Trekking with views of the eight-thousanders, ethnography in mountain villages, and ancient Buddhist monuments
The Himalayas, the Karakoram and the Hindu Kush are the huge mountain systems of Pakistan. Five of the fourteen eight thousandths of the planet are here. People come to Pakistan to fly over the K2, the second highest mountain in the world, to ride a motorcycle over the Karakoram Highway, visit Islamic and Buddhist monuments, enter half-closed Baluchistan and ride the chic Pakistani buses. And of course you also get to know the mountain peoples, the Kalashas and the Burish.
There is a cliché about Pakistan that radical Islamists live there, something is constantly flying up in the air and women have to decide before the trip, whether you take a black hijab with you. Pakistan is actually a very safe country. And the worst thing that can happen there with you is food poisoning. Yes, the situation is turbulent in some regions. However, tourists are not allowed to go there without a special permit.
Nature in Pakistan is fantastic: the sea in the south, the mountains in the north. And not only mountains, but also giants: Five of the fourteen eight thousandths of the planet are here. And everywhere in the country there is a rich historical heritage: the ruins of the Harappan civilization, Mausoleums and fortresses. There are dozens of nationalities in Pakistan who are committed to different religions: the Pashtuns, the Punjabis, the Baluchis and the Kalashas, who still have their own faith in a Muslim environment.
The travel journalist Pavlo Morkovkin told us how to get to Pakistan, what to see, how to dress and why you shouldn’t believe the horror news.
Attractions: Buddhist heritage, the eight-thousand-meter mountains and Sufi mausoleums
Pakistan and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan are located in South Asia and border on Iran, Afghanistan, India and China. It is a relatively young state – Pakistan was founded in 1947 after independence from Britain. But people have lived here for millennia, and monuments from different eras have been preserved. Although more than 95% of the population are Muslims, a Buddhist, Hindu and Sikh heritage has been preserved. There are tombs and mosques, ruins of cities and Buddhist stupas, fortresses and mountain villages. We have compiled the most important and colorful sights of Pakistan in our history.
Most of the places mentioned in the travel guide can be visited free of charge. If entry is subject to a fee, we have stated the costs.
Karachi: Tombs, Mosques and Camels on the Beach
Karachi is located in southern Pakistan, on the coast of the Arabian Sea. It is the largest city in the country: 15 million people live here, and Karachi is one and a half times the size of Moscow. It is also the busiest airport in the country. If you’ve found a cheap flight to Pakistan, it’s probably going to Karachi.
In the Saddar district there are neighborhoods with colonial architecture that are differently well preserved. But it is by no means the historical center of the city in the European sense: there are no narrow postcard streets with cozy cafes and souvenir shops. Rather, it is an ordinary residential area with mosques and bazaars in the middle of some beautiful British buildings.
Empress Market is the oldest market in Karachi, built at the end of the 19th century
The rest of Karachi consists of modern low-rise buildings. It looks like a nightmare: terrible traffic, noise, wide streets, impromptu markets and almost no sidewalks. It is very inconvenient to move around the city, and public transportation is poor. Cabs are the most convenient way to see the sights, which are spread all over the city.
Mazar-e-Quaid. The city’s landmark is the mausoleum of the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, built 50 years ago. The huge marble building with a dome as high as a 15-story building took ten years to build. This beautiful example of modernist architecture is somewhat marred by a tacky chandelier that the Chinese gave to the residents of Karachi a few years ago.
A symbol of the city – the mausoleum of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan
Masjid-e tuba. A bizarre shaped mosque that was built in the 1960s. The entire building is under a huge dome that has no columns. And inside, the ceiling is decorated with thousands of small sparkling mirrors.
Clifton Beach. A beach in the district of the same name in Karachi, one of the most colorful places in the city. Located on the shores of the Arabian Sea, it is an amusement park for the locals –, in fact, it is the only open-air public square in the city. Some swim in the muddy water, others ride camels, donkeys and carts, others picnic on the gray sand.
One of the attractions on Clifton Beach is riding a camel. Photo: A. Savin / Wikimedia Commons
Chakundi tombs. A cemetery from the 15th to 18th. Century on the eastern edge of the city. Each grave has a characteristic pyramid-shaped tombstone made of sandstone slabs, which is decorated with carved patterns. The tombs belong to the Baluchis, a people who live in southwestern Pakistan in the province of Baluchistan and in the neighboring areas of Iran and Afghanistan.
Antiquity: mausoleums of Sufi preachers, ruins of cities and a Buddhist stupa
Mohenjo-Daro are the ruins of a huge city that was built more than four thousand years ago. It is one of the most important monuments of the Harappan civilization and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After the city was excavated by archaeologists, parts of the settlement can be seen here: areas for the residents of the various estates, a Buddhist stupa, a drainage system, fountains, public baths and granaries. Admission costs 300 rupees ( 1.5 euros ).
Mohenjo-Daro are the ruins of a huge city that was built more than four thousand years ago. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Photo: Benny Lin / Flickr.com
Uch Sharif is a small town that is over two and a half thousand years old. After the advent of Islam, Uch Sharif became an important religious and cultural center. The main attraction of the city are several monumental medieval buildings that have been included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. These are the graves of prominent figures from this period and the mosques built nearby. Most of these people were Sufi preacher and their relatives. The most picturesque are the ruins of three octagonal mausoleums from the 14th to 16th centuries. Century, which are about 20 meters high, built of bricks and decorated with blue tiles. A flood 200 years ago divided each of the buildings in half, but the parts preserved can be used to imagine their original appearance.
