(Feature Photo by D Sharon Pruitt)

Several travelers have asked me about the availability of over the counter and prescription drugs in Pakistan. Pharmacies are easy to find in urban areas, and both over the counter and prescription medications are available without a doctor’s prescription. A visit to the pharmacy is quick; there is no need to drop off a prescription list to be “filled” and have to come and pick it up later. Medication in Pakistan is also much cheaper than in the United States or Europe.

Many times the brand names of medications are different in different countries. When go to the pharmacy, bring the generic name of the drug with you. The men working in the store should be able to help you find what you need. You can buy pretty much anything you may need at the local pharmacy. Read on to learn about the brand names of drugs you may need as well as great local remedies.

Cough and Cold

The one thing that I’d suggest bringing along with you would be Nyquil and Dayquil. There isn’t anything quite as strong or effective available in Pakistan. Sometimes you can find Nyquil and Dayquil in import stores (Essa Jee’s in Lahore or various shops in Islamabad), but it’s very expensive.

Local pharmacies have CofCol to ease cold symptoms. It is available in liquid form or in chewable tablets. Some pharmacies carry Coldene, which I have found to be more effective. The best local treatments for a sore throat are Strepsils cough drops (yellow is my favorite flavor) and Joshanda herbal tea. Joshanda is a local remedy that soothes a sore throat. I’ve never had anything like it; and I’ll surely be bringing a big box back to the states with me!

Locals are likely to suggest you take antibiotics, but if you’ve got a common cold there is no need for them. You can pick up vitamin C chewable pills to boost your immune system.

Allergies

Zyrtec used to be available in the markets, but it disappeared in 2009. You can buy Rigix instead, which is the same generic drug. Claratin is sold under the brand name Victrin, and it is a bit more expensive than Rigix. I was prescribed Zyrtec in the U.S., and now I pay thirty times less for it here in Pakistan. Yes, thirty times less, and now I don’t have to go to the doctor every six months (with a $35 co-pay) just to get a new prescription written.

PMS & Pain Medication

The best locally available herbal treatment is Oil of the Evening Primrose Capsules. There are different brands, one is local and costs 250 rupees ($3) per bottle. Others can sell for as much as 1650 rupees, so be sure to check the price before buying. Common painkillers available are Brufen (IB Profen), Disprin (Aspirin), and Panedol.

Birth Control

Only one type of birth control pill is locally available. It is a low-dosage pill marketed as Famila. Due to government subsidies, it is super cheap. For just 30 rupees (37 cents), you can have a 3-month supply. Be careful when you visit the pharmacy, as the men working there may be a bit clueless when it comes to birth control. Once when I asked to see birth control pills, the men took out 28 packets of the morning after pill!

Condoms can also be purchased at pharmacies. There are local brands and imported Durex condoms. If you need to buy them, it’s best to send a man in to the store to make the purchase.

Other Health Care Needs

You’ll be surprised just how much is available at a local pharmacy in urban Pakistan. If there’s a certain medication that you have from home that you want to purchase, just bring in the empty bottle and ask the men at the pharmacy to try and find its equivalent. You can also buy instruments such as glucometers ($27) right at the pharmacy. Many Pakistani pharmacies in major cities are open 24-hours a day. Since prescription drugs are available without a doctor’s note, it is important to be careful when self-medicating. Be sure to consult a doctor for your health care needs in Pakistan.

One of the things about the Azores that makes it such an unbelievable travel destination is the fact that the islands have not yet been really developed for tourism. The only tourists you’ll see are busloads of Germans or Portuguese from the mainland, and they mostly stay on the main island of Sao Miguel (Saint Michael). Aside from a stray backpacker or sailors at Horta, Faial, you’ll feel like you have these islands all to yourself to discover.

When it comes to accommodation, you basically have five choices: hotels, hostels, apartments, guesthouses, or rooms in private homes.

Hotels



Aside from on the main island of Sao Miguel (Saint Michael), you’ll be hard pressed to find many hotels. Look in the major cities on each island to find a hotel to stay in. Cities on other islands that have at least one hotel are Madalena (Pico), Horta (Faial), and Velas (Sao Jorge). Hotels will be your most expensive option. Tour groups are likely to block off rooms in Ponta Del Gada (Sao Miguel) during the summer.

Hostels



Hostels are dorm-type accommodation great for backpackers and young people. They don’t have quite as many rooms as hotels, but they have more rooms than guesthouses or private homes. Bathrooms are usually shared. In Portuguese, hostel is hospedaria.

Apartments



Known locally as apartamentos, apartments can be rented for as little as one night on the islands. This option is great for families or those who want to do their own cooking. Eating out isn’t cheap in the Azores, so self-catering is a good option for budget-minded travelers.

Guesthouses



In Portuguese, guesthouse is casa de hospedes. These properties have a bit more of a family feel to them and may offer breakfast along with the nightly rate. They are likely to have shared bathrooms, whereas apartments will have private bathrooms.

