Currency: Rupees (Rs.)
I have just returned from 2 weeks in Pakistan – I have a lot of family in Pakistan and so I’ve had the opportunity to visit this country many times in my life (sometimes staying for as long as 5 weeks when I was younger!)
It’s safe to say that I know the place fairly well, but what do you think when you think of Pakistan? Unfortunately, many issues have caused Pakistan to be painted in a very poor light by the media and this means that it is probably not on many people’s travel bucket lists. Just look at Egypt; it may be the case that one day it will be considered unwise to visit this country and yet it is home to some of the most spectacular scenery, history, architecture and culture in the world.
In my experience, Pakistan is as safe as anywhere else. My aim with this post is to shed some positive light on what Pakistan has to offer and whether you make a decision to go there or not, I hope you will at least walk away with a better image of the country as a whole.
Karachi is a major city which lies in the south of Pakistan. This is the place I have always visited, because that’s where the majority of my close family live.
Things to do:
- Historical attractions
Pakistan is quite a young country – it was formed in 1947 following the partition from India and its independence from British rule. The struggle for independence was led by Mohammed Ali Jinnah aka Quaid-e-Azam (translation: Great Leader) and as a result, his legacy is commemorated across the land. In Karachi (the place of his birth), there are many museums and buildings dedicated to his life, but the most striking landmark is Quaid-e-Azam’s tomb (or ‘mazar’, as it is in Urdu).
Mohatta Palace is another must-see landmark in Karachi. It was built in 1927 by a Hindu businessman who wanted to recreate the Anglo-Mughal style of Rajasthan for his summer home.
After independence, the palace was passed to Fatima Jinnah (Quaid-e-Azam’s sister) where she lived until her death. It was reopened in 1999 as a museum and when I visited it during this trip, it was hosting exhibitions on cartography and textiles. The grounds themselves are a lovely place to walk and take photographs and if you go to the back of the property, you will find a collection of statues from the British Raj, including one of Queen Victoria.
Frere Hall is another one of Karachi’s top tourist attractions. This beautiful building is an example of colonial architecture and was built in approximately 1865 in memory of Sir Henry Frere, a colonial administrator of the Raj. Inside you can find the calligraphic paintings of the famous Pakistani artist Sadequain.
- Seaside activities
Karachi is a coastal city and as a result, there are plenty of things to do by the sea. On this trip, we decided to hire a boat manned by Captain Salim and his crew to go crabbing on the Arabian sea. We didn’t end up catching any crabs but the crew had some pre-caught and cooked up a feast of fresh seafood for us to enjoy, as we bobbed under the light of the full moon.
Karachi is also home to lots of beaches – closest to the centre is probably Clifton beach but if you’re looking to avoid the crowds, you may prefer to travel further out to French Beach or Hawkes Bay, where you can hire your own beach house and enjoy a little privacy.
If you’re more interested in enjoying the sea breeze, you may like to head over to Port Grand. This lively place runs along the waterfront and has loads of different stalls, restaurants, shops and activities to offer.
There are so many places to shop in Karachi that I will have to try and keep this section brief. There are loads of really nice shopping malls full of high street to designer clothes (both Pakistani and Western), shoes, furniture and jewellery, but my favourite has to be Dolmen Mall. It’s comfortable, has a great range of stores and it also has lots of nice places to eat. If you’re looking to buy some Pakistani outfits to take home with you, I would suggest checking out Khaadi and Generation.
For markets, the classic has to be Zainab Market. Here, you are free to haggle with the vendors and will be able to find more reasonably priced souvenirs, gifts, bangles, clothes and shoes.
Finally, if you want to buy some authentic Pakistani footwear, you need to head to Uzma Plaza. Here you will find beautiful khussa shoes and kholapuri sandals, some of which have been hand painted with truck art designs. I have been buying my ‘khussay’ here for as long as I can remember and not only are the designs lovely, but the shoes will last you for years.
Things to eat:
Whether you’re craving street food or fine dining, Karachi has a multitude of different restaurants to choose from.
If you’re looking for Pakistani cuisine, I would recommend the following:
- Bundu Khan for the puri, seekh kebab and chicken tikka;
- Bar-B-Q Tonite for the behari kebab; and
- Kolachi for the butter chicken and barbecue.
All three of these restaurants have very different atmospheres – Kolachi is the fanciest option and has an incredible location overhanging the sea, but if you want to try really amazing food and don’t mind stray cats/questionable hygiene, definitely head over to Bundu Khan’s. Bar-B-Q Tonite is a happy medium 🙂
For more European style cuisine, try the following:
- Pompei for the steak;
- Café Aylanto for the spiced lamb chops; and
- Cosmopolitan for the mint lemonade and steak nachos.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, just a few of the places I have tried recently and enjoyed!
