If a Foreigner were to take Bus Ride in Pakistan..

Posted on June 12, 2009
Filed Under >Owais Mughal, Pakistanis Abroad, Society
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Owais Mughal

When I was a student in Michigan, our University conducted this activity on on how to cope with cultural shocks. Student groups belonging to different countries were asked to come up with activities which were considered a norm in their countries but could be a cultural shock to foreigners. International students then went through these activities and tried to experience other countries’ cultures and indeed felt shocked. Later on trained Moderators were provided to explain the background of why certain behaviors and things were different in other countries and how to appreciate this diversity.

Well, when it came to Pakistan, my friends and I got together and we came up with the idea of simulating a public bus ride in Pakistan. I mean, what could be more shocking for a foreigner if he were asked to go from point A to point B in Pakistan using a public bus. If he is not open to local behaviors, there is going to be a multitude of cultural shocks he may have to go through.

Constructing our Pakistani Bus:

After getting our idea approved by the event organizers, our first challenge was how to simulate a bus experience. As you may have guessed from the title photo, we decided to build our Pakistani bus from card board. We picked up several pieces of card board from local Office Depot and used duct tape to join them together in a rectangular bus shape. We provided a door on a side so passengers could walk in.

To keep the cardboard rigid, we literally used broom sticks (JhaRoo‘s handles) from inside as support beams and pasted them using duct tape (again!). Somebody has rightly said that a man can fix anything with the duct tape. I’ve heard that NASA’s Space Shuttles also have duct tapes in them for just-in-case situations.

What About Wheels?

There were no wheels in the bus – which I think was the only short coming in our design. We provided narrow slits in the card board where our trained Bus Driver and Mr. Conductor could insert their fingers, lift the whole bus up a few inches and move around a large hall along with passengers inside. Once the driver started pulling the bus, the passengers bound by this rectangular boundary (9 feet X 4 feet) had no choice but to walk where-ever the driver took this bus. It was fun.

Driver Saheb:

As you can see from the photo, our driver was mashallah very talented. He has a Masters degree in Engineering but drivery(driving) was his passion. He hails from Rawalpindi, so while driving this bus he talked to passengers in authentic Potohari, Punjabi and Urdu. I believe while riding this bus he was also singing some Daler Mehndi tunes. I have written these lines today and I am sure he will read them by tomorrow. I hope he spares me. We are still good friends Driver Saheb!

Decorating Our Pakistani Bus:

Even more fun was decorating this bus. I remember that only a few students helped us in building the super-structure with broom sticks (a PhD Civil Engineer – now an Associate Professor, helped me there) but as soon we got down to writing and decorating with markers and colored paper, a crowd of willing volunteers showed up.

As you can see from the photos we wrote anything and everything we could remember from our own experience of Pakistani transport. I forgot the whole list but looking at photos some of the items that are readable include:

Chief Sahib (Mr. Chief)


route humraah hai – Literal translation is ‘Route is Within’. I’ve never understood what this means. Can our readers help? I have a feeling this is some kind of a message for traffic police.

baji ji bismillah (Please Sister -Come inside) – This is written on the door of ladies compartment.

Driver ki zindagi bhi ajab khel hai, maut se bach gaya to central jail hai (Life of driver is a mysterious game – If he dodges his death, he ends up in Jail)

phir mileN ge, gar khuda laaya (We will meet again – God willing)

Pilot Seat – This is written where Driver sits

F-16 written on the photo of a Boeing 747

sharmeeli (A shy lady)

Passenger Gate – written on the main door of the bus

Speed Limit 65 kmph

Model 2009 – This number is of course updated by re-painting the least significant digit every year on the same bus.

This is all that I could read from the photos or think of right now, but I remember we had every inch of this bus decorated with such slogans, poetry and philosophy.

The Ride Experience:

On the day of the activity, we had posted mock signs for different bus stops in the hall. These names were what one can expect to see in Pakistan e.g. Merewether Tower, Melody, Mozang Chungi, Saddar, aabpaara, Cantt Station etc. Some signs were in Urdu and some were in English.

