Difference between revisions of "Pakistan"
Revision as of 19:25, 19 March 2013
Pakistan  (Urdu: پاکستان) is a large country ( 1.5 times the size of France) in South Asia. Located along the Arabian Sea, it is surrounded by Afghanistan to the west and northwest, Iran to the southwest, India to the east, and China to the northeast. It is strategically located astride the ancient trade routes of the Khyber and Bolan passes between Asia and Europe.
The history of Pakistan traces back to the beginnings of human life in South Asia. Pakistan is home to the Indus Valley civilization, which is amongst the oldest in the world.
Prior to the 1900's the area of Pakistan was the area from which the Muslims ruled over Central and Southern Asia for over 300 years. Today Pakistan is made up of people from various races including Arabs from after the Islamic expeditions, Persians from Bukhara and Samarkand, Turks from Central Asia and the native Sindhus who were converted to Islam.
The official name of Pakistan was used after the partition of (British) India into the 2 nation-states of India and Pakistan in 1947. However, the word Pakistan was first used by Ch. Rehmat Ali back in 1933 in his declaration, Now or Never - calling for its separation from the Empire. Afterwards, British-ruled India was divided into the Islamic Republic of Pakistan (with two sections West and East) and India. A third war between these countries in 1971 resulted in East Pakistan seceding and becoming the separate nation of Bangladesh. A dispute over the state of Jammu and Kashmir is ongoing between India and Pakistan.
The current issues facing the Modern Pakistan are conflict with India, corruption and a negative view towards Democracy.
Pakistan is one of those few countries in the world which has every kind of geological structure. It has the sea, desert (Sindh & Punjab), green mountains (North West Province), dry mountains (Balochistan), mountains covered with ice, rivers, rich land to cultivate (Punjab & Sindh), water resources, water falls, forests etc. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit-Baltistan contain the mountain ranges of the Himalayas, the Karakoram, and the Hindu Kush. Pakistan's highest point is K2, at 8,611 meters, which is the second highest peak in the world. The Punjab province is a flat, alluvial plain whose rivers eventually join the Indus River and flow south to the Arabian Sea. Sindh lies between the Thar Desert the Rann of Kutch to the east, and the Kirthar range to the west. The Balochistan Plateau is arid and surrounded by dry mountains. Pakistan experiences frequent earthquakes, occasionally severe, especially in north and west.
Mostly hot, dry desert; temperate in northwest; arctic in north. Flooding along the Indus after heavy rains (July and August). Fertile and sub humid heat in the Punjab region. Seasonal climate and daily weather 
See also: Sacred sites of the Indian sub-continent
Almost all nationalities require visas. These are usually easier to obtain in your home country, though recently the individual missions around the world have been given more authority to issue visas without checking in with Islamabad, which should help in getting applications turned around quicker.
Recently a list of 24 "Tourist Friendly Countries" (TFC) was announced that are eligible for one month visas on arrival if they travel through a designated/authorized  tour operator who will assume responsibility for them while in the country. Any extensions on this type of visa must also be done through the tour operator. They include: Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, UK and USA.
Nationals of most other countries (and those not wanting to travel with a tour operator and group) need to apply in advance for a visa, which are usually issued for 30-90 days depending on nationality and where you apply. Double-entries are sometimes given, but be clear and persistent when applying that you need this.
A handful of countries are issued visas on arrival: Iceland, Maldives and Zambia for 3 months, Hong Kong, Nepal and Samoa for 1 month, while Tonga and Trinidad and Tobago nationals can stay for an unlimited amount of time.
Nationals of Israel are not allowed entry as it is not recognized as a nation by Pakistan. Despite much online information to the contrary, Israeli stamps and visas would usually pose no problems for entry into Pakistan, though you may be subject to more stringent questioning by immigration officers.
Indian nationals can apply for 30 day tourist visas but must travel in a group through an authorized tour operator. Visitor visas to meet relatives or friends are more easy to obtain, and come with some restrictions. Religious visas are granted for groups of 10 or more for 15 days.
