Must see attractions in Pakistan

  • Sights in Lahore

    Lahore Fort

    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 fort was modified by Jehangir in 1618 and later damaged by the Sikhs and the British, although it has now been partially restored. Within it is a succession of stately palaces, halls and gardens built by Mughal emperors Akbar, Jehangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb, comparable to and contemporary with the other great Mughal forts at Delhi and Agra in India. It's believed that the site conceals some of Lahore's most ancient remains. The fort has an appealing 'abandoned' atmosphere (unless it's packed with visitors) and although it's not as elaborate as most of India's premier forts, it's still a fabulous place to simply wander around. The fort is entered on its western side through the colossal Alamgiri Gate, built by Aurangzeb in 1674 as a private entrance to the royal quarters. It was large enough to allow several elephants carrying members of the royal household to enter at one time. The small Moti Masjid (Pearl Mosque) was built by Shah Jahan in 1644 for the private use of the ladies of the royal household and was restored to its original delicacy in 1904. The Diwan-i-Aam (Hall of Public Audience) was built by Shah Jahan in 1631, with an upper balcony added by Akbar. It's where the emperor would make a daily public appearance, receive official visitors and review parades. Khawabgarh-i-Jehangir (Jehangir's Sleeping Quarters), a pavilion on the north side of his quadrangle, now houses a small museum of Mughal antiquities. One charming story about Jehangir is that he had a chain suspended outside the fort, which anyone unable to obtain justice through the usual channels could pull. A bell would ring in his private chambers and the petition would receive his personal attention. Moving west, another graceful pavilion, the Diwan-i-Khas (Hall of Private Audience), was built by Shah Jahan for receiving guests. The Shish Mahal (Palace of Mirrors), built by Shah Jahan in 1631, was closed for renovation at the time of research, but should be open by the time you read this. Decorated with glass mirrors set into the stucco interior, it was built for the empress and her court and installed with screens to conceal them from prying eyes. The walls were rebuilt in the Sikh period, but the original marble tracery screens and pietra dura (inlay work) are in remarkable condition. The view from here over the rest of the fort and Badshahi Mosque is rewarding. Naulakha is the marble pavilion on the west side of the quadrangle, lavishly decorated with pietra dura - studded with tiny jewels in intricate floral motifs. It was erected in 1631 and its name, meaning nine lakh (900,000), refers either to the price to build it or the number of semiprecious stones used in its construction. You can exit the fort from here, down the Hathi Paer (Elephant Path) and through Shah Burj Gate; if you do, look behind to see the fine painted tilework of the outer wall. There are three small museums on site (photography prohibited): the Armoury Gallery exhibits various arms including pistols, swords, daggers, spears and arrows; the Sikh Gallery predominantly houses rare oil paintings; and the Mughal Gallery includes among its exhibits old manuscripts, calligraphy, coins and miniature paintings, as well as an ivory miniature model of India's Taj Mahal. To better understand the fort's history you can hire a guide for Rs 150. In addition, Lahore Fort, Pakistan's Glorious Heritage, a colour booklet by Muhammad Ilyas Bhatti, sells here for Rs 150. An autorickshaw/taxi from The Mall to Lahore Fort should cost about Rs80/Rs200.

