Pakistan Country Information

Pakistan has borders with Afghanistan, India, Iran and the Arabian Sea. The terrain varies from rugged and mountainous to flat, alluvial plains.

Karachi, the largest city in Pakistan, is situated on the shores of the Arabian Sea near the mouth of the Indus. The streets are lively with hundreds of street restaurants, teahouses, samosa and juice stalls. Boats can be hired to sail out of the harbour. Lahore, in the Punjab, is a historic, bustling city with buildings of pink and white marble. There is plenty to see: bazaars, the Badshahi Mosque ?€“ one of the largest mosques in the whole world and an example of Moghul architecture rivalled only by the Taj Mahal. Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan since 1963, and Rawalpindi, are both located on the Pothowar Plain. The old part of the town boasts fine examples of local architecture and the narrow streets are crammed with bazaars where craftsmen are still using traditional methods.

The Kashmir province has some of the highest mountains in the world including the famous Nanga Parbat and second highest mountain in the world, K2.

Pakistani cuisine is based on curry or masala (hot and spicy) sauces accompanying chicken, mutton, shrimps and a wide choice of vegetables.

Cultural programmes of traditional music and dance can be seen and the Pakistani Arts Academy performs at various times during the year.

Quick Facts
Tips For Travelers
Money & Costs
Getting In & Out
Moving Around


 Quick Facts

Full country name: Islamic Republic of Pakistan
AREA: 803,950 sq km (502,469 sq miles).

POPULATION: 138,123,359 (1999).

POPULATION DENSITY: 164.0 per sq km.

CAPITAL: Islamabad. Population: 799,000 (1998).

GOVERNMENT: Federal Islamic Republic since 1973. Gained independence from the UK in 1947. Head of State: President Mohammad Rafiq Tarar since 1997. Head of Government: Following a military coup in October 1999, General Parvez Musharraf took over as the leader of the new military regime.

LANGUAGE: Urdu is the national language. English is widely spoken. Regional languages include Punjabi, Pushto, Sindhi, Saraiki, and Baluchi. There are numerous local dialects.

RELIGION: 97% Muslim, the remainder are Hindu or Christian.

TIME: GMT + 5.

ELECTRICITY: 220 volts AC, 50Hz. Round 2- or 3-pin plugs are in use.

COMMUNICATIONS: Telephone: IDD is available. Country code: 92. Outgoing international code: 00. Fax: Services are operated by the Pakistan telephone and telegraph department. Telegram: There are services at post offices, telegraph offices and main hotels. The Central Telegraph Offices provide a 24-hour service. Post: Airmail takes four to five days to reach Western Europe. There are poste restante facilities in Lahore, Karachi and Rawalpindi. General post offices in major cities offer 24-hour services. Important letters should be registered or insured. Press: The English-language press enjoys a great deal of influence in business circles. Dailies include The Financial Post, The Leader, The Pakistan Observer, The Pakistan Times, The Star, The Nation, The News, The Frontier Post, The Muslim, The Business Recorder and Dawn.


Pakistan has borders to the north with Afghanistan, to the east with India and to the west with Iran; the Arabian Sea lies to the south. In the northeast is the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir, bounded by Afghanistan, China and India. Pakistan comprises distinct regions. The northern highlands – the Hindu Kush – are rugged and mountainous; the Indus Valley is a flat, alluvial plain with five major rivers dominating the upper region, eventually joining the Indus River and flowing south to the Makran coast; Sindh is bounded on the east by the Thar Desert and the Rann of Kutch, and on the west by the Kirthar Range; the Baluchistan Plateau is an arid tableland encircled by mountains.

Three seasons: winter (November-March) is warm and cooled by sea breezes on the coast, summer (April-July) has extreme temperatures, the monsoon season (July-September) has the highest rainfall on the hills. Karachi has little rain.

The best time to visit the south is between November and March, when the days are cool and clear.

The best time to visit northern Pakistan is from April to October.


