Hi all. I wonder if you’ve noticed. If you check out travel vlogs on YouTube as rigorously as I do, you possibly have, Pakistan has become really popular in the last two or three years, at least in the vlogging community! And that’s great news for a country which has really struggled over the last 15 years or so with violence and terrorism, things which tend to keep the traveller away from a place, you know? So I thought in today’s post I would examine who’s been going to Pakistan, why the next few years may well be the time to visit this amazing country, and what you may find if you decide to go.
I’ll start by saying that I am not suggesting hop on a plane and fly to Pakistan right now. We are still in the midst of a global pandemic and Pakistan is one country that, like it’s neighbour India, has been having a pretty hard time of late. However once the world is a bit more open, maybe in 12 months, maybe more – maybe less, who knows what the next year or so is going to bring in terms of Covid and the world, well, maybe that just might be the perfect time to go.
And why? Well, it’s a chance to visit Pakistan as it emerges (potentially) from an almost self-imposed exile from the world travel scene. Things were shaky around the time of the Iraq war (the invasion) and the fall of the Taliban a bit earlier in Afghanistan. Pakistan saw huge numbers of refugees piling across its borders in the early 2000s as Afghans fled the Taliban, who up until late-2001 were running the country.
With the response to September 11th 2001, the Taliban fell in Afghanistan, and there was a period of relative stability in Pakistan’s neighbour for a short number of years. I went to Pakistan in the first half of 2004, and when I was there I took the chance to go along the Khyber Pass which leaders to the Afghan border in this part of the two countries. It wasn’t considered safe or usable for foreigners (the actual border) but I was able to get within a kilometre or so of it. Whether I was really that close, I don’t know but that’s what my decidedly dodgy guide said when we hit the point where we turned around.
Coming out of the city of Peshawar towards the border, I was shown the area where I was told the tents had been set up for the refugees, but they had, at that time, returned to Afghanistan, pretty much all of them, at least that was what I was told. What followed though from this period in time was a Taliban insurgency of some kid into Pakistan, as Afghanistan was occupied.
In Pakistan, the Taliban I gather had sympathisers here and there because during the ‘War on Terror’ America had made a big ally of Pkaistan and principally the government and the President (who became so in a military coup) Musharraf. He resigned in 2008 facing impeachment, but he was a very close ally of America, a very important one considering Pakistan position in relation to Afghanistan. So this caused a bit of a backlash, shall we say, amongst a country that has 97% majority of Muslims.
Things spiralled from there, and it all really culminated in 2009 when there was an attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team’s bus in Lahore before a day of play in a match against Pakistan. As with India and Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, Pakistan is a cricket mad country, it’s the number one sport there and Pakistan boasts some great cricket grounds, in particular the one in Gwadar in the far south-west. But after this attack, all international cricket matches were suspended for many years. It’s only in the last two or three years that oppositions have returned to Pakistan. South Africa I think have been there in the last six months for example, and even Sri Lanka have returned. On top of that, back in 2016 they began the Pakistan Super League, a league like the IPL without quite the same pay packets for the players. And this league has several players from other countries. The level of security now and the relative inactivity of separatists and terrorists now for several years has meant that safety of foreign nationals is a lot better than it was for many years.
And so, with that in mind the country is opening up to tourism, and has been encouraging prominent vloggers to visit and document their experiences. You will find a couple who have been in the last few years in Eva Zu Beck and Rosie Gabrielle who clearly fell in love with the place. In fact Rosie married a Pakistani and I think lives there now.
But this year we’ve seen flight reviewer Josh Cahill try out the airlines including the flight from Islamabad to Gilgit in the north which is just stunning. I’ve recently discovered luxury travel vlogger Angela Carson who came for 50 days but decided to stay longer. Then there’s ‘Dodo Explorers’ – a Romanian Couple who fell in love with the place this year too, and were going to stay long term but had to leave due to an incident.
And on top of all of those of course, Urban Duniya – Mr Tim Blight, friend of the blog, has been going for a number of years now and has loads of many posts and vlogs on amazing Pakistan. So why are these people loving Pakistan so much?
Well, it’s a warm and friendly country. That’s what I see in the videos, and that was my experience 17 years ago. It’s got amazing scenery, the mountains and Karakorum in the north, the Balochistan Desert in the south, and it has loads of beautiful historical sights all around the country. For example the Sufi Shrines at Uch Shariff. They are hard to beat. And because tourists have ignored Pakistan for decades, well, you can still have these places to yourself.
The country is a real adventure to travel. Parts of it you need security, to cross the northern part of Balochistan you get escorted by police from post to post – this is to make sure you are 100% ok, although the situation is not so risky, they can’t afford to have any incident with a traveller. But also, as showcased in Angela Carson’s videos, there are loads of luxury options (ie five star hotels) in the big cities. And transport is actually pretty comfortable, many companies run Daewoo buses which are well maintained (the ones I experienced were spotless) and air conditioned. There is a great train network too for those who love trains, although it’s not to the standard of comfort on EVERY route that you get in the buses.
But getting from A to B is an adventure. The place will stun and amaze you. And the people will welcome you – the advantage of not seeing many tourists, most people are 100% genuine in the way they greet and show interest in you.
If the safety situation continues to improve more routes across to the west may open up to Gwadar and perhaps even Iran. I’ve been watching videos on YouTube of Balochistan travel of late and it is like another planet! It’s so beautiful, especially from the air over the part right up near the ocean.
So, it’s no surprise to me that now that things are a lot better in Pakistan, that tourists are taking a look and being blown away. Perhaps it’s a place for you to consider in the future? Right now, it’s one of the few countries that is pretty open despite the pandemic, but Covid is presently pretty bad in Pakistan and I couldn’t recommend going there until the pandemic is well and truly under control. And when that will be, I don’t know. Fingers crossed!
Thanks so much for reading today! Take care, and May the Journey Never End!