  • Sights in Peshawar

    Smugglers' Bazaar

    On the fringes of Peshawar as you head towards the Khyber Pass is the Smugglers' Bazaar (Karkhanai Bazaar). It thrives openly on the sale of goods imported through Pakistan for Afghanistan, then smuggled back through the Tribal Areas to avoid paying duty. Everything is available here from cut-price electronics to clothes and stationery. It's an enormous trade that costs Pakistan millions of dollars annually in lost revenue - enough money to generate the bribes that allow the market to flourish. Foreigners are banned from entering the far end of the bazaar where guns and drugs are openly on sale - a barrier prevents accidental entry. The Smugglers' Bazaar and Darra Adam Khel have long been part of the Peshawar tourist experience, and feature on most local guides' itineraries. After all, what other holiday destination offers the chance to see blocks of opium and fire a Kalashnikov? But while guns have long been a part of Pashtun culture (drugs too, although to a much lesser extent), if you're planning a visit it's worth spending a moment considering where the backhanders your guide pays to the dealers are going. There's plenty of cannabis on offer in the bazaar, but the big money comes from opiates. The heroin sold in Peshawar comes from Afghanistan, part of the trade that threatens the Afghan state through institutional narco-corruption as well as funding the Taliban insurgency. The trade provides 90% of Europe's heroin, although the Smugglers' Bazaar mainly serves Pakistan's rapidly growing population of heroin addicts. When we visited, one shopkeeper showed us bags of heroin while ignoring the addicts squalidly smoking the drug on the carpets behind him. As we left we pictured Pakistani tourists paying dealers to show them around the crack houses of London or New York and wondered how different that would be. The drug-funded insurgency is also bringing boom times for the gun shops. One dealer was thrilled that the price of AK47s was going through the roof due in large part, he told us, by radicals wanting to 'do jihad' in Afghanistan and Waziristan. Tourism doesn't come much darker than in Pakistan's Tribal Areas. An official crackdown on the trade saw this part of the bazaar bulldozed in early 2007, but it was quickly rebuilt - with the police officer leading the raid murdered a fortnight later. It's a 20-minute ride from Saddar on one of the colourful city buses; ask for 'Karkhanai'. Don't come here when it's getting dark.

  • Sights in Islamabad & Rawalpindi

    Shah Faisal Mosque

    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. Designed by a Turkish architect, Vedat Dalokay, and built between 1976 and 1986, the mosque's geometric design (modelled on a desert tent) and clean lines make the impressive scale hard to discern until you are up close. The four 88m minarets (an old urban myth is that the ever-paranoid CIA demanded to inspect them, fearing they were missiles in disguise!) tower over the prayer hall. Inside, the ceiling soars to 40m and the air hums with muffled recitations. The mausoleum of the late President, Zia ul-Haq, is adjacent to the mosque. Visitors are welcome, but non-Muslims are requested to avoid prayer times and Fridays. Leave your shoes at a counter before entering the courtyard and remember to dress conservatively (women should bring a head scarf). To get here, jump off an intercity bus at 8th Ave or catch a taxi (around Rs 80 from the Blue Area).

  • Sights in Lahore

    Badshahi Mosque

    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. The rooms (admission Rs5) above the entrance gate are said to house hairs of the Prophet Mohammed and other relics. The mosque looks lovely when it's illuminated in the evening. In 1991 the mosque grabbed international headlines when hardline mullahs (Muslim religious leaders) protested at the visit of the late Princess of Wales; her skirt was considered too short and the director of the mosque was criticised for presenting (the then) HRH, a non-Muslim, with a copy of the Quran and allowing her into the sacred precincts while immodestly dressed. The case went to court and ended with the litigant mullahs being ordered to stop wasting the judge's time. In the courtyard stands the Tomb of Allama Mohammed Iqbal, a modest memorial in red sandstone to the philosopher-poet who in the 1930s first postulated the idea of an independent Pakistan. An autorickshaw/taxi from The Mall is Rs80/Rs200.

  • Sights in Lahore

    Jehangir's Tomb

    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. Outside is a sunken passageway with one tunnel supposedly leading to Shalimar Gardens and another to Hiran Minar - both tunnels are now bricked up. The entrance to the tomb courtyard lies on the right-hand side of Akbar's Caravanserai, a 180-room resting place for pilgrims, travellers and their animals, built by Shah Jahan at the same time as Jehangir's Tomb. The western gateway leads to the Tomb of Asif Khan. The brother-in-law of Jehangir and father to Mumtaz Mahal (the lady for whom India's Taj Mahal was created), Khan died in 1641. An autorickshaw/taxi from The Mall to Jehangir's Tomb (or Nur Jahan's Tomb, described below) costs about Rs350/Rs700.