In ancient times the area that now comprises Pakistan marked the farthest reaches of the conquests of Alexander the Great. It was also the home of Buddhist Ghandaran culture. Created in response to Muslim demands for an Islamic state when India gained independence in 1947, the modern state of Pakistan originally consisted of two parts; East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and West Pakistan (now a single unitary state), separated from each other by 1600km (1000 miles) of Indian territory.

The first Governor General of Pakistan was Muhammed Ali Jinnah, who had led the struggle for a separate Pakistan inside the Congress Party (see India). But in contrast to India, democracy failed to take root and Pakistan suffered prolonged periods of military rule. The first of these came in 1958 when martial law was declared and political parties abolished.

The martial law co-ordinator, General (later Field Marshal) Ayub Khan, became President in 1960. He was replaced in 1969 by the Commander-in-Chief of the army, General Agha Muhammed Yahya Khan, who resisted demands for autonomy by the eastern region of the country, where civil war broke out in 1971; the intervention of the Indian army on the side of the secessionists eventually secured an independent Bangladesh, leaving a truncated Pakistan in the west.

Democratic civilian government followed the defeat, and President Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto took over as President from the discredited military regime. In 1977, however, the military again took power in a coup, and re-established martial law under General Mohammed Zia ul-Haq, who became President a year later. Bhutto was executed in 1979. Military rule continued until the death of General Zia in a plane crash in 1988, after which a democratic constitution and civilian government were reinstituted.

Despite a strong challenge from the military-backed Islamic Democratic Alliance, Bhutto’s daughter, Benazir, long the focus for opposition, came to power as leader of the Pakistan People’s Party. But in August 1990 President Ghulam Ishaq Khan dismissed Bhutto and her government, accusing her and it of corruption and nepotism. The electoral campaign which followed was an exceptionally violent one, in which Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party was heavily defeated by the Islamic Democratic Alliance (IDA), led by Mohammed Nawaz Sharif. The major issues for the Sharif government were regional security and long-term problems with the economy. On neither count was his government able to make much headway, not least because of deteriorating relations with President Ishaq Khan, who was assuming an increasingly active role in Pakistani politics.

In July 1993, the army (always a powerful force in Pakistani politics) arranged for both Sharif and Ishaq Khan to resign to cope with an increasingly turbulent domestic situation. The military supervised the next election, which was held in October, and was won by Benazir Bhutto; the PP candidate, Farooq Ahmad Khan Leghari, also won the presidential poll. The Bhutto Government was unable to bring political stability to the country. The situation was particularly bad in Karachi where the Mohajir Quami Movement (MQM), the political organisation of the Mohajir (descendants of refugees from India following the creation of Pakistan in 1947-48), has a major presence and engaged in regular confrontations with the government and security forces.

In 1996 political reform movement emerged, led by the former cricketer Imran Khan, known as the Tehrik-e-Insaaf (Movement for Justice); despite much favourable publicity, the lack of a substantial political base or policies have since consigned it to the political fringes. Amid a deteriorating political situation and widespread unrest, in October 1996, President Leghari dismissed Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and her Government, and dissolved the National Assembly. The ensuing general election the following February was marked by an extremely low turn-out: the PML (Nawaz Group) won a decisive victory and Mohammad Nawaz Sharif was sworn in as Prime Minister. Sharif was determined hat he would not suffer the fate of the three previous governments – dismissal by the President.

In early April 1997 the National Assembly and Senate unanimously voted to repeal the 1985 Eighth Constitutional Amendment – divesting the President of the power to appoint and dismiss the Prime Minister and Cabinet and dissolve the legislature leaving the President as little more than a ceremonial figure. Sharif now pursued what appeared to be a vendetta against the Bhuttos in earnest as the husband of Benazir Bhutto, Asif Ali Zardari, was charged with ordering the death of his wife’s brother, and the couple arraigned for corruption (although Sharif?s clan are no less culpable in this regard). Investigators also alleged that the Bhutto family had illegally siphoned more than US$3 billion out of the country into Swiss bank accounts; all the ex-Prime Minister’s assets and accounts were frozen.

