I first traveled Pakistan during Emergency rule and so security was tightened and there was a lack of tourists. It didn't stop me traveling the country though.
Places to visit in Pakistan
Taftan: The border town with Iran. If you
like desolate places then this is for you. Having said that, it is what a good border town should be. It's also nowhere near 'Hell on Earth' as someone once described it.
Having said that, it is what a good border town should be. It's also nowhere near 'Hell on Earth' as someone once described it.
The border - For details on crossing this border I wrote about overland crossing the Iran Pakistan border.
Things to do - Eat at the local hotel, buy supplies at the corner store, and check to make sure you have the right bus ticket!
Quetta: One of the largest cities in Pakistan and your first main stop if coming from/to Taftan.
The streets of Quetta - If you have just arrived in Pakistan Quetta is a good place to get your feet wet with Pakistani customs, foods, and settle into life into travel here. Wander the streets and take it all in.
Tourist Office - Go visit the Pakistan Tourist Development Office and pick up a wealth of maps, guides and the latest info on what is possible in Pakistan at that time.
Museums - there are a few, but really, give them a skip unless you are into what they have on offer.
Peshawar: If you want the frontier of Frontier towns, this is where it is.
The Khyber Pass - The legendary pass of kings to the border of Afghanistan. If you can go here at all costs. While the journey itself is not spectacular, it's the feeling of history and present that is incredible. Here is my guide in how to do the
Khyber Pass. From what I am told, at the moment the Khyber Pass is closed to tourists. But ask first, you never know what a
baksheesh can get you.
Tribal Areas - Get the Permit for the Khyber Pass, and then spend more time here. Make sure you are with it enough not to go knocking on any of the incredible War Lords houses, or get caught taking blatant photographs. Though they really don't care about the latter too much. Gun shops are available for those wishing to fire off an AK-47 or more. But don't buy no matter what they say, you're game then. Drug stores are also plentiful. Some say the best hashish is common in this area, again, this is not India. If you get caught buying in this area, your game. Outside the area is a different story, but still high risk.
The Old City center - This has to be one of the most culturally fascinating city centers. It's not a set up for tourists in the least. It is as you see it, a living breathing square that's as run down and likable as it gets.
Khyber Bazaar - It's not fancy, but if you are looking for real old world. Go here. Silks, and women's clothing are cheap, and great value.
The Bala Hisar Fort- It's closed as the Army occupies it. I am not sure if that's because I was there in emergency rule or not. The tourist office and numerous guides all said it was open. The soldiers at the entrance said it was closed t o the public.
The Afghan Refugee Camps- If you want to see this area, hurry. They are closing them down. Some of the friendliest curious people with vast stories can be found here. Spend the day, and bring some gifts.
Lahore: The big impressive border city with India, and the first real sign of tourists in Pakistan.
The Badshahi Mosque - Of all the mosques I have seen so far, this tops the list. It can hold 100,000 people and is an incredible site. The open courtyard is huge, and yet the humble prayer area itself quite small. Go there on a
Sunday and enjoy conversations with local families and visiting school children.
Badshahi Mosque Museum - I will write about this in travelogues soon. But for now it's worth the visit to see Prophet Mohammed artifacts like never before.
Lahore Fort - Go early to avoid the crowds. Find yourself a local guard, and ask to if its possible to go inside the palace of mirrors and to head into the underground palace. Normally off limits to everyone, but a baksheesh will get you far.
Kim's Gun (zamzama) - Easy to find, and not so exciting, but it's there.
Camera Road - If you like cameras, go here. Nothing out of the latest stores, but I have yet to see so many camera stores on one road. A lot!
Wagah Border: This is probably the greatest border crossing in the world.
The two former rival countries put on a ceremony every evening. Though you will need to cross over before the ceremony starts, you can do a day trip from Lahore/Amritsar without crossing. The ceremony involves more pomp and over the top actions than any where else as the two sides of the border roar, scream and shout at each other.
I sat in the VIP section, and the stands where the general public go. For close up photos take the VIP section, for an incredible atmosphere head into the crowd and enjoy. Men and women are segregated on the Pakistani side.
Ways into Pakistan
I wrote about this at length here. Trains in Pakistan are easy, comfortable, and although not that cheap, or timely they do get you to the city centers. From Lahore to the Wagah Border it's an 700 rupee taxi or 60 rupee bus. The Afghan border was closed to all tourist shortly after I left. A Turkish man had been kidnapped crossing and a German found dead. Though it should be noted the German was an arms dealer.
Post pandemic Pakistan has opened its borders once again. Do please check with your nearest embassy should the situation change again.
|Try my custom flight search for the lowest priced flights to and from Pakistan!
I was seriously surprised at the incredible food in Pakistan. Simply some of the best I had on my journey overland. Though breakfast sucks. Usmania Tandoori Restaurant in Quetta has an incredible roast leg of mutton! Try the korma's, Aab Gosht Curry, Biryan, Tandoori Aloo, Green Chicken Tikka the list goes on and on. It's not known for its food, but it beat Indian food hands down for me. I ate a lot from food stalls with no problems, fresh Afghan kebabs are great!