Nationals of Afghanistan are refused entry if their passports or tickets show evidence of transit or boarding in India.
Holders of Taiwan passports are refused entry except in airport transit.
Business visas are now being issued for up to 5 years, multiple entry, as soon as 24 hours before arrival.
The High Commission for Pakistan in New Delhi issues visas with varying degrees of difficulty, taking at least 1 day (and sometimes several) to process the application. Applications are only accepted in the mornings from around 9-11AM. Arrive early and expect the process to take a few hours, and possibly a few return visits. Window 5 is for foreign tourist and business visas (under the big white sign).
People of Pakistani origin living overseas are granted 5 year multiple entry visas (along with their spouses), good for single stays of up to 1 year. Visas aren't required at all if they are holding a Pakistan Origin Card (POC) or a National Identity Card for Overseas Pakistanis (NICOP).
Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad are the main gateways to Pakistan by air. However, there are 134 airfields in Pakistan. Six other international airports are in Quetta,Gawadar, Peshawar, Sialkot, Multan, Rahim Yar Khan and Faisalabad.
Whatever airport you arrive (or even depart), airport staff are certain to demand a bribe, especially from foreigners. Beware of anyone who insists on helping you- they won't be so friendly when demanding you pay them. Furthermore, there is NO special airport tax due at check-in, despite what your check-in clerk might tell you.
Pakistan has train links with India and Iran, though none of these trains are the fastest or most practical way to enter Pakistan. Should speed be a priority it is better to take the bus, or if you are really in a hurry, to fly, however the trains are sights in their own right. Nowadays Pakistan Railways is going through recession. The number of trains has been lessened and trains don't usually reach the destinations in time.
From ancient times people have been travelling through Pakistan using the Grand Trunk Road and the Silk Road that run through Pakistan and into the Indian subcontinent. It's a rewarding but time consuming way to see this part of the world. New highways have been developed and the country is due for an expansion in its highway network. A world-class motorway connects the cities of Peshawar, Islamabad, Lahore, and Faisalabad.
From China: Pakistan is connected to China by the Karakoram Highway, a modern feat of engineering that traverses a remarkably scenic route through the Karakoram and Himalayan mountains. Plans are in place for this highway to be expanded from its current width of 10m to 30m as a result of the increase in trade traffic due to Gwader port opening.
From India: While there is international service running from Delhi to Lahore it is just as fast, much more flexible, and much cheaper to take the journey by stringing together local transport and crossing the border on foot. As of October 2009, the bus was Rs. 1500. The journey details can be found here: http://dtc.nic.in/lahorebus.htm. You cannot buy the ticket on the spot, rather you will need to show up a few days before at Delhi Gate with photocopies of your Pakistani and Indian visas. The bus leaves at 6 a.m. but you will need to be at Delhi Gate at 4 a.m. to check in for it.
Getting around the country has become much easier in recent years with the completion of some motorways, and an increase in private airlines.
There are three good online maps for Pakistan; OpenStreetMap, Naqsha, and Google Maps. Whilst the cities are well covered, roads in rural areas are not, with many minor roads missing - Google Maps in particular has a worrying habit of marking dried up river beds as minor roads, so if exploring out in the sticks it is a good idea to use Google Earth to double check your route.
Nelles produces a good printed map of Pakistan - this map and others are available in Saeed Book Bank in F7 markaz in Islamabad - and at cheaper prices than available online from Western booksellers.
Pakistan International Airlines (PIA)  serves numerous domestic destinations and is the only airline to serve the three airports in the north of interest to trekkers or climbers: Chitral, Gilgit, and Skardu. There are usually two flights from Islamabad to these cities daily, but they are often canceled due to bad weather, and often over-booked — show up early to guarantee a seat.
Pakistan Railway  provides passenger rail service. The stations tend not to have their timetables in English, but sales agents can usually explain everything to you. There are several different classes of fares depending on amenities. Foreign tourists and students with an ISIC card can get 25% and 50% discounts, respectively, by first visiting the PTDC (Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation) office, getting q verification certificate there, and bringing it with them to the train's commercial ticket office (which is different from the regular ticket office, but usually close by).