1997 saw a long constitutional stale-mate which was only resolved in December when the Chief Justice was suspended and President Leghari resigned to be replaced by Sharif?s nominee, Mohammad Rafiq Tarar. Pakistan faced an unprecedented foreign policy crisis in mid-1998; after carrying out nuclear tests in May, it was faced with international condemnation, and, subsequently, crippling sanctions. The nuclear programme had begun in 1971 after Pakistan’s defeat by India and has progressed steadily with Chinese assistance thereafter.

The conflict with India is a central feature of Pakistani politics, particularly as regards the attitude and posture of the military, with a long-running dispute over the status of Kashmir as well as the nuclear stand-off.

Throughout 1998 and 1999, the army assumed a more aggressive stance towards India, engineering a number of border clashes and other incidents. But in August 1999, under pressure from the USA and elsewhere, Sharif ordered the army to stand back down from its confrontation with India. This triggered a series of clashes between Sharif and his army chief of staff, General Pervez Musharraf, which culminated in October 1999 with a military coup. Musharraf, unusually for a senior general, is a Mohajir and originally from northern India. Styling himself as Chief Executive over the new military regime, president Tarar was forced out of office and Sharif thrown into prison pending trial. The world has reacted with condemnation, but the military has insisted it will return to a democratic government ‘as soon as possible’. We shall see.


Pakistani families are very close, often consisting of grandparents, parents and children living together in the same house. The smaller family is becoming more of a reality in the urban centres. The elderly often live with their children and are treated with great respect. Children tend to accompany their parents to most social events. Important events in the family’s life are celebrated with relatives and friends. Pakistani families are usually large because children are considered to be gifts from God or Allah. Teaching children the beliefs of Islam is considered to be one of the most important responsibilities of family life.

Most Pakistani marriages are arranged. When a couple is married, the bride applies mehndi or henna paste to her hands and feet and the quazi, the religious leader, administers the nikah or marriage contract. Strong traditions and values influence women’s status in the family and in the community. These affect opportunities for education and for work, especially for less privileged women.

When a male baby is born, circumcision is performed in accordance with religious rites. When he is seven days old, the family holds an aqeeqa ceremony, which is a family feast. Both men and women wear the shalwar-kameez, the national dress. This consists of loose pants gathered at the waist and worn with a long shirt. The women’s clothing is more colourful, and is worn with a long scarf or dupatta. Some wear a chaddar, which is a shawl or long garment. In the urban areas men are more likely to wear western-style clothes.

Wealthy families and middle-class families live in bungalows or large apartment buildings. Many employ servants to perform various household duties. In the cities’ poorer areas, families live in two or three room dwellings. In rural Pakistan, cooking is still done on small kerosene stoves, clothes are washed on the banks of rivers and water is transported from rivers and wells.

More than 97% of Pakistan’s population is Muslim. The remaining 3% is made up of Hindus, Buddhists, Zoroastrians and Christians. Islam is the official religion of Pakistan. A Federal Shariat Court has been set up to review the country’s laws in the light of the Islamic penal code. Muslims are guided by the Quran, or Koran, the holy book, which they believe was revealed to the Prophet Mohammed.

Islam, Christianity and Judaism share many common beliefs and traditions. The giving of alms and compassion for the poor are stressed in these religions. Muslims are obliged to give 2.5% of their wealth to the needy. All three religions also stress the transitory nature of life on earth as a preparation for the hereafter.

Devout Muslims must heed the call of prayer five times every day. They pray facing the city of Mecca in Saudia Arabia. Most Muslims will arrange their schedules according to the prayer times. The prayer is preceded by the required ablution, which means washing the face, hands and feet. Friday is the Muslim holy day and most Pakistanis participate in congregational prayers in the mosque.

