Emerald Hills, Ca
I'm considering a trip to Pakistan. Interested to hear recent experiences there...where to go, sense of safety, places to avoid? Thanks
Last year I spent 3 weeks in Pakistan, crossing in from Iran overland.
This question depends on what type of traveler you are, so the recommendations can sometimes be stretched.
The main areas which are considered unsafe.
From my experience these areas felt safe
Furthermore Karachi would probably be considered safe in the same sense as a big city in say, South America.
This was the situation back in November 2014 and it constantly changes. If you are planning to visit Pakistan I urge you to read up on the current situation as well as follow the local news throughout your trip.
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Pakistan is a great place to visit. Along with all the places mentioned in other answers I will especially mention Lahore. Lahore is one of the most amazing places on earth. It is full of colors and joys. Lahore is known as "City of Young Heart People". You can find everything in Lahore, from historical places to modern facilities.
Another best place to visit is Azad Jammu and Kashmir . Azad Kashmir is disputed land but its very peaceful. Its true heaven on earth. There is a world class hotel in Capital city of Azad Kashmir, Muzaffarabad.
And yes don't talk about religion and politics. Its simple fact and locals will be more than delighted to welcome you.
Have a great experience.
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I traveled by overland public bus into Pakistan from Kashi(Kaxgar) China over the Karakoram Highway a few years back, and then onwards to India via the land crossing at Wagha (where they have a fantastic ceremonial daily sunset gate closing ceremony) between Lahore and Amritsar. The Northern Areas on the approaches to the China border are quite different culturally and geographically than the rest of Pakistan. I found it to be a great country to visit as most people, especially shopkeepers and police, are very friendly and speak good English so its easy to ask for help and directions. I met a white American guy and a white British guy (I am Hong Kong born Chinese-Canadian myself) and we travelled together for a while they always passed themselves off as "Canadian" when locals asked "where from?" If you are a white western person do not ever discuss religion or politics or you will be swarmed by the locals as the American guy found out (but they let him leave OK not before a few tense moments). We all generally dressed-down (no flashy clothing) and wore long pants and sandals. Women should cover up as much as possible but not necessary to be totally covered. You can get your visa-on-arrival at the land border crossings by paying the fee (US$100 for Canadians, $150 for Americans) but it's best to get your visa ahead of time. Hotel rooms run about 600 Pak Rupees (US $10) per night and hostels about 120 Pak Rupees $2 per night and restaurant meals about US $2 to $5. The mountainous Northern Areas around Gilgit-Baltistanare especially amazing. In Northern Pakistan if you are a history fan you should visit the town of Taxila in the Punjab region where they have an amazing history museum that documents the genesis and evolution of Indo-European Civilization especially language from the Sanskrit to modern Latin alphabet and Arabic numerals. I was told there was a gun-battle in Islamabad on the day I arrived but that only lasted a few hours on one city block but it's worth visiting the Pakistan Monument and Museum in the same city. I can recommend that in Peshawar you can book a cool day trip (around US$150 which covers permits, driver, armed guard and guide) to the historic famous Khyber Pass and follow in the footsteps of Alexander the Great, Ghengis Khan and the Mughals, but they tell you up front they can't guarantee your safety with Taliban gunmen and US drones buzzing around...but you can take that oh-so-cool selfie photo with an AK-47. Western credit cards (Visa, American Express) and ATM cards mostly work throughout the country. Internet is slow, when it works. Like India you should get your anti-diarrhea vaccination (Dukoral) because the water is not safe to drink but bottled water is everywhere. Food is mostly vegetarian and goat or chicken but there is KFC in most big cities. Get rid of your Pakistan rupees before leaving the country because they are practically worthless outside, but it's worthwhile to keep one or two bank notes for a souvenir. The correct answer to any awkward question relating to religion or politics is "Pakistan Zindabad!" ("Long Live Pakistan!")
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Assalamu alaikum (Peace be with you in Arabic but can be used in any predominantly Islamic country and definitely also used as a greeting in Pakistan)!
I am a fellow female foreigner who traveled to Pakistan (the Land of the Pure...how pure is another question altogether...I jest I jest:P) with a Pakistani friend in June - August 2012. I wrote an answer similar to this on Quora but have modified it here to cater to the question. It was definitely an eye opening experience.