A large portion of travel between cities in Pakistan is carried out by bus. Travelling between Karachi and any of the country's other major cities by bus may take days, travel by bus is often the cheapest and most convenient alternative. The Dae-Woo company runs a regular bus service between several major cities, with air-conditioned buses and seats booked one day ahead. While rather unexpensive, they are still almost five times as expensive as the cheap and uncomplicated rides offered by minibuses or larger buses between the major bus stations of the cities. Fares are often (though not always) paid directly on the bus, there is no aircondition, and sometimes very little knee space, but you get where you are going all the same, and I have never met with anything but kind interest and friendly conversation on my many rides. Buses leave almost incessantly from the major bus stations for all the major cities, and many smaller locations, so booking ahead is neither possible nor necessary on the simpler buses. When travelling between major cities, smaller buses are to be preferred over the larger ones, as the larger ones tend to take up passagers along the way, and therefore travel more slowly.
The situation is similar for local transport. While the organization of local transport may look a little different between cities, there is usually an active bus service running through the city, with varying levels of government control.
For local transport within cities, auto rickshaws are a cheap and flexible alternative. A development of the bicycle rickshaw, the auto rickshaw is a small vehicle powered by a two-stroke or four-stroke engine. The original gasoline versions constantly emit a stuttering noise and foul blue-black smoke, but many are opting for the CNG(compressed natural gas) versions, which are less polluting and a little quieter. Blue-and-yellow auto rickshaws take passengers, other colors tend to be privately owned. Always negotiate a price before entering the rickshaw.
Rickshaws are banned in the capital Islamabad.
Urdu is the national language and is spoken throughout Pakistan as lingua franca. In addition to Urdu most Pakistanis speak their regional languages or dialects such as Punjabi, Pothohari, Sindhi, Pashto (Pushtun), Balochi, Saraiki, Shina, Burushaski, Khowar, Wakhi, Hindko etc.
English is the official language used in all government and most educational and business entities, and is also understood and spoken at varying levels of competence by many people around Pakistan, especially the upper classes and people who have gone through higher levels of education, and those residing in the larger cities.
Pakistan is a world class destination for trekking and hiking. Horse riding is also very affordable. Cycling opportunities abound.
The national currency of Pakistan is the rupee (PKR). Coins are issued in 1, 2, and 5 rupee denominations while banknotes come in 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500, 1000, and 5000 rupee values.
ATMs exist in most areas and accept major credit cards.
Pakistani food mainly consists of various kinds of kababs eaten with either flatbread or rice. Food tends range from mild to spicy depending on where you are and who your cook is. So state your preference before beginning to eat. In general, most of the food that you find in the high end hotels is also available in the markets (but European-style food is generally reserved for the former).
As you might have noticed, 'Naan' is usually used to pick up liquid and soft foods like shorba and beans. Forks and knives not commonly used during meals in Pakistan (unless someone is eating rice or is dining out). Attempting to cut a naan with a knife may elicit some amusement around you. Watching others may help.
There are too many shorbas, or sauces/soups, to enumerate. However, you should know of the most common ones.
Meat is a major ingredient in most dishes. The variety is endless, but here are a few examples:
A part from local restaurants, international fast food chains have also popped up throughout Pakistan. They include, KFC, Pizza Hut, McDonalds, Subway, Nandos, Mr.Cod, Papa Johns, Dominoes etc. You are also prone to finding more European chains than North American.
Tap water can be unsafe for drinking. However, some establishments have water filters/purifiers installed, in which case the water is safe to drink. Packed drinking water (normally called mineral water in Pakistan) is a better choice.
The taste of the water is said to be very good in the north-eastern side of Pakistan, especially in Swat, Kaghan and Gilgit. Ask for bottled water wherever possible, and avoid anything cold that might have water in it.