Sufiya Bibi Jawindi mausoleum in Uch Sharif
Multan is also called the city of saints because of the dozens of mausoleums of Sufi preachers. If you’re not interested in Islamic history or medieval architecture, you probably shouldn’t visit them all. The graves of Shah Rukn-e Alam and Bahauddin Zakariya in the old town and Shah Yusuf Gardezi are also worth a visit.
Gusia Hamidia Mosque in Multan
Lahore: UNESCO sites, the old town and the celebration of the closure of the border with India
Of all Pakistani cities, Lahore may have the greatest historical heritage and most architectural monuments. The city is located in northeastern Pakistan, near the border with India. Lahore was in the 16th. Century the capital of the Mughal Empire, in the 19th. Century that of the Sikh state and then the British province of Punjab, so that their sights are worth a separate article.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Lahore Fort and the Shalimar Gardens. Monuments from the heyday of the Mughal Empire when it was ruled by Shah Jahan, the same Padishah who initiated the construction of the Taj Mahal in India. The fortress is close to the old town and behind its walls are marble palaces and mosques decorated with mosaics and gilding.
The Shalimar Gardens are closer to the outskirts of Lahore. There you can stroll through pavilions with fountains and pools. The entrance to the fort is 500 rupees ( 2.3 € ) and for the gardens 500 rupees ( 2.3 € ).
Shalimar gardens in Lahore. Photo: Muhammad Ashar ( CC BY-SA 4.0 )
Badshahi mosque. A huge mogul mosque from the 17th. Century, which is as big as ten soccer fields. Three huge domes rise above the red sandstone building. If you visit the mosque with a guide, ask him to demonstrate the acoustic properties of the mosque – how the sound is dampened and amplified in certain areas of the building. Tours can be done through local Tour operator be booked.
Badshahi Mosque – a huge Mughal Mosque from the 17th. Century, which is the size of ten soccer fields
Old town. A strikingly colorful historic district of Lahore with a thousand-year history, surrounded by the city wall. A visit is worthwhile because of the narrow, dusty streets, the spontaneous markets, of street eating and the Havelis – Villas of the local nobility from the 19th and early 20th. Century.
Wagah border crossing. The areas of today’s Pakistan and India used to be part of the same British colony. In 1947, the majority of the colony inhabited by Hindus became independent India. And where the Muslims dominated, Pakistan and Bangladesh – emerged at that time they were a country. Immediately afterwards there was a migration of peoples: Hindus moved to their homeland, Muslims to their homeland. According to various estimates, between 10 and 20 million people were forced to relocate, with between 200,000 and two million people dying. In the same year, a war broke out between the two newly founded states over controversial areas. There have long been no direct clashes between the armies of India and Pakistan, but the conflict continues to this day,and territorial disputes persist between countries.
The Pakistani military during a flag-cutting ceremony on the Wagah border crossing. Photo: Imtiaz Ahmed / Flickr.com
At some checkpoints there is a flag lowering ceremony in the evening. Pakistani and Indian border guards march near the border while spectators in the stands cheer on their countrymen. Given the tense relationship between states, the whole thing looks like a mixture of circus, military parade and football derby.
The most colorful and famous ceremony takes place at the Wagah border crossing, 30 km from Lahore. The show itself starts at 6 p.m., but you have to leave Lahore three to four hours in advance to get through traffic jams and roadblocks in time for the border closing ceremony.
The Kalashas valleys
The Kalashis are a small people who live in northwestern Pakistan. They have not yet converted to Islam and are sticking to their traditional beliefs. The Kalashis live in the Bumburet, Rumbur and Birir valleys, where there are shared taxis ( shared taxi ) from Chitral and Ayun, which leave as soon as they are full.
Kalash women wear colorful dresses that they embroider and do not hide their hair like their Muslim neighbors.
Each valley is a mountain road with several Kalash villages, each with several hundred people. It is possible to stay in each of these places: the distances are short and all sights are signposted. The Kalashis build their houses in the traditional style of the region – alternately from masonry and wooden beams. Each village has a Jestakkhan – a room for rituals, open-air altars in the form of stone blocks and carved wooden figures. And bashali – a special house that houses the local women for the period of menstruation and birth. In some places old Kalaschi cemeteries are preserved, where the dead were buried in the traditional way – the wooden coffin with the body was not buried, but simply left on the floor.Kalash women look very happy: they wear colorful dresses that they embroider themselves and do not hide their hair like their Muslim neighbors.
In the past, the Kalashis did not bury the bodies, but simply left the coffins with the deceased on the surface. This ritual can still be seen in some cemeteries
The Kalashis are known on the Internet as descendants of Alexander the Great’s soldiers who traveled the region in the fourth century BC. This is nonsense – there is no scientific basis for this version, but there are studies that have not found a genetic connection.