  • Sights in Gilgit

    Uprising Memorial

    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. At Partition, many had anticipated Maharaja Hari Singh's eventual accession to India. A clique of Muslim officers in the Maharaja's own army, led by Colonel Mirza Hassan Khan, had been conspiring to seize Kashmir for Pakistan, but word had got out and Hassan was transferred to Kashmir's 'Siberia', the Bunji garrison south of Gilgit. Meanwhile, the Gilgit Scouts' Major Mohammed Babar Khan and several fellow officers (and, according to some, their British commander) had hatched their own rebellion. Within days of the Maharaja's decision, a mob gathered in Gilgit from neighbouring valleys. The governor called Bunji for help, and who should be among the reinforcements but Colonel Hassan. On 1 November Babar Khan arrested Governor Ghansar Singh and the rebels asked to join Pakistan. Within a few days the Scouts, with Muslim soldiers of the Kashmiri army, joined the war with India. In the following months the Scouts took Baltistan, and Hassan got to the outskirts of Srinagar. The fledgling Indian air force at one point bombed Gilgit, no easy task in the narrow valleys. Gilgitis like to tell the story of the Scouts' pipe band, which mocked the Indian pilots by defiantly tootling up and down the airfield the whole time. Memories of the 'Uprising' are still alive in Gilgit. Hassan, Babar and another leader of the Gilgit Scouts, Maj Safiullah Beg, are buried in Chinar Bagh, and many of their offspring are local politicians and entrepreneurs. Of course, it's not 14 August but 1 November that Gilgit celebrates as Independence Day, with spontaneous music and dancing and a week-long polo tournament. One of the best polo teams every year is from the Gilgit garrison of the Northern Light Infantry (NLI), successor to the Gilgit Scouts.

  • Sights in Karakoram Highway

    Baltit Fort

    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. Balti-style renovation continued under the reign of Ayesho II's son. The name Baltit probably dates from this time. The fort took on its present appearance only in the last century or so. Mir Nazim Khan added outer walls and fixed up his own rooms with wallpaper, drapes, fireplaces, balconies and tinted windows. He had the outer walls whitewashed, dramatically raising the fort's visual impact from all over the valley. Also added were a rooftop dais, where royal councils were held in good weather, and the 'lantern' or skylight. Nazim Khan's grandson moved to modern quarters in Karimabad in 1945. By the time KKH travellers first saw the fort in the 1980s it was an abandoned shell, stripped of anything of value and verging on collapse. From 1990 to 1996 it was effectively taken apart stone by stone and reassembled. This was a painstaking effort using advanced preservation principles developed in Europe, while retaining the unique construction and earthquake-proofing techniques pioneered by the fort's original builders. The result is impressive and the renovation work almost invisible. Several rooms have exhibits of clothing and old photos, plus utensils and furnishings donated by local people. Visitors get a half-hour tour with a knowledgeable local guide (you cannot go in without one), and interested persons can use the library. Tickets are sold at a small kiosk below the fort and it is worth noting that the fort's administration is funded solely by these ticket sales.

  • Sights in Lahore

    Shrine of Data Ganj Bakhsh Hajveri

    Author of a famous book on mysticism, the 11th-century Data Ganj Bakhsh, originally from Ghazni in Afghanistan, was one of the most successful Sufi preachers on the subcontinent and is today one of the most notable Sufi saints in Pakistan. The Shrine of Data Ganj Bakhsh Hajveri is located west of Bhatti Gate, just outside the Old City. Born Abdul Hasan Ali, he was known as Data Ganj Bakhsh (the Bestower of Treasures) because of his generosity towards the less privileged. A hospital and several institutions for the needy have been added near the shrine over the years. Hordes of devotees gather here on Thursday afternoons to listen to the excellent qawwali. The urs (death anniversary) of Data Ganj Bakhsh Hajveri is held at this shrine on 18-20 Safar (March/April) and is attended by tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of pilgrims.

  • Sights in Around Lahore

    Rohtas 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. The vast fort is now in ruins except for the crenulated outer walls and most of its 12 gates and 68 bastions. The best-preserved remains are to the west; walk through the town to the western Sohal Gate to start your explorations. Built to an irregular plan on hilly ground, its 12m-thick terraced ramparts have a perimeter of more than 4km and vary in height from 10m to 18m. You can still walk along some of them but they are crumbling, so watch your step. An internal wall separates the inner fort (or citadel for the elite) at the northwest from the outer fort of soldiers and citizens, where the sleepy town still exists. Little remains of the interior, but there are two pavilions of the haveli of Man Singh (governor of Lahore and a general in the time of his son-in-law Akbar the Great), which you can climb for a view over the whole fort. To the west, at the pinnacle of the outer wall, a high stone platform marks the burj (execution tower); victims would be thrown from here into the ditch below. Two gates in the northern wall lead down to freshwater wells and the Kahan River. You could spend two or three hours exploring the grounds. Bring a hat, and although drinks can be bought in the town, it's wise to carry your own.

