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The waiter brought the plates of food to our table, plonked them down, and walked away.  We were in a French restaurant in a shopping mall in southern England.  In an effort to replicate the French dining experience the restaurant had been decorated with old French film posters and tiled in black and white, and the bad service from surly staff added another layer of realism.

My son and I tucked in to massive dishes of mussels, since we were in the UK temporarily and were soon to be heading back to Pakistan where mussels are as rare as rude people.  My wife had a steak sandwich.  The other kids had asked for macaroni cheese, the kind of bland dish restaurants serve to children in an effort to keep them quiet.  Outside, shoppers were dashing to and fro.  A couple with a small child came and sat at the table next to ours and played with their smartphones until their child started screaming, at which point they gave a smartphone to him to keep him quiet.  Our waiter came and dropped off a jug of tap water and seemed to think that he was doing us a personal favour by doing so.

Suddenly my wife’s phone bleeped.  She checked it, looked at me, and said “Bomb in Lahore”.

The details were simple enough, containing the usual ingredients: a crowd of people in a city, a parked car, a network of people with murderous hearts.  8 dead, we were told.

Instantly my mind went back to Pakistan.  I could imagine the crowded streets of Lahore, the throngs of people coming to see what was happening, the police shoving back the sightseers.  The screams of the sirens carrying the injured to hospitals, the doctors and nurses rolling up their sleeves to perform their daily acts of heroism as they bandaged wounds and saved lives and informed grieving relatives that the man they sent to train as a policeman would not be returning home.  I could imagine the screams of shock and the pain searing, agonisingly, into the hearts of people across the nation.  I could imagine the cries of anguish from people across the country as they learned of a new outrage carried out by terrorists intent on destroying Pakistan.

Outside the restaurant the shoppers were dashing to and fro, bags of new possessions under their arms.  My infant son spilled his water over himself.  My daughter was ploughing steadily through her macaroni.  My son was devouring his mussels.  The people at the table next to us were eating in silence, eyes flicking to their phones every other bite.  And far away, I thought I could hear the sirens.

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Yesterday evening seventy citizens of Pakistan were blown apart by a suicide bomber at a park in Lahore.  The death toll will rise.  It always does, especially when seriously wounded people are left to the tender mercies of Pakistan’s healthcare system.  Many were women and children.  Families were enjoying the cool spring weather, taking advantage of a day of rest to push their children on the swings and buy ice creams.  It must have been a wonderful time.

Then a suicide bomber parked his car near the gate, next to the swings, and detonated his device.  Now those same families are ripped apart; their laughter transformed into screams and terror by means of twenty kilos of explosives and a bag of ball bearings.

Many of those killed were Christians.  They, like my family and me, spent Sunday morning at church rejoicing in the glorious triumph of Easter Sunday, when Jesus rose from the dead and conquered death and sin.  They, like us, shared lunch with family and friends.  They, like us, went out to celebrate in the evening.  Yet we were not attacked and they were.  The same people who laughed and rejoiced in the victory over the grave are now, themselves, in the grave.  Life beat death, and then death came back in the darkness of a bomber’s heart and in the shape of chemicals and ball bearings.

And yet this is not over.  After the attack messages started circulating asking for donations of blood for the wounded.  A Lahore taxi firm offered free travel to anyone going to hospital to donate blood.  People of all religions are united in condemning the attack.  The condemnation even united India and Pakistan: the hashtag prayforlahore is trending in India.  Hospitals in Lahore are crammed – literally crammed – with people queueing to donate blood.  Probably most of them are Muslims.  I am crying for gratitude as I type.

Still the pain remains.  This is a profoundly beautiful and deeply misunderstood country, full of polite, kind, honourable people – and yet a country bedevilled by violence perpetrated by a minority of deranged lunatics who kill indiscriminately.  They target Christians, and Hindus, and Shias, and Sunnis, and the Pakistani soldiers who give their lives to protect Pakistani civilians: they are against everyone, except their fellow bigots.

And yet they will lose.  Pakistanis are too good, too decent, too strong to give in to this mass murder.  Love will win in the end, though the path to that victory may be littered with more bodies.  Life will triumph over death.  Easter is not the end, but the beginning.

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We were sitting outside the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore.  A light rain was falling.  We huddled underneath a large umbrella and sipped the cups of chai which we had ordered.  We needed the warmth from the tea as much as the caffeine, in much the same way that people in England drink tea to dispel the murky chill of February days more than for the actual taste.  My son looked around.

“I don’t think God can love people here” he said sadly.

I was surprised by this.  My wife and I have made a point of teaching our children that God loves all people equally.  This is a fundamental tenet of our Christian faith, and a great number of cruelties in the world can be directly attributed to the mistaken belief that some people are more loved by God than others.  I asked him what he meant.

“Look at all the garbage” he said mournfully.  “How can God love people when they don’t care for the world he created?”.

I looked around.  There was, indeed, a lot of rubbish.  Paper cups, empty crisp packets, cigarette packs, crushed juice boxes – the detritus of a thousand tourists was strewn all around the courtyard in front of the mosque.  During our train journey to Lahore we had looked out of the window to see immense piles of trash heaped up on the sides of the railway embankments, flung carelessly out of houses and left to fester.  It is a part of life in the developing world that we have not yet learned to deal with.

“Well”, I said, “do you remember how Mummy and I told you that we love you always, even when you’re naughty?”.

He nodded.

“We do that because God loves us even when we’re naughty” I continued.  “Even when we do bad things, God always loves us.  So we should always try to be better”.

He was silent for a while, looking around at the heaps of rubbish strewn around the courtyard of one of the most magnificent mosques in the world.  Then he said:

“That’s a lot of love”.

