(By Nida Mujahid Hussain) When it comes to Pakistan, it won’t be wrong to say that the western media in the context of entirety takes a one-dimensional view of this exotic country. Despite facing multiple internal and external threats, this part of the world holds a certain allure that an objective eye cannot ignore.
Such an example here is of Cynthia Dawn Ritchie, who has explored Pakistan and considers it quite contrary to the stereotypical portrayal of the country.
For Cynthia, Pakistan is so much more than a tourist destination — it is an “adventurers’ heaven”, she fondly calls the country her ‘second home’.
We got a chance to talk to her about the adventurous journey to this scenic country.
She says that having traveled to Pakistan since 2010 and having lived here for three years, there’s so much more to the region and its people.
A ‘global citizen’ of Scottish-German ethnicity, Cynthia possesses Master of Education with additional graduate training in conflict resolution, psychology, and public relations. She started her own non-profit with a focus on media projects and wishes to eventually permanently relocate to the Middle East/ South Asia.
“When one takes a real adventure through Pakistan, they learn to anticipate the unexpected. A mudslide here, random gunfire there (could be a wedding celebration, who knows), masses of cows blocking the road… It’s precisely this randomness that makes one a better adventurist. If I only travel to all-inclusive resorts, where my every wish is granted, I’ll never be challenged and never evolve. And in one of the most remarkable, geographically diverse countries in the world, the ability to adapt to change is critical,” she said.
She thinks that the list of visiting tourist sites in Pakistan is an extensive one.
“Tourists can visit the modern, gleaming skyscrapers, go to spas and quietly sip tea, meander through Anarkali bazaar/food streets and avoid being attacked by the ungrateful monkeys in Murree (whom I just fed a bunch of bananas — can we trend this on Twitter: #UngratefulMurreeMonkeys),” Cynthia opines.
“Living on a prayer”
When asked about one of her most memorable instances here. Cynthia fondly recalled one from 2011, where she was almost kidnapped.
She says it wasn’t a good time for US-Pakistan relations. She said that one day she got a call from people who hosted her earlier.
The people (all men, some with beards and in Shalwar Kameez) came to pick her from her apartment in Islamabad and to someplace in Peshawar.
The entire way, the men refused to tell her where they are taking her.
“Finally, the entourage reaches their destination and a couple of men jump out before the cars come to a complete stop. They are, clearly, in a hurry to make their way down a dark stairway leading to an underground structure. The rest of the men, get out of the cars, surround the ‘gori’ and escort her underground to complete blackness,” she recalls.
When the room’s door opens, Cynthia is met with cries of “surprise! Happy birthday!” and a bunch of women rushes to hug her and pull her inside.
According to her, the birthday girl’s favourite song, Jon Bon Jovi’s “Living On A Prayer” was blaring from some loudspeakers in the room.
When coming to describing the picturesque beauty of Pakistan, Cynthia is all praises.
She goes into details, saying how adventurers can go to Balochistan and witness the rare blind dolphins, sit with tribal elders and learn about their methods of conflict resolution in the tribal belt (which is similar to mediation techniques in USA), trout fishing and snow skiing in Swat Valley (where the locals recently publicly celebrated Christmas for the first time), explore cottage industries such as exquisite woodworking in Kashmir and learn about artificial intelligence developments at the local University (Kashmiris adore tourists and love to make their unique Kashmiri chai).
Not only that, she says that tourists can also wander through interior Sindh and feel captivated by Sufism, visit a mango farm in rural Punjab, nibble apricots and sip strong-tasting water of Hunza, and visit Sikh Gurdwaras and Hindu Temples to learn about the religious diversity.
‘Best in Pakistan’
When it came to naming what’s best in this country, Cynthia’s reply was simple yet eloquent: People, food, and scenery.
“Anyone who has traveled the region knows South Asians are incredibly hospitable and that the greatest risk is putting on too much weight from all the food. Pakistan also has much to teach, including the region’s rich history and countless archaeological sites,” she said.
Cynthia sheds light on how she has taken almost every mode of transportation in her ‘second home’.
She says she has traveled via bicycle, classic cars, high-performance vehicles (including Porsche Cayennes!) speed and coast guard boats, JetSkis, Tongas, camels, rickshaws, and C-130s, adding that her favorite was perhaps a ride on a 70CC bike, operated by a ‘Pindi boy’.
She recalls that the phrase ‘no tension’ was inscribed on the bike.
“I request a movie be made about these guys and named: Fast and the Furious, RawalPindi Drift,” says Cynthia.
She also aims to project softer image of Pakistan, which is visible through her narratives.
“I can say there’s so much more to this region and its people — which is what I intend to show in my media work. This isn’t to say there aren’t challenges in the region; we already know there are. Plenty of networks focus on the negative — why should I repeat what’s already being covered so extensively?” she says.
(Nida Mujahid Hussain works at Geo.tv as an Associate Producer.)