The most popular time to visit the valley are the annual Kalash festivals, where the residents of all villages come together in one place and perform ritual dances. The main festivals are Chilam Joshi ( 13.-16. May ), Uchal ( 20.-22. August ) and winter solstice ( 15.-22. December ).
The Kalashis in the Bumburet Valley celebrate the annual Alien Joshi festival before the local men leave their villages and bring their herds to the summer pastures in the mountains
All of northern Pakistan is littered with Buddhist monuments, but they are scattered far across the region. If you want to see them all, you have to stop in a larger village and then walk for half a day to a lonely stupa or bas-relief.
Jehanabad Buddha in the Swat Valley
The main objects are the Takht-e-Bahi monastery complex, 70 kilometers from Peshawar, and the monuments in Taxila near Islamabad, both of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Smaller monuments are mainly represented in the Swat Valley. FDher fans can drive around the local villages and those who have little time can visit the easily accessible monuments: Kargah Buddha near Gilgit and the Buddha rocks in Skardu. Entry is Rs 500 ( 2.3 euros ) or. Rs 150 ( 0.7 euros ).
Takht-i-Bahi monastery complex
A local museum is a good starting point to understand and appreciate Thaksila’s Buddhist heritage. Admission costs 500 rupees ( 2.3 euros ). The other attractions are within a few kilometers of the museum. You are at the crossroads of two provinces: Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. For 500 rupees ( 2.3 euros ) a ticket is sold with which you can visit any three sites, but only in the same region. All of them are ruins of Buddhist monuments that are preserved differently well. The best preserved is the Jaulian monastery in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. There you can visit religious and residential buildings, high reliefs and Buddha statues.
Mountains and paths
Three mountain systems meet in the north: the Himalayas, the Karakoram and the Hindu Kush. Pakistan is home to five of the fourteen thousand and more than a hundred seven kilometers of mountains on earth. The mountains range from the green valleys of Swat to the cold deserts of Baltistan. There is something for every taste: you can climb the peaks, hike or just sit in the hotel courtyard, drink tea and admire the landscape.
Mount Tupopdan or Passu Cathedral ( 6.106 meters ) in the Gilgit-Baltistan region
Karakoram Highway. One of the highest international roads in the world runs through northern Pakistan. It begins on the outskirts of Islamabad, crosses the Khunjerab Pass at an altitude of 4,693 meters and leads to the city of Kashgar in China. The 1,300 kilometers of asphalt have been paved by the beautiful mountain landscape for 20 years. Many tourists come to Pakistan to ride their bikes or motorcycles along the highway.
Fairy Meadows. Probably the most popular and straightforward route. Where the Karakoram Highway meets the Raikot Bridge, jeeps are parked, on one of which you have to overcome the next 15 kilometers. The cost of the return trip is 50 euros and there is no way to get around it – You must not walk and get in the car. Then you have to hike a few hours to the green Fairy Meadows, with the snow-covered Mount Nangaparbat, the ninth highest peak in the world and the westernmost peak of the Himalayan chain, in the background. You can stay in one of the local hotels – a place for a tent with access to the toilet and kitchen costs from 1,000 rupees ( 4.5 euros ) per night, a fully equipped room is three to four times as expensive.However, the prices vary greatly depending on the season, and haggling is always appropriate. A path leads from the meadows to the Nangaparbat base camp. It is possible to walk there and back in full daylight.
View of Nangaparbat. Photo: Imrankhakwani ( CC BY-SA 4.0 )
Sadpara Air Safari. Sadpara Air Safari Excursion by plane from Pakistan International Airlines, named after the mountaineer Muhammad Ali Sadpara. He died in 2021 when Chogori or K2, the second highest mountain after Everest, was stormed. The tour flies between Islamabad and Skardu and offers passengers the opportunity to admire the Pakistani mountain landscape, including the peaks of K2, Nangaparbat and Broad Peak. The price is 25,000 rupees ( 115 euros ) for one-way travel. This service is not available on the airline’s website and must be booked in one of the offices in Islamabad. Please note that the safari is only offered on the route from Islamabad to Skardu. After landing, you can either stay in the mountains and continue your journey by land or fly back to Islamabad by plane, but not on the sightseeing route,but on the regular route for 50-70 euros.
Karimabad: fortresses and the mysterious Hunza tribe
The mountain town in northern Pakistan is famous for its colorful stone houses and the breathtaking view of the Hunza Valley. The main attractions of Karimabad are the two medieval fortresses Baltit and Altit. In the narrow streets of Altititit you will find local women in Tracht –, unfortunately, photography is prohibited there, probably not to annoy the locals. Both fortresses now house museums with guides who speak English well and are really interested in their subject, instead of just telling a memorized text. Entry costs Rs 1200 ( 5.5 euros ) per person. Even if you are indifferent to history and architecture, a visit is worthwhile, if only because of the view from the fortress walls.
Fort Baltit. Photo: Jamalhunzokuz ( CC BY-SA 4.0 )
Karimabad and its surroundings are inhabited by the Burians. Some sources call it the “ mysterious Hunza tribe ”, whose members are said to be 120 years old and do not get sick and remain in a good mood until death. But of course that has as little to do with reality as the stories about the descendants of Alexander the Great, the Kalashis.
