Pakistan is one of the most densely populated countries in the world (180 million population) and it exists at the crossroads of great civilizations of the world. India, China, Central Asia, Middle East, Iran and great mountain ranges of the world are at its geographic periphery. Therefore, the country has a unique cultural, historical and strategic importance for the tourists in particular. The tourism industry always boomed in Pakistan before the recent political unrest and cataclysmic floods in 2010 and earthquake in 2005 wrecked severe damage to the infrastructure in the idyllic northern and the southern areas of the country. The resilience of the Pakistani nation is once more on display and tourists begin to flock to the natural and historical sites which have been spared by the damage. The north of Pakistan is mainly mountainous and people’s main sources of earning are agriculture and tourism. The natural calamities did everything except defeat the resolve of the people to fight nature and beautify it through improvisation. The most frequent questions which tourists raise are about guarantee of safety and security of foreigners and women in particular, frequent access to bars, discos, liquor etc. It is rather an overestimated threat presumption that since not all these things are assured, one should visit other places on planet. However, alike any other war ravaged region in the world, the north west of Pakistan is a no go area for currently. But the rest of Pakistan has everything new and mystical in store for the explorers who may otherwise find typical western culinary delights anywhere else in the rest of the world.
The problem of image projection has harmed Pakistan’s potential as an international tourist spot by a great measure. The country has 7,960,95 sq km of land area. The law and order situation is precarious in the Afghan Pakistan border areas whereas the rest of the country is offering as much space to the international tourists, archaeologists, historians and sightseers as it used to in the past. Using John Keats’ terminology, this land is still an unravished bride of quietness as far as its tourist potential is concerned. There are four provinces in Pakistan which are Punjab, Sindh, Baluchistan and Khyber –Pakhtunkhwa. Beside this there are four territories which are under federal control. They include Federally administered tribal areas in the north west, Azad Jammu and Kashmir territory, Islamabad the capital and Gilgit-Baltistan in the federally administered northern areas.
Punjab being the cultural hub of the country offers echoes and visions of history in an enigmatic way. Historical city of Lahore is its capital which has been the administrative centre of Mughal empire, Sikh administration and the British raj. That is why one can see grand historical edifices like Lahore Fort, Badshahi Mosque, Shalimar Garden (they are included in UNESCO’s world heritage list), Sikh temples, British architecture in the guise of Government college building, Lahore railway station building, Lahore museum, King Edward medical college building and in several other avenues where past speaks through present. Minar-e-Pakistan building is a monument which was built after the independence of Pakistan to commemorate the partition movement in 1940s. The city is a fabulous place for the lovers of food. Old Anarkali street is the best place there for spicy and delicious traditional foods. The folk saying goes that the one who hasn’t yet seen Lahore, isn’t born yet either. The city is also known as the city of gardens. The rest of the province of Punjab has its own peculiar cultural diversity with cities like Faisalabad has 8 bazaars around the famous clock tower built during the British era. Its areal view gives it the look of union jack on the British flag. The south of the province of Punjab has Cholistan desert which hosts annual Cholistan car rally. It’s an awesome place also for the adventurers and hunters of deer and pea cocks. Punjab gets its name from its 5 rivers which flow all the way from Himalayas in the north through its territory and converge in the place called Panjnad in southern Punjab. It’s a worth seeing sight there as how modern agricultural necessities have enabled man to strangle rivers to build a sophisticated canal system and barrages in a previously semi-arid land. For academic historians and the archaeologists and others who are interested in the swings of history the region witnessed; there are Buddhist historical sites there in Harappa and Taxilla regions. At the same time there is a line of old castles build from the Punjab province till Sindh province during Mughal Empire’s time to confront outside invasions on India from the west. The Grand Trunk Road also built in Mughal era by emperor Sher Shah Suri is still in use. So, modern Pakistan is still wheeling on the paths of history.
A train journey from northern Punjab city of Rawalpindi to the extreme south of the country will reveal all the secrets of Pakistani society and its many cultures and historical sites. One would see the rural base of the country with its multiple crops, terrestrial diversities, climatic variations and above all feudal hierarchical relations of power between the so called base and super structure of society. Despite all that, life at its purest and most organic levels is also seen in man’s relationship to land and its yield in that country and this is reflected in the communal relations of the people too.
The Sindh province is the gateway to Islam in the Indian sub continent and it is also the place of Indus river civilization with ancient archaeological ruins found in the place called Mohenjo-Daro. An airport provides state of the art facilities to the international tourists to take connecting flights from the city of Karachi. Pakistan produces few of the most abundant and best varieties of mangoes, apples, cherries, pomegranates, grapes, dry fruit, pickles, nuts and dates in southern Punjab, Sindh and Baluchistan provinces. It’s another experience tasting them right from the place of their origin. The lakes at the Indus river basin area are a unique winter repository and sanctuary for awesome species of birds migrating from Siberia and the rest of Central Asia. Makli Hill in Thattha region of Sindh is one of the largest necropolises of the world. One can witness some of the most unique displays of Islamic calligraphy on the graves there. Karachi is the southern most and the biggest city in Pakistan which is also a port city. For international tourists, the city offers numerous attractions like beaches, modern five star hotels, the shrine of founder of the nation and places like Karachi Port Trust Headquarter and art centers and museums.
Baluchistan is the largest province in the country with reference to its area. It has a long coastal line which links Karachi with the newly built Gawadar port via Makran coastal highway. It is a marvelous experience to travel on it with Arabian Sea on its one side. Baluchistan is rich in natural resources but is mainly dry and has rugged mountains in most parts. Despite the tough terrain of land, there are train tracks laid in the province with an astonishingly frequent number of tunnels in different mountain paths. This is a pleasurable adventure travelling in a passenger train pulled by two engines in those harsh lands. Tribal chieftains of Baluchistan and their local empires within the federation of Pakistan give another colour of traditionalism in Pakistani culture. Baluchistan’s handicrafts, meat-rich foods, nuts and fruit and hand-woven carpets are the best present one can get from the visit of the place. The province has one of the hottest places in the country called Sibbi whereas Quetta and Ziarat are two of the coldest cities in the country, which are also in the same province.
Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa is the north western province of Pakistan which is blessed with the most beautiful brushes of nature. From Himalayas to Afghan border, nature manifests itself in enigmatic gestures. There is Swat Valley with its river, there are Bannu and Mardan regions which have plain lands and agriculture, and there is Hazara region with cities like Abbottabad, Mansehra which open gaze of the travel itinerants to the Karakoram Highway through the federally administered northern areas all the way to China border. There is famous Shindoor polo ground in Chitral which holds Chitral annual polo festival in summer which features traditional sports rivalry between polo teams from Chitral and Gilgit regions. This is world’s highest altitude polo ground. For international tourists, there is no better place to spend their summer holidays than near Himalayas. Lake Saif al Malook, jeap drive along the tedious routes and glaciers along Naran and Kaghan valleys, with occasional ride of mules is a heavenly experience for lovers of risk and adventure. This place is not far from the roof of the world which has world’s highest mountain ranges like K2, Rakaposhi and Mount Everest. In the north east there is Pakistan administered Azad Kashmir region whose valleys and rivers provide true testimony to nature at its best.
This scant word picture of the enormous tourism potential in Pakistan does no full justice to the scope and reality of Pakistan as a place and Pakistanies as a warm and hospitable society for its guests and tourists. Once one visits the length and breadth of the country, one will hardly find this statement an overstatement that Pakistan is beautiful.