Getting around Pakistan
The roads in Pakistan can be chaotic and dangerous, particularly outside the major cities where drivers face hazards such as animals, mountain passes and extreme weather.
While travellers might note the presence of car hire facilities in Pakistan’s major cities, it is not advisable for foreigners to rent a car in Pakistan. Hiring a car with a driver is a much more sensible option.
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.
Car hire is available in all major cities, and most major airports, but driving in Pakistan can be a dangerous enterprise. A safer and less stressful option would be to hire a car and driver, which can be done through companies such as Rent A Car Pakistan (tel: (92) 21 3497 1418; www.rentacarservice.pk).
24-hour radio taxi firms exist in most of the country’s large cities. By international standards the fares are very cheap. The taxis are black and yellow or just yellow, make sure you are on a meter or at least agree a price beforehand.
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, cycling is much safer.
Daewoo Express (www.daewoo.com.pk) is the most popular inter-city bus company in Pakistan. It operates an advanced transport network, calling at most major towns and cities in the country.
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 and auto rickshaws are widely available. Note that they may not operate after sunset during Ramadan.
Pakistan Railways (tel: (42) 920 1642) 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.
Trains are of these classes: air-con sleeper, first-class sleeper, air-con lower class (both seat and sleeper versions), parlour car, economy seat class, second-class-seat and second-class sleeper.
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-night on the train, it is wise to wear an underclothes money-belt to keep valuables safe. There can sometimes be incidents on the rail network in Baluchistan and Sind. There have also been a number of derailments.