12 Things to Know before Visiting Pakistan

Pakistanis are one of the most hospitable people you will meet. We explore 12 things to know before taking a trip to Pakistan.

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It is like a hidden gemstone, waiting to be discovered.

Travelling in Pakistan is a unique experience because it is not just another country with fabulous infrastructure and impressive highways, it is so much more than that.

It is a diverse country where you are genuinely welcomed with open arms.

Will Hatton, a backpacker who had the honour of visiting Pakistan, has expressed his experience in a wholesome manner. He said:

“I have explored over 70 countries, and I can safely say that Pakistan is the most diverse and beautiful country I have ever visited.”

From its unclimbed peaks to crystal clear shores, Pakistan has a lot to offer to the world.

Here are a few things that you need to know before visiting Pakistan.

Regions

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If you are visiting Pakistan, you need to be aware of the places you want to go to.

Pakistan is divided into four main regions.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

KPK is the northern part of Pakistan, which includes major cities like Peshawar and Swat.

It is a hotspot for tourists because of its beautiful mountains, valleys, and meaty dishes that go way back.

Punjab

Punjab is the most populous province of Pakistan.

The province is rich in culture and historical tales.

You can visit the capital of Punjab, Lahore if you are looking for great malls and hangout places.

Sindh

If you are travelling to Sindh, you can visit ancient forts, civilizations, and the beautiful Arabian sea.

Similar to Lahore, Karachi is one of the most developed cities in Pakistan.

The weather there is slightly warmer but pleasant.

It is home to the television and fashion industry.

Balochistan

Balochistan is the largest province of Pakistan. Most of the province is untouched, preserving the mountains and crystal clear beaches.

According to Madeeha Syed from Destinations:

“Balochistan is an explorer’s paradise. Everything is new and waiting to be discovered.”

It is also home to traditional bazaars, authentic handicrafts, handwoven carpets, and delicious cuisine.

Additional territories include Islamabad, the beautiful capital of Pakistan, and Azad Kashmir, the heaven on Earth.

Hospitality

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Pakistanis are the most hospitable people you will ever meet. Foreigners are welcomed happily in each part of the country.

Somehow, you will find yourself surrounded by locals on a fine evening enjoying a karak chai under the bare sky.

It might become the highlight of your trip.

If you are staying with a family, you might notice them prioritising your comfort over theirs.

Shopkeepers will also give away free stuff, especially souvenirs, to tourists as a courtesy because Pakistanis are just like that.

Respecting the Culture

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Since Pakistan is an Islamic Republic, the culture and traditions in Pakistan are very modest but very enjoyable.

Everything is done within boundaries keeping in mind the moral obligations and values.

Things are easier in urban areas like Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi, but generally, modest attire and safe distance between opposite genders are encouraged.

While visiting Pakistan, it is best to stay fully covered, especially if you are in rural or northern areas and avoid sensitive topics.

Language

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Urdu is the national language of Pakistan. In urban areas, English is a common language but to communicate with most people, you would need to memorise a few Urdu phrases.

Here are some common phrases you can learn before visiting Pakistan:

‘Kya haal hai?’ – How are you?

‘Apka kya naam hai?’ – What is your name?

‘Main theek hu’ – I am fine.

‘Main (country name) se hu’ – I am from (country name).

‘Theek hai’ – Okay.

‘Jee haan/ Jee nahi’ – Yes/No.

‘Zabardast’ – Excellent!

‘Shukriya’ – Thank you.

‘Khuda Hafiz’ – Goodbye.

You can also get an English to Urdu dictionary for your own convenience.

Sim Card

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Make sure to get a local number and sim card to avoid costly roaming charges while visiting Pakistan.

It is important to stay connected and have the internet for directions in case you need to reach a destination.

Look for an affordable package which also includes data.

For example, Ufone offers its Supercard services which lasts from 2 weeks up to a month, depending upon the card price. It includes a good deal of minutes, messages and data.

Cash

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It is important to carry cash at all times because card services are not offered everywhere.

If you are visiting northern areas, finding an ATM can be challenging.

It is important to do your research before visiting Pakistan for the best currency conversion rates.

Environment and Safety

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For women in Pakistan, everywhere is the same. For safety, it is best to always be accompanied by a man or travel as a group, especially at night.

In some areas in KPK, women are recommended not to travel or roam around alone.

It is also pretty much impossible to go for late-night jogs and strolls unless you are living in an extremely secure and closed environment.

Pakistan is a developing country and you will notice a lot of variation in each city you go to. For example, life in KPK is very different from that in Punjab.

