Sunday, April 19, 2015

Veterans meet at Nathiagali to celebrate 40th year of comradeship

Getting together for the brunch at the Governor's House, Nathiagali

The month of April is always special for us for it brings us the day when we first met - young lads in their late teens hailing from all nook and corner of the country to become friends and comrades for the rest of our lives. 17th April was the day when one of the many batches of young and spring cadets passed out from the prestigious Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul in 1977. But the passing out day did not come that easy - as some 241 cadets had joined the 55 PMA Long Course in May 1975, and of these only 179 passed out two years later.

Now every year in the month of April, the veterans of 55 PMA Long Course get together in whole or part to reminisce the memories of the days spent together in the military academy and thereafter. This year the venue was Nathiagali.

Since thee are no army messes large enough to accommodate over sixty veterans and their families, Hotel Green Retreat was booked. And on 17th April, by and by the hotel started to come in life with veterans with grey hair with their spouses and children. The hotel is located almost near the top of Nathiagali, joined to the main road with a road barely enough for one way traffic with a awesome steep slope. Those who made it during the day rode up the slope with no difficulty, but those who reached Nathiagali after the last night really had a tough driving up.

Photo (above) by Zahir Khan - coaster full of Lahorites to attend the get together

While the majority of attendees were from Rawalpindi and Islamabad, a sizable contingent along with families came from Lahore to add more colour and sense of participation on this special occasion. The contingent headed by Zahir Khan included Tassawar, Alizai, Tariq Fazal and Tariq Mahmood. Javed Baloch came separately with family. 

Moving further away from Lahore, Aslam, like all previous years, came all the way from Bhawalpur, while Razaaq came from Chichawatni - this is the real spirit of the course.

The event for the 17th April was a lively dinner on the open lawn of the hotel. It was a awesome chilly evening with a very cold breeze blowing. Although arrangements had been made to have the burning woods placed in large mouthed cauldrons, it was not enough for those like me who had not catered for a chilly evening of Nathiagali.

The dinner was served right away lest it got cold in the freezing night. It was followed by a lively musical evening. Although, the fire had started to wither away, but the music kept us warm and alert. We had local performers from Abbottabad which added colours to the evening get together. 

 Some of us posing with Aitbar Khan (middle) now member National Assembly
A cup of hot tea was very much needed after the dinner to beat back the chill

The performers performing to reduce the wind-chill factor to a considerable extent 
 Some of the veterans dancing to the lively tunes - who is hiding? - none other than Alamgir!!

The evening could have gone on and on, but with fire losing its warmth and a sudden spell of load shedding made the organizers to wrap the evening for tomorrow as a slong day ahead. 

The 18th April morning was a bright sunny day - something which was much needed after last night's chilly adventure. We all got out for a breakfast in the hotel's main hall fr the lunch was still hours away.

 Say Cheese!! This is an 'on demand' photo of Kalayar

The after breakfast time gave us some time to yap around and discuss some of the burning issues, before we got back to our rooms and had some time for family snaps in the lawn of the hotel.

It was then time to pack up from the hotel and move to the lush green lawns of the Governor's House, where a hearty lunch awaited us. The venue had been courtesy Khalid Pervez Nadeem who had been the additional chief secretary of KPK and now secretary Port and Shipping in the federal government.

 The lush green lawns coming to life as we started to pour in with our families 
Photo (above) by Ali Akbar

Photos above and below shared by Mujeeb Khan

The Lahore Group (above) Photo by Saleem Saerwar
 The camera shy!!
Left to right: Tassawar - Arshad - Aslam - Jamshed - Jalal - Razzaq - Mujeeb

1975: Seven us above landed in the same platoon - but forty years ago we did not look like this as above - but as below!!

1975: This is how time changes - young lads turned into almost senior citizens as time flies by

Ever smiling Khalid Pervez with Alamgir and Shahid Ashraf
Photo (above) by Ali Akbar
Photo (above) by Saleem Sarwar

The event organization was the solo effort of our course secretary, Colonel Asif (in green T-shirt) above and below apprising us of the course activities and affairs. It was also agreed that the next course get together will be held in Lahore - something a digression from the previous trends of holding it in Islamabad, Abbottabad and nearby places as most of us have our abodes in Islamabad/Rawalpindi and for the reason that it allows others to take a break from the heat of the plains and have a refreshing stay. But this decision surely provides our comrades living in Lahore and surrounding areas to be our host next year - relieving Asif of his years long efforts for a while. The hosts in Lahore will be Zahir Khan and Javed Baloch.

The final goodbye group photo - be well everyone, God willing we shall meet in Lahore next year.

Then it was time to say goodbye and move back home. By the grace of Allah, all  have reached back safely home, carrying the beautiful memories of this great reunion at one of the best hill resorts of Pakistan. I wish health and longevity to everyone of us and look forward to meeting at Lahore next year - Insha Allah. For now, Adios my friend!!

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Paris - Here we come!!