As a disclaimer of sorts, please note I speak from my personal experience. It is but an expressed personal sentiment and opinion of sorts, and not "the truth" :).
In short, I can say the country is a lot like India but it's not. I have been to India twice (north and west side of the country in 2001 and 2008). So I draw my comparisons here. The countries share a lot of cultural similarities but there are also distinct differences given the history of the South Asian region. This comment is not meant to ruffle political feathers of course to any of my fellow Pakistani and Indian readers!
It's a beautiful country indeed with so much diversity, and it's a shame that it is portrayed so negatively in the media. I think people falsely fall into the mindset of "hating or loving" a country when they visit a culture different from their own. I tend to disagree, I think as with all things - there will be aspects you "love" and aspects you "dislike" as with anything in life. I think the same holds true for Pakistan. And it will be different for many people on different fronts because personal preferences/values will come into play.
Prior to beginning your trip, I would suggest looking into the following issues.
1) Obtaining a tourist visa to visit the country. As a Canadian, I was asked by the Pakistani embassy in my country to state specific reasons for my visit. They will also ask you specifically which cities and places you will be visiting in the country and for what purpose. Discretion here is advised.
You will also be asked if you have a "sponsor" in the country. In essence, a host in the country who can vouch for you and your safety. They will ask for the address of your sponsor and do a bit of a background check on that end to make sure you deck out. This is time-sensitive and important. I would recommend that you first obtain your visa prior to making travel plans and arrangements within the country. Unfortunately given the political reality, as a foreigner you are a liability to the country. If times are sensitive, they may be more hesitant to issue tourist visas to foreigners because they are concerned not only about your safety as as tourist but that you also do not have fishy connections that can threaten to bring more instability to the country. Last thing Pakistan probably wants or needs is more negative media about "xxx tourist killed/kidnapped in..." Therefore the embassy may or may not reject your request for a visa. The country of course is not going to turn everyone away given that tourist $$$ are good for business too. This, however, does not mean it is impossible to obtain a tourist visa. That's not true either. I would suggest just looking into the visa requirements a little ahead of time because it is definitely not as simple
as perhaps as obtaining visas to other countries for example. I think the maximum they issue for a tourist visa is 90 days?
2) If you are signing with a tour operator in Pakistan, they may help you obtain a visa on this front. I suggest asking about this. This is also where my Pakistani friend who I travelled with was really able to help me in this regard as well because she had relatives in the country. Your "sponsor" will be asked to write a letter stating his/her identity and address (basically what kind of connections do you have?) Not only because of the Urdu langauge aspect but because they could vouch for my safety and identity too to make sure I'm not a threat!
Also if you plan to make any cross-country trips to either Afghanistan, Iran, India or China. Make sure you check out the visa requirements first for entering those countries from Pakistan or if you need to come back.
3) You will need a car to get around the country, not only within cities but also from city to city if you plan to travel the whole country. Bus options and plane options are available to get you from city to city. But the public transportation infrastructure within a city is not as readily available, nor is it easy to navigate and use.
4) If you speak any Hindi. Definitely a plus. Urdu and Hindi are mutually intelligible languages. Also lots of similarities in food as well! So
if you've had any experience with any Indian food, Pakistani food will have some familiar comforts :).
5) When arranging travel plans, being aware of cultural/religious holidays. As with any Islamic country, I would state my warnings about travelling during Ramadan. Because of lot of places will be shut down, including restaurants as most people will be fasting. So you wouldn't be able to eat breakfast/lunch at a restaurant as easily. So perhaps making travel plans during Ramadan will not allow you to see as much as you normally would like. In the summer since temperatures rise high with humidity - most business don't open until the evening when it is much cooler. People will have dinner very late (8-10 PM) and will do their shopping and visiting during these hours even!
6) Be mindful of load shedding/rolling blackouts. Because electricity cannot be provided to everyone equally (locals blame it on poor governance and lack of infrastructure), there will be many places who will not have electricity for hours at a time. This structures how businesses run/function, and perhaps your own daily activities/needs. This phenomenon is not exclusive to Pakistan of course, it can be in parts of India, Nepal, China, etc.
