Putting aside the negative perceptions attributed to Pakistan and Kashmir, I can honestly say that both destinations were one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited, writes Dr Hanan Chehata.
The young boy, still in his school uniform and proudly sporting a green cap emblazoned with the word “Pakistan” across it bends into a crouch, places the freshly picked walnut on a flat stone, then picks up another rock and slams it down cracking the nut’s hard shell between the two surfaces. “That’s how we do it in Pakistan!” one of the guides for our trip exclaims proudly, as the boy’s family begin to pass around a plate piled high with freshly shelled nuts.
Knowing that this family – who recently lost their father and sole breadwinner – had little-to-nothing beyond the tent they live in, and the patch of ground where they grow their food, made the offer of their precious walnuts and the promise of tea all the more moving.
This was my first trip to Pakistan and Azad Jammu Kashmir (AJK), and after hearing about the hospitality of its people over the years, I was so pleased to finally have a chance to experience it for myself.
I was visiting Pakistan and AJK with friends as part of a sponsored charity walk for orphans, hosted and organised by the READ Foundation – a UK based charity that specialises in the education of children in rural Pakistan and Kashmir.