Pakistan memories: Seven weeks of my life that I will never forget
Cricket aside, England's tour of Pakistan in late 2005 was a resounding success. Well, it was for the fans anyway. The cricketers were busy messing up straightforward run-chases and generally being a bit rubbish on the field while holing themselves up in their hotels off it.
Meanwhile the few fans that made the trip had a marvellous tour and found that the old adage that you don't need alcohol to have a good time was actually true.
The tour began in the October sun with a warm-up game in bustling Rawalpindi, the relative silence of the sparsely-populated purpose-built cricket ground often being filled with the unique sound of huge military helicopters flying overhead on their way to recently earthquake-hit Kashmir.
Things continued in more genteel fashion at the Bagh-e-Jinnah in Lahore where the magnificent parkland setting and old colonial pavilion were augmented by a number of small marquees, one of which saw the 20 or so England fans taking tea with various dignitaries. When we weren't taking tea we might wander round the boundary, find a patch of lush grass and lie out taking in the game and chatting to nearby fielders. It seemed a little unfair that the locals who had come to watch were not allowed beyond the iron railings that surrounded the cricket ground, but they seemed happy just to be watching some free cricket and a couple had brought union jacks as a welcome gesture.
The first Test in Multan was an altogether different affair. Every day, thousands of cricket fans made their way out of the dusty city to the big stadium with the strange curving roofs. If you watch that game on the television it looks like there is hardly anyone there, the sun reflecting off the bare concrete terraces. Yet when Pakistan hit a boundary or take a wicket you can hear the roar of the crowd, most of whom, wanting to avoid the merciless sun, were all jammed together in the shade in the upper parts of the stands. The good humour and friendly nature of the locals added to the occasion and everyone got along famously while supping tea to keep hydrated. The city of Multan was fascinating. A city with few modern buildings and few cars it had a truly ancient feel to it. Carts pulled by donkeys were a regular sight on the crumbling roads while the majority of people got around on foot. Certainly no gridlocked traffic like you see in many Asian cities. In the evenings we would sit around the hotel cloisters drinking tea, before wandering to a local open air restaurant, set in a picturesque courtyard hidden from the street. We would while away two or three hours ordering various dishes, most of which contained large chunks of meat that had been cooked on the huge flaming grill at the front where we had entered.
The second Test saw us in Faisalabad, where in an effort to find the cheapest hotel in town myself and a friend ended up in a small hotel accessed through a carpet shop for a pound a night. You did not get much for your pound. Two rudimentary beds, an electric light and the neighbouring toilet being a hole in the floor. Hot water was brought in a bucket by the friendly staff when requested as were plenteous cups of tea. We were by the clock tower, which is slap bang in the middle of the city and from which radiate the streets that make up a union jack pattern. Those colonial planners eh?! Our evenings were spent wandering the busy streets occasionally stopping for tea at a street side stall. One odd thing we did encounter in Faisalabad was the practice of taking a bird out of a cage while you were drinking your tea and stroking it. You could choose any bird, most of them were fairly small thrush-looking chaps, and hold it in your hands while chatting to your friends over a cuppa. Strangely the birds never tried to fly off.
The third Test was back in Lahore, this time at the Gadaffi Stadium which, from where we were staying in the old city, needed reaching every morning in the back of a pick-up truck that had been turned into a rudimentary taxi with the aid of benches down the sides. Evenings in Lahore were spent in Food Street, a pedestrianised thoroughfare several hundred yards long teeming with diners. Most of the establishments consisted of grills and ovens that were on display so you could see the chefs in action, lots of meat hanging ready to be cooked and tables that spilled out into the street. Apart from eating, the main pastime was people-watching. The residents of Lahore seemed to love dressing up in their finest togs in order to be seen out and about in Food Street. Although a very appropriate name for a street that sells food, I always felt it deserved a better name as an evening spent there was always an event in itself.
Other highlights of Pakistan included the beach in Karachi, where you could ride a camel or a white horse, the markets of Peshawar and a journey through the tribal areas complete with armed guard to the top of the Khyber Pass.
It is a great shame that cricket teams no longer tour Pakistan and this is unlikely to change any time soon, but that trip is certainly seven weeks of my life that I will never forget.
Andy Clark is the editor of the Corridor of Uncertainty fanzine, the next issue of which will be available during England's upcoming tour of South Africa.