7) You may encounter hijras/khusras/zenanas demanding money from you. Like in India, those of the third gender/transsexuals, can be seen in local custom to be bestowed with spiritual powers and they are simultaneously revered and hated within the country. Be mindful as a tourist as they may approach you to "bless" you or "offer" blessings when in reality they are really trying to extort money from you. And may in fact threaten to "curse" you if you do not give into their demands. Be mindful of this. You don't have to disrespect them but do watch out for your own safety.
Travelling within the country. The most "unstable" part of the country, in my humble opinion, is the Northwest and Southwest part of the country where it borders Afghanistan and Iran respectively. So the Federally Administered Tribal Areas FATA/Swat valley and near Balochistan/Quetta area. Which is truly a shame given these regions have so much rich history and beautiful scenery (eg. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Pass near Afghan border). But they are also more religiously conservative areas which can be problematic for a single female foreigner tourist especially (without a male companion, I feel you would definitely be on the attention radar). Unless you really know a local person you can trust and feel absolutely safe travelling with him/her. Prepared to be asked a lot of questions though. I contrast my experience, here with some of the other answers as I was a single, female, foreign tourist which is definitely different from travelling in the country that has clear gender and cultural norms that are different from Global North countries.
I had an opportunity to visit Lahore, Islamabad/Rawalpindi [Sister/twin regions], Muzaffarabad in Azad Jammu and Kashmir[lots of military checkpoints in this area, you will stand out as a foreigner], Murree [Beautiful former British hill station to escape the heat in the summer], Taxila [Ancient history of the Indus civilization], Wagah Border Park [border between Pakistan and India - great fun to watch their gate closing ceremony played out in rival preening], Skardu trekking area. If given an opportunity again, I would love to visit Sindh province, Karachi, Quetta and Peshawar [for the unique Afghan/Pakistani mixing]. I was mainly confined to the mid to the NE side of the country.
I recommend Northern Pakistan for sure. The beauty/nature side of things is amazing. I went trekking with my friend near the K2 area. And the Karakoram Hwy really is an interesting drive (one way...lol). But Gilgit-Baltistanarea in general is a gorgeous area to be in. Be prepared for long bumpy bus/car rides to these regions though. Airplane flights are not guaranteed to these areas due to unpredictable weather conditions. So you might have to wait several days until weather conditions are better or risk the often 3-4 day [10-14 hr/day] drive back down to Islamabad on very bumpy dirt roads!!! Visiting the Kalash People in the Chitrāl valley is also recommended! Keep an eye out for the brightly decorated and beautiful truck art painted on the trucks that travel long distances transporting goods. Definitely a treat for the eyes on the road!
Lahore is a must! Taxila and Mohenjo-darovtoo (the cradle of Indus civilization), very interesting historical places! Also Murree (a wonderful former British hill station) and Kashmir are more of the hilly/mountainous regions. I have also heard wonderful things about Karachi, although one should definitely be very mindful in the city as the crime rate is high (I have heard, I did not get a chance to go). But also it's proximity to the seaside is wonderful apparently. I also suggest Wagah, it is a treat to watch how they "compete" ;). If you obtain an Indian visa, Amritsarvis not far from Wagah! It's only a 30 minute drive away and you get to see the Harmandir Sahib [Golden Temple], the famed holy place to Sikhs if you desire to see this.
According to some uncle-jis I had a chat with, rumour has it that the country name is an amalgamation of all the province names
(Punjab Afghania [NorthWest Frontier Province] Kashmir Islamabad Sindh balochisTAN). Kashmir is a politically contested area and may be harder for foreigners to get into. The country has lots of military checkpoints. Prepared to be stopped more often by the police in almost every city if you are travelling in a car but especially if you have foreign features that stand out. Also, carry your passport/or a photocopy of your passport at all times. In case the police stop you and make you "register" - which means making you write your full name, nationality and passport number in a book for records to make sure you are not linked to any suspicious terrorist activity in the country. And to also ensure that if you do happen to run into trouble, they can figure out who you are.