In the warmer southern region, sweet drinks are readily available throughout the day. Look for street vendors that have fruits (real or decorations) hanging from their roofs. Also, some milk/yogurt shops serve lassi. Ask for meethi lassi for a sweet yogurt drink and you can also get a salty lassi which tastes good and is similar to the Arabic Laban if you are having "bhindi" in food or some other rich dish. There is also a sweet drink called Mango Lassi which is very rich and thick, made with yogurt, mango pulp, and pieces of mango.
Being a muslim country use of Alcohol (both imported and local) is not allowed openly in the country.It is available to non-Muslim foreigners at licenssed bars in most top end hotels. The local alcoholic beer is called 'Murree Beer. It is illegal for Muslims to buy, possess or consume alcohol in Pakistan.
Pakistan, as a middle income country with a sizeable middle class and significant domestic tourism industry has a decent range of hotels covering all price ranges. International tourists often are disappointed by the cleanliness of Pakistani hotels - bedding is often clean but bathrooms can be a bit grungy. Currently Pakistan is facing a significant slump in international tourist numbers, in the northern areas in particular you'll find yourself the only guests.
Budget The cheapest hotels are usually found around busy transportation hubs like bus and train stations. Don't be fooled by an impressive lobby - ask to see the room and check the beds, toilets, lights, etc before checking in. Hot water and air conditioning will be luxuries in this class.
Mid range covers a wide spectrum of hotels - often listed in your guide book or online. All mid-range places will have a/c and hot water - although check if they have a working generator - air conditioning isn't of much use without electricity! Always check the room before handing over any money - ask for a no smoking room away from the street - and haggle to get a better rate. PTDC (government run) hotels fall in to the mid range section and warrant a special mention - often these places are the oldest hotel in town, in an excellent location, but the facilities will be showing their age. They are still a good option however, and discounts can be negotiated. Mid range prices are around Rs2,000 - Rs6,000 per night.
Top end covers the Serenas , Pearl Continentals  and Marriotts . The Serena hotels are almost always excellent, whilst the Pearl Continental hotels are more patchy (eg the one in Rawalpindi is a bit grungy whilst the one in Muzaffarabad is very nice. At top-end places security is very visible, with small armies of security guards stationed around the perimeter. Prices are from Rs6,000 and up, with the big city luxury hotels charging at least Rs10,000 a night.
Government rest houses  are mentioned in numerous guide books and are located in rural and mountainous areas for local civil servants to use on their travels, with many built pre-independence and exuding a quaint English charm. Back in the day the adventurous tourist could book these places for the night for Rs1,000 or so, and have a lovely time. But the tourist slump means that the forestry departments who run these places don't bother any more - phones will go unanswered - tourist information offices won't have any details etc. so count yourself lucky if you manage to arrange to stay in a Government rest house.
Solo female travelers are at a disadvantage when it comes to hotels. All budget and many mid-range places will be the sole reserve of men, in particular in the cities - and hotel owners may be uncomfortable with the idea of an unaccompanied women staying at their hotel. Hence you may be forced to stay at the upper-mid range and top end places - which will eat through your budget that much quicker.
Note that in some places the term "hotel" in Pakistan is reserved for simpler establishments, with "Guest House" referring to medium-sized establishments where the standard is typically higher. Also note that restaurants are also called "hotels", creating a fun potential for confusion.
Many Pakistani companies are looking for Sales representatives and usually all manner of companies will be happy to speak to a well-dressed Westerner about business.
Many tourists are known to buy leather goods and other curios in Pakistan sell them in Goa India or somehow get them shipped back to the West.
Otherwise your best way of working is contact the numerous Aid agencies that work out of Peshawar, Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
Pakistan has endured several bomb attacks over the last few years against security forces, so called western institutions (e.g the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad) and has seen the public assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto upon her return from exile. Attacks typically increase when there is military action against the Taliban and the ordinary traveller should not venture into the tribal areas. It's a fairly hospitable country but social protests tend to turn violent and political demonstrations are always sensitive. Before travelling you should check with your embassy about off-limits areas, the latest political and military developments and keep an close eye on current issues with independent news sources.
Stay away from military convoys as they are a potential target for suicide bombing. Similarly, going near military or intelligence facilities can be dangerous.
