Travel & Places Other - Destinations

Pakistan a cool place to visit

Most westerners image of Pakistan is of a dusty desert country; full of scary looking, long bearded men. In a kind of way this is true, but Pakistan is a diverse, complex nation full of interesting people and places to visit. I first visited the country way back in 1986 when things were a lot more politically stable, and it was easier to visit some certain regions than it is today. I have been back there many times and even on recent trips in the middle of the political unrest I have always been welcomed and always felt safe.

Islamabad is the Capital of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The city was built between 1960 – 1970 to replace the Capital from Karach to the new capital, Islamabad. The city is divided into several residential & commercial areas with modern architecture with wide roads. It is home to some embassies on the Diplomatic Enclave, and The great Faisal Mosque is definitely worth seeing.

Rawalpindi though twin city to Islamabad, is the main city with a population of around 2 Million; it is a bustling city with a lot of activity. Rawalpindi was the garrison town in the English times and even now it is the head quarter of the Pakistan Army. The shops and bazaars of Rawalpindi are no less then in any other Asian city so expect to take your time, don't go if you are in a hurry you need half a day to get through the traffic.

For me the adventure of visiting Pakistan is to be found in some of the more remote areas, the Karakorum, Hindukush and Himalaya ranges are a landscape of truly breathtaking scale. Mountains typically rise above 6000m, with more than 160 summits higher than 7000m. In the Karakorum alone, 30 peaks reach higher than 7500m. Besides high mountains these ranges are inhabited by the longest glaciers out side polar regions valleys like Hunza, Shig Gilgit, Swat and Kashmir and splendid passes like Shandur and Burzil.

Gilgit Baltistan has the unique distinction of being the convergent point of the three mightiest mountain ranges in the world, namely, the Himalaya, Karakoram and Hindu Kush. The Karakoram Highway, once a minor Silk Road route, connects Islamabad to Gilgit and Skardu, which are the two major hubs for mountaineering expeditions in the Northern Areas.

These are serious mountains, so you need to be physically fit and you need to go with a local guide. Under no circumstances should you just go wandering up there for a walk about. On one occasion in July, early morning we started walking it was a very hot day and you needed to take care not to get sun burnt. At nightfall we pitched up for the night, the night was very cold and on rising the following morning we were in thick snow.

The journey from Islamabad to Gilgit takes approximately 20-24 hours. Landslides on the Karakoram Highway are not uncommon. I have actually witnessed this first hand and was stranded in Gilgit for a week. The road was blocked so we could not drive out and the cloud base was so low we couldn't fly out. I have to say it was a really great week and I probably would not have experienced the true Gilgit without it. We eventually managed to get a flight out to Islamabad after a week, it was a pretty scary flight as the cloud base was so low and the mountain tops are so high.

We traveled from Islamabad to Lahore by road which is a four hour journey, but we did it over three days taking a few detours and enjoying some of the scenery along the way. Lahore is the capital of the Pakistani province of Punjab and the second largest city in the country. With a rich and fabulous history dating back to over a thousand years ago, Lahore is no doubt Pakistan's cultural capital.

Lahore is a great tourist city, The Shalimar Garden is really magnificent site to visit in Lahore. The Walled City, also known as Old Lahore, is the area that was fortified during the Mughal period. The wall was originally pierced by 13 gates, but today only 6 of these remain. The Old City is an incredibly interesting place to wander around. Driving is risky and confusing here if you are not local. Most road users do not abide by any traffic regulations and it can best be described as a free for all.

After spending four days in and around Lahore we decided to head back to Rawalpindi by train as this was in it self an adventure. Pakistani Trains are equivalent or just better than Indian trains, so don't expect the Orient Express. I would recommend only to travel in 1st class or air conditioned class. Please do not save money on travel and go by Economy class, you will live to regret it. It is recommended to carry Food/Water with you because food at stations is not good.

Once back in Islamabad it was time to relax and unwind a little at the Marriott before heading back to the UK. During the six weeks in Pakistan I managed to meet the entire West Indies Cricket Team while in Lahore. I was also invited to the British Embassy Club where I met Sir Tim Rice the British lyricist and author, best known for his collaborations with Andrew Lloyd Webber. And last but certainly not least I met some amazingly interesting people from Pakistan.

I would like to end on this note, Pakistan may be not at the top of the list for many travelers due to bad image created by local and international media, but there is a lot to see. So if you get a chance to visit Pakistan and you like an adventure give it a try. But as always do your research and take care.

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