- Pakistan is a Muslim country, so make sure that you are dressed conservatively in public to avoid being stared at or offending anyone.
- Speaking of staring, everyone is going to stare at you, especially if you are a foreigner. In my experience, it’ll be both men and women and I’m not exactly sure what they’re staring at, but they don’t seem to consider it rude!
- As with many places in the world, it’s probably not a great idea to flash your valuables or mobile phone when in public or while using transport. Unfortunately, tourists will be more of a target so stay vigilant and travel in groups.
- If you are not comfortable using public transport, you could opt to get on a tour such as this one or this one (which I’ve heard is excellent). This can be a much easier way of navigating such a busy city.
- July-August is the monsoon season so this time is probably best avoided. I would also suggest avoiding a visit during Eid-ul-Adha.
- Make sure you visit your travel nurse beforehand – you will need to ensure that you have up-to-date injections, anti-malarial medication and that you are clued up on what not to eat/drink!
Hotel – Marriott
Transport – PIA
Before this trip, the only place I had visited in Pakistan was Karachi. I had assumed that everywhere in Pakistan would look like Karachi but upon arrival in Islamabad, I realised that I couldn’t have been more wrong.
As the capital of Pakistan, it is clear that a lot of money and development have been invested in Islamabad. This was evident from the high levels of security, the cleanliness, the architecture, the pristine roads and the infrastructure.
We were only in Islamabad for one day, but the places I would recommend visiting are:
- Lake View Park
This park is the perfect place for picnics, admiring the local scenery and boating on Rawal Lake. The weather in Islamabad is cooler and less humid than it is in Karachi, so being outside for long periods of time isn’t a problem. There are lots of different activities taking place in this area and you can also go and check out the huge bird park!
- Faisal Mosque
This is the largest mosque in Pakistan and was built in 1986 by a Turkish architect who based the structure on an Arab Bedouin’s tent. This mosque is undoubtedly one of the most iconic symbols of Islamabad and despite being a religious place, it is open to visitors.
Please note that you will need to remove your shoes and store them for a fee if you want to take a look inside – women will also need to cover their heads. If you want to look around properly, prayer times and Fridays are best avoided as these times will be extremely busy.
- Daman-e-Koh and Monal
Islamabad is overshadowed by the towering and impressive Margalla Hills. As a result of this, the best way to see the city is to climb (or drive) up these hills and enjoy the views.
Daman-e-Koh is a viewing point halfway up the hill, which has been developed into gardens looking out onto panoramic views of Islamabad.
If you continue to drive to the top, you will find yourself at a restaurant called Monal. The food here is nice, but the main draw is the fact that this restaurant is situated at the highest point in Islamabad, which means that at sunset you are offered unparalleled views of the city. This place is well worth a spot in your Islamabad itinerary.
Hotel – Pearl Continental, Bhurban
Travel – Shuttle bus from Benazir Bhutto airport
We only had 1.5 days in Murree by the time we arrived, which meant that the original plan to travel to Nathia Gali was sadly impossible. The grounds of PC Bhurban have hiking trails to explore and the hotel itself is so vast and full of entertainment that you’d never be bored.
The next morning, we decided to head to Patriata (aka New Murree) and ride their famous chairlift. If I’m honest, I was slightly apprehensive at the sight of this chairlift because the health and safety looked questionable at best. I had read some reviews online which said that people were being shoved onto the chairlifts by rude staff – this simply isn’t true, but you do need to bear in mind that the chairlifts don’t stop to allow you to get on (unless you’re an elderly person). You basically have to stand with your back to the oncoming chair; it hits the back of your legs and that’s your cue to sit and pull the safety barrier down.
The journey is 4km and when you reach one viewing point, you have the option of getting a cable car to the next point. I would definitely suggest taking the cable car as well because it’s included in the same ticket price and the shops, food and views you get from the ultimate viewing point are much better. I would allow 2-3 hours in total for this experience and as you’ll see from my photos below, once you’re sailing through the trees and clouds, it’s 100% worth the fear.
I had a brilliant time in Murree and really wish that I could have explored more of this region. To get more of an idea of what Northern Pakistan has in store for its guests, check out this album I found on Facebook! It really does show the natural beauty this little visited part of the world has to offer and I hope that some of you reading may now be convinced that Pakistan is just as worthy of a visit as any other major holiday destination.
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Thanks for reading,
~ Plane Emoji
[Disclaimer: while Pakistan is a beautiful country and a wonderful travel destination, as with many developing countries, no visit is without risk. Make sure that you properly research safety measures before you travel and visit the Foreign Office (or equivalent) website.]