Some interesting things I observed:
A) Qingqi is actually the pinyin for the Chinese characters 轻骑 which is in part derived from the original factory producer's name. But also because it means "to carry a light load." I had fun explaining this to local Pakistanis as a native Chinese speaker when asked to explain what it means. Qing means "light" and qi means "to carry." So those rickshaws are meant to carry light loads indeed, ie. people. Sometimes you will hear local Pakistanis refer to rickshaws as "qing qing."
B) Mandarin is becoming increasingly taught in schools due to "good" Sino-Pakistani relations. I believe part of my time there being treated well was
a) because I was a foreigner b) I'm ethnically Chinese (I'm seen as an economic link and opportunity to do business. Even though I wasn't there for that)....well at least my Canadian identity took back precedence to my appearance. I shall refrain from political commentary about Sino-Pakistani relations as I wish neither to praise or demonize this development. The same goes for Indo-Pakistani relations. I merely state facts and wish to keep a politically neutral conversation. But it is interesting, you will see Chinese influence/investment in the country as there is even a Chinatown in Rawalpindi (near Islamabad), and Pakistani-Chinese fusion food is popular in the country. It is good food. But sorry my Pakistani friends, not a bit similar to authentic Chinese food :P. Same goes to my Indian friends.
Chicken 65 just isn't quite like our fried rice. To be fair, this is to cater to the taste of the local people of course. I get that :)!
C) Pakistanis are naturally very warm and hospitable people. They like to treat their guests with a warm welcome and many people will probably invite you into their home for a cup of chai or meal because they want to talk to you! As an "Amriki" (American in Urdu), you will be a topic of fascination for many locals. And because people are also probably going to be just as curious about life in America.
D) An orphan in Pakistan is not when a child loses both parents. But rather when a child loses either parent (most often defined as the father). Mainly because most women do not work after getting married. So if a father passes away, most families have economic difficulties and hardships since widowed mothers find it hard to provide for their children. This is more prominent for uneducated rural families than urban educated wealthy families of course.
E) Pakistan is by no means a uniformly poor country like that portrayed by the Western media. Yes it is a developing country with lots of poverty but there are also a lot of wealthy people as well - just like any other country in the world. People will spend LAKHS on shaadis (marriage - they go on for days! Different ceremonies too - Mehndi, Nikkah, Valima but so much fun!) if they can afford it. It's a once in a life time event in a predominantly Islamic culture...better do it right then and it's a matter of face when you invite all your family and friends.
Pakistan is a predominantly Islamic country. Although you have your pockets of Christians, Zoroastrians, Hindus, Sikhs, etc. Religious minorities are still heavily persecuted in the country. While India is a secular country, I would say it operates still informally on the caste system in some areas (even though India has legally banned the caste system, Hinduism is still the predominant religion). Pakistan does not have a "caste system" BUT classism still is very evident in Pakistan. Wealthy families will hire the uneducated from poor rural families as live-in servants. This is not to say these servants are mistreated...most aren't. There are abuse cases but most families treat their workers well, offering a salary and to even pay for the education of their children or the education of the young single worker. I had the opportunity to live and spend time with all people from all backgrounds. And I need to be clear that EVERYONE was friendly and hospitable to me. This comment is not meant as a knock against anyone. The situation is what it is, I am just telling it like it is and what I observed. But you will definitely notice class differences amongst the wealthy, middle class, and poor. *Interesting as side note: African Pakistanis are also a community in Pakistan! The Makrani.
F) Urban Pakistani women are a fashionable lot and will constantly have their shalwar kameez suits tailored and made. It is imperative to have a good relation with your tailor. Beautiful beautiful fashion. I wasn't trying to culturally appropriate clothing there but I felt more comfortable in shalwar kameez there (and fell in love with the clothing there). Partly because of the weather (hot in the summer) so "lawn" (a locally made light cotton material) was more appropriate than my thicker Western clothing.
But also because I could blend in more easily and draw less attention to myself. Although I could probably get away with arguing that I was Hazara from Quetta :P.