The Five Pillars of Islam Tawheed: Belief in the oneness of Allah and the prophethood of Mohammed Salaat: Five daily prayers Zakaat: The giving of alms to the needy Sawim: Fasting during the month of Ramadan Haj: Pilgrimage to Mecca

Once a year, there is Ramadan, the holy month of fasting. No food or drink is permitted from dawn to dusk. The end of this month is celebrated with special meals and festivities for Eid-al-Fitr. Muslims are also required to perform the Hajj, a holy pilgrimage to Mecca, once in their lifetime if they are financially able to do so. The last day of the pilgrimage commemorates the second major festival of Islamic belief,Eid-al-Adha.

The cuisine of Pakistan is a mixture of Arab, Turkish, Persian and Indian influences. Roti (bread), chawal (rice), sabzi (vegetables) and gosht (meat) are the four main components of a Pakistani meal. Naan is the most popular form of bread and is eaten at almost any meal. It is a flat, leavened bread made in a tandoor or clay oven and is normally purchased to supplement the home-cooked meal. Parathas and chapatis both flat round breads, are also favourites.

Rice is eaten often and is usually simple boiled . For special occasions, biryani is made by cooking rice in a yoghurt and meat sauce, and served with saffron. Kheer, a richer and more liquid version of the rice pudding, is cooked with cardamoms, cloves and cinnamon.

Muslims refrain from eating any pork. Most Pakistanis follow this diet restriction rigidly and will even avoid foods cooked with lard. Alcohol is also prohibited in Islam. Many Pakistanis will eat only `halal’ meaning `kosher’ meat. Chicken, goat and beef are popular either in curried form or char-grilled in a tandoor. Specialties include kebabs, tikka (barbecued spiced chicken), korma (meat curry) and pulao (rice cooked with meat).

Pakistani Beverages
Chai, or tea, is a very popular drink. It is drunk in any season, in sweltering heat or in the cooler months. It is very common to offer chai as a welcome gesture in homes, offices or stores. It usually boiled with milk, cardamom, nutmeg and sugar. Lassi, a yogurt drink, and sugar cane juice are very popular in the summer months

Mithai are sweets made of flour and milk or cream and are cooked in sweet syrups. These are very popular and are enjoyed on special occasions. Paan, a mixture of tobacco paste, spices and betel nut spread on a betel leaf, is a common way of ending a meal and is believed to help digestion.

Shaking hands is the usual form of greeting. Mutual hospitality and courtesy are of great importance at all levels, whatever the social standing of the host. Visitors must remember that most Pakistanis are Muslim and should respect their customs and beliefs.

Smoking is prohibited in some public places and it is polite to ask permission before lighting a cigarette. It is common for visiting business people to be entertained in hotels and restaurants. If invited to a private home, a gift or national souvenir is welcome. Informal dress is acceptable for most occasions. Women should avoid wearing tight clothing and should ensure that their arms and legs are covered. Pakistani society is divided into classes and within each group there is a subtle social grading. The Koran is the law for Muslims and it influences every aspect of daily life.


The important festivals of the year are either religious occasions or a commemoration of the creation of the country. Eid-al-Fitr follows the month of fasting, Ramadan. Eid-al-Adha is celebrated in memory of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son to God. These religious holidays vary every year according to the lunar calendar and are occasions for families and friends to visit each other, share gifts and special treats. People dress in their finest clothes for these festivities. Money is donated to the poor and an animal is sacrificed by those who can afford it.

National holidays include:

Independence Day (August 14)
Death anniversary of Quaid-E-Azam, Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan (September 11)
Birthday of Quaid-E-Azam (December 25)

Other holidays are
Pakistan Day (March 23) which commemorates the passing of the Pakistan Resolution
National Defense Day (September 6)
Labor Day (May 1)

 Traveler Info

Note: Visa requirements for Pakistan are liable to change at short notice. Consult the nearest consular representative of Pakistan well in advance of travel.

Restricted entry and transit: The Government of Pakistan refuses entry to nationals of Israel, even for transit. Nationals of Afghanistan are refused entry if their passports or tickets show evidence of transit or bording in India.

PASSPORTS: Passport valid for 6 months beyond the intended length of stay required by all.

VISAS: Required by all except the following:

(a) transit passengers continuing their journey by the same or first connecting aircraft, provided they are holding onward or return documentation and not leaving the airport.

Note: Visitors whose stay in Pakistan exceeds 30 days must report to the nearest Foreigners Registration Office for registration.

Types of visa and cost: Price of visa varies according to nationality. For UK nationals, prices are: Single-entry (£40); Double-entry (£54); Multiple-entry (£66). Certain nationals are issued visas free of charge, but they must be obtained prior to travel. For further information, consult the High Commission or Embassy.

Validity: 6 months of the date of issue for stays of up to 3 months. A Multiple-entry visa allows six journeys in a total period not exceeding one year, with a maximum 3-month stay at any one time.

Application to: Consulate (or Consular section at Embassy or High Commission); see Useful Contacts section.

Application requirements: (a) Valid passport. (b) 1 application form. (c) 2 passport-size photos. (d) Confirmed return/onward ticket. (e) Proof of sufficient funds for duration of stay. (f) For business trips, a letter of invitation from a company in Pakistan.

 Money & Costs

Currency: Pakistani rupee
Relative costs:

  • Cheap meal: US$2-5
  • Moderate restaurant meal: US$3-8
  • Expensive restaurant meal: US$8-20
  • Cheap room: US$5-6
  • Moderate hotel: US$15-20
  • Expensive hotel: US$30++

HOTELS: Pakistan offers a wide range of accommodation. Modern well-equipped hotels are to be found in most major towns and offer excellent facilities such as swimming pools and sports facilities. There are also cottages, Dak bungalows and rest houses in all principal hill stations and health resorts. A government room tax of 15% is added to the cost of accommodation. In all cases it is advisable to book well in advance and check reservations. For further information contact the Pakistan Hotels Association, Ground Floor, Shafi Courts, Merewether Road, Civil Lines, Karachi 75530. Tel/Fax: (21) 568 6407.


PTDC HOTELS & MOTELS: The Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation operates four hotels located at Lahore, Rawalpindi, Murree and Peshawar. PTDC also runs well-furnished and moderately-priced motels at 15 different tourist locations throughout the country. For more information, contact PTDC (for address, see top of entry).


YOUTH HOSTELS: The Pakistan Youth Hostel Association has nine hostels throughout the country available to members of affiliated organisations. Details can be obtained from the Pakistan Youth Hostel Association, Shaheed-e Millat Road, Aabpara, Sector G-6/4, Islamabad. Tel: (51) 826 899. Fax: (51) 920 6417.


SAFETY/SECURITY/AREAS OF INSTABILITY: Rallies, demonstrations and processions occur from time to time throughout Pakistan on very short notice and have occasionally taken on an anti-American or anti-Western character. Karachi and the southern parts of Punjab province have experienced protracted political or sectarian violence that, although not explicitly anti-American, poses a potential danger to American travelers. During the Islamic religious observances of Ramadan and Moharram, sectarian rivalry and violence often increase.

Northern Areas – Visitors wishing to trek in Gilgit, Hunza, Chitral and the upper Swat valley should use only licensed guides and tourist agencies. There have been occasional assaults and in 1998, a U.S. tourist who was not accompanied by a guide was murdered in Gilgit.

Northwest Frontier Province – Because of dangerous security conditions, the U.S. Embassy has decided to defer all official travel to the tribal areas. At the present time, the U.S. Embassy urges that private Americans also defer planned travel through or to the same areas, even if traveling overland to the Khyber Pass. Substantial areas within the Northwest Frontier Province are designated tribal areas and are outside the normal jurisdiction of government law enforcement authorities. Visitors risk being caught in armed clashes between feudal tribal factions or smugglers. Carjackings and the abduction of foreigners are occasionally reported from the tribal areas. If visitors must enter the tribal areas, a permit from the Home and Tribal Affairs Department is required. The permit may stipulate that an armed escort must accompany the visitor. Even in the settled areas of the Northwest Frontier Province, there is occasional ethnic, sectarian, and political violence as well as anti-foreign rhetoric; foreigners should steer clear of such demonstrations or known areas of conflict. However, the monthly steam train excursion for tourists through the Khyber Pass is well protected by local authorities.

Punjab Province – Sectarian violence decreased considerably during the first half of 1999, from the high 1998 levels of violence, which resulted in dozens of deaths. While Americans are not targets of this violence, the foreign community is not immune, as evidenced by the 1997 assassination of five Iranians in an attack widely believed to have had sectarian overtones. As a precaution against possible dangers resulting from sectarian violence, U.S. citizens are cautioned to avoid public transportation and crowded areas.

Sindh Province – In the areas of Karachi and Hyderabad there have been recurring outbreaks of ethnic and sectarian violence characterized by random bombings, shootings and mass demonstrations. These have resulted in deaths and the imposition of curfews. There have also been numerous incidents of kidnappings for ransom. In rural Sindh Province, the security situation is hazardous, especially in regard to overland travel. Foreigners have occasionally been kidnapped and, in a 1995 incident, the foreign kidnap victim was killed in a subsequent gunfight between police and bandits. The Government of Pakistan has recommended that travelers limit their movements in Sindh Province to the city of Karachi. If visitors must go into the interior of Sindh Province, the Government of Pakistan requests that travelers inform police authorities well in advance of the trip so that necessary police security arrangements can be made.

Baluchistan Province – The province of Baluchistan, which borders both Iran and Afghanistan, is notorious for cross-border smuggling. Armed battles between clans are frequent. Because provincial police presence is limited, travelers wishing to visit the interior of Baluchistan should consult with the provinceÕs Home Secretary. Advance permission from provincial authorities is required for travel into some areas. Local authorities have detained travelers who lack permission. Although Quetta, the provincial capital, is quieter than the interior, it has experienced serious ethnic violence that has led to gun battles in the streets and the imposition of curfews.

CRIME INFORMATION: Crime is a serious concern for foreigners throughout Pakistan, with violent crime increasing faster than any other category. Carjackings, armed robberies, house invasions and other violence against civilians have increased steadily in the major urban areas. Lahore and Karachi, in particular, experience high levels of crime. They are large cities beset by poverty, high unemployment, and underpaid, under-manned police forces. Travelers in Karachi are encouraged to use hotel shuttles from the airport rather than taxis, which are subject to police harassment, especially after dark. Petty crime, especially theft of personal property, is common throughout Pakistan.

The loss or theft of a U.S. passport abroad should be reported immediately to local police and to the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. U.S. citizens can refer to the Department of State pamphlets A Safe Trip Abroad and Tips for Travelers to South Asia for ways to promote a more trouble-free journey. The pamphlets are available by mail from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402, via the Internet at, or via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at

CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country’s laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Pakistani laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession of, use of, or trafficking in illegal drugs are strictly enforced. Long jail sentences are frequently imposed and large fines are assessed in some cases. Legislation passed in 1994 makes trafficking offenses punishable by death.
Source: Bureau of Consular Affairs



KARACHI: Pakistan’s former capital and its largest city, Karachi is situated on the shores of the Arabian Sea near the mouth of the Indus. The capital of Sindh Province, it is now a modern industrial city and Pakistan’s major port. Though not strictly a tourist centre, there are a number of attractions, such as the fish wharf where brightly-coloured boats bring in seafood, one of the country’s major foreign exchange earners. There are hundreds of lively street restaurants, tea houses, samosa and juice stalls. Boats can be hired to sail out of the harbour. There are architectural reminders of the former British Imperial presence, especially in the clubs. The most magnificent building, however, is the Quaid-e-Azam’s Mazar, the mausoleum of the founder of Pakistan, made entirely of white marble with impressive north African arches and magnificent Chinese crystal chandeliers. The changing of the guard, which takes place three times a day, is the best time to visit. Other places to visit are the National Museum, parks, the zoo and a beach at Clifton.