Carrying firearms can land you in police custody, except if you get a special permit from a relevant authority.
Use common sense and a healthy dose of courtesy when in conversation with Pakistanis. Kashmir is a particularly sensitive topic and best avoided altogether. Discussion about religion and Islam should remain respectful and positive — some Pakistanis are not tolerant of other religions, and if theirs is spoken about negatively, it could result in violence.
The line of control between Azad Kashmir and the Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir is off-limits for foreign tourists, though domestic tourists can visit Azad Kashmir without any restriction (but should keep their identity cards with them).
The Federally Administered Tribal Areas & all regions near the sensitive Afghan border should not be visited at any time by foreign tourists, as the Pakistan government has little to no authority in these areas and cannot aid you in an emergency. If you do have reason to visit, seek expert guidance, including that of your embassy, who can advise you on the special permissions required.
Peace has returned to Swat Valley and the army holds full control with lots of Foreign Nationals working in the form of NGOs. Road infrastructure was destroyed due to the 2010 floods but the army does massive efforts to restore the infrastructure. Balochistan is considered dangerous and not fit for travellers due to increased kidnappings of foreigners.
Prostitution has no legal recognition in Pakistan. Moreover despite growth of male prostitution, homosexuality is outlawed in the nation. Under Section 377 of the Pakistan Penal Code, whoever voluntarily has "carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal" shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than two years nor more than ten years, and shall also be liable to a fine. Penetration is sufficient to constitute the carnal intercourse necessary to the offence described in this section. Arrests for homosexuality are inevitable - at least until bribes are paid in rural areas and capricious in many metropolitan areas- as evidenced by a vibrant gay nightlife existing in some conurbations.
The visitor needs to be aware of the ever changing rules regarding sensitive areas and No Objection Certificates (NOCs), Note Verbals and other permissions and paperwork some in officialdom deem necessary for your to travel around the country. The most notorious NOC regulation is for foreigners to enter Kashmir, with the intention being so the security services can keep track (ie follow) foreigners to make sure they don't visit places they shouldn't. Outside Kashmir diplomats are the primary user of NOCs and theoretically the normal tourist should be exempt. However those in officialdom can view all foreigners with suspicion and demand an NOC when you step of a plane or out of a bus. NOCs need to be applied for through the Ministry of Interior, however if you are travelling on a non-diplomatic passport you should be fine - but its good to be aware of this nonetheless.
Finally be aware of sensitive areas. You may see road signs in English saying 'no foreigners allowed beyond this point' - for example on the road to Kahuta near Islamabad - if you see and need to pass one of these signs at the very least stop at the nearest police station and see if they will let you pass (speaking Urdu is an advantage here) or turn back and find another route. Typically, restricted areas are those with nuclear or military installations nearby. Kahuta southeast of Islamabad, and the Sakesar hill station near the Amb temples in the Salt Range are two restricted areas the visitor may stumble across. Getting caught in a restricted area will mean a lot of wasted time, embarrassment and the possible involvement of your embassy.
Visitors are strongly advised to refrain from drinking tap water; many Pakistani locals themselves drink boiled or purified water. Take every precaution to drink only boiled, filtered or bottled water. Tap water is known to contain many impurities. Ice is usually made from regular tap-water, and may be even harder to avoid. Fresh milk from the carrier should be boiled and cooled before consumption. Non-pasteurized dairy can spread tuberculosis so be careful of people with hacking coughs. Haleeb Milk and Olpers are trusted brands and are available at most grocery stores.
Take precautions against malaria spread by mosquitoes. Avoid getting bitten and if you plan to stay in a place where malaria is common take prophylactic medication. The risk of getting Malaria decreases with higher altitudes.
Summers are very hot, so be careful to stay hydrated. Temperatures range between 40 and 50°C in June and July, but as soon as the monsoon rains set in during August and September, things cool to around 30°C but with high levels of humidity.
Do not eat food that has been lying out for some time, as high temperatures speed up deterioration. Avoid posh restaurants with only a sporadic clientèle.