Rooms in Private Homes



Rooms in private homes are by far the most common and most affordable option in the Azores. Mothers may rent out their children’s bedrooms after the kids have grown up and left for college in the US or in Portugal. You will find that Azorean families are very hospitable. Rooms in private homes vary greatly, so it’s best to see the room before you make any commitments. Some room rates may include breakfast, use of the kitchen, or even free-flowing homemade wine! In Portuguese, this type of lodging is called alojamento particular.

For more information, see the Regional Directorate of Tourism of the Azores (www.drtacores.pt) for a current list of apartments, guesthouses, hostels and rooms in private homes. You can pick up the list of lodgings at any Tourist Office on the islands, or you can request it by emailing acorestourismo@mail.telepac.pt.

You can call different properties ahead to get rates and inquire about availability, but bear in mind that most people will not speak fluent English. As there are not herds of tourists flocking to the Azores islands, you can plan on just arriving at an island, getting the current list of lodgings from the Tourist Office, making a few calls to get rates and finding your way to your choice lodging.

After living in Lahore for over three years, I’ve seen many of the different areas. If I had to look for a new place to live, these are the areas I would focus on. I prefer quiet residential areas that are clean and generally not affected by political turmoil.

Defence Housing Authority (DHA)



Most foreigners choose to live in DHA, and for good reason. This newer suburb of Lahore has wider streets, cleaner air, and is a lot quieter and less chaotic than central areas. There are several different phases, with Phase I being the oldest and Phase VI and VII currently being developed. The newer the phase, the newer the house. Read more about living in Defence Housing Authority here. If you’re thinking about living in Defence, keep in mind that this area boasts some of the highest rental prices in Lahore.

Cantonment (Cantt.)



In Pakistani cities, the Cantonment is the army area. If you are a foreigner, you may notice on your Pakistani visa that you are not allowed access to Cantonment areas. This includes the actual army bases, but you can visit or live in the residential areas. Houses in Cantonment will be older than houses in Defence, but aside from commercial areas Cantonment is a quiet and peaceful area. It may be difficult to find houses to rent or buy in this area as most houses are occupied by locals affiliated with the army.

Model Town



Model Town is know for its lovely parks and wide avenues. There are great shopping areas here along Link Road and in C Block market, and rent prices are much lower than Defence. Houses are older, but the cost of living is lower here and Model Town is closer to central Lahore.

Canal Housing Societies



There have been many different housing societies popping up along the Canal going towards Thoker Niaz Baig (motorway). Eden Villas, Canal View and others have set up housing communities that many times include shopping areas, fitness centers and private security. Some of these societies are closer to central Lahore than others, but you must take into account the fact that traffic on canal road can be busy.

Airport Road



Similarly, housing societies have also sprung up along the road to the airport. Airport Road itself (coming from Ghazi Road through Bhatta Chowk) is a frenetic area, but a new overpass is being built to go straight from the airport into the newer areas of Defence. Since these housing areas are a bit farther from the main city, you can rent a larger house or portion for a lot less than you can in Defence.

Punjab Housing Society



For the more budget conscious, Punjab Housing Society is a good option. It is located on Ghazi Road, directly next to Defence. Houses are a bit closer together than in Defence, and roads are narrower. There isn’t much yard or garden space in houses, but you may pay half as much in rent. Other services are cheaper in Punjab Society than in neighboring Defence as well, and you’d still be close enough to Defence to enjoy its supermarkets and coffee shops.

Lahore is developing rapidly. Please leave comments on any other up and coming housing areas in Lahore. I’ve left out Bahria Town simply because it’s so far from central Lahore, but if you’re willing to commute at least one hour daily, Bahria Town is also a good option.

Before the days of air-conditioned (AC) coaches, First Class was the most comfortable way to go while traveling in India. Nowadays First Class is best to be avoided even if the weather doesn’t warrant air conditioning. All rail passengers looking to travel comfortably should consider First Class AC, AC 2-Tier or AC 3-Tier instead.

First Class Coaches Are Being Phased Out

When my husband and I were booking our travel from Amritsar to Dehra Dun, we decided to treat ourselves with First Class tickets. Our journey was in March, so it wasn’t going to be warm enough to require air conditioning. Being a light sleeper, I preferred having a private two or four-berth cabin with a lock on the door to the regular AC 2-Tier and AC 3-Tier coaches.

Well, it wasn’t much of a treat when we arrived at Amritsar station to find that there was NO First Class car on the train. We had already booked and paid for our tickets months in advance, but there was no First Class car to be seen! We went to the Station Master and were told that “First Class is being phased out, and many of the First Class cars are no longer in use.” Fortunately we were able to get berths in an AC 3-Tier car instead. As these berths were less expensive, we applied for a refund of the difference online through IRCTC and received it after a month’s time. Since the First Class (non AC) cars are being phased out, there is no guarantee that the car you booked will actually be attached to the train.