The most important thing about security
First, What you should know about security in Pakistan is that you shouldn’t judge the situation in the country by media reports. It is by no means a representative sample. Yes, there are occasional terrorist attacks in Pakistan that kill people. For example, in December 2020, an unidentified person threw a grenade on a market in the city of Surab in the province of Baluchistan, injuring 14 people. In August 2021, an explosion in Punjab tore a crowd during the Shiite religious Ashura festival, killing three people and injuring 50. A well-respected incident involving tourists occurred at the foot of Mount Nangaparbat in 2013 when Islamists attacked a climbing camp and eleven people from Ukraine,Slovakia, Lithuania, China, the United States, Nepal and Pakistan killed.
But you can’t brand an entire country based on this information alone. Many factors play a role here: where the attack took place, who the attackers and victims were, how the authorities and residents reacted. It would be like refusing to travel to France because people are crushed by trucks on the streets.
Second, that you shouldn’t completely trust unusual youbuoys and travel shows. These people need drama, so they’ll tell you how they hid from Taliban snipers in Pakistan at short intervals.
Third, Pakistan is generally a very safe country if you use your mind. But if you don’t, you can have problems even in the quietest places.
The victims of the Islamists are often religious minorities: Shiites, Christians, Sufis. Participation in such a religious mass event therefore poses a greater risk. Although the police and army usually take additional security measures at such events.
The problem areas are the province of Baluchistan in the southwest and the former tribal areas, a narrow strip along the border with Afghanistan. Local separatists and Islamists are active in the former, and incidents with foreign tourists have actually occurred. In 2011, the Taliban kidnapped a Swiss couple who escaped captivity eight months later, and in 2013 two Czech girls were victims who were released two years later.
Until three years ago there was no official Pakistani authority in the tribal zone, but local clan militias ensured order. The area has now been incorporated into the Pakistani province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but it is not exactly a quiet place. It is not easy to get to the tribal areas and Baluchistan, and even accidental take-away is impossible: foreigners without a special permit are simply not allowed through the checkpoints.
There are numerous roadblocks, and almost every checkpoint registers foreigners and sends them information along the way. The safety of tourists is ensured here. It is clear to everyone that every incident with a foreigner is published in the international media and that all efforts to develop tourism are being wiped out. Perhaps the best evidence of this guardianship is the fact that tourists in Pakistan last got into trouble in May 2014 as one Chinese cyclist was kidnapped in the northwest of the country.
Not all Pakistani police officers are familiar with foreign documents, and some cannot even find the name in a passport. The most imaginative of them simply hand over the registration book and ask tourists to enter their own data. If you are not alone, stopping at every checkpoint will take a long time. So simply print out your details on a separate sheet: surname, first name, gender, nationality, date of birth, profession, number and date of issue and passport expiry, Number and date of issue and expiry of the visa. Make a few dozen copies of this paper and give it to the police – Original documents are usually not required.
In regions where there is even a minimal risk – or where this risk existed twenty years ago, the internal guidelines have not changed to this day – you will be accompanied by a police convoy. This usually happens in Baluchistan, Kohistan, North Sindh and South Punjab. This convoy is not very similar to the real security that accompanies tourists in Somalia, for example. Usually you are guarded by a few police officers with automatic rifles, but in the quieter areas it may be, that an old grandfather is sent to your protection with an ancient rifle or even none at all. This delays the journey a bit, but it is helpful if the police accompany you to blocked attractions and if you do not have your own vehicle,it can be a free taxi service. It won’t cost you anything, but if you’ve driven you through town all day, feel free to invite you for lunch.
The situation regarding street crime such as theft, robbery and fraud is much calmer in Pakistan than in many popular tourist countries. The hospitality of the Pakistanis, who are always ready to help a visitor and sometimes even overcrowded. Sellers are not inclined to raise the price due to their skin color, and they are not reluctant to negotiate. When a stranger in a tourist country speaks to a foreigner and starts a conversation, he or she expects some kind of consideration in most cases. If you are addressed by a stranger in Pakistan, he probably wants to really greet you and find out where you come from and whether you want to visit his country.
A girl who travels without a male companion can cause confusion, genuine interest or helpfulness among the locals, but nothing more. Pakistan is less likely to be harassed than Turkey or India, where no one doubts its safety. The American traveler Alexandra Reynolds has a detailed one Guide written about Pakistan for women.
Pakistan has far more likely threats than the Taliban. For example, food poisoning is – Travel diarrhea – not yet removed. So avoid bottled water and unsanitary places to eat. But don’t overdo it – You don’t want to do without the attractions of Pakistani street eating.
Pakistani street food
Anyone prone to altitude sickness must be careful. When you travel by land, you gradually gain altitude, but when you fly from Islamabad to Skardu, you get two kilometers higher in an hour. However, if your goal is not climbing, but visiting mountain villages and uncomplicated trekking, there should be no problems.
Another obvious danger is traffic. Traffic in Pakistan is completely crazy and the rules are followed on a case-by-case basis. So you have to be careful not only as a pedestrian, but especially when you are at the wheel in Pakistan.
People of Pakistan
The Pakistanis are as hospitable as they are conservative and religious. So if you come from a European country and don’t believe in God, it’s best to say that you are a Christian when asked about your religion. It is also not worth joking about Islam – unless you speak to western-oriented young people from the big cities or your friend has made it clear, that he doesn’t like the Islamic way of life. In general, you should treat the customs and history of the locals with the same respect that they welcome you.
