Pakistan

Introduction:
Though Pakistan is a Muslim nation, its past was heavily influenced by the two other major religions in the area as well. Monuments of Hinduism and Buddhism reveal some of the complexities of Pakistan, while making for fantastic sightseeing. Sights are most dramatic in the north, though, where the landscape is perhaps the most impressive in all of Asia: gut-wrenching peaks (including K2, the second highest mountain in the world) are great photo opportunities, or, if you're the mountaineering type, the biggest adventure of your life. Even for those a little less daring, trekking through Pakistan is immensely rewarding. 

Brief History 


The first known inhabitants of the modern-day Pakistan region are believed to have been the Soanian - Homo erectus, who settled in the Soan Valley and Riwat almost 2 million years ago. Over the next several thousand years, the region would develop into various civilizations like Mehrgarh and the Indus Valley Civilization. Throughout its history, the region has also been apart of various Greek, Persian, Turkic, Islamic and British empires. 

The political history of the nation began with the birth of the All India Muslim League in 1906 to protect Muslim interests, amid fears of neglect and under-representation of Muslims, in case the British Raj decided to grant local self-rule. On the 29 December 1930, Muhammad Iqbal called for an autonomous state in "northwestern India for Indian Muslims", demanding the formation of independent states for Muslims in the East and the West of British India. Eventually, a united Pakistan with two wings - West Pakistan and East Pakistan - gained independence from the British, on August 14, 1947.

Pakistan declared itself an Islamic republic on adoption of a constitution in 1956, but the civilian rule was stalled by the 1956 military coup d'etat by Ayub Khan, who ruled during a period of internal instability and a second war with India in 1965. Economic grievances and political dissent in East Pakistan led to violent political tensions and army repression, escalating into civil war followed by the third war with India. This ultimately led to the secession of East Pakistan and the brith of Bangladesh. Modern-day Pakistan came in existence in 1971, after a civil war in the distant East Pakistan and emergence of an independent Bangladesh.
Civilian rule resumed from 1972 to 1977 under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, until he was deposed by General Zia-ul-Haq, who became the country's third military president. Pakistan's secular policies were replaced by the Islamic Shariah legal code, which increased religious influences on the civil service and the military. With the death of Zia-ul-Haq in 1988, Benazir Bhutto, daughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was elected as the first female Prime Minister of Pakistan. Over the next decade, she alternated power with Nawaz Sharif, as the country's political and economic situation worsened. Military tensions in the Kargil conflict with India were followed by a 1999 coup d'état in which General Pervez Musharraf assumed executive powers. In 2001, Musharraf named himself President after the resignation of Rafiq Tarar. In the 2002 Parliamentary Elections, Musharraf transferred executive powers to newly elected Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali, who was succeeded in the 2004 by Shaukat Aziz. On November 15, 2007 the National Assembly completed its term and a caretaker government was appointed with the former Chairman of The Senate, Muhammad Mian Soomro as Prime Minister. Following the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, that resulted in a series of important political developments, her husband Asif Ali Zardari was eventually elected as the new President.

Sights and Activities

Trekking
Pakistan is noted as having some of the best trekking terrain in the world. From hosting K2 treks to leading the Karakoram trail into China its rare that a country could top Pakistan for its breathtaking mountain views. These trails range from novice inclined to full scale 'Hiliary' type expeditions. Unlike many other mountainous countries, Pakistan's ice capped trails are largely tourist free due to recent political problems. But the northern areas are renown for their peaceful and friendly inhabitants.
Be prepared though. Not much, if any, equipment is available to buy in Pakistan. So make sure you bring your own equipment such as hiking boots, weather gear and anything else you might need on a trail.


Peshawar

Further south in Peshawar you will experience a city that few others on the planet can top. Peshawar has become a haven for Afghan refugees and settlers since the war in their homeland. As such the city had grown a new cultural behavior that is quite fascinating to behold. Afghan's mixed with local Pashtun's create a wealth of culinary, visual and cultural delights for the traveller.
It's not a city for the weak at heart though. Peshawar is very crowded. The roads make some of India's look tame in comparison. Cycle rickshaws, auto rickshaws, bicycles, motorbike, cars, multicolored buses and people all hustle for space here in amongst plumes of oily smoke. Yet in amongst all this chaos you will still be greeted by friendly faces, bar the odd manic taxi driver.


Khyber Pass

Peshawar is also home to the starting point of the Khyber Pass trail. Made famous as the main overland route used by Kings and war mongers of yesterday as a gateway between Central Asia, Asia, and Europe. Alexander the Great is perhaps it's most famous of travellers. Today it is an excellent hike to a still very remote part of the world.


Moenjodaro

Moenjodara is a short train from Karachi or a water taxi from Larkana. This stunning ancient Indus Valley city dates back to 2500 BC other then one stupa. This is by far one of the best persevered Indus Valley cities. There is also an excellent museum attached to the sight that has several nice relics.

Other Sights and Activities

  • Chaukundi tombs and cemeteries are an amazing place outside of Karachi.
  • Khunjerab Pass and National Park is located high in the mountains and on the border with China, this national park and mountain pass has stunning archaeological sites and wildlife.
  • Nathiagali is a great place to enjoy hikes in heavily wooded hills and mountains.
  • Takht-I-Bahi is the stunning ruins of an ancient Buddhist monastery.

