduate. He tweets as @rlocke623 (twitter.com/rlocke623)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.