Back to your roots: Pakistan

By Sarah Harris

People often ask me how I can call a place that I haven’t lived in since I was three ‘home,’ but the answer is simple. Home is wherever your heart is. My family and I moved from Peshawar, Pakistan to the UK back in 2001. But given that at the time most of our extended family was still there, every year or so, we’d make the occasional trip back to the homeland for a few weeks.

I was born in Peshawar, a city in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province and the oldest city in Pakistan. Unfortunately, due to media biases and political agendas, a fairly negative picture of Pakistan has been painted in Western culture for decades. But the truth is, it’s one of the world’s most beautiful countries and home to one of the richest cultures. Ironically, as I type this out, my grandparents, who moved to the UK a few years ago to be closer to us, have gone back to Peshawar to pack up and sell my childhood home.

It’s common amongst Pakistani culture for a whole family to live together and as a result, I’ve spent a fair majority of my life, living with not just my grandparents, but at times, even uncles, aunts and cousins. The ‘Peshawar House’ as we now call it holds some of my fondest and earliest memories from my first birthday party to sleepovers with my cousins in the lounge and in some senses, this article is an homage to it and everything it means to me. As a child, I remember hating going back home. My memories of the country were associated with food poisoning and dealing with snide remarks from distant family members about how much weight I’d gained, but the older I became, I began to appreciate the country and its traditions in all its glory.

Pakistan became a country in its own right after the apartheid with India in 1947 and quickly began to develop its own rich history. It’s currently the worlds 6th most populous country and has a tourism industry that is rapidly growing. Now, I may be slightly biased, but after having had the privilege to travel to a fair few parts of the world, I can safely say Pakistan is beautiful in its own way. From the food to the people, the culture and the history of the country is so unique that I wouldn’t be surprised if it became a hot destination in the years to come. It was even dubbed as the Best Travel Location for 2020 by the Condé Nast Traveller and after a high-profile visit by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge just months ago – it has gained a fair bit of media popularity.

And what’s not to love? The food is decedent and mouth-watering. The city I’m from, Peshawar, is oozing with street merchants who cook everything from fresh Naan bread to grilled meats and kebabs. Having ancestry from Afghanistan, one of my favourite dishes is Kabuli Pilau – a rice dish, served with caramelised onions and carrots, raisins and large pieces of succulent lamb. Just thinking about the dish is making me nostalgic. Another favourite is Peshawari Haleem, most commonly called ‘Naashta (breakfast) Haleem.’ Haleem is a common dish in Pakistan and is usually just a blend of meat, wheat and lentils. However, in Peshawar, we like to eat the dish for Breakfast and add some fried eggs and a sprinkle of sugar on top for a hint of sweetness.

The last time I was in Pakistan was December 2018 for my cousins wedding and it was definitely the most memorable trip I’d had so far. If you know anything about South Asian weddings, you’ll know they’re extravagant and eccentric. There were about 20 of us staying at a guest house in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. Did I mention Pakistani families tend to be huge and very tight knit? The days were spent dancing till all hours of the night and
attending several wedding related events. Traditionally Pakistani weddings have five main events; the Mayun, Nikah, Mehndi, Baraat and Walima. Although that may seem excessive to most, if it’s one thing we know how to do, it’s throwing a stellar wedding and who wouldn’t want 5 days of dancing and food?

Pakistan is also an Islamic country and as such, religious events play a big role in the country’s traditions. The most widely celebrated is Eid, which is basically the Islamic equivalent of Christmas – but get this, we get to celebrate Eid twice a year instead of once which means double the amount of presents! Some of my earliest memories are of Eid are in Pakistan, where my mum would dress me and my brother in matching outfits and we’d hop from house to house, visiting various relatives and celebrating with food at each stop.

But if you need a break from the busy hustle and bustle of Pakistan’s main cities, you can head towards the Northern areas where you’ll see some of the most breath-taking views you’ve ever witnessed. I’ve never had the pleasure of going myself but I’m making sure I cross it off the bucket list on my next trip as the pictures I’ve seen are enviable. With green fields, crystal clear water and sky-high mountains, the Northern areas are perfect for anyone looking for a picturesque escape.

I’ve lived in the UK for 20 years now and Cardiff for five years, and as much I love this country, Pakistan will always hold a special place in my heart. If it hasn’t even crossed your mind, I’d urge you to change that and add it to your travel bucket list. You can thank me later.