From the sandy beaches of the 1000km Arabian Sea coastline to the snowy peaks of the Himalayas to the bustling metropolises of Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad; Pakistan is a diverse country with much to offer in the way of culture, nature and adventure.
Pakistan was an important part of the Persian and Mughal Empires, and was one of the first areas to convert to Islam. It is the now the second largest Muslim country in the world after Indonesia. The area came under the jurisdiction of the British East India Company in 1857 and for many years was one of the empire’s most valuable assets.
After World War Two, when it became clear that the Raj’s time on the Indian subcontinent was coming to an end, there were concerns about how the vast nation would be divided politically, with many Muslims believing they would be a subjected minority in a Hindu state. This led to the creation of the ‘Two Nation Theory’, which advocated the creation of two states from British India; East and West Pakistan where Muslims were in the majority, and India where Hindus where the majority. Thus in 1947, the state of Pakistan was created amid the communal riots which resulted in millions of displaced Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs moving to be among their religious fellows.
Today, Pakistan is ruled by Sharia law, and is one of the most devout Muslim countries. It has a minority of Islamic Fundamentalists, who may look upon western visitors as targets for kidnapping or terrorism. However, Pakistan in general is fairly safe and the people are friendly and hospitable, providing you treat local customs with respect. 2007 has been designated the year of tourism by the government, who are making an effort to improve Pakistan’s image as a tourist destination. If you have concerns about the safety of your visit, access the Foreign Office’s travel advice page.
Urdu is the most commonly spoken language in Pakistan. Many people will speak a regional language or dialect as well, such as Punjabi or Sandhi. As with many countries that were part of the British Empire, English is the language of government and is spoken by the ruling class, business class and those who have had a university education.
The unit of currency is the Pakistani Rupee. As of 22nd October 06 1 GBP will buy 114.114 PKR, 1 USD buys 60.5972 PKR and 1 Euro buys 76.4224 PKR.
With the exception of the mountainous north of the country, Pakistan is very hot in the summer, with temperatures ranging between 32 and 45 degrees Celsius. The winter is cooler, with temperatures around 16 degrees Celsius. Rainfall occurs in the monsoon season between July and September.
The Indus Valley Civilization is one of the earliest examples of human civilization, beaten only by Egyptian and Mesopotamian settlements. Moenjodaro was discovered in 1922, and is still being excavated by a team of international archaeologists. Several large communal buildings have been identified so far, including a granary, temple and palace. The city’s infrastructure is also of interest; an elaborate sewerage system was in place to carry the town’s waste away.
Lahore contains some of the world’s oldest and finest examples of Muslim architecture. There are various styles that represent the tastes of the various dynasties that ruled Lahore, included the prolific Mughals who used the city as their capital. Many of the temples, tombs, shrines and colleges have been preserved exquisitely and are between 500 and 1000 years old. They contain glittering shrines, glazed tiles and delicate stone carvings. Particularly worth mentioning are; the Royal Fort, Wazir Khan’s Mosque, and the Shalimar Gardens.
Northern Pakistan contains the highest concentration of peaks over 8000 metres, and as such has become extremely popular with mountain climbers. It contains the world’s second highest mountain, K2, at 8,611 metres. This is a notoriously dangerous climb, and there are of course many gentler routes that provide an unforgettable experience among breathtaking scenery.
White water rafting is becoming an increasingly popular activity for adventurous tourists in Pakistan. If you would like an exhilarating and challenging way to experience Pakistan’s natural beauty, then kayaking is perfect. You can even negotiate the rapids of the Indus Valley, which contains remnants of one of the planet’s most ancient civilizations.
You can buy high quality carpets, rugs and other luxurious fabrics cheaply in Pakistan. However, don’t be tempted by the smaller, cheaper shops aimed at tourists, as it is likely that they stock synthetic materials. In Karachi, shopping malls are available, but they lack the character of the various markets that are hundreds of years old.
The illegality of alcohol consumption leaves little scope for a nightlife that suits western tastes. Although bars and clubs do exist, they are seedy affairs that operate on the fringes of the law and often attract unsavoury characters.
- The Silk Road that links Pakistan to China is one of the world’s most ancient and congested highways.
- Good quality motorways link Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad.
- The consumption of alcohol is illegal, so drink driving is frowned upon doubly.
- The speed limit in cities is generally 50 km per hour.
Food and Drink
Many Pakistani meals are based around the staple of Chapati, which is flatbread similar to Tortilla. This is served alongside the innumerable flavours of chutney and curry, which are made with combinations of chilli, turmeric, pepper, garlic, cumin, bay leaves and many other herbs and spices. The influence of Islam means that pork is rare, lamb and beef being the most popular meats.
To buy alcohol you must be able to prove you are a foreigner, as it is illegal under Sharia law.