Difference between revisions of "Pakistan"
Revision as of 06:26, 29 November 2006
Pakistan  (Urdu: پاکستان) is a populous country 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.
Pakistan has many cities and towns. Below are some of the most notable. Other cities are listed under their specific regions.
Mostly hot, dry desert; temperate in northwest; arctic in north. Flooding along the Indus after heavy rains (July and August)
The North West Frontier Province and the Northern Area contain the mountain ranges of the Himalayas, the Karakoram, and the Hindu Kush. (Pakistan's highest point is K2, at 8,611 meters, the second highest peak in the world.) 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.
Prior to the 1900's the area of Pakistan was the area from which the Muslims ruled over Central and Southern Asia for over a thousand years. Initially where the Arabs landed by ship, soon it would be where the Persians would base their rule. 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 Hindus who were converted to Islam.
The official name of Pakistan was used after the separation of British India in 1947. The once Mughal Empire was divided into the Islamic Republic of Pakistan (with two sections West and East) and largely Hindu 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 Kashmir is ongoing.
2007 has been declared the 'Year of Tourism' by the Pakistan government. They will be heavily promoting the sites and are planning to ease visa and entry restrictions (and hopefully costs), so check with your embassy for the most up-to-date information.
Most visitors to Pakistan require a visa. It is often easier to obtain these in your home country but are also available at some of the Pakistan embassies and consulates around the world. Visas are usually single-entry and valid for 30-90 days depending on nationality. Double-entries are sometimes given, but be clear when applying that you need this.
The Pakistan Consulate in New Delhi issues visas with a few days needed to process the application. Applications are only accepted in the mornings from around 8-11am. Arrive early and expect to spend a few hours at the consulate. Window 4 is for foreign tourist and business visas.
Visas are easier for people of Pakistani origin living overseas.
Islamabad, Lahore, and Karachi are the main gateways to Pakistan by air. However, there are many other airports in Pakistan that have international flights as well to the Gulf and Far East. Two other international airports are in Peshawar and Quetta.
Pakistan has train links with India and Iran.
India has two links: The Samjhauta Express from Lahore to Attari near Amritsar in Punjab. The Thar Express restarted in February 2006 after 40 years out of service. It runs from Munabao in the Indian state of Rajasthan to Khokrapar in Pakistan's Sindh province, but is not open to foreign tourists.
Neither train is 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.
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 Asian 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. Currently, a world-class motorway connects the cities of Lahore, Islamabad and Faisalabad, with extension up to Peshawar due to be completed soon.
There are two routes between Pakistan and Afghanistan:
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.
From Iran: One comes to Pakistan from Iran via the Mijva border in Iran which is half an hours drive from Mashad. The Pakistani border town is called Taftan and has facilities of immigration, customs, hotels etc.
In the past, getting around was a very hectic task, but nowadays it's very easy because of the advent of motorways and many private airlines.
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 verification their, and bringing that 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, and is usually advised against, because of highway robbery, known locally as 'dacoitry'. With that exception, however, 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 these 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 engine, constantly emitting a stuttering noise and foul blue-black smoke. Blue-and-yellow auto rickshaws take passengers, other colours tend to be privately owned. The inexperienced traveller should negotiate prices before entering the rickshaw.
Rickshaws are banned in the capital Islamabad.
Pakistan's official language is English and many people in big cities can speak it. 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, Sindhi, Pashto, Balochi, Saraiki, Shina, Burushaski, Khowar, Wakhi, Hindko etc.
English is the official language and is used in all government, educational and business entities, and is also understood and spoken at varying levels of competence by many people around Pakistan, especially by the upper classes and people who have gone through higher levels of education.
Here are some basic Urdu phrases. If you can speak those, it will delight everyone you meet:
Pakistan is excellent for buying carpets, pashminas (woolen scarves), and carved wood, including furniture and various handicrafts. You have to beware of fake shops selling counterfeit products. This can usually be avoided by not buying from roadside dealers, small shops etc. Many modern shopping centers have sprung up, mainly in Karachi, acommodating shops like Khaadi, Hang Ten, etc., and eateries like Pizza Hut, Indulge Cafe, etc. The shops might be a bit expensive but the quality is worth it. In general, be sure to visit Zainab Market, Sunday Bazaar, for best deals and a taste of Pakistan's rich antiquity past. Peshawar's Old City is as rich in ambience and arabian-nights-bazaar feeling as in cheap brassware, jewellery, handicrafts and semi-precious stones, and stand in stark contrast to Islamabad's square shopping centres with modern manufacture and old crafts, notably Supermarket and Jinnah market. Almost everything is commercially available in Pakistan. To purchase alcohol, you need to have a license or prove that you are a foreigner. Cigarettes are available everywhere.