First Class Coaches Are Not Kept Clean and Offer No Services

All AC cars (First Class, 2-Tier and 3-Tier) are generally kept fairly clean. Regular First Class non-AC cars are not kept clean at all. When my husband and I did travel on First Class, we found a dirty, mostly abandoned car without any railway personnel aboard it. In the AC classes, including the AC Chair Car, vendors come aboard the train to sell drinks and snacks. Since the First Class cars have locking doors, vendors do not bother to come aboard. AC sleeper classes provide pillows and clean blankets, while First Class doesn’t provide anything.

First Class Coaches Are Not as Safe as AC Classes

As not as many people sign up to ride in regular First Class, the car can be mostly abandoned. We rode in a First Class car, with our door locked, for over ten hours on an overnight journey. During the night, Second Class passengers kept boarding our car looking for seats, because they thought it was a Second Class coach where the seats are not reserved. At around 3:00am one man was banging on the door to our compartment. Another man informed him, “Yih first class hai.”

The man replied, “Yih first class hai? Koi faraq nahin hai!” which translates to, “This is First Class? There’s no difference!”

Because of this confusion, anyone and everyone can and will board your First Class car during the day and night. The majority of Second Class passengers can’t read, so they just board the car if it looks like it’s a Second Class car from the outside.

“First Class, Just Forget About it!”

When we first saw was First Class consisted of, we tried to change our tickets to AC 2-Tier or AC 3-Tier. These AC classes are less expensive, and although they do not offer the locking compartments (provided the locks are functional), they do offer a safer and cleaner alternative. Unfortunately all the AC berths were booked, so we had to stick with our First Class berths. The Station Master’s advice was “First Class, just forget about it! Nobody goes by First Class anymore. Everyone goes by AC classes. AC classes are the new First Class.”

I would urge you to follow his advice the next time you are booking tickets on Indian Railways!

According to the Indian Railways Annual Reports, over 18 million people per day ride on India’s trains. The figure may be staggering, but it’s even more amazing that you can book a seat on this vast rail network online. Here’s a step by step guide on how to book your Indian Railways tickets online.

1. Go to http://www.irctc.co.in/

2. Create a login name and password by clicking on “Signup” at the bottom left of the Login section. You’ll need to fill in an electronic registration form, including your personal information and a security question. Then you’ll be prompted to verify your account through the email address your provided.

3. After you have verified your account, login with your username and password. Make sure the bubble on the right of the sign in information is clicked for “train ticket.”

4. Next you should come to the “Plan My Travel” section. You’ll need to know what city you want to depart from and what city you want to arrive at before trying to find trains. Here’s a great tool to help you map out your route.

Interactive Tourist Map of Indian Railways

5. Once you know what city you want to depart from, start typing in the name of the city in the “From” section. The stations for that city should show up in a drop down menu. Keep in mind that if you are idle on the IRCTC site for ten minutes, the site will automatically log you out. This can get really annoying!

6. Choose the station you want to depart from, and then choose the station you want to go to. Fill in the date information and choose a class to travel by. On shorter trips, AC Chair Car is usually the most comfortable option, while Second Sitting is the cheapest option. Keep in mind that Second Sitting tickets do not reserve you a seat.

7. Finally, click on e-ticket if you want to get your ticket through email. I-tickets are delivered to an address within India. Once you have filled in all the information, click “Find Trains.”

8. A list of trains will come up. In general, the lower the number, the nicer and faster the train is. It may also be more expensive. In order to check the fares and availability of each train, click on the “Get Fare” and “Check Availability” buttons. Make sure you compare the amount of time each train takes to get to your desired destination. A nicer Shatabdi train may take one quarter of the time that a different type of train takes. Just because a train leaves earlier does not mean it will arrive earlier! If you can’t find any trains for your desired route, try changing the class. Not all routes offer all classes of travel.

9. Once you know what train you want and you know there’s seats available, click on “Book ticket.”

10. Fill in the passenger information for yourself and uncheck the box for Auto Upgradation. You’ll need to carry your passport with you in order for the ticket man to check your ticket on the train.

11. Click “GO” at the bottom when all info is filled in. Make sure to check the date and times and locations at the top before clicking “GO.”

12. You will get a huge bunch of payment options. If you want to pay by debit card or credit card, stay in the top section and Click on “CITI.” This works for most international cards. Most of the other options are aimed towards Indian passengers who do their banking in India.

13. You’ll be taken to the CITI site. Put in all the credit card info and hope the server stays up. First you need to get it authorized, and then click again to put the payment through. Only if both happen will your ticket be reserved.

14. Check your email for a confirmation or check the “My Bookings” area of the site. Make sure to print out your e-ticket before you travel!

Photo by Shannon Brennan