Participants enjoyed unparalleled access in an amazing country.
We were excited yet curious, delighted yet apprehensive about our visit to Pakistan as part of the maiden HBS trek from January 10th to 14th, 2007. However, all our fears quickly evaporated as we landed in the 7 million strong city of Lahore, the cultural capital of Pakistan. Lahore, with its ancient sites, beautiful gardens and pretty modern infrastructure presents a perfect blend of traditional and modern Pakistan-a perfect place to start the trek.
The trek started with dinner at the popular local restaurant “Village” which was hosted by Mr. P Zaman. Themed like a traditional village, and with over 50 local dishes to choose from, trek participants indulged themselves in a wide array of local food as they were entertained by live local musicians. Beef and chicken dishes along with the “pan” (an exotic blend of spices and herbs served on a leaf) were very popular among students. Later in the night after a brief shopping trip, we enjoyed a hot cup of coffee at a roof-top restaurant overlooking the Badshahi Mosque (famous symbol of Mughal architecture) and the oldest “red-light” districts in South Asia.
After a lavish dinner, everyone woke up the next morning surprisingly without any stomach issues. The next day began with a sightseeing tour of old Lahore city, a visit to the Lahore Fort and the Badshahi Mosque. This was followed by meetings with Mr. Razzak Dawood, Chairman, Descon Engineering and former Commerce Minister of Pakistan and Mr. Babar Ali, a prominent businessman and Pro-Chancellor of Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), one of the most respected universities in Pakistan. Its business school has been modeled on HBS and follows the case-method. Similarities with HBS were not the only things that impressed participants as some of us (no names will be mentioned) were constantly distracted by the beautiful Lahori girls. After the lunch at LUMS, we met with Dr. Faisal Sultan, CEO of Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital, the only charity based, state-of-the art cancer hospital in Pakistan providing free cancer treatment to the poor. At all the meetings, the discussions were highly interactive as the business leaders sought to quell myths about Pakistan and elaborate about the immense economic and social potential of the country while informing HBS students of the many challenges that Pakistan faces in the fields of education and health.
Later in the night, after a feast at the residence of Asim Zaman (OH: trek organizer), the HBS contingent left for Islamabad, the capital city. On arrival we were immediately whisked away for dinner at the farmhouse of Senator Soomro, Chairman Senate of Pakistan. As we enjoyed yet another elaborate dinner, we were entertained by some live local music performers. At the dinner, we also got a chance to interact with a lot of local businessmen, government officials and socialites.
The next morning we started the day by visiting the National Heritage Museum which gave the students an overview of the history, culture and sites of Pakistan some of which dated back to 5000B.C. After the tour of the museum it was time for the most anticipated event of the trek: meetings with President Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz. As we traveled to the President’s house, we were impressed by the picturesque Islamabad and many of us thought we were back in the western world. Islamabad’s modern infrastructure and its clean wide streets were a pleasant surprise for everyone on the trip.
Believe it or not, President Musharraf spent over an hour with us. Meetings with the Prime Minister and the President were highly interactive, candid and absorbing and no topic was off-limits-the war on terror, nuclear proliferation, relationships with India, the Kashmir issue, and economic and educational reforms were all discussed. HBS students by now had learned the ground realties about Pakistan-a country unjustifiably vilified by the media, a hidden jewel, with immense economic potential. Later in the night, HBS students became instant celebrities as a 5 minute video clip of meetings with the President and Prime Minister was aired on national television.
The next leg of the trek was the city of Karachi, the commercial center of Pakistan. After two days of abstinence, liquor was back at the dinner table at Caf‚ Flo, a classy French restaurant. The next day involved visits to the mausoleum of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, where trek participants witnessed a naval guard of honor. As if this was not enough, next came the tour of the beautiful Governor’s house located in the heart of the city. After tea, we were welcomed at the exclusive Sindh Club by Mr. Amin Lakhani (Young Presidents Organization) for lunch where local leaders in business, charity and arts spoke to us about their respective fields. After the hefty lunch, we were ready for some shopping and ended up going to the famous Zainab market in Saddar. Students were delighted to see designer shirts and DVDs priced for less than a dollar. As we walked on the busy streets of Saddar, students got a feel for the pace of the life in Karachi which is no doubt very different from what they saw in Lahore.
In the evening we were entertained at the historic Mohatta Palace by the Jehangir Siddiqi group. Students were enthralled to see the cultural performance by local artists from the province of Sindh. After the performance, we had yet another fancy dinner with students flocking the chocolate fondue fountains. This was a perfect preview to what became the highlight of the stay in Karachi-the Old Grammarian Society Ball (an alumni club of Karachi Grammar School, one of the most prestigious schools in the country). Organized at the beach front, the society ball was described by most trek participants as “The best party they have ever been to in their lives.” The party sizzled with free-flowing alcohol and a warm ambience. As we partied till 4 in the morning some of us left an everlasting impression on the Karachites with our dancing skills. As we cherished the final moments of what was simply a fabulous trek, we could only think about thanking the trek organizers (Asim Zaman (OH), Sadiq Malik (OC), Qasim Naqvi (OG), Adil Soomro (OJ) and Danish Lakhani (NG)) for taking care of us like royalty.