Local hospitality is sometimes annoying. Pakistanis can answer their annoying questions “ Where are you from? ” and “ How do you like Pakistan? ”. constantly asking to do selfies, or even shoot secretly – then choose Tiktok. You just have to put up with it. This is partly due to the desire to please the guest, partly due to the phenomenon common in postcolonial countries, which is referred to here as a mountain complex ( white man in Urdu — Hindi ). The Pakistanis are often too submissive to the mountain. But they can also be helpful: you can enter a shop without queuing or enter a blocked sight. However, you should not abuse this attitude.
Pakistan is an Islamic republic, but there are no legal regulations for women’s clothing like Iran, and tourists don’t have to cover their heads. However, it is advisable. It is also advisable to choose clothing that is as closed and loose as possible. Men can wear T-shirts with short sleeves, but no shirts with open shoulders. Shorts should also stay at home – wear light long pants. Another option is the Shalwar Kameez, a local suit that consists of a wide pair of pants and a knee-length shirt. It is worn by both men and women. You don’t stand out that way, and you are even respected by the locals.
Bookseller in Pakistani Shalwar Kameez costume
The situation differs from region to region. The strictest areas are the Pashtun areas in the northwest of the country and Kohistan. There, when they appear on the street, the local women only wear burqas, a bag-like garment that completely covers the body from head to toe. It is much easier in Islamabad, the Hunza and Kalasha valleys: men in shorts and women in short-sleeved T-shirts are accepted. But you are unlikely to see locals in this clothing.
It is advisable to dress as possible in the mosque: women with a covered head, legs and arms up to the wrists, men with covered legs, but a T-shirt with short sleeves is allowed.
Pakistan has strong cultural ties to India despite political conflicts. Pakistanis like to listen to Indian music and like to watch Bollywood films. This is all the more true since Urdu and Hindi, the national languages of Pakistan and India, are mutually understandable for the ear. The southeastern provinces of Sindh and Punjab are most similar to India. The historical region of Punjab was divided by the border and gave its name not only to the Pakistani province, but also to the Indian state of the same name.
Eat and drink
In southern Pakistan, the menu is almost Indian: biryani – rice with meat, karai – meat fried in oil, dal – lens soup puree, chana – chickpea stew, all of course with spices. Kebabs, finely chopped pieces of meat with spices that are fried or grilled in the pan are very popular. Streetfood is usually Samosa’s – small fried cakes with vegetables or meat – and Golgappa – fried, hollow, thin bread, filled with chickpeas or vegetables.
A man cooks Gulab Jamun on a street in Bahawalpur
The main difference is that Muslim cuisine is much bloodier than Hindu, and vegetarians will not feel as free in Pakistan as in India. There is a lot of beef, lamb and chicken in Pakistani cuisine. Pork is not eaten for religious reasons. It is also not easy with fresh vegetables: Most of the time you can only rely on a poor salad made from chopped cucumbers, tomatoes and onions. You should definitely try fresh fish on the coast and near the rivers.
Young salespeople in a butcher shop
Sweets are a separate topic. Even in small towns there are always shops selling sweets. You should definitely try Burfi and Gulab Jamun, which are made from flour and milk, as well as the local Halwa, which consists of various nuts and ghee. The best milk desserts are ras malai and khir, which are reminiscent of pudding, as well as kulfi ice cream.
In the mountains in the north there are many restaurants with typical southern but less tasty food. The reason for this is that most cafes in the mountain regions are geared towards domestic tourism. But the Punjabis who come to visit also like to eat their local dishes in their free time. So be sure to find a café that serves local, Nordic dishes. Or ask the hotel about the local specialties – homemade goat cheese, walnut tortillas, apricot kernel oil and mumta, Dumplings with yak meat on dumplings, but more like Tibetan momos.
McDonald’s, KFC’s and their local counterparts like One Potato Two Potato, Burger O’Clock or 14th Street Pizza Co. There is also an abundance of fruit all year round, from tropical mangoes and bananas to our usual apricots and apples.
A street vendor of melons
The food in Pakistan is inexpensive. In folk restaurants or on the street you can have a hearty meal for about 1 euro. It is more expensive to eat in western fast food bars, tourist attractions and restaurants in big cities – about 10 euros. And of course there are also in the big cities Fine kitchen facilities with a high price tag.
The Pakistanis usually drink tea with milk and sugar and not the black tea we use. The main drink of the Pashtuns is Peshawari Kava, a green tea with sugar and cardamom. Coffee is a problem here, so coffee drinkers should better bring their own ground beans. Or drink coffee only in big cities, where there are cafes based on the European model with prices of 400-600 rupees ( 1.8 – 2.7 euros ) per cup. Lassi, a cold, yoghurt-like milk drink, is very popular: it is enriched with salt, sugar or fruit.