Although since my childhood I knew of the Eiffel Tower, but I first heard the 'live account' of Paris from my father, then heading the Interpol in Pakistan, who had gone to Paris to attend the annual Interpol conference for Paris happens to be the headquarters of the ICPO and the Interpol way back in 1964. He brought back sweet smelling perfumes for our mother and many small gifts and presents for us brothers. He would narrate us the beauty of Paris, its markets and hospitality of its people. There were lot so photographs of him posing in front of the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe.

And based on my father told us about Paris, I wrote a post somewhere in 2012, never knowing that one day I will be heading towards Paris and seeing all the places my father mentioned about. And so did I on 6 September 2014 when after a four days' stay in Holland, we finally headed towards France through Belgium to visit Paris - the tourists' lover!!

I have already in detail written about my stay in Holland and the last night was spent visiting The Hague and Rotterdam. We stayed at a friend's flat in Rotterdam who and his Moroccan wife looked after so well that I will cherish the memories for ever. I have already talked about our Rotterdam travel details and the Moroccan dinner in my earlier post.

The flat we stayed for our last night stay in Rotterdam, Holland 
Above and below: View of Rotterdam from the top floor where our host lived

The Van Brienenoord Bridge as seen from the flat which we were to pass when exiting Rotterdam

I along with Shahid Latif - our host in Rotterdam
The two families for a final goodbye shot

The hospitality of Shahid Latif and his wife is simply unforgettable. Although his wife did not know any language other than Arabic and Dutch, my wife still got along with her quite well and it looked as two old friends or should I say sisters conversing in a broken language only they both could understand. After a hearty breakfast, it was time to leave and say goodbye to one of the best couples I have met so far. Before leaving, our host's wife presented earthen pots and a shield (as can be seen above) as a remembrance and a goodbye gift.

And then we were on the road to Paris through Belgium!!

My sons posing in front of our rented BMW which took us from Germany to Paris

Driving over the Van Brienenoord Bridge over the river Nieuwe Maas

A few words about the bridge: The bridge is named after the underlying Eiland van Brienenoord (Island of Brienenoord) in the river, which was bought by and named after a baron Arnoud Willem van Brienen van de Groote Lindt in 1847.

As per Wikipedia, an average of 140.000 ships pass the bridge, every year. Approximately 500 of these ships are high enough to require the bridge to be opened, a process which takes 18 minutes. Suspending road traffic and opening the bridge takes 4 minutes, letting the ship pass takes 10 minutes, and closing the bridge requires an additional 4 minutes.

While we were entering Holland from Germany, we thought that the border will be signified by some border booths or gates as is normal with each border elsewhere. But we did not know that since the evolution of the Schengen protocol, all formal entries have been done away with and one can freely drive through without being stopped. So we missed photographing ourselves with any entry boards while hopping into Holland. But while driving into Belgium, we were extra careful to to spot the border crossing and have a few shots as a remembrance, as can be seen in photos above and below.

We had earlier plans to go to Brussels, but our stretched stay in Holland, mainly due to instance of my friend Tariq Hashmi and his family, we drove past Brussels as we wanted more time in Paris to see some of its major land marks.

Belgium drive through was simply fantastic - the rather cloudy weather with a cool breeze blowing was simply lovable. Passing through many underground tunnels to avoid cities, our travel to Paris continued.

Entering Belgium we bypassed Sint-Niklaas, a 13th century city, which  is the capital and major city of the Waasland region straddling the East Flanders and Antwerp provinces. The city is known for having the largest market square in Belgium - though we could not see it for reasons mentioned above.

We also went by Antwerp, a city which usually figures out in military history, Brussels (in fact we passed under the city through a tunnel, we entered France at Hensies.

A much awaited coffee break en route
As you enter France, you encounter many toll tax collection booths - about 18 Euros till you reach Paris

We entered Paris with Saint Denis being the last major city before it. We had us booked at Grand Hotel at the Voltaire Boulevard - but somehow we could not reach the place directly due to some reading error of the car navigation system. It took us a while to locate the hotel, in which a considerable amount of time was lost which we could have utilized for site seeings around the hotel.

entrance to the Grand Hotel Voltaire

Dumping our luggage in the hotel, we rushed out and seeking guidance from the road map, we dashed towards the Place de la Bastille, which was the nearest Paris landmark. The Place de la Bastille is the place where once the Bastille prison stood until the ‘Storming of the Bastille’ and its subsequent physical destruction between 14 July 1789 and 14 July 1790 during the French Revolution.

The former location of the fort is currently called the Place de la Bastille. It is home to the Opéra Bastille. The large ditch (fossé) behind the fort has been transformed into a marina for pleasure boats, the Bassin de l’Arsenal, to the south, and a covered canal, the Canal Saint Martin, extending north from the marina beneath the vehicular roundabout that borders the location of the fort.

The area around The Place de la Bastille is full of small eateries and other shops, cafes and restaurants. Although tired of the day long driving, we spent a few hours there before falling back to have a good night sleep - for tomorrow morning the Eiffel Tower was waiting for us. Here my account of travel to Paris ends. From here on, a number of my earlier posts begin in which I shared roaming around Paris and seeing its landmarks.

You may read now my first post on Paris: My maiden glimpse of the Eiffel Tower

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