In the best of all possible worlds, Pakistan would find itself among the world’s most popular destinations thanks to its deep valleys, high mountains and broad stretches of wilderness. The very areas we read about today in newspapers, would offer compelling experiences to culture seekers hoping to learn more about the tribal intricacies of Central Asia, the expression of Islam among the Sufis, the micro-cultures of the Mohana boat people of the Indus Riverand of the hearty mountain people to the north. Sadly, that is not the world we live in. Kashmir and the Swat Valley along the border of Afghanistan are both extremely dangerous areas. Still, many in Pakistan struggle to make that world a reality and those progressive forces see tourism as an essential tool for opening bridges between their country and the rest of the world. There was a time when the world went through Pakistan along the ancient Silk Route that connected China to the Mediterranean.
The natural diversity of Pakistan is breathtaking: verdant mountains including parts of the Himalayas and the Hindu Kush, the Thar Desert, the Arabian Sea, rivers like the Indus, forests and even alluvial plains. In the Indus Valley the origins of human life in Asia can find its roots. Moenjodaro is the chief archeological site of the world’s third-oldest civilization, which flourished 5,000 years ago. At Kot Diji, pre-historic archeological sites suggest a civilization even older. In Lahore, a modern mélange of Mughal, Sikh and colonial influences speak of newer cultures. Lahore’s 11th-century fort presents a long line of Mughal architectural developments. The Samadh of Maharaja Ranajit Singh and Guru Arjun Dev, feature solid gold tombs dating back to the Sikh era. The Lahore Museum displays artifacts from the Gandhara, Buddhist, Jain, Mogul and Colonial periods. In Old Lahore, the walled city features narrow, dimly lit alleys leading to different bazaars.
Visitors to Islamabad should make the short 20-mile journey to the ancient ruins of Taxila, which dates back to the 6th century BCE as an educational center for Hindus and Buddhists. Karachi, located on the Arabian Sea, is the most modern city in the country. Its National Museum offers a solid introduction to Indus Valley Civilization. Thatta, on the Arabian Sea east of Karachi, was used by Alexander the Great to rest his troops. In the 15th century, the Mughals made it a provincial capital, and the 17th-century mosque of emperor Shah Jehan (builder of the Taj Mahal) is a standout.
Dining in Pakistan differs depending on which region you’re in. Along the sea, fish is widely eaten. In the mountains and other areas beef, goat, lamb and chicken grow more popular. Spices are used liberally, and aromatic spices are particularly popular.
Pakistan’s weather is as unpredictable as its topography. A country with more than 100 snow-capped mountains and vast stretches of desert is not easy to pack for. Northern Pakistan features extreme changes while Southern Pakistan has more moderate weather. Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad all have international airports. Among the carriers serving Pakistan are Air China, Cathy Pacific, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Thai Airways, Turkish Airlines and Pakistan International (PIA).