Like Afghanistan, Pakistan gets a lot of bad press these days, sadly so, and like Afghanistan you also need to be aware that there is a reason for this. That said, Pakistan is not Afghanistan. It is not a country at war, even if it might look like that if you watch the news.
Parts of the country are certainly a no-go zone for foreigners (and to be honest for Pakistanis too). Do not venture into the tribal areas!
But there is plenty to see without risking being kidnapped or killed. For starters there is Lahore, with its fort, bazaars and its incredible museum. And if you are dying to hike the Himalayas without the tourists, go up the Karakoram highway, there are plenty of opportunities along the way. Visit Multan with its beautiful shrines, or find out about Pakistan’s Hindu, Buddhist and even Greek past in Taxila. Yes, the Greeks even made it out here! Go back further into history and gape at the ruins of Mohenjo-daro, a city of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization. Maybe you will be the one to solve the puzzle of their, as of yet, un-deciphered alphabet! And, if security allows, visit colourful Peshawar.
Once part of the British Empire, English is widely spoken in Pakistan, though Urdu is the official language. Other similarities to the Brits is their fondness of cricket, tea, bureaucracy and polo. The British also left them with an extensive rail network.
Pakistan is a strict and devout Islamic country, which means you should dress conservatively and you should keep in mind that alcohol is prohibited.
Hints and Tips for Pakistan
- Pakistan has its fair share of inter-communal violence, suicide bombings, kidnappings and so on, but don’t let this stop you from going. Most of the aforementioned are localized to specific, easy-to-avoid areas, and on the whole tourists are not the target. However, keep abreast of the security situation and do your research. Remember, to be able to avoid an area you need to know which area to avoid in the first place!
- Know that Pakistanis are serious about their religion. This is an Islamic country. Both men and women should dress conservatively. This means long sleeves and long trousers for women and men alike and preferably a headscarf of some sort if you are a woman. As a man you can get away with a t-shirt, but the locals will appreciate it more if you dress as they do.
- Alcohol is prohibited. As a foreigner you are officially exempted and it is available at certain designated places, like international hotels. However the process involves a lot of paperwork. If you do decide to purchase alcohol, don’t walk around the streets with it!
- Being openly critical about Islam is a big NO-NO in Pakistan, you can get in severe trouble if you are seen as insulting the religion.
- The train is a good way to get around the country. It is cheap and efficient.
- You will find Pakistanis very friendly and hospitable and you will be invited for tea and good conversation everywhere. Enjoy it and open yourself up to a different point of view.
- As a woman, shout and make a lot of noise if a man tries to touch or harass you.
- Don’t under any circumstances head into the tribal areas on the Afghan frontier!