In the Philippines, Holy Week – that long weekend from Maundy Thursday to Easter Sunday – is a time when people flock to the beach or go to the highlands to cool off. We used to do that for some time until it became a hassle to find flights, bus trips, ferry trips or resorts at a time when everyone else was trying to do the same thing. Or to go to a beach where there was hardly any breathing room.
The first time I flew into this city it was like entering a place straight out of the Middle Ages. On my flight from Karachi to Peshawar I rode a Russian-made and crewed airliner along with many Pashtuns in their native shalwar kameez, some of them carrying bundles of clothes on sticks in lieu of a suitcase. Upon landing, I took a brief tour of the city past narrow streets, centuries-old bazaars, walled forts and old architectural designs on wood and brick houses – all of which evoked memories of a distant past.
We drove for what seemed like an eternity along a winding road past mud brick houses on a bleak landscape, British Indian Army regimental insignias on roadside cliffs, hillside forts and dusty Pakistani Army outposts. At many a hairpin turn, Khyber levies with their ominous Kalashnikovs stood watch. Positioned there to provide security for travelers on the pass, they evoked a completely opposite feeling among our group of mixed nationalities. Finally we were there – at the highest point of the Khyber Pass on the edge of Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province overlooking the descent to Afghanistan and the first villages past the border of that country.
A remote coastal town and capital of the province of Aurora, Baler is popular among surfers and tourists for its breaking waves, rugged coastline and spectacular geographic formations. What most visitors may not know about this quaint town, however, is that it is steeped in history. A recent tour around the center of Baler made us appreciate the town’s rich cultural and historical heritage.