Pakistani food mainly consists of various kinds of kabobs eaten with either flatbread or rice. Food tends to be either mild or very spicy depending on where you are. So state your preference before beginning to eat. In general, most of the same food you can find in the highest quality restaurants/hotels there is available commonly in the markets (but European-style food is generally reserved for the former).
As you might have noticed, Nan is usually used to pick up liquid and soft foods like shorba and beans. Utensils are not commonly used during meals in Pakistan except to serve dishes (unless someone is eating rice and would like to be polite or is unpracticed eating it by hand). Attempting to cut a naan with a knife and drink shorba with a spoon may elicit some amusement around you. Watching others may help.
There are too many shorbas, or sauces, to enumerate. However, you should know of the most common ones.
Tap water is not fit for drinking unless you have lived there and drunk it for a long time, and even then you run a considerable risk of incurring amoeba or other afflictions, against which being accustomed is no help. The taste of the water is said to be very good in the north-eastern side of Pakistan, especially in the district of Sialkot. Ask for bottled water wherever possible, and avoid anything cold that might have water in it. In Karachi and Lahore, you will find that bottled water is available everywhere.
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 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.
Hotels or mahmankhane (مہمان خانہ) are usually found around busy transportation hubs like bus stations. Don't be fooled by an impressive lobby. See the room, check the beds, the toilets, the lights, the windows, etc.
If you have a big enough wallet you may want to try the reputable luxury hotels such as the Pearl Continental Hotels, Holiday Inn Hotels and many five star hotels located in all major cities as well as many tourist destinations. With the exception of these upper-end hotels, the term "hotel" in Pakistan is reserved for simpler establishments, with "guest house" referring to medium-sized establishments where the standard is typically higher.
Learn various dances. Taking some traditional cooking classes can also be very helpful later.
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.
While Pakistan is a fairly stable and welcoming country you should always seek advice about off-limits areas before coming.
Avoid at all costs anything even slightly resembling a protest, as these can become violent very quickly, as demonstrated by the Muhammad cartoon riots in Lahore and elsewhere, and Western interests and individuals are occasionally targeted.
Stay away from tribal areas and the sensitive Afghan border regions as the Pakistan goverment has little to no authority in these areas and cannot aid you in an emergency. If traveling in the south of the country seek advice from tourist offices and embassies about which areas are safe and not... travel to large portions of the southern states is not advisable or requires an armed escort.
Aside from the off-limit areas, keep your wits about you, avoid unecessary travel after dark, remain friendly, leave your preconceptions at the door and expect to meet some of the friendliest people on Earth.
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 mat be even harder to avoid. Fresh milk from the carrier should be boiled and cooled before consumption. Non-pasteurized dairy can spread tuberculosis. Nestle Milk Pak, Haleeb Milk, and others are trusted brands and are available at most grocery stores.
Take precautions against malaria, which is spread by mosquitoes. The first and most effective way is to avoid getting bitten, but if you plan to stay in a place where malaria is common, you may need to eat prophylactic medicine as well. The risk of getting Malaria decreases with higher altitudes.
In the summer it gets very hot. Be careful to stay hydrated.
Do not eat food that has been lying out for some time, as high temperatures speed up deterioration. Avoid posh but unfrequented restaurants.
Some Pakistani dishes can be very spicy! Always notify your host, cook or waiter if you can not take very spicy food.
Tuberculosis is common in some regions. Be careful of the people with a hacking cough.
Pakistanis pride themselves on their tradition of hospitality to guests (mehmanawazi in Urdu, milmastia in Pashtu). Just a greeting of Salam Alaykum will get you far in endearing yourself to people. If you are travelling outside the big cities like Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad it is advisable to learn some basic Urdu or a regional language.
Do not make silly jokes about religion, women, sex, or alcohol. You will cause offence and it is something you're really ill advised to do.
Just respect and observe. Pakistan is a conservative country and it is advisable for women to wear long skirts or pants in public (Pakistani women wear the traditional shalwar kameez). Dress codes for men are more lax although they should refrain from wearing shorts in public. As well, showing someone the sole of your feet or shoe is considered an insult, and can lead to you being considered disrespectful.
PTCL (Pakistan Telecommunication Ltd.)  was a government-run phone company providing communincatons services such as land-line phones, mobile phones, Internet, and VoIP services. Now the company is privatized and is run by UAE's Phone company etisalat. Major providers of mobile phone service (GSM) are: