Because of ongoing security problems in Pakistan, foreign governments advise against all travel, or all but essential travel, to many parts of the country. Your travel insurance may be invalid if you ignore this advice. Because of the risk of political violence, foreign visitors are required to travel with an armed escort in some areas. Seek up-to-date information on the security situation in areas you plan to visit before travelling to Pakistan.
Pakistan is blessed with abundant natural and historical riches. Incredible mountain landscapes are set against a backdrop of desert forts and stories of sultans and djinns. In its cities, ancient bazaars are home to intricately etched copper kitchenware alongside pungent spice racks and steaming tea stalls.
Mughals and Mountains
The teeming cities of the south lie on a continuum with the ancient cities of northern India, while the rugged north is a wild frontier that has changed only superficially since Mughal times. In between are scattered ruins and arid deserts, and capping Pakistan to the north is the western spur of the Himalayan mountain range, including K2, the world's second highest mountain.
Pakistan's urban centers pack enough city delights to satisfy any cosmopolitan traveler. In Lahore, arguably the country's cultural, intellectual and artistic hub, travelers can find spiritual sustenance in qawwali (Islamic devotional singing) performances before striking up a conversation about the latest developments in the world of cricket. Food, fashion, art museums – it can all be found in Pakistan's fabulous metropolitan areas.
The Mighty Karakoram
Pakistan's number one attraction is a bubble of serenity. Stretching north from the Northwest Frontier to Kashgar in China, the Karakoram is one of the world's most epic highways, an astonishing feat of engineering forced against the odds through the tortured bedrock of the Karakoram mountains.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Pakistan.
Built, damaged, demolished, rebuilt and restored several times before being given its current form by Emperor Akbar in 1566 (when he made Lahore his capital), the Lahore Fort is the star attraction of the Old City. Note that the museums here may close an hour or so before sunset.
The eye-popping Shah Faisal Mosque, nestled at the foot of the Margalla Hills, is one of Asia's largest and reflects an eclectic blend of ultramodern and traditional architectural design styles. Topped by sloping roofs (a stark contrast to the traditional domes found on most mosques), the main prayer hall and courtyard is said to hold around 100,000 people. Most of its cost (pegged at about US$120 million today) was a gift from King Faisal of Saudi Arabia.
Completed in 1674 under Aurangzeb as the Mughals' final architectural fling, the sublime Badshahi Mosque, opposite the main gateway to the Lahore Fort, is one of the world's largest mosques. Replete with huge gateways, four tapering minarets of red sandstone, three vast marble domes and an open courtyard said to hold up to 100,000 people, it was damaged by the British and later restored.
Standing in a garden on the northern outskirts of Lahore, the elaborately decorated sandstone Jehangir's Tomb is that of Emperor Jehangir. Built in 1637 by Jehangir's son, Shah Jahan, it's believed to have been designed by Jehangir's widow, Nur Jahan. The tomb is made of marble with trellis decorations of pietra dura bearing the 99 attributes of Allah in Arabic calligraphy. These are inside a vaulted chamber, decorated with marble tracery and cornered with four minarets.
The Uprising Memorial, is a memorial to those who rose against the Maharaja in 1947. It includes the graves of the local heroes, Mohammed Babar Khan and Safiullah Beg of the Gilgit Scouts, and Mirza Hassan Khan of the Kashmir Infantry.
The oldest parts of Baltit Fort date from the 13th century. Over the years more houses and towers were added, and it was fortified. To cement an alliance with Baltistan's Maqpon dynasty in the 17th century, Mir Ayesho II (great-grandson of the legendary Girkis) married a daughter of the Balti ruler, who sent artisans to build a fort at nearby Altit. The princess then came to live in Hunza, bringing her own artisans to improve Baltit Fort.
Some 16km northwest of Jhelum, colossal Rohtas Fort is an extraordinary example of military architecture. It was started in 1543 by the Pashtun ruler Sher Shah Suri, to protect the strategic Peshawar to Calcutta (now Kolkata) road from the Mughals and their allies. He never lived to see its completion and work was carried on by succeeding rulers. However, it was soon made redundant when Akbar moved his frontier to Attock and built a new fort there.
Lying just inside the main entrance to the fort, this masterpiece of Mughal architecture is the most significant and attractive of Multan's shrines. A pious and widely loved scholar, Rukn-ud-Din Abul Fatah (1251-1334), commonly known as Sheikh Rukn-i-Alam (Pillar of the World), became head of the Suhrawardiya Sufi branch introduced to the region by his father Baha-ud-Din Zakaria, and is regarded as the patron saint of Multan.
This Buddhist Monastery sat on a commanding rocky hill 15km northwest of Mardan is by far NWFP's stand-out Gandharan site, and compares more than favourably with Taxila near Islamabad. It thrived between the 1st and 7th centuries AD before being abandoned, finally giving up its secrets to British archaeologists from 1907-13, who also reconstructed parts of the site.