  • Sights in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa

    Buddhist Monastery

    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. You enter through a courtyard that at one time held at least 35 stupas and 30 little chapels with Buddha statues. A few statues have been left in situ, the rest are in the Peshawar Museum. The walls would have been plastered, but now reveal the amazing dry stone walling techniques that constructed the complex. Up the stairs to the south is the base of a huge stupa (the monastery's most important stupa) and more chapels; to the north a cloister surrounded by monks' cells and a refectory, kitchen and water tank. Beyond the central courtyard is a double row of sunken chambers, possibly for meditation. The helpful chowkidar (caretaker), who has been here for over 30 years, speaks English well and will happily guide you around for a generous tip (around Rs100), as well as sell copies of a useful pamphlet (Rs40) on the site. Uphill from the monastery are the ruins of a sizable village. The views across the plain, southwest to Peshawar and north into Swat, are wonderful in the morning or late afternoon light.

  • Sights in Lahore

    Faqir Khana Museum

    About 500m inside Bhatti Gate on the right-hand side, a small mansion houses the Faqir Khana Museum. It houses the treasures of the Faqir family, who have lived in Lahore since the 18th century. It is said to be the largest private collection in south Asia, with over 13,000 pieces of art. The head of the Lahore branch of the family was a fakir (Muslim ascetic) from Bukhara whose three sons achieved prominence in the court of Sikh ruler Ranjit Singh, despite being Muslims. One son was royal physician, another a foreign minister and the third a finance minister. Largely as a result of their ties with Ranjit Singh, they amassed many valuable antiquities, as direct or hand-me-down gifts. Later generations preserved these pieces and collected more objets d'art during travels abroad. Items include relics of the Prophet Mohammed (on public display for one day during the Islamic month of Muharram), early Qurans and other illuminated manuscripts, miniature paintings, porcelain pieces, old coins, Islamic artwork, carvings, clothes worn by the Mughal emperors, a small armoury of Sikh weapons and carpets from the royal courts. As this is a private collection, you must phone the curator in advance. Admission is free, photography is not permitted and it's appreciated if you take off your shoes and refrain from touching any of the items.

  • Sights in Karachi

    Quaid-i-Azam Mausoleum

    This curiously shaped mausoleum is a monument to Pakistan's founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah. It's set at the top of a stepped pyramid in a small park. Built in 1958-68 from the design of a Turkish architect, it is minimalist and stark. The white marble structure makes some concession to traditional styles with a square plan and supporting a semicircular dome.

  • Sights in Hunza & Nagyr

    Ganish Village

    The restoration of Ganish Village is particularly good and won a Unesco Asia Pacific Heritage Award. While Baltit Fort shows how the cream of society lived, Ganish shows another side of traditional Hunza life. Behind a shaded, tranquil tank are several richly carved wooden mosques, 100 to 200 years old, the restoration of which clinched the award. Legend has it that Ganish warriors practised their river-crossing techniques in the tank before crossing the Hunza River to attack Nagyr villages. The timber-and-stone watchtower from the days of war with Nagyr is a tight squeeze but worth the climb. Particularly interesting is the use of the cool glacier meltwater to store food - it's still done today. Butter is wrapped in birch bark and can be stored under water for years! You may even be offered a sweet made from the butter. For all its quaintness and award-winning restoration, Ganish is not a museum (there is a local museum under construction) but a living village. This is exemplified perhaps by the huge concrete Imamia complex being constructed beside the walled village. The Imambara is expected to be clad in wooden carvings which may help it blend in. If no-one is staffing the admission booth, walk towards the village and someone will find you.

  • Sights in Karachi & Sindh

    Moenjodaro City

    The most exposed parts of Moenjodaro City are open to visitors, representing just one-third of the area yet to be excavated. Archaeology buffs will get the most out of it; those with a casual interest may be disappointed given the relative effort needed to get here.

  • Sights in Gilgit Region

    Petroglyphs

    Chilas is surrounded by wonderful Petroglyphs, which are easy to access, though be prepared for high temperatures and take plenty of water. There is a sign to the 'Chilas II' site near the KKH police checkpoint. Less than 1km down a jeep track there is a huge rock covered with hunting and battle scenes and Buddhist stupas. A common image is the long-horned ibex, ancient symbol of fertility and abundance, and an elusive trophy animal even now. On a rocky knoll facing the river are the oldest inscriptions, from the 1st century AD: scenes of conquest and stories of the Buddha's life. Four kilometres east beside the jeep bridge to Thalpan is the 'Chilas I' site, with art found on both sides of the Highway and the river. The most striking pictures are of a large stupa with banners flying, close to the Highway; and mythical animals, battle scenes, royal lineages and Buddhist tales, across the river on dozens of rocks west of the track.

