Regions and Cities


KARACHI : Pakistan’s former capital and its largest city, Karachi is situated on the shores of the Arabian Sea near the mouth of the Indus. The capital of Sindh Province, it is now a modern industrial city and Pakistan’s major port. Though not strictly a tourist centre, there are a number of attractions, such as the fish wharf where brightly-coloured boats bring in seafood, one of the country’s major foreign exchange earners. There are hundreds of lively street restaurants, tea houses, samosa and juice stalls. Boats can be hired to sail out of the harbour. There are architectural reminders of the former British Imperial presence, especially in the clubs. The most magnificent building, however, is the Quaid-e-Azam’s Mazar, the mausoleum of the founder of Pakistan, made entirely of white marble with impressive north African arches and magnificent Chinese crystal chandeliers. The changing of the guard, which takes place three times a day, is the best time to visit. Other places to visit are the National Museum, parks, the zoo and a beach at Clifton.

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SINDH : A region known for the remarkable quality of its light, Sindh has two main places of interest: Mohenjodaro, a settlement dating back 5000 years, and Thatta, notable for its mausoleums and mosques. There are sporting facilities on Lake Haleji.

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The Karakorum Highway

THE KARAKORUM HIGHWAY : In the 1960 and 1970s the Pakistan and Chinese authorities jointly built an asphalt road between Rawalpindi and Islamabad (Pakistan) and Kashgar (Xinjiang province in China). This unique highway follows the ancient silk road (see China section) over a breathtaking knot of mountain ranges that incorporates the Karakorum, Pamir, Kunlun, Hindukush, and Himalaya mountains. The trail runs along the Indus River and to the beautiful Gilgit and Hunza valleys. Today the highway is popular with tourists wishing to cycle or trek its length but is still used by hajis (Muslims making a pilgrimage to Mecca). The main attractions of the route are undoubtedly its challenging geography, unusual yet spectacular scenery and hospitable local ethnic groups. The best time to travel here is between September and October, and due to its demanding altitude and difficult terrain it should be undertaken with an organised tour group or travel agent.

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ISLAMABAD : Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan since 1963, and Rawalpindi are both located on the Pothowar Plain. The decision to build a new capital city in this area transformed the sleepy town of Rawalpindi into a busy counterpart to Islamabad. Rawalpindi now houses many of the civil servants working in the government district. The old part of the town boasts fine examples of local architecture and bazaars crammed into the narrow streets where craftsmen still use traditional methods.

As a planned capital, Islamabad lacks some of the regional flair of other cities, but it houses an interesting variety of modern buildings in the part designated for government offices. The city itself has an air of spaciousness, with parks, gardens and fountains below the silhouette of the Margalla Hills. In the midst of these lies Daman-e-Koh, a terraced garden with an excellent view over the city. Also in Islamabad is the Shah Faisal Masjid (mosque) which can accommodate 100,000 worshippers. The majestic white building comprises four 88m (288ft) minarets and a desert tent-like structure, which is the main prayer chamber.

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The Punjab

THE PUNJAB : Lahore is an historic, bustling city with buildings of pink and white marble. There is plenty to see: bazaars, the Badshahi Mosque (one of the largest mosques in the world, and an example of Moghul architecture rivalled only by the Taj Mahal), the beautiful Shalimar Gardens, the National Museum of Archaeology and the Gate of Chauburji. Near Taxila are two interesting excavated sites, Sirkap and Jaulian, dating back to the Buddhist Gandhara period. Other towns in the Punjab include Faisalabad (formerly Lyallpur), Attock, Harappa, Multan and Bahawalpur.

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North West Frontier Province

NORTH WEST FRONTIER PROVINCE : The capital of the North West Frontier Province, Peshawar, is surrounded by high walls with 20 entry gates. This is the area of the Pashtuns, or Pathans, as they have come to be known in more recent times. The lawns and parks reflect the former colonial days. Much of the surrounding area is still under the jurisdiction of tribal law. These areas can only be visited with a permit from the relevant authorities. Many of the tribesmen carry firearms, the normal adornment for a Pathan warrior. In the land of the Afridis is the Khyber Pass, the 1067m-high (3501ft) break in the sheer rock wall separating Pakistan and Afghanistan. North of Peshawar, in the Hindu Kush Mountains, is the wild and beautiful area of Chitral, inhabited by the Kalash people, last of the non-Islamic tribes of Kafiristan. This valley is noted for its hot springs and trout-filled rivers. East of Chitral is the beautiful Swat Valley. This is an area (average height 975m) of wild mountains and fantastic alpine scenery. It was, in ancient times, the home of the famous Gandhara school of sculpture, a manifestation of Greek-influenced Buddhist forms. The ruins of great Buddhist stupas, monasteries and statues are found all over Swat. It is now the home to the Swat Pathans and also boasts popular mountain retreats such as Mingora, Kalam, Miandam and Behrain, with Saidu Sharif its principle town.

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KASHMAR : Some of the highest mountains in the world can be found in this province, such as the famous Nanga Parbat and the second highest mountain in the world, K2, also known as Mount Godwin-Austen. The Baltoro Glacier and the Batura Glacier are the largest outside the polar regions. The settlements of Gilgit and Skardu are well-known stop-offs on the mountaineering trail.