In Pakistan, Muslims are prohibited from drinking alcohol. Representatives of other religions are allowed to drink, but must obtain approval from the local authorities. The whole paperwork is superfluous for foreigners. The Murree brewery, founded by the British in 1860, produces beer, vodka, whiskey, gin, brandy and rum. Beer costs around 500 rupees ( 2.2 euros ) per can, Spirits from 2500 rupees ( 11 euros ) for a 0.7 liter bottle. Alcohol is in special shops in upscale hotels, sold in wine shops or by illegal traders.
The in-house production of alcohol is also available. The Kalashis from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Hunza Valley do this en masse. Homemade wines and spirits made from grapes, apricots and mulberries are sold in the two regions. They cost between 10 and 20 euros per one and a half liter bottle. Of course they don’t sell openly, but they don’t hide – if you want to buy alcohol, ask your friends on site or at the hotel.
Couchsurfing works well in Pakistan. Most people are traditionally registered in metropolitan areas – they usually even have urban communities and regular meetings. Smaller cities have fewer inhabitants. If you are looking for a place to sleep in the mountains, you should inquire about where exactly the potential host lives. Often people give their profile the name of a district center or an entire district instead of their small village.
In cities, you can book accommodation for a fee through booking. The selection is large: there are hotels of international chains such as Mövenpick, Marriott, Ramada and backpacker hostels. The prices range from ten to several hundred dollars per night. In the provincial capitals, Airby’s also works – 20-50 euros per apartment. There are fewer alternatives in smaller cities, booking is not used there. You do not have to look for accommodation on site; read the articles about the desired location Wikitravel or Wikivoyage, there you will find lists of hotels. You can also search for hotels on Facebook by entering “ Hotel ” and the name of the city in the search field and sending it to your personal message or the specified WhatsApp number. And remember: Even if the prices are listed in the price lists, you can always negotiate a little.
An important point when booking: Hotels of “ Booking ” do not always have a license to accommodate foreigners. This applies in particular to Quetta, Multan and Bahawalpur. So even if you have booked a room, you may not be accommodated in it – but you will probably be informed in advance, if you see a foreign name on your reservation. Not all hotels are willing to accept unmarried couples of different sexes in one room, although the same rules do not usually apply to foreigners. You can also simply call yourself a husband and wife, even if you are not.
Civilization goods: electricity, sockets, mobile phones, internet
Even in large Pakistani cities, there are sometimes blackouts. The smaller the location, the more often there are power outages. A replacement battery or a power bank are very useful. There are also villages where people still live by candlelight, but it takes a long time to reach them.
In Pakistan, type C sockets are used – with two pins, as in Europe. The problem is that sometimes there is only one socket in the room, and it is at head level, and the sockets are very wide and do not fit European standard plugs. So it’s worth it, to take a charger with several USB ports or a portable device with a long cable – that makes life much easier.
There are no problems with access to mobile phones and the Internet at the levels. You can buy a SIM card from any operator, e.g. B. von Zong. Not every business they sell to foreigners, so they are committed to one Customer service center have to turn. The situation is worse in the mountains: a SIM card that works well in one valley cannot have a reception in another valley, and sometimes there is no reception at all. SCO has the best signal in Gilgit-Baltistan and Telenoris worth buying for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. All operators activate the cards within a few hours, but if you are in the office on Saturday or Sunday, you have to wait until Monday. If you buy a SIM card with your passport and not with the documents of a local friend, it will no longer work when the visa expires. Wi-Fi in hotels is similar to mobile phones: everything is fine on the level, but in the mountains you should be prepared for the worst and buy a SIM card.
Daewoo Express is the most common and most expensive carrier in the lowlands. They usually have comfortable, air-conditioned buses that also offer meals. But the air conditioning is sometimes switched on at full power – take the jacket with you into the salon. The ticket from Lahore to Islamabad ( 370 kilometers, four or five hours ) costs 9-12 euros.
NATCO has the largest network in Gilgit-Baltistan Province. The journey from Islamabad to Gilgit ( 500 kilometers, about 20 hours ) with the night bus costs 13 euros, but that is Transport worse than the Daewoo Express.
The best way to go to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is with the Hindu Kush Express. A ticket from Islamabad to Chitral ( 470 km, about ten hours ) costs 16 euros.
In general, there are many bus companies in Pakistan for different budgets. You can find some of them on the website of PK Buses view and tickets with a booking service such as Bookkaru, Bookme.pk or EasyTickets to buy. The price is sometimes twice as high. But don’t be too greedy: the cheapest tariff could turn out to be a dilapidated, crowded Toyota Coaster bus, which makes the overnight stay there a little uncertain. In big cities, every company has its own bus station, but as a rule they are all concentrated in one area of the city. So it is worth calling the contact number to find out where the bus is from.
In more remote areas, people take minibuses and shared taxis that leave the bus stations as soon as they are full. The prices are roughly the same as for flatland vans. In such vehicles, four people find a seat that is less than two meters wide. This is enough space for Pakistanis, but Europeans are usually bigger, so the trip will not be very comfortable. Inquire on site how often the means of transport are used and whether advance registration is required: sometimes there are so few passengers, that the only vehicle drives only once a day and leaves at five in the morning.
In the mountains, a trip is not measured by distance, but by travel time. Because in some places a distance of 40 kilometers can take two hours. And even in the driest summer there are mudslides on the streets, so that the trip can be interrupted for several days.
