A different kind of bus ride in London

Dalawar Chaudhry with Tiara. It cost him about US$100,000 to ship the bus from Karachi to London.

I’ve been living in London for more than a year now. Like every Londoner, I’ve been riding the buses and using the tubes.

But last month, I had a different kind of ride on a bus that stands out from all the other vehicles on London’s roads. This minibus, called the Tiara, is an import from Pakistan and looks like a bejewelled caravan – it’s a heavily ornamented and highly decorated Pakistani bus in London.

I noticed the Tiara last year during the Eid Festival at Trafalgar Square. But it wasn’t until last month that I thought of working on the story – a story on the bus.

So when I called its owner, Dalawar Chaudhry, he agreed to give me a ride.

Hopping off from a double-decker bus and boarding onto Tiara was quite a difference. My first impression was like, “Wow, seems like I’m not really in London.”

My last ride on such a bus was during my visit to Kashmir, but it wasn’t anything like Tiara.

At times, it’s surprising what you might just come across London, and Tiara was definitely a sweet surprise.

Here’s my experience that I wrote for The National:

From the outside, every visible part of Chaudhry’s Tiara, a 2000 Mazda, is tattooed with multicoloured paintings of plants, birds and animals along with Urdu inscriptions. The two entrances of this customised vehicle are painted in patterns of blue, green, red and yellow, and every window is tinted with designs that pay tribute to the heritage and artistic flair of the Sindhi culture. People in this Pakistani culture, according to Chaudhry, also associate colours with the ability to combat negative energy; therefore the rainbow effect adds a spiritual element to the bus.

The top of the bus is festooned with Islamic inscriptions along with the Pakistani national flag, but the highlight is the assortment of coloured lights that form an arc right above the windscreen, along with a metallic mosaic on top reminiscent of a tiara on a beauty queen’s head.

But it does not end here. Chaudhry has worked equally to beautify the bumper and has even changed the rims of each of its wheels, making them pertinent to the cultural motif.

If the exterior of the bus is captivating, the interior is an invitation to experience the ride. Chaudhry wants people away from his homeland to relive their days of using the local transport and wants Londoners to be momentarily transported to Pakistan aboard the bus.

It is a noisy journey aboard Tiara. The engine makes a thunderous bellow, while the racket of the little bells and beads hung on the bus provides an uninterrupted, one-of-a-kind soundtrack to the trip.

The cushioned seats are dressed in red covers complementing the colourful decor. And the interior, otherwise dimmed by the tinted windows, lights up with the bulbs behind the coloured glass shades on each side of the passenger seats – call it mood lighting or an experience enhancer, it does the trick.

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