  • Sights in Lahore

    Shalimar Gardens

    To the northeast of town, about 4km from the main train station, this was one of three gardens named Shalimar Gardens created by Shah Jahan in the 17th century. It's also the only surviving Mughal garden of several built in Lahore. The Shalimar Gardens are now rather rundown and a far cry from their former glory, but they're still popular with locals. Many of the fountains were under renovation at the time of research and operate at particular times. The walled gardens were laid out in a central tier with two smaller and lower ones to either side, with a pool of corresponding size, in keeping with the mathematical principles of Mughal design. Visitors originally entered at the lowest level and walked up through successive gardens illuminated by hundreds of candles housed in chinikhanas (niches). To get to the gardens, catch bus 4 from the train station. An autorickshaw from The Mall costs about Rs250.

  • Sights in Lahore

    Lahore Museum

    Try to set aside a couple of hours to make the most of a visit to the superb Lahore Museum, which has exhibits spanning the recorded history of the subcontinent. Part of the collection was removed to India after Partition but this is still the biggest and perhaps most impressive museum in Pakistan. The museum has almost 20 galleries with items dating from the Stone Age to the 20th century. It's particularly famous for its display of Gandharan sculpture (especially the haunting Fasting Buddha), manuscripts, Qurans, its sensational array of miniature paintings, carpets, various pieces of art from the Islamic period, articles from Moenjodaro, Harappa and other Indus Valley civilisation sites and its magnificent collection of coins from the Achaemenian period onwards. Kim's Bookshop, in the museum compound, stocks an interesting collection of novels and general-interest books.

  • Sights in Lahore

    Minar-i-Pakistan

    Soaring into the sky in Iqbal Park, the 60m high Minar-i-Pakistan was built in 1960. It commemorates the signing of the Pakistan Resolution on 23 March 1940 by the All India Muslim League, which paved the way for the founding of Pakistan. Marble tablets around the base record the text of the resolution, as well as the 99 attributes of Allah, passages from the Quran and works of Allama Iqbal and Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the two most important figures of the Pakistani independence movement. A lift and stairs once took visitors to the top of the Minar for the spectacular views of Lahore Fort, however, this was recently closed due to the high rate of suicides. In the late afternoon, Iqbal Park attracts a throng of people who gather here for a stroll or to play cricket, fly kites or just hang out. An autorickshaw/taxi from The Mall to Iqbal Park costs about Rs80/Rs200.

  • Sights in Balochistan

    Archaeological Museum of Balochistan

    This small but well-kept Archaeological Museum of Balochistan, also known as Quetta Museum, is tucked away just east of Mizan Chowk. The galleries display figurines from Moenjodaro in Sindh province, pottery pieces from sites in Balochistan, and Stone Age implements from the Zhob, Quetta and Kalat Valleys. Despite the name, the museum isn't just about archaeology. There's also a stock of militaria, including a sword - with bloodstains still visible - used in 1919 to kill a British commander. Other galleries within the complex exhibit Qurans (one written in the hand of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb), manuscripts and calligraphy. Some dusty old photos give a fascinating glimpse of Quetta before the 1935 earthquake. The museum can be tough to find - ask locals to point you in the direction of the Mian Ismail Mosque - the museum is adjacent.

  • Sights in Punjab (Pakistan)

    Harappa Site

    Harappa Site comprises a citadel mound, defensive walls, a drainage system, a cemetery and a huge granary. However, in the past it has been plundered so much by local villagers for bricks to build their houses, and especially by the British for material for the Lahore to Multan railway line, that there is relatively little to see at the site itself. A path snakes around the compound with viewing platforms and a few signs with English descriptions. There is also a smalll but well-kept and interesting Harappa Museum. It exhibits items from the cemetery and other parts of the site, including etched carnelian beads, shell objects, stone tools, domestic implements, pottery, toys, earthenware, seals with the mysterious Moenjodaran script, animal and human figurines and stone weights, as well as articles from other Indus Valley sites.