Getting around Pakistan
Most domestic services are operated by Pakistan International Airlines (PK) (www.piac.com.pk). Other airlines are Aero Asia (www.aeroasia.com) and Bhoja Air (www.bhojaair.com.pk). There are many daily flights between Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, Multan, Peshawar, Sukkur, Faisalabad and Quetta. Air transport is the quickest and most efficient means of travel.
Shaheen International (www.shaheenair.com) offers domestic flights to Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Peshawar, Sialkot. Pakistan’s low-cost carrier Air Blue has some good fares for domestic flights, on Airbus A320 and A321 aircrafts. Trekkers who are keen to spend as long as possible in the mountains may like to consider flying between Islamabad to Gilgit, thus avoiding Peshawar and any unrest that may be there, and saving a very long journey. There are two flights a day between Islamabad and Gilgit with PIA – these flights will only depart in good, clear weather.
While travellers might note the presence of car hire facilities in Pakistan’s major cities, it is not advisable to hire a car and to drive around Pakistan. The roads can be chaotic and dangerous. If security or itinerary demands a private car, hiring a car with a driver is the only sensible option. By hiring a private driver you will also be afforded a greater degree of flexibility.
Outside of the cities drivers will face hazards other than crowded roads – i.e animals, mountain passes and extreme weather. Jeeps and Land Cruisers can be rented from the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) in Gilgit, Rawalpindi and the Kaghan Valley.
The highway network between cities is poorly maintained and caution should be taken when driving at night as roads are badly lit. It is advised that tourists to Pakistan travel with local drivers or guides. When driving it is advised to keep doors and windows locked at all times.
Lahore to Islamabad (M-2) is on a six lane freeway, as is Peshawar to Islamabad (M-1). Hyderabad to Karachi is currently four lane but is being upgraded (M-9). The Lahore Ring Road is also a six lane motorway, but is incomplete, with several kilometres under construction. All other major motorways are four lanes.
Available in major cities, as well as at Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi airports. Most hotels can book cars for guests.
24-hour radio taxi firms exist in most of the country’s large cities. By international standards the fares are very cheap.
The Karakoram Highway, from Islamabad to Kashgar in China, is a popular and demanding bike journey for the fit and adventurous. While cycling is not recommended in and around the cities, further afield in areas such as the Potwar Plateau, between Islamabad and Peshawar, is safer.
Sammi Daewoo Express (www.sammi.com.pk) is the most popular inter-city bus company.
Renting a car will require a deposit or an imprint of a credit card. A passport will be required also.
Extensive bus and minibus services operate in Lahore, Karachi and other towns, although services can be crowded. Taxis are reasonably priced and widely available; they are by far the most efficient means of urban travel. Note that they may not operate after sunset during Ramadan. Auto-rickshaws are also available, but they will rarely put the meter or have the correct change.
Pakistan Railways (tel: (42) 920 1642; www.pakrail.com) operates the extensive rail network, much of which is a legacy of British rule. The main line, from Karachi to Lahore, Rawalpindi and Peshawar, has several daytime and overnight trains. Most other routes have several daily trains. Even first-class compartments can be hot and crowded. Travel in air-conditioned coaches is advised, as are reservations on long-distance journeys and overnight service.
Children under three years of age travel free. Children aged three to 11 years pay half fare. Concessions are available for tourists (on presentation of a certificate issued by the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation), excluding Indian nationals travelling by rail. A discount of 25% is offered to individuals and groups, and 50% for students. Details are available from railway offices in Pakistan.
Karachi to Lahore is approximately 20 hours; to Rawalpindi is 28 hours and to Peshawar is 32 hours; Lahore to Rawalpindi is 5 hours. Trains can be a good way to travel along Pakistan’s vast distances, but they get very booked up and busy. This can be a particular problem for travellers boarding at intermediate points. Long-haul trains are often subject to delay. Always secure luggage to racks with locks and chains, if over-nighting on the train, it is wise to wear an underclothes money-belt to keep valuables safe. There can sometimes be incidents, nationalist militants planted bombs on the rail network in Balochistan and Sind. There have also been a number of derailments.