Out of all the nations in the world that has gotten a bad reputation due to the influence of mass media, perhaps Pakistan has gotten the most raw deal of all. Despite the peacefulness of the vast majority of the populace, and its many draws – a history of civilization dating back to the dawn of modern man, many breathtaking mountains and a food culture that will leave you drooling for more long after the last bite, many have been scared off by the perception that this nation is a den for terrorists and their ilk. The occasional bombing every few years in areas well away from tourist attractions and the uncovering and killing of Osama Bin Laden in this country certainly doesn’t help.
However, adventurers savvy enough not be scared by these overstated threats will be rewarded with a nation that has a plethora of cultural and natural attractions, from ruins that date back almost 10,000 years, to sea beaches on its Arabian Sea coast, and of course, the many soaring mountain vistas that can be enjoyed on its frontage on the Himalayan range. Take the plunge and enjoy Pakistan – a nation with many mysteries and surprises, just waiting to be discovered by you!
Currency: Pakistani Rupee
Languages: Punjabi, Sindhi, Siraiki, Urdu, English, various other regional and tribal languages
What To Do
After getting settled in the rapidly growing megalopolis of Karachi (18 million and growing roughly at the rate of 1 million per year), begin your explorations by visiting the Mazar-e-Quaid, which is the mausoleum for the founder of the nation of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Sticking out from the chaos of this heaving urban environment with its iconic marble dome, this place also serves as the final resting place for his prime minister and vice president, as well as certain members of his family. Seeing how this is a memorial, ensure that you dress respectfully before heading out to these this imposing piece of architecture.
Next, scope out the ruins of one of the oldest civilizations uncovered on this planet in Harappa. Here, you will find the remains of the Indus Valley civilization, which when discovered by the nascent Vedic civilization about 4,000 – 5,000 years ago, was already found to be in decline. With no other threats in the region for many millennia preceding first contact with other peoples, there was no evidence of any fortifications or weaponry within their settlements, offering a glimpse into a rare time in human history where the spectre of war was an entirely foreign concept. Walk amongst the ruins and admire the organization which enabled these people to live rich lives in peace for many thousands of years.
Heading to the capital of Islamabad, be sure to check out the largest mosque in the country, the Shah Faisal Masjid. Open to the public outside of prayer hours, this modernist structure was controversial among traditionalists when it originally opened, but it has gained widespread acceptance since then for its ability to welcome masses of worshippers, with capacity for 200,000 celebrants.
If the heat of the lowlands has drenched your clothes thoroughly with your own sweat, head for Pakistan’s favourite hill station, Murree, for a much needed break. Cool and refreshing in the spring, summer and fall, you can trek many trails amongst the hills, ride cable cars to breathtaking viewpoints, or shop at the many stores and bazaars along Mall Road. This high town, which sits at an elevation of 2,300 metres above sea level, also gets copious amounts of snow in the wintertime, allowing for downhill skiing on slopes that can be easily tackled by novices.
Finally, if you are looking for a beach break rather than a mountain escape, then tour the Arabian Sea coast between Karachi and Gwadar, where deserted sea beaches with golden sands awaits those seeking relaxation and solitude. Of note in particular is Ormara Beach, which stands out from the rest with its sea cliffs, and its cleanliness compared to the waters closer to the major cities on the coast.
What To Eat
Pakistani cuisine tends to track Indian cuisine fairly closely, with its widespread use of naan bread, vegetarian daal, chicken tikka, among other dishes. What does separate Pakistan from the best of the region though (apart from the halal nature of the food, due to it being a Muslim country) is their love of kebab. A spiced meat (beef, chicken, lamb, etc) dish that is cooked over a flame, usually on a skewer but not always, it is a mainstay of many meals in this country, making this place heaven for carnivores.
Aloo Gosht is a much beloved soup, consisting of potatoes, tomatoes and meat (usually goat) that is consumed as a comfort by people all over Pakistan. Simmered with a wide array of spices, it is one that needs to be tried by any traveler making their way across this vast nation.
If the dinner that you just ate has lit your mouth on fire, then cool down by consuming some Falooda, a favourite dessert drink in Pakistan. Made with rose syrup, kulfi (bits of traditional Pakistani ice cream), tapioca pearls and basil seeds, it is a unique but refreshing way to feed your sugar addiction, as well as tame the spiciness torturing the insides of your mouth.