In fact right now you pretty much can’t travel anywhere. Which is the point of these posts. But it’s time to look, virtually, at Pakistan because actually it’s a real surprise packet of a country that perhaps travellers will start to return to when restrictions are lifted. In the last fifteen years it has not received a lot of travellers. Longer than that really, probably this century to be fair. Political instability and the occasional terrorist attack – which were quite frequent in the news at least three or four years ago, naturally kept tourists away. Bordering Afghanistan and Iran probably didn’t help it’s image with travellers looking for a place to go, and it was a terror attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team’s bus in 2009 which I think really put nearly an end to its tourism industry, which wasn’t exactly booming at the time anyway.
Personally, I went in 2004, so that’s now sixteen years ago. I remember it quite vividly though, and good friend to the blog Tim Blight of urbanduniya.com has spent a lot of time there in recent years, so much so that his guide book to the country is pretty much THE best option for those wanting to visit, especially as no-one can even remember the last time Lonely Planet released a version of their Pakistan Guide Book!
Pakistan is not for the feint of heart, it must be said up front. It will challenge you without a doubt, it can be at times lonely for the single traveller if you like the company of other travellers, although the Pakistani people are very friendly and I met quite a few people on my travels, and aside from my first nights in Lahore, pretty much all were locals. I was nearly three weeks in Pakistan and barely saw a traveller outside of Lahore.
I crossed from India at the famous Wagah border crossing between Amritsar and Lahore. It was actually a hassle-free experience, which I was personally quite surprised at. There is a huge deal made of the changing of the guard ceremonies there which people go to see as a tourist attraction in its own right, but sadly when I crossed it wasn’t the right time.
Being in Pakistan, although in many ways it is quite similar to India, felt immediately quite different. I took a bus into town, a segregated bus which I would say was my experience in segregated transport, which you know, was a bit weird. It was segregated into men and women. Each had their own section.
Lahore is not that far from the Indian border and if you felt like you wanted to dip your toe into the enigma that is Pakistan for just a short time, Lahore actually would be perfect. It is a big city with all the things that that entails on the sub-continent, but that means it has sites too including the amazing Lahore Fort which stands opposite the Badshahi Mosque, both really interesting places, and quite beautiful. I found locals would, in most places in Pakistan, walk up to me and start conversations which was great.
I went south from there to a very dusty city called Multan. And again I was greeted by friendliness wherever I went. From there I headed out to the mystical tombs of Uch Shariff, Sufi decoration, it was a journey to get there but worth it as it was so beautiful. The journey was half the fun, all on local transport, I took minibuses mostly.
Back in Multan I caught some of the test cricket. It was slow and not very well patronised, and there was a bit of a system to get tickets – for example, you couldn’t buy a ticket at the cricket ground! The security guards there were lots of fun and posed for photos and invited me to chat.
I was soon going northwards to Rawalpindi and Islamabad, two cities next to each other, one old (Rawalpindi) one the new modern capital of Islamabad. Islamabad is cool to explore, the King Faisal Mosque was paid for by the King of Saudi Arabia, it’s a modern but impressive structure. I also headed out to see the ruins of Taxila, an ancient city but honestly, it wasn’t worth it! Not much to see but a few holes in the ground.
I stayed in the cheaper Rawalpindi, where there is a street famous for making ‘truck art’, all the trucks in the region looking stunning, full of colour because they display this truck art, which in Pakistan can sometimes be traced to this street. Interesting market also in Rawalpindi.
North again to Peshawar, a famous city for refugees from Afghanistan, who had recently returned home. From here I took a one-man tour (plus guide, driver and guard so four in the end I guess!) along the Khyber Pass. This was an amazing day trip, such stunning scenery, and I got within 1-2kms of Afghanistan.
I journeyed back to Lahore. For my intercity trips I had been using the Daewoo bus services, which were amazing. All the buses weren’t just clean, they looked brand new! Very comfortable, well air conditioned, the best transport you can get in Pakistan. They even served light meals, drinks, and had hostesses on them!
From Lahore I was headed westward towards Iran and eventually Europe. Unfortunately, all my photos and footage from this point onwards were deleted accidently in Iran by a family I stayed with. Such is life but it’s a pity because this might have been the most exciting and interesting part of the trip.
The train to Quetta, near the border with Afghanistan, colder, interesting, actually quite beautiful in a way with an lovely square and souks to explore, was a two-day affair from Lahore that actually went through Multan (a bit of a detour but that’s where the train lines go) and then across the desert. I woke the morning of the second day covered in sand! The whole second class compartment was covered in sand. I would probably still prefer train travel in Pakistan despite the buses being much more comfortable, just because of my love of trains. In fact, I would do this again so I could replace my photos and footage.
From Quetta on to the Iranian border, it was a less comfortable bus in which they turned off the air conditioning in the middle of the night and we all sweated, We stopped in the Baluchistan Desert early morning for a rest, the sun rose, it was stunning. Soon we arrived at the border town, and my time in the amazing Pakistan was over.
Hopefully, soon we can travel again. And hopefully, Pakistan will be safe enough to explore as I did. I know the Quetta region has been off limits for a while now, but more recently it may have been doable.
Thanks for popping by as always. Take care – and May the Journey Never End!