Weather

There are many variations in the climate in Pakistan, with very high mountains in the north, deserts in the south and southeast that receive little rain and of course the wet season in many parts of the country. There are three principal seasons.

1. From mid-October until late February is the cool season, when the weather is generally pleasant, sunny, and relatively warm by day but with chilly nights and occasional frost in some areas. There is some rain in the northern and western parts of the country. Temperatures in much of the country are around 25 °C during the day. Conditions in the higher mountains at this time are cold, with snow and extremely low temperatures high in the mountains. But temperatures in the south and center of the country rise to much higher levels. The heath is unpleasant despite the relatively low humidity. Some occasional rain may occur at this time and ther is also the possibility of dust storms at this time.

2. From March onwards to June the temperatures start to rise and in some places humidity increases as well. Jacobabad for example has the reputation of being one of the hottest places in the world from April until September. June is the hottest month with average daytime temperatures of 46 degrees Celsius and an absolute high of 53 °C! Nights are sometimes over 30 °C.

3. The rainy season over most of the country is from late June until early October. This is the season of the southwest monsoon and although temperatures are a little lower the high humidity makes this time not a very pleasant one to visit. Still, not all of Pakistan is equally wet during the rainy season. The wet season is most common in the eastern and central lowlands of the country, for example in Islamabad, where daytime temperatures of 35 to 40 °C are combined with almost 250 mm of rain in July and August. The desert region of the south and southeast receives little rain at this time and is sunny and hot. More towards the coast there is some relief of the heat but higher humidity makes things equally bad in for example Karachi.


Getting There

By Plane

Pakistan International Airlines, the national carrier, is based at Jinnah International Airport (KHI) in Karachi, the largest airport in the country. Other international airports include Allama Iqbal International Airport (LHE) in Lahore and Islamabad International Airport (ISB) in the capital Islamabad.

Destinations are mainly to major Asian cities and also to some European and North American cities such as London, New York and Toronto.

By Train

  • Karachi to Jodhpur
Since February 2006, a train travels between the Indian city of Jodhpur in Rajasthan and the coastal city of Karachi in Pakistan. It's the first international train travelling directly between the two countries since 1965.

The Thar Express leaves Karachi at 11:00pm on Fridays, taking almost 24 hours before arriving in Jodhpur on Saturday evening. In the opposite direction, trains leave and arrive on approximately the same time on the same days taking 24 hours as well.
  • Lahore to Amritsar
On Mondays and Thursdays the Samjhota Express leaves Amritsar at 7:00am, scheduled to arrive in Lahore in Pakistan just after 2:00pm. In the other direction, trains leave Lahore on Tuesdays and Fridays at 8.30am to the Indian town of Atari, from where there are connections to Amritsar, arriving at 3:00pm.

As of late 2007 the train from Iran into Pakistan via Taftan and onto Quetta no longer runs with passengers. There is still a cargo train from Taftan to Quetta, but it is unclear if passengers can board.

By Car

You will need a Carnet de Passage if you are travelling through with your own vehicle, the police/customs will stop you and ask for it. If driving your own vehicle be prepared for crazy traffic. Be sure to have proper insurance as well as an international driving permit. Crossings to/from Iran and India are the easiest and quite a few people make it here overland from Europe to Asia.

By Bus

You can cross into Pakistan to/from India, Iran, China and Afghanistan. There are few direct buses though. The best one to take is the bus between Lahore and Delhi. With proper visa arranged, crossings to the other countries are also possible but usually require a change of transport across the border and you have to cross on foot. Crossing to China is via the Khunjerab pass. Buses go to Tashkurgan at the border and onward across the border to Kashgar. To Iran, the border crossing is at Taftan and buses go from Quetta to the border and onwards to Zahendan in Iran. A popular route to Afghanistan is from Peshawar across the Khyber Pass towards Jalalabad and Kabul.
Note that due to ungoing safety problems in the north of Pakistan, crossings to and from Afghanistan and China might not be safe or even possible anymore. Check the latest conditions once in Pakistan.

By Boat

There are no international passenger service by ferry.

Visas:
A visa is needed before entry. Visitors from Iceland, Maldives, Nepal, Trinidad and Tobago, Tonga, Western Samoa and Zambia do not need a visa. Most Pakistani embassies will issue you a 30-day tourist visa to non-restricted areas. 

Requirements:
1. If applying from outside your country of residence you will need a letter from your own embassy in the country you are applying from.
2. Two passport photographs.
3. Two Photocopies of all your passport details.
You will need to have a rough itinerary as well to write into the forms they give you.
The embassy usually gives out the visa on the same day. But this could stretch to two days depending on workloads. 

Police & Military:
Generally speaking both the police and army are quite friendly to tourists. Most officers speak good English and are happy to help where they can.

Money

Pakistan uses the Rupee (Rs) which comes in the form of Rs5, Rs10, Rs50, Rs100, Rs500 and Rs1,000 denomination notes. There are also some lower denomination coins of Rs1, Rs2 and Rs5.
A lot of the notes are quite battered and torn, some shop keepers will refuse to accept them. So it's best to refuse them yourself.

There are ATMs scattered around most of the larger cities that accept VISA and MasterCard. But they rely on a satellite system to connect and this can often be off line. So its best to keep a stash of cash with you. Standard Chartered is a reliable bank and is in most of the main cities. Once past Chitral there are no ATMs. Money changers are plentiful.