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The Tuk-Tuk travellers

By Shiraz Hassan 2014-07-18
RAWALPINDI: Traveling by auto-rickshaw is necessary for many, and a fun excursion for some, but driving such a rickshaw across South Asia and Eastern Europe is a ride unlike any other.

Pyry Kääriä and Juho Sarno, both 31-year-old circus artists from Finland, are on the journey of a lifetime as they drive from Bangkok to Helsinki in a Tuk-Tuk the Thai version of the threewheeler not much different from the rickshaws frequently seen in Pakistan.

The pair have traveled across Thailand, Myanmar, India and Pakistan on their way to Iran, Turkey, and then across Eastern Europe. Their trip will culminate in Finland and take a total of three months to complete.

Initially due to start their journey with the beginning of the new year, Kääriä and Sarno were unable to register the Tuk-Tuk for several months due to political unrest in Thailand. They finally began their journey on May 1.

Kääriä and Sarno reached Pakistan a week ago, and are excited to continue their journey.

`Pakistan is an amazing country, Sarno said, adding, `In other countries, we have seen people try to build an illusion about their homeland, but that is not the case here. Pakistanis are far more vocal about the problems they face.

`In Finland, we see Pakistan through the very limited and mostly negative lens of the media.

But being here, we have found itto be completely different, Kääriä said. `Our experience has been totally different from what we see in the media Pakistanis are adorable people,` he added.

Kääriä and Sarno have named their Tuk-Tuk the `Vehicle of Peace`, because they say, everyone rides it and it is open from all sides.

`It`s a rollercoaster ride. We got stickers printed in Rawalpindi that say Awam ki Sawari in Urdu, to use during the rest of our journey,` the pair said.

The pair recounted some of their more memorable experiences in Pakistan.

`We needed a mobile SIM card but didn`t have a local registration number (CNIC). I asked the mobile phone vendor to let us use his mobile to call my contact in Lahore, but he was out of town, Sarno recalled. `And then the shopkeeper called a friend, who called another friend, and we ended up following a motorbike through the traffic, to a place called Gulberg II, where mechanics fixed our Tuk-Tuk while we rested amongst plants in a nursery, he said.

Neither of them could speak Urdu, and none of the mechanics knew English, and yet Sarno says they communicated easily with facial expressions and hand gestures. The pair say this has happened often in Pakistan, and that language is not a major barrier here.

`Since we entered Pakistan I haven`t felt threatened even for a second,` Kääriä said, adding, `Pakistan is indeed a peaceful nation.

Sarno and Kääriä spent some time in Bangkok as teenagers and were so inspired by their brief trip that they began their journey in Thailand. They entered Pakistan through the Wagah border crossing from India. They travelled to Murree and then arrived in Rawalpindi.

`I have never seen a planned city like Islamabad in my life,Sarno said. `I regret that I could not drive the Tuk-Tuk in Islamabad,` he added.

Predictably, Kääriä and Sarno`s journey has been adventurous and also problematic.

`It was a big blow for us, when we had to wait in Bangkok for three months to get the papers ready,` Kääriä said, `and later we realised that our visas for several countries had already expired, and we had to apply for those visas all over again. We managed to get the visas though! In Myanmar, they weren`t permitted to travel by road, and instead shipped the Tuk-Tuk to Kolkata and made their way across Myanmar on buses, trains, boats and on foot.

Their Tuk-Tuk wasn`t the only thing waiting for them in Kolkata.

Upon reaching India, they found their visas had expired. They thentravelled by air to Nepal and stayed there for three days before attempting to get an on-arrival visa to India. Finnish citizens can obtain an on-arrival visa for India if they enter through Nepal. After their visas were denied, they spent three days at the Kolkata airport, before moving on to Dhaka to see if they could enter India from there. When they arrive d in Kolkata, immigration officials kept trying to prevent them from entering.

`It was really humiliating; I don`t know why they did this.

Maybe because we had a Pakistani visa,` Kääriä speculated.

`Compared to what we experienced in India, Pakistanis are totally different. From officials to the common people, they are generous, and everybody tries to make things comfortable for us, Sarno said.Kääriä and Sarno explored different parts of Rawalpindi during their time in the city. `Seeing so many people waiting for food at Murree Road, just before sunset, we joined them and they shared their food with us,` Sarno said.

`Everyone was waiting for the sun to set to break their fast, but several people asked us to eat before the Azaan,` he added.

When asked what motivated them to embark on this journey, the pair said that everyone has dreams and while some of those may even be silly dreams, they should still try to make them a reality.

`Believe in yourself, trust yourself, live your life and don`t be afraid, that`s our message to the world,` Sarno explained.

The pair are also using Facebook to keeping their fans updated on their journey.