I really cannot think of a bad thing to say. Okay the police escort officer on the Khyber Pass was an idiot. But everywhere I went I was met with smiles, welcomes and honesty. Afghan's in the North were very welcoming and full of stories. The people I met were very proud of their past, their country and in having people visit them. One of the highlights of Pakistan was meeting with the people.
There are many languages in Pakistan. Urdu being one of the most common. Though Farsi seems to be spoken or at least understood in the western parts too. Tough, for me at least.
Do's & Do not's
Do respect the culture of the people. Do take photographs. Do not get stoned out of your head. Do make use of the internet when you find it, as the connection speeds are a problem. The same with banks. Do buy Pakistani shawls, they are great value. Do obey the military/government tourist advise given by the Pakistani's, I have seen what happens when things go wrong.
Places I stayed
Where I stayed
Finding a hostel is a thing of the past, cheap hotels are all over the place.
Quetta - Bloomstar Hotel- just opposite the road leading out of the train station. Well, take a left at the top of the train station road, the hotel is down the road to your right on a side street. Open 24/7 with cheap rooms and en suite squats with heaters. There are others along the main road, but this one is in a good secure location for motorbikes and car travelers too. If you don't know how to bargain here, they'll offer high rates.
Peshawar - The Rose Hotel, Shoba Chowk, its well known. Good value, central, safe and has hot water. There are others, but for a similar price you get less.
Lahore - The Regal Internet Inn, Regal Chowk, find KFC, along the same street is a flower shop, head down the land behind it, the hostel is on your right. Cheapish, with dorms and a rather thin partition walled doubles. Internet is there. They get rave reviews, and is a good place to meet overland travelers.
Potential for home?
Not unless a big NGO hires me for a few years, or I want to live in secret somewhere. A great country to visit, and even stay a while. But too much going on at the moment to make it a wise choice for me.
FAQ's on traveling in Pakistan
How much is a daily budget for traveling Pakistan?
I was expecting Pakistan to be more expensive. The average hotel comes in at $7USD.
Meals are very cheap. $3 can buy you a large quantity of food at the right place. A kebab can sell for as little as $0.50 while a restaurant meal can be had for $4-6.
Taxis are cheap as are rickshaws average prices around cities can vary between $1 and $5 bargain and agree on a price before getting in.
Trains are a little pricey though. But having said that, the lower class tickets are fine. There's a huge difference in deluxe buses and regular buses. Daewoo being deluxe and coming in at 3-4 times the price of local bus. That said, they are much more comfortable and safer.
All in all its about $15 -$20 a day eating in restaurants and taking taxi's.
How are the banks in Pakistan?
Most banks are hooked up with satellite links. Pakistan has numerous power outages. Hence it's not always possible to use them. So when you do, take a wad out. Standard Charter offer good services and take visa/MasterCard. Your debit cards will be a long shot here. .
What guide book is best for traveling Pakistan?
I would rarely trounce a book. But the Lonely Planet book "Pakistan & the Karakoram Highway" 6th edition 2004 is a very bad guide book. A disgrace and possibly dangerous book. There is barely a mention of Taftan in it. And the city maps have several wrong addresses. I would rather print from WikiTravel than ever take this book again. Lonely planet do have some great books, this is not one. They now have a more recent edition which is better. There's a guide book review section in my resources.
Can I get a Pakistani visa on the KKH coming from China?
Yes at Sust. In planning my whole route I did the research for this and spoke with many people. There was a rumor going around that the Chinese did not allow anyone to cross without a Pakistani visa first, this is no longer the case.
Can I get a Pakistani visa on the KKH coming from China?
Previously this used to be a yes. But since the Olympic Games new restrictions make it much harder. You need a tour visa and group to go with. A complete pain.
Carnet de Passage, do I need one in Pakistan?
Yes you do. Do not listen to anyone who tells you otherwise. I met a bike that had his bike confiscated at the border after making it though Iran with out one. $100 USD fines per day for police escorts. His choice was to put the bike on the train at his expense, and still pay $100 a day until India. Or leave it there. He chose the latter, and was refused into India without a Carnet as well.
It's not worth the risk. As a viable option, use a cheap vehicle to get there, sell it. And buy something when you're over there. But if you plan to travel far in Pakistan, then getting a good vehicle over there is a hassle.
Can I still travel the Khyber Pass?
The Khyber Pass has been closed to tourists for the past 2 years due to security problems in the North West Frontier Province. Having been one, if not the, last to travel this route when it was still open I suspect there are still a few disreputable guides willing to take a person. But, be warned, it could and probably is, highly dangerous as it's not a government policed area. It's run by war clans and if you have read my journals you'll know about the guns, vast cemeteries etc. I would not advise this trip until it is officially opened up again by the Government.
Check out my Travel Iran to Pakistan overland guide for a lot more!
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Please keep in mind all the above is based on my own personal experience in Pakistan. It's not intended to be a guide. If the information here can help you on your own travels then that's a good thing!