International students were given paper instructions which instructed them to stop a Pakistani bus and go from (say) Melody bus stop to aabpaara bus stop. They were also given some Pakistani currency to simulate fare transaction in the bus. We had collected some Pakistani currency by doing ‘chanda’ among ourselves. In the dollar age, Pakistani currency was hard to get.

What Happened at a Bus Stop?

Here is how a typical experience went in this activity. An in-experienced international student would be waiting at (say) Melody bus stop. Our Pakistani bus would approach him/her. The bus would already be crowded with some of our ‘faarigh’ friends which we had already crammed in as free riders. Despite a waiting passenger, the bus did not stop at Melody and kept going.

The intending passenger was now confused and shocked as to why the bus didn’t stop.

Next bus came in a bit. This time the conductor shouted at the passenger in Potohari accent:

“Jaa so?” (wanna go)

If the student didn’t respond or said something in English, then the bus didn’t stop this time either.

By now the international student was fully shocked and needed help. Since Pakistanis are very helpful so someone in the bus-stop came to the student and asked him/her in English where did he want to go and helped him stop the next bus by standing out of the bus-stop, extending the arm out to tell driver that we wanted the bus to be stopped etc.

Moderators then explained to the international student that Pakistani buses run against time. They want to reach their last stop as early as possible so that they can have one more ‘phera’ (run) in the day. In this haste, sometimes the buses don’t even come to a complete stop. They just slow down and a passenger has to get in or disembark from a moving vehicle. Also, if a passenger doesn’t show enough interest by moving their arms or gesturing the bus to stop, they don’t stop.

The buses sometimes don’t stop at the proper bus-stop either but a little bit further or earlier depending on wherever a group of willing passengers is available.

Inside the Bus:

There is a big chance that Pakistani public bus conductor will not be able to speak English therefore the fare has to be paid through some clever communication.

When international students came aboard, we made sure the conductor only spoke local languages (say) Urdu or Punjabi. Sometimes we had fun asking questions like:

‘O maai, kithay jaana eh’


‘kahaan jaaiye ga pardesi babu’

But fun aside it was educational for the international students as they were shocked again and some didn’t know how to communicate in such situation. Some just opened their palms full of money asking the conductor to pick up whatever was the correct fare. Conductors were honest of course, but most of the times some one among the local passengers did know enough English and helped the international student figure out the correct fare. These fellow passengers also helped the students read the route map and helped pronounce the local destinations.


Photo to the right is the group which took part in this activity. We did get to listen to some of the comments which the students made after riding in our bus. They were shocked; they sometimes felt helpless and frustrated. But everyone did mention that bus driver and conductor genuinely wanted to help them. sometimes the conductor would ask among local passengers whether somebody knew English and communicate with the foreigner. In almost every situation there was always somebody in the crowd who came forward and helped them. Among other things, this indeed was one of our idea to portray that one could always find many helpful Pakistanis who will go out of the way to help their guests.

Bottom Line: Pakistanis are a helpful nation. They will always help you if needed. And if you look deeper, you can find some method to the madness of Pakistan’s public buses.

Why Now?

This activity had taken place a few years ago. Under the dust of time, I had totally forgotten about it. Last night I was going through my old photos and I found the ones scanned here. It brought back the good memories. I am still in touch with many of the friends you see in these photos. So today I made sure to sit down and write this post so that next time I don’t have to dig through old photos to remember what fun and education we had.

Hopefully this post will become a tutorial to public bus riding in Pakistan.

27 responses to “If a Foreigner were to take Bus Ride in Pakistan..”

  1. Aine imran shah says:

    What a wonderful post, loved reading this. As a car driver, I’ve always seen mini buses as a major menace, but now sitting in Lagos, so far away from home, I feel terribly nostalgic! And thank you especially for the poetry…

  2. Hakim Hazik says:

    Your translation is better.
    Here are some more pithy slogans:

    Tery yad ai terey janay kay baad (with a picture of Ayub Khan)
    Once you were gone, you were missed

    Jalnay walay ka munh kala
    May the envious come to grief

    Yeh to wahi jagah hey guzray they ham jahan sey
    This place looks familiar

    Please also see:
    Lahore on Easter
    http://justicedeniedpk.com/JDP/post/2009/05/02/Lah ore-on-Easter.aspx

    Khair nal ja

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