SINDH: A region known for the remarkable quality of its light, Sindh has two main places of interest: Mohenjodaro, a settlement dating back 5000 years, and Thatta, notable for its mausoleums and mosques. There are sporting facilities on Lake Haleji.

THE PUNJAB: Lahore is a historic, bustling city with buildings of pink and white marble. There is plenty to see: bazaars, the Badshahi Mosque (one of the largest mosques in the world, and an example of Moghul architecture rivalled only by the Taj Mahal), the beautiful Shalimar Gardens, the National Museum of Archaeology and the Gate of Chauburji. Near Taxila are two interesting excavated sites, Sirkap and Jaulian, dating back to the Buddhist Gandhara period. Other towns in the Punjab include Faisalabad (formerly Lyallpur), Attock, Harappa, Multan and Bahawalpur.

Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan since 1963, and Rawalpindi are both located on the Pothowar Plain. The decision to build a new capital city in this area transformed the sleepy town of Rawalpindi into a busy counterpart to Islamabad. Rawalpindi now houses many of the civil servants working in the government district. The old part of the town boasts fine examples of local architecture and bazaars crammed into the narrow streets where craftsmen still use traditional methods.

As a planned capital, Islamabad lacks some of the regional flair of other cities, but it houses an interesting variety of modern buildings in the part designated for government offices. The city itself has an air of spaciousness, with parks, gardens and fountains below the silhouette of the Margalla Hills. In the midst of these lies Daman-e-Koh, a terraced garden with an excellent view over the city. Also in Islamabad is the Shah Faisal Masjid (mosque) which can accommodate 100,000 worshippers. The majestic white building comprises four 88m (288ft) minarets and a desert tent-like structure, which is the main prayer chamber. About 8km (5 miles) from the city is Rawal Lake with an abundance of leisure facilities for watersports and a picnic area. North of Rawalpindi is the beautiful Swat Valley. This is an area of wild mountains and fantastic alpine scenery. It was, in ancient times, the home of the famous Gandhara school of sculpture, a manifestation of Greek-influenced Buddhist forms. The ruins of great Buddhist stupas, monasteries and statues are found all over Swat. It is now the home to the Swat Pathans and also boasts popular mountain retreats such as Mingora, Kalam, Miandam and Behrain.

KASHMIR: Some of the highest mountains in the world can be found in this province, such as the famous Nanga Parbat and the second highest mountain in the world, K2, also known as Mount Godwin-Austen. The Baltoro Glacier and the Batura Glacier are the largest outside the polar regions. The settlements of Gilgit and Skardu are well-known stop-offs on the mountaineering trail. It is now possible to follow the Karakoram Highway all the way through from Gilgit to Hunza, over the Khunjerab Pass and on to Kashgar in the Xinjiang Province of China. This is the ancient Silk Road which ranks as one of the world’s most spectacular journeys.

PESHAWAR: The capital of the North West Frontier Province, this is the area of the Pashtuns, or Pathans, as they have come to be known in more recent times. Peshawar City is surrounded by high walls with twenty entry gates. The lawns and parks reflect the former colonial days. Much of the surrounding area is still under the jurisdiction of tribal law. These areas can only be visited with a permit from the relevant authorities. Many of the tribesmen carry firearms, the normal adornment for a Pathan warrior. In the land of the Afridis is the Khyber Pass, a 1200m-high (3960ft) break in the sheer rock wall separating Pakistan and Afghanistan. North of Peshawar, in the Hindu Kush Mountains, is the wild and beautiful area of Chitral, famous for the Kalash people, last of the pagan tribes of Kafiristan. This valley is noted for its hot springs and trout-filled rivers.