In recent years the Pakistani rail network has become a byword for mismanagement and neglect.  Rolling stock is old, trains are frequently delayed, and stations have not been improved since the days of the Raj.  However, in May 2015 Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif inaugurated the “Green Line Express”, marking the first major investment in the railways for some time.

The Green Line runs from the Margalla Station in the capital, Islamabad, all the way to Karachi, stopping at place such as Rawalpindi, Lahore, Bahawalpur, and Hyderabad, among others.  I recently took the Green Line from Islamabad to Lahore with my son and father.  The train itself is shiny and new, with a Chinese locomotive and locally-made carriages.  The driver was happy to show us into the engine, much to my son’s delight, and was clearly proud of being involved with such a modern project.

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Seating was comfortable, in 6-berth sleeper compartments, consisting of three bunks on either side of the carriage.  Refreshments are frequently served – sandwiches and the ubiquitous Pakistani chai – and I understand that a full cooked meal is served to those continuing all the way to Karachi, though as we were only going to Lahore we were not able to partake.  Amenity kits, consisting of a toothbrush, toothpaste, a comb, a shoe mitt and soap were handed out.  Each compartment has six pillows and thick fleecy blankets, as well as a flatscreen TV.  WiFi was supposed to be offered but it never worked for us!

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We left on time and arrived in Lahore on time.  On our return journey the train arrived fifteen minutes late – not bad, considering it had travelled something like 1300km through unseasonably heavy rain and localised flooding!  We enjoyed chatting to the many friendly Pakistani people on the train who were all hospitable, kind, and eager to share their food with us.

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Prices are slightly more expensive than regular trains or buses – but the Green Line is immeasurably more comfortable and a much better way of meeting Pakistani people.  I would recommend it without reservation – but be sure to book tickets in good time as the service is very popular.

I seem to make a habit of missing obvious tourist attractions when I travel.  I spent a year in Spain and didn’t once visit Barcelona, nor Seville.  I grew up in the UK but didn’t visit the Lake District, one of our premier sites of natural beauty, until I was 25.  I travelled all around Tanzania and didn’t go to the Serengeti National Park, which is more or less the only thing that the majority of tourists in Tanzania actually DO see.

Last weekend I remedied a significant oversight on my part by visiting the Lahore Fort.  This is one of Pakistan’s premier attractions and one of its six UNESCO World Heritage sites.  Built largely during the reign of Moghul Emperor Akbar, between 1556 and 1605, it occupies a significant chunk of the north western corner of the Walled City of Lahore.  We turned up in a rickshaw and were deposited a few hundred yards away from the entrance, since renovation work to the next-door Iqbal Park prevented our rickshaw from getting any closer.

First, the positives: Lahore Fort is a really impressive place.  It covers a huge area of land and its walls and towers still possess a real sense of grandeur.  Entering the Fort entails climbing up a set of shallow, broad stairs which seem oddly disproportionate, until you learn that they were thus built so that Emperors could ride their elephants right into the Fort itself.  The walls command an impressive view over Old Lahore.

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Much of the artwork in the individual palaces and rooms which make up the bulk of the Fort is remarkably beautiful: elegant carvings, fine stone inlays, delicate stone tracery.  The skill of the artisans who produced such beauty has to be appreciated.  Furthermore, the Fort uses open space very well: fountains and lawns stretch in front of the visitor, fringed with trees.  The Lahore Fort put me in mind of the Alhambra, another magnificent Muslim palace with beautiful artwork, fountains, and gardens.

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And now for the negatives: everything is neglected.  It is heartbreaking to see.  Magnificent painted ceilings are now stained with damp, their colours faded and worn.  Whole sections of delicately inlaid stones depicting elegant floral patterns have been chipped out, leaving gaping holes.  The 19th century cannon which stand in front of the Diwan-e-Aam have crisp packets jammed into their muzzles.  Most appalling of all is the graffiti: names of visitors scribbled in black marker pen, scrawled directly onto ancient stonework and mosaics.  Mobile phone numbers, inane comments, childish insults, etched onto a UNESCO World Heritage site!  It is unthinkable.  Imagine the outrage if visitors wrote their names in Tippex on Stonehenge or the Taj Mahal – that is precisely what has been done, and continues to be done, at the Lahore Fort.

I don’t understand it.  This is the premier tourist attraction in Pakistan, a country which, contrary to popular belief, is actually packed with fascinating sights.  And yet instead of being revered as an example of Muslim achievement and architectural excellence – which it undoubtedly is – it is scribbled on by idiotic schoolchildren as if it were nothing more than a discarded scrap of paper.

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Where are the UNESCO funds being used?  Not to employ guards, nor to employ guides; not a single one was in evidence.  Is it really that difficult to prevent people defacing a monument of international historical importance?  Do people here really care so little about their national story?

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Here’s a confession: I have been to Lahore a total of five times and only recently, on my fifth trip there, did I get round to visiting the Badshahi Mosque.  This is strange, seeing as it is one of the premier historical attractions of Pakistan and I am keenly interested in history.

Never mind, though – despite my tardiness I eventually got around to visiting it, and I wasn’t disappointed.  Its size alone makes it stand out – it is vast, with a courtyard large enough to accommodate some 95,000 worshippers.  It was the largest mosque in the world for over 300 years, until it was overtaken by the Faisal Mosque in Islamabad.

I don’t want to add much more – if you want to learn about it, head over to Wikipedia in the first instance – but I can confirm that it is large, beautiful, a remarkable piece of Moghul engineering, and that we were welcomed warmly when we visited.  Hopefully the above photo will speak for itself…