Western clothing is worn by the youngsters in cities (jeans and long shirts on guys, tights or jeans paired with a loose kurti top for girls) but predominantly traditional dress still remains prevalent. So in the bigger cities in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad - you may see more wealthy women wear sleeveless tops as more fashion forward. Especially in rural areas or more religious conservative eras (eg. Peshawar, you still have a lot of women in burqas or niqabs). Skin is always covered anywhere in Pakistan to respect cultural beliefs - I would recommend this for women who travel in the country. Better to err on the side of caution. But you will see long sleeves / long pants regardless of traditional or Western dress mainly. I would suggest buying a few traditional outfits (salwar kameez) to allow you to blend in with the local population but also if you find yourself not wanting to be harangued due to your foreign features, it helps greatly to be able to throw the dupatta (the long scarf) over your hair so you can "hide" and "blend in" :P.
G) You are seen as ancient and doomed if you are not married by 30. You will be judged, especially if you are a woman haha. And everyone will comment on this (even though I was nowhere near). It does not make for polite conversation (in North American culture) but it will be a frequently asked question you will encounter in Pakistan. Especially if one travels as a solo single woman by herself. Since most women do not travel without male companions. So while North Americans may consider it rude, it is very normal amongst Pakistanis to ask others this questions. Do also be mindful that the concept of "boyfriend-girlfriend" may baffle or "affront" some Pakistanis if you tell them that. Don't take it personally. I definitely learned not to. On some occasions, it was easier for my foreign friends that I met in the country who were in a long-term relationship to just say they were "married" to save themselves the hassle of explanation.
H) Local bands, Pakistani dramas (and Bollywood movies of course) are a past-time in addition to cricket :P. Lollywood is pretty big here in addition to Bollywood. Humsafar, a TV serial adapted from a romance drama novel had a huge cult following. It is Urdu for "life partner" to represent husband/wife. Hum means "to" and safar means "travel." So you call your significant other humsafar to demonstrate the fact that "you travel through life together." A very lovely lovely sentiment I think.
I) Fruit is amazing here! Mangoes are seriously delicious and different varieties. But apricots, cherries, crab apples, and shahtoot (mulberries) are delicious as well (mainly from the North)! Pakistanis also like to eat lychee too hehe! But truly Pakistan is really known for their mangos!!!
If you get a chance to go grab your hands on some in the summer - they are divine juicy wraps of sweetness! Try both the "squeezy mangos" in addition to the yellow ones.
Side note: Baltistan in the North has lots of precious and semi-precious stones (like India), great for souvenirs and shopping for friends if interested :).
Just some of the things that I could think of that popped into my head. Pakistanis can feel free to critique what I've said.
I felt safe when travelling (places such as Karachi and Peshawar - I wasn't allowed to go yet....so I do think foreigners should be mindful but it doesn't mean they are impossible places to get to). I went through Abbottābad(where Osama Bin Laden was killed) on my drive up to Skardu and didn't have any safety issues in the city. But it is still a contested place because it is thought to still "harbour" both Pakistani Taliban and Afghani Taliban). Mind you checkpoints are a daily reality in the lives of people (especially in Islamabad - capital territory). But not so much to placate Americans in "eliminating Taliban to protect the US. It was more about protecting the Pakistanis. Locals themselves are scared as 99% of people are not extremists, as Pakistanis worry about the Taliban creating instability and fracturing their own country. Checkpoints are present so that bombings and violence towards Pakistanis can be thwarted. In fact as a foreigner, I was stopped on several occasions because the authorities were suspicious of ME!
I'm not saying Pakistan is perfect as it has it's own fair share of issues (ie. corruption, gender inequality, persecutions of religious and sexual minorities, load shedding, population pressure, wealth disparity, etc). But it definitely shouldn't be singled out for one identity as being terrorist producers/harbourers.
Sorry if I went overboard! Hope this helps! Happy planning :)!
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I think this is the best place for travel in this world.. =D i love it..
Hi, I came back on 30 Dec.14 after 20 days at Karachi, had lot of fun, have lot of friends there. I stayed in the Clifton area, its safe there. stayed out till 1 am, but was always with friends. Must go to Dolmen Mall for shopping.
We hired a car with a Driver. Please do not drive there.
Please go to SAFE area, SAFE Hotels, avoid eating out, also be careful with drinking water. there are lot of places which are safe, and lot of places
to avoid. Must stay at 5 Star hotel. Airport is also not safe.
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