From ancient cities to jaw-dropping mountain scenery, fertile valleys to bustling bazaars, Pakistan encapsulates diversity. It is a land enhanced by friendly, welcoming people, rich culinary and musical traditions, different ethnic groups, varied wildlife, sport and a wealth of architectural glories. Opportunity for adventure is as high as its mighty mountain ranges, with watersports, mountaineering and trekking all popular and rewarding activities.
Coupled with this is a profound sense of cultural concoction, Pakistan having once been home to several ancient civilisations, and witness to the rise and fall of dynasties. The ancient trade route of the Khyber Pass, the romantically named Grand Trunk Road, the awesome Karakoram Highway and the Kalasha Valley all conjure up notions of a Kipling-style adventure in many people’s minds. All lie in Pakistan, and all remain accessible to the more adventurous tourist.
Each city in Pakistan has a distinct flavour, identity and history. The capital, Islamabad, is home to top universities, unexpected hiking trails of Margalla Hills National Park and is twinned with neighbouring city Rawalpindi, which is interesting too, but far less orderly. Pakistan is sprinkled with glorious shrines and mosques throughout, many of which lie in Lahore – Pakistan’s cultural capital.
The old city is a maze of bazaars, home to the UNESCO-listed Badshahi Mosque, Kim’s Gun, one of South Asia’s most important museums, the Central Museum, Shalimar Gardens and the Shrine of Shah Jamal. Karachi, former capital and the economic powerhouse of the country, is a mega-city in every sense of the word, cramming 15 million or so into its boundaries. Meanwhile, Peshawar, in the North-West Frontier Province, remains a frontier town, sometimes dangerous and always intriguing. There are many less visited cities, from Multan, famous for its blue pottery to Faisalabad in the Punjab.
In the great outdoors there is plenty of scope for trekking well off the beaten track. With the awesome Nanga Parbat massif as a backdrop, meadows and mountain passes await trekkers. The fact that explorers are likely to have such sights more or less to themselves is another boon for many; gone are the well-marked routes and tea houses of India and Nepal, here lies real adventure.
The North-West Frontier Province (also now known as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) and Gilgit-Baltistan are home to some of the world’s major mountain ranges including the Himalaya, Karakoram, and Hindu Kush. Pakistan is home to 108 peaks that climb higher than 7,000m (23,000ft), with the highest point, K2, at 8,611m (28,251ft), the second highest peak in the world. From the fabled Karakoram Highway and it's valleys trekkers can continue to the Chinese border at the 4,700m (15,400 ft) Khunjerab Pass or branch off either to explore the magnificent valleys of Chitral or the wilderness of Balstistan. Located on the Arabian sea, Pakistan is also home to some attractive beaches located between Karachi and Gwadar.
Food lovers will enjoy exploring Pakistan’s cuisine which is varied but tends to be milder than Indian dishes and certainly more meaty. Contrary to what many think, it was Pakistan, not India, who introduced tandoori chicken to the gourmet scene. Tikka kebabs and shami kebabs (meat rissole) are both very popular.