Trains are slower than buses, but they are comfortable when the distance between two points is large enough to have a good night’s sleep. Trains run from the Arabian Sea in the south to the foothills of the Himalayas and the Hindu Kush in the north and from the Afghan to the Indian border. Tickets are sold at the ticket counters of the train stations (, which are not always open around the clock ) or online: on the Pakistani Railway website or about one Android app. However, neither the website nor the app outside of Pakistan – So you have one proxyset up in the operating system or browser of your device. And to buy a ticket, you must enter your Pakistani phone number and your CNIC number – with the Pakistani identity card –. In the latter, you only have to enter thirteen random digits ( or preferably your passport number with attached zeros ), but the phone number must be confirmed. It is therefore quite difficult to buy train tickets from abroad.
The Pak Rail Live app for Android and iOS can also be used to display train schedules – it also works without problems outside of Pakistan. It also shows the real-time location of a particular train. This is very practical because Pakistani trains are very punctual and delays of several hours are the rule.
Each train has a name, usually according to a local toponym or a well-known cultural or political personality. The words “ Passenger ” and “ Express ” in the names usually have nothing to do with speed. Otherwise, the better the condition of the train, the fewer stops it makes, the faster it is on the road and the more expensive the ticket is. From Karachi to Multan ( 900 kilometers ) you can travel in 13 or 18 hours, for example.
Here are the four most common types of cars in Pakistani trains:
- Economy – a general wagon with compartments of six reclining benches and two opposite seats. It looks like an Indian sleeper. There is no air conditioning. There are fans and open windows, so after two hours of driving you are covered with a thick layer of Pakistani dust. It is only worthwhile if you want to save money or experience the local color. A seat from Karachi to Multan costs Rs 1000-1450 ( 4.5 – 6.5 euros ). A bench will cost 100 rupees ( 0.4 euros ) more.
This is what the cheapest wagon looks like on Pakistani trains
- AC Lower / standard – the same economy, only with air conditioning and closed windows, i.e. cleaner and more expensive. A ticket from Karachi to Multan costs Rs 2650 ( 12 euros ). The air conditioners are at full capacity, so keep your outerwear ready.
- AC Business is a compartment with six benches. The ticket from Karachi to Multan costs Rs 3,750 ( 17 euros ).
- AC Sleeper – compartment for four passengers with toilet. A ticket from Karachi to Multan costs 5,300 Rs ( 24 euros ).
Pakistanische Züge gewähren Ausländern eine Ermäßigung von 25 % auf Fahrkarten, allerdings nur, wenn Sie diese am Schalter kaufen. In der Nähe des Bahnhofs sollten Sie ein Handelsbüro aufsuchen und dort nach der Ermäßigung für Ausländer fragen. Sie benötigen Ihren Reisepass, eine Kopie davon, Kopien Ihres Visums und Ihres Einreisestempels sowie ein ausgefülltes Antragsformular, das vor Ort ausgehändigt wird. Sie erhalten dann einen Ermäßigungsnachweis, den Sie an der Kasse vorlegen müssen. Das ganze Verfahren dauert etwa 20-50 Minuten – es hängt davon ab, wie gut die Mitarbeiter in den Büros Bescheid wissen. Für jedes neue Ticket müssen Sie den Rabatt erneut ausstellen. Es lohnt sich nicht, wenn die Fahrkarte nur ein paar Euro kostet, aber wenn man einen Tag im Sleeper fährt, beträgt die Ersparnis etwa acht Euro.
The 25% discount also applies to students and can be combined with the discount for foreigners. To apply, you need your student ID or sometimes a copy of it or just a youth ID and an oral statement that you are a student.
Pakistan has a good flight network and even the regional capitals have their own airports. Pakistan International Airlines has the most extensive route network. For example, a ticket from Karachi to Islamabad costs around 130 euros. Today it is the only airline that flies north. The other three airlines, AirSial, Airblue and SereneAir, mainly fly in the south. A new airline, North Air, recently has one licensereceived to connect northern airports to the mainland. This will make life much easier because it takes a long time to get north by land, and in winter it is difficult because of the snow drifts. But air traffic is also irregular there: flights are often canceled due to bad weather.
Pakistan also has a dozen international airports. So according to your itinerary, you could try Open-jaw tickets and search for connecting flights to your connecting airport.
Hitchhiking and carpooling
Hitchhiking in Pakistan is good – Pakistani hospitality pays off – and the streets in the lowlands are good. Problems can only arise where convoys or special permits ( NOCs ) are required to move. Carpooling is not very popular in Pakistan. “ Blablacar ” is not used here at all, but there are local equivalents – vCarpool and Ridely.
Hitchhiking in Pakistan offers the opportunity to ride in a colorful truck
The most important and often the only public transport system is buses. Descriptions of your routes can usually be found on the Internet – on the Local websites. However, they are designed in such a way that they are difficult to understand for a local person. Karachi has a very colorful transport system. The small buses are about the size of a pazi and are decorated in the style of the famous Pakistani trucks. They look structured, with stickers, carvings, sheet metal ornaments and antennas that stand in all directions. And inside there are curtains, patterns and garlands. In the big cities, however, this means of transport is gradually being replaced by more comfortable but less structured modern Chinese buses.