POPULAR ITINERARIES: 7-day: (a) Islamabad–Besham–Gilgit–Hunza–Karimabad/Aliabad–Khunjerab Pass–Gulmit–Chilas–Islamabad. (b) Islamabad–Rawalpindi–Balakot–Shogran–Sari/Paya–Lake Saiful Maluk–Naran–Lalazar–Ayubia–Islamabad. (c) Lahore–Rawalpindi–Peshawar–Khyber Pass (subject to government permission)–Miandam–Kalam–Saidu Sharif–Islamabad. (d) Peshawar–Chitral–Bamboret (Kalash Valley)–Chitral–Dir–Peshawar. (e) (Winter) Karachi–Moenjodaro–Karachi–Multan–Lahore–Islamabad– Murree/Bhourban–Patriata.

 Getting In & Out

Pakistan’s national airline is Pakistan International Airlines (PK), linking Pakistan with 47 destinations around the world.

Approximate flight times: From Karachi to London is 11 hours 50 minutes, to Los Angeles is 22 hours 30 minutes, to New York is 21 hours 40 minutes, to Riyadh is 3 hours 35 minutes and to Singapore is 6 hours 55 minutes.

International airports: Karachi (KHI) (Quaid-e-Azam), 15km (10 miles) northeast of the city (travel time – 25 minutes). Coaches to the city meet all arrivals. A bus runs from dusk to dawn every 30 minutes. Taxi services to the city are available. Good airport facilities exist, including duty-free shops, restaurant, post office, bank and shops.

Lahore (LHE), 18km (5 miles) southeast of the city (travel time – 20 minutes). Coaches leave every 20 minutes for the city. Buses go every 10 minutes. Taxi services to the city are also available. Airport facilities include car hire, bank, restaurant and shops.

Islamabad (ISB) (Islamabad International), 15km (9 miles) east of the city (travel time – 20 minutes). Coach and taxi services to the city are available. There are full duty-free facilities.

Peshawar (PEW), 4km (2.5 miles) from the city (travel time – 10 minutes). Full bus and taxi services to the city are available.

Departure tax: PRs800 for passengers travelling first class, PRs600 for club class and PRs400 for economy class. Transit passengers and children under two years of age are exempt.

 Moving Around

AIR: Most domestic services are operated by Pakistan International Airlines (PK). Other airlines are Aero Asia and Shaheen. There are many daily flights from Karachi to Lahore, Rawalpindi and other commercial centres. Air transport is the quickest and most efficient means of travel.

Departure tax: PRs40 for internal flights. Children under 2 years are exempt.

RIVER: Traffic along the Indus River is almost exclusively commercial. Many goods are carried to Punjab and the north from the main port at Karachi.

RAIL: A legacy of British rule is Pakistan’s extensive rail network. The main line, from Karachi to Lahore, Rawalpindi and Peshawar, has several daytime and overnight trains. Most other routes have several daily trains. Even first-class compartments can be hot and crowded. Travel in air-conditioned coaches is advised, as are reservations on long-distance journeys and overnight service. Children under 3 years of age travel free. Children aged 3-11 years pay half fare. Pakistan Railways offer concessions for tourists (on presentation of a certificate issued by PTDC), excluding Indian nationals travelling by rail. A discount of 25% is offered to individuals and groups, and 50% for students. Vehicles owned by foreign tourists or hired locally are also eligible for a 25% discount in freight charges when transported by rail. Details are available from railway offices in Pakistan.

Approximate rail times: Karachi to Lahore is 16 hours, to Rawalpindi is 28 hours and to Peshawar is 32 hours; and Lahore to Rawalpindi is 6 hours.

ROAD: Traffic drives on the left. The highway network between cities is well-maintained. Bus: Regular services run between most towns and villages. Lahore–Rawalpindi–Peshawar has an hourly service. Air-conditioned coaches/buses are recommended for long distances. Advance booking is advised. Car hire: Available in major cities, as well as at Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi airports. Most hotels can book cars for guests. Documentation: An International Driving Permit is required.

URBAN: Extensive bus and minibus services operate in Lahore, Karachi and other towns, although services can be crowded. Taxi: Reasonably priced and widely available, they are by far the most efficient means of urban travel. Note that they may not operate after sunset during Ramadan. Auto-rickshaws are also available.