Some Pakistani dishes can be very spicy! Always notify your host, cook or waiter if you can not stomach very spicy food.
Beware of the dengue fever in the summer, especially during the monsoon (Jul-Sept). It is caused by mosquitoes and can be fatal. The most widespread outbreaks of dengue are expected in the Punjab province.
Pakistanis pride themselves on their tradition of hospitality to guests (Urdu: mehmanawazi, Pashtu: milmastia, Punjabi: puranadari). When entering a house, you will often be showered with tea, sweets and gifts — it's considered ungrateful to refuse these. Finishing a meal involves a delicate balance.... cleaning your plate will invite more to be served, while leaving too much may be a sign you didn't care for it. Aim for leaving just a little, announcing you're full, and heavily praise the food.
Most of the Pakistani women don't usually interact with strangers. So, don't get embarrassed if they avoid communicating with you.
Business tends to move slowly, and will often be preceded by a lot of socializing, tea drinking, and meeting of the family. Rushing to the point may be considered rude, and even sour the deal.
Pakistan is a conservative country and it is advisable for women to wear long skirts or trousers in public (Pakistani women wear the traditional shalwar kameez. But in the big cities, women wearing jeans and khakis is not very uncommon sight, especially in casual settings, shopping malls and around picnic spots). Dress codes for men are more lax, though shorts are uncommon. Men should never shake hands with or touch a woman they don't know very well.
As with most of South Asia, you should use your right hand for eating, shaking hands and giving or receiving everything (including money), and reserve your left hand for handling shoes and assisting in toilet duties.
The country code for Pakistan is +92 if you are calling from outside the country. Phone numbers are seven digits long with two digit city code in larger districts, and six digits long with three digit city code in smaller districts, for a total of nine digits as a standard nationwide (except for Azad Kashmir). All mobile numbers, however, are seven digits long and begin with a four digit city code "03XX", where XX indicates the cellular provider. Thus Pakistani mobile numbers are linked to one particular cellular provider, NOT one particular city as in some other countries. Therefore the city prefix should not be dialled in addition to the cellular prefix. As in many countries, omit the initial zero when dialing a city or cell code from outside Pakistan and prefix the '92' country code after dialling your country's international access code. Thus Telenor™ cell number 7654321 dialled from the USA/Canada would be 011-92-345-7654321 and Peshawar landline 2345678 dialled from France or the UK would be 00-92-91-2345678. The int'l access code for outgoing calls from Pakistan is 00.
PTCL  offers landline and wireless phone services.
Public Call Offices can be found all over the country. You will find a PCO in nearly 50% of the general stores where there is usually someone who operates the phone and fax. Fees will be charged according to the time spent, and you will pay when you have finished your call.
Major providers of mobile phone service (GSM) are:
One very convenient feature is that all Pakistani cellular operators use the GSM platform, so that cellular handsets nationwide are freely interchangeable between providers.
Cybercafes can be found on virtually every street corner and the rates are as low as Rs.15-20 per hour. They usually don't have a very fast operating system, so don't be too impatient! 14" monitors, Windows 2000, Windows 98 or Windows XP are usually installed and most of the cafes have an internet connection with a decent speed.
Internet Access can be obtained easily on notebook computers with the help of GPRS enabled mobile connections, supported by almost all of the 5 mobile operators. Mobilink provides EDGE based connection in very limited areas of Karachi, however Telenor's coverage of EDGE is wider. The standard cost of GPRS/EDGE usage is Rs 10 - Rs 18/MB data transfer but Zong offers Rs 15/hour, however if you wish to download much more you may want to use unlimited packages, provided only by Warid, Mobilink and Telenor at this time. World Call and Ufone also offers USB Modem. You can also subscribe to GPRS/EDGE bundles, which drops the price really low. http://www.ufone.com/mobpro_mobileinternet.aspx
Wateen, Mobilink Infinity, WiTribe, and Qubee are WiMax internet providers. National telecommunication company PTCL offers a USB EVo device for very fast internet connection.
There are Wi-Fi hotspots all over Pakistan, in hotels, malls, cafes and restaurants.