Lahore, Multan, Peshawar and agglomeration Islamabad-Rawalpindi have a Metrobus – a bus that runs on its own road. It is as easy to use as the subway: it is a high-speed rail system that usually leads through the large districts. The Metrobus has two lines in Islamabad-Rawalpindi and only one in the other cities. A ticket costs Rs depending on the city. 20-30 ( 0.09-0.14 € ). Karachi plans to build a five-line metro bus, but construction has been delayed for several years. So far there is a full one in Lahore Subway line. The fare is 40 rupees ( 0.18 euros ).
The closest option for city traffic is the taxi. You can catch a car directly on the street, or you can use it or local Carem to use. Pakistani apps not only have a car, but also a rickshaw or a motorcycle taxi. There is even a separate one for the latter Bykea service. A motorcycle taxi is ideal for solo travelers, because you don’t have to stand in a traffic jam and can explore the whole city with 2 euros. Unless you are too embarrassed to drive in Pakistan’s wilderness without a helmet.
Taxi drivers often decorate their rickshaws with various works of art.
Rickshaws are prohibited in Islamabad. But in this city with its huge rooms, the city hitchhiker works perfectly. The first one is also available in Islamabad ezBike-Pakistan rental. It is also available to foreigners by uploading a passport scan to the app and filling the CNIC field with zeros.
Permits within the country
Special permits – NOC ( No Objection Certificate ) – are required for trips to certain regions of Pakistan. These are from Ministry of the Interior issued free of charge in Islamabad, but the entire process can take around seven weeks. It is safer to get the certificate in advance from one local tour operator to apply for.
In 2019, during the tourist thaw, the NOCs were abolished almost everywhere in the north. Approval is now only required in border areas: eight kilometers along the Indian-Pakistani control line in Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan and 16 kilometers along the borders with China, Afghanistan and the actual contact line at the Siachen glacier.
The situation in the south is even more complicated. NOCs must be issued for trips through the former tribal areas and the province of Baluchistan. If you travel to Iran by land from Pakistan, a permit to travel through Baluchistan in Islamabad takes about a week. The other option is to reach the capital of Baluchistan, Quetta. Here the police will take you in your hand immediately, check you in to a hotel, leave you out nowhere, take you to the local authorities to get the NOC, and then accompany you to Iran. The first option seems to be preferable because you don’t have to sit in Islamabad all the time while the NOC is being processed and you can travel across the country in the meantime. Quetta hotels that accept foreigners,are usually not the cheapest. However, there were some who refused to pay and stayed in tents in the hotel courtyard. When someone comes from Iran, he / she is escorted to Quetta, where he / she is accommodated in a hotel. Then, again under guard, they are brought to the registration of their NOC without which they cannot buy a train ticket and travel further east – the train is also guarded by police officers.without them buying a train ticket and traveling further east – the train is also guarded by police officers.without them buying a train ticket and traveling further east – the train is also guarded by police officers.
Pakistan is on the same latitude as Egypt and Iran. But that doesn’t mean it’s hot everywhere. The weather is determined by a very heterogeneous topography. It is really always warm in the flat southeast, in the provinces of Sindh and Punjab, and it is unbearable from May to September. It is worth coming here in winter to get some warmth. In the southwest, Baluchistan, however, it can be very cold in winter and sometimes snow falls.
The north of Pakistan consists of the mountains. From November to April, traveling by land is difficult due to mudslides and snowfalls. Some passes are closed in winter. In the rest of the year, however, the weather is pleasant and mild. Pakistanis from the south of the country like to come here in summer to recover from the heat.
It is not advisable to travel to Pakistan during the holy month of Ramadan and the Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha holidays. They are all celebrated according to the Islamic calendar, and their dates vary from year to year in relation to the European calendar. The Pakistanis themselves often travel during the holidays. For this reason, the hotels are overcrowded, rental car prices are rising and attention to foreigners is becoming increasingly urgent. During Ramadan, almost all cafes and restaurants are closed and you cannot eat outside. In general, Ramadan is a special and interesting experience because all activities shift into the dark hours, after sunset, people break fasting and spend the whole night eating and celebrating.But in reality it doesn’t look as crowded and funny as usual.
Money: card or cash
It is not difficult to change money in Pakistan, and even at airports the exchange rate is not the worst. The situation is worse in small towns, even in touristy cities. It is easier to search for a currency exchange or western union on Google Maps: Money transfer offices and exchange offices are usually in one place. It is possible to carry both the euro and the dollar, but the American currency – in large bills not older than 2009: small change is taken at the worst rate, and the old ones are not taken at all.
Bank types can only be used as a means of payment in very few places: in supermarkets, restaurants and souvenir shops. ATMs may not give you money even though you have a Visa or MasterCard sticker. The first point of contact is the ATMs of the Standard Chartered Bank, Allied Bank, HBL and Muslim Commercial Bank. But if you withdraw money from a particular bank in a city, you can’t be sure that you can do it again in another city. In addition, you can usually withdraw a maximum of 20,000 rupees ( 92 euros ) in one pass. This means that if you take off 20,000 rupees several times, you have to pay a fee of two and a half percent each time – 500 rupees ( 2.3 euros ). It is safer to travel to Pakistan with cash and take a card with you if necessary.