Some roads in northern Pakistan are still a work in progress because of the floods, avalanches and other natural disasters that are inevitable.

But there are several completed projects like the newly built road to Kalam that makes it possible to visit that part of the country.

Coming to the hotels, it all depends on what you can afford. You can find 5-star hotels like Pearl Continental, Serena and Avari in the major cities.

They offer a comfortable stay with lavish buffets and facilities like pools and sports.

You can also check out some mid-range hotels that charge Rs 2000-4000 (£9.36 – £18.73) per night.

Clothes

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Upon visiting Pakistan, if you are planning on a whole country tour, you might want to pack clothes for different weathers.

Northern areas in Pakistan are pretty cold, and it gets almost impossible to go on without a warm sweater and jacket.

If you move to the south, the weather gets warmer, so you would need something light and comfortable.

It is appreciated in Pakistan to be fully covered, for both men and women.

Avoid wearing shorts and sleeveless, especially women as it is frowned upon and you will definitely get a lot of staring.

Transport

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In Pakistan, you will have a lot of options for transport. There are buses, planes and cars to travel in from one city to another.

You can also travel through local jeeps and wagons to add a little thrill to the trip.

However, if you are looking for a comfortable ride, you can travel through the Daewoo bus that offers a 5-star bus service from one city to another. It is also not very heavy on the pocket.

For northern areas, you would need to hire local jeeps to get to places where cars are not accessible.

Train travel is also very common, especially if you want to get to the south.

It is important to note that public transport like wagons and coasters are not as safe as official bus services and not recommended for women and children.

Getting off the Trail

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While visiting Pakistan, most of the itineraries include only commonplaces of Pakistan like Lahore, Islamabad and perhaps Hunza Valley.

Pakistan has a lot to offer. It includes the frosty rivers of Swat, lively villages of Chitral, majestic landscapes of Azad Kashmir, peaceful valleys of Yasin and Phander and cascading waterfalls of Balochistan.

Do not be afraid to do a little exploring of your own. Samuel Joynson of the British Backpackers Society says:

“Pakistan is a travel gem and is one of the world’s most exciting travel destinations right now.

“Your first trip to Pakistan will be a trip that you will never forget.”

Food and Drinks

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Be prepared to gain a few pounds while you are visiting Pakistan because the one thing that Pakistanis don’t compromise on is their food. Their hospitality, of course, follows this.

In each corner of Pakistan, you will find a variety of dishes, whether it is at a small dhaba or a big fancy restaurant.

The local food is spicy and masalaydaar, but you can find mild options too in most areas.

Biryani, Karahi, Nihari and Chapli Kebab are some of the most popular dishes in the country and you can find them almost anywhere.

For vegetarians, there are lentil dishes like masoor ki daal and daal mash. There are also special vegetable dishes like mixed sabzi (mixed vegetables) and aloo ki bhujia, which is a dish made of spicy potatoes.

It is an Islamic State so you won’t find alcohol and pork openly. The use is frowned upon, so it is advised to respect the culture.

Shopping

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Most vendors and shopkeepers are open to bargain, especially if you are visiting small shops and stalls.

They usually quote high prices initially, but if you are getting something in bulk, it is best to bargain.

You can hire a local travel guide to help you in locating souvenirs and traditional items at a low cost.

You can find traditional cutlery, dresses and handmade jewellery in Pakistan easily.

Sindh is known for its hand-embroidered bags with beautiful mirror work and pottery.

While visiting Pakistan, you will have a chance to experience new colours, sights, smells and tastes.

It is like a hidden gemstone, waiting to be discovered.

Gul Jabeen from Travel With Gul, expresses her concerns regarding the country’s tourism. She said:

“As a Pakistani who has often travelled to the northern areas of Pakistan, I have witnessed the heavenly beauty my land possesses.

“But sadly, the world is not aware of these features, as their know-how is more inclined towards terrorism and negativity prevailing in Pakistan.”

From architectural masterpieces of the Mughal Era to the flamboyant attire of tribal woman, heavy deodar forests to the sunsets in Hunza Valley, teal-coloured Khandar Lake to emerald green fairy meadows, words cannot do justice to this beauteous country.

If you have a raw spirit of travelling and witnessing one of the most beautiful countries, you must visit Pakistan at least once in your lifetime.

Maarij is an Electrical Engineering student who is passionate about English literature and writing. Her obsession with art and culture allows her to explore various themes through different perspectives. She believes 'limits exist only in the mind'.

Images courtesy of Pakistan Survey, Lost with Purpose, Pixabay, ExtraEssay, Aisha's Scrapyard