Back in the middle of November, I came across a heart-warming post at The Karakorum Club. A Dutch traveler Lucas Beths who apparently had been roaming around Balochistan and the beautiful north was all praise about the country and its people. In gratitude, I sent him a message inviting him to Lahore. By the end of the day I forgot all about it. Our story starts here. Two days later I got a reply from him. He was actually coming to Lahore and wanted to see me.

Lucas is basically a hitchhiker and an adventurist. He travels with minimum expenses, makes no plans, does no research, mostly depends on local guidance and hospitality and likes to be surprised. Fortunately, up till now all his surprises were pleasant ones. He left his home in Holland, hitchhiking all the way through Europe, Turkey and Iran, taking lifts on the roads and accepting hospitable offers from the locals. He entered Pakistan through Taftan border and from Taftan to Quetta, remained under constant protection of different police escorts, enjoying open air rides through the beautiful Balochistan landscape. After reaching Rawalpindi on a 32 hour train journey from Quetta, Lucas proceeded north, hitchhiking through Naran Valley up to Babusar Top and all the way to Astore, Hunza and Khunjerab Pass. His experience in Pakistan was more than amazing. Added to the breathtaking natural beauty, he was surprised by the endless hospitality and astonishing generosity of Pakistani people. In the final stretch of his exploration in Pakistan, he was to spend four days in Lahore and then cross Wagah border into India.

It was a pleasant mid November night. Around midnight, I got a call from Lucas. He had reached Lahore railway station. I was to find him near the entrance but there was no sign of him neither at the entrance nor at the platforms. I called back at that number. It turned out that he was sitting among a group of Pakistani men at the entrance, dressed in a Pathani cap and Balochi shalwar qameez wearing amulets around his neck and carrying a backpack. He could easily pass as a Pashtun. No wonder I couldn’t spot him. These gentlemen who had travelled on the same train from Haripur let him call me from their cell phone and gave him company until I came to pick him up. I received Lucas, thanked the gentlemen from Haripur and we came out in the city.

Two surprises were in store for me. First, he was only eighteen years old. I couldn’t believe it, just a kid barely out of high school, hitchhiking all the way from Europe. Second surprise: He was a vegetarian! For us Lahoris, being a vegetarian is as good as not having a mouth. He wouldn’t be able to devour the delicious Lahori cuisine because it’s non-vegetarian for most part. I just couldn’t figure out where to get him a supper at this time of the night. Finally, I took him to Subway, where I had been only once before and that too many years ago. He had his vegetarian sandwich and a cup of coffee and kept telling me about his adventures across Pakistan. He absolutely loved my humble home and got real happiness after seeing the English commode in the bathroom. We kept talking till 2 in the morning.

For the next three days, we explored the beauty that is Lahore in the daytime and had delicious dinners and hours long happy talks in the nights. I asked another friend Mateen to tag along. I had promised a tour de old Lahore to him too. The three of us exposed our senses to a world of light, colors, dreams and beauty. To describe all three days would take pages and pages so instead I present to you a collage of those rich colorful images associated to Lucas, exactly the way I remember them.

Sitting inside the high canopy of one of the minarets of Jahangir’s tomb and enjoying a smoke with a view of the gardens, the city and the river… stepping inside the highest chamber of Haveli Naunehal Singh, mesmerised at seeing the walls exquisitely painted with scenes from royal palaces and gardens… sitting beside the rose plantation in the garden of Asif Khan’s tomb and telling us stories from his travels… singing a Punjabi song which I taught him, in Shahi Hammam… admiring Wazir Khan Mosque’s beauty and the fascinating view of old Lahore from its minaret… enjoying Begum Khawar Khursheed’s hospitality at Haveli Baijnath and climbing into its secret passageway to see the hidden chambers… casting his vegetarianism aside for delicious finger fish at Temple Road’s Sardar Machli Farosh and craving for daal maash while I and Mateen devour butter chicken karahi at Lakshmi Chowk’s famous Butt Karahi… trying to sneak a local young couple inside Gurudwara Dera Sahab which is otherwise prohibited… absolutely mesmerised at seeing the grandeur and beauty of Badshahi Mosque and trying to explore the spiritual possibilities in kneeling down the Muslim way… trying imperial outfits at Deewan-e-Aam and posing for pictures with a sword… tired of too much attention, sitting down against the marble screen in an inner arch inside Deewan-e-Khas to have some peace… dancing on a police band playing the classic Rim Jhim Rim Jhim Paray Phuwar in a night of light and color at the food street… trying paan and not liking it at all… getting a tattoo as a memory and a souvenir from Pakistan.

The mesmerised look on his face made me fall in love with my city all over again.

Lucas ended up staying in Pakistan for more days than all other countries from Germany to Iran combined. He found Pakistanis to be genuinely good-natured, friendly, warm and very hospitable. Throughout his stay, he was welcomed into people’s homes and hearts and showered with love and gifts. Before crossing a border, Lucas sends a parcel back home containing all the gifts he receives in that country because he cannot possibly carry them in his backpack. Gifts he received from Pakistan made up the heaviest parcel of all. Before visiting Pakistan, all he knew about the country was through media and news and people advised him against travelling to Pakistan because there’s a constant war going on there. To his surprise, the country and its people turned out to be completely contrary to their international image. He simply fell in love with Pakistan.

Lucas has followed his heart and chosen a life of risk, adventure and travelling. His bohemian lifestyle is a reaction to cruel clutches of capitalism in the West. What he admires most about the orient is that life hasn’t gained a super fast pace in this part of the world and many people still don’t regard material gain as the highest value. He has escaped from a suffocating routine life of career and status and ventured on a journey to experience the infinite beauty of the world. According to many historians and scientists, man’s aversion and urge to escape from society, culture and system is nostalgia for his pre-civilisation roaming, hunting and gathering past. 

After spending four days in Lahore, Lucas was to leave for India. We went to the General Post Office to parcel gifts to Holland. They didn’t let liquid perfumes and currency through. Lucas wanted me to have a pencil-sized perfume bottle but since it was a gift from someone in Islamabad, I couldn’t accept it. Instead he gave me a beautiful Iranian coin which found its way to my box of souvenirs and memories. We drove to Wagah border. Lucas got cleared from customs clearance. Time was running short. We had our goodbyes. He gave us tight hugs and crossed over to the other side. There he was, a young man from Holland, barely an adult, dressed in a Balochi shalwar qameez and wearing amulets, a ring, a bracelet and a tattoo, thousands of miles away from home and family, walking towards his next great adventure and deep down a very happy man. At that moment, beautiful lines from the great Munir Niazi came back to me:

Kal Dekha Ik Admi, Ata Safar ki Dhool Mein

Gum Tha Apne Aap Mein, Jese Khushbu Bhool Mein

(Yesterday I saw a man covered in the dust of travelling

Lost in himself, just like fragrance is lost in a flower)

Lucas kept writing back to me. In Amritsar, he stayed at the Golden Temple for a few days and became friends with a couple of Swedish musicians cum hitchhikers. He accompanied them to Delhi and they performed at a healing/meditation festival. The last message I received from him was at New Year’s Eve which also happens to be his birthday. “Hey Man! Miss your vibes!” he wrote in his characteristic way. Apparently he was partying hard in Goa at that time.