Why is Pakistan a Top Destination for Backpacking and Adventure Travel?
Immediately after reading a news suggesting that the country has recently been rated as a top destination by the British Backpacker Society, I pulled out a video by Globe Trotter on Pakistan, which has been in my possession for sometimes now.
As I watched the video, I remembered that it had Neil Gibson travel through Pakistan as an educating and an entertaining experience. He makes you part of his own entourage as he lands in Karachi, flies to Lahore, where he participates in a practicing session of a local version of wrestling.
Then he travels to Khyber Pass in Northwestern Pakistan, a historical landmark of the country, and finally reaches Northern Pakistan. Here, first he lets you have a very personal experience of a Shia' Muslim mourning on the 10th of the Muslim month of Moharram and then participates in a local version of the game of Polo.
Finally, he treks to the top of one of the peaks and culminates his trip to Pakistan with a glimpse of rugged beauty of the Karakorum mountain range. The DVD is more informative than just the documentary. It has great information about Pakistani cuisine, religious and cultural events, languages, holidays, etc.
According to the ranking, there are the twenty best countries in the world for backpacking, and Pakistan has taken the top spot on the basis of its breathtaking scenic beauty, fabulous food, and probably the world’s greatest “road trip”.
Only country where 3 greatest mountain ranges meet
The country boasts of 3 greatest mountain ranges of the world - Himalaya, Karakorums and the Hindu Kush. Three of the tallest ten and ten of the tallest twenty-five peaks of the world are located in this country, including the 2nd tallest K2.
If you want to see these mountains then travel to the Central Karakoram National Park in the Gilgit-Balitstan region of Pakistan.
There are two good books written by western writers on their adventures in these mountain ranges that I have read and liked a lot.
‘K2: Life and Death on the World's Most Dangerous Mountain’ by world renowned mountaineer Ed Viesturs is one of them. Although the main focus is on scaling the second highest, but more dangerous mountain, it gives an overall feel for the Himalayas and Karakorums.
In ‘Following Marco Polo's Silk Road’, Brian Lawrenson and his wife passed through the Karakorum Highway during 2002. Bobby Underwood, a book reviewer, wrote, “It was fascinating to discover great beauty in places like Pakistan, which is not the first image which comes to the mind of a westerner.”
Only country having 3 zoogeographical realms
Pakistan is the only country in the world with a transitional zone of three zoogeographic realms - the Palaearctic, the Oriental (or Indomalayan) and the Afrotropical (formerly Ethiopian). Out of all the other countries, Mexico has two realms.
These three realms and rapid changes in altitude affect vegetation and wildlife. Because of these zoogeographies, Pakistan has some of the world ’s rarest animals and plants.
In addition to the more recognized wildlife species like snow leopard, common leopard, markhor (national mammal), chukar partridge (national bird), chinkara gazelle, black buck, Houbara bustard, Sindh Ibex, Punjab Urial, etc., there are several species of fauna and flora that are endemic to Pakistan.
Mammals found only in Pakistan include the Indus River Dolphin, and the Pale Gray Shrew. The Baluchistan Pygmy Jerboa represents an endemic genus. The Woolly Flying Squirrel survives only in Pakistan. The Punjab Urial is sometimes considered a full species, while the Chiltan Wild Goat is an endemic subspecies.
Besides several reptiles, amphibians, fish, insects, scorpions, spiders, a freshwater crab, and clams are unique to Pakistan.
There are about 200 vascular plant species exclusive to Pakistan. Among them, Saussurea lappa, locally known as kut, is endemic to the alpine regions and is considered an endangered species.
Where the 3 cultures meet
Pakistan is a multicultural, multiethnic and multilingual country. It is located at the confluence of 3 great cultures - South Asian, Central Asian, and the Middle Eastern. The last one reflects both Arab and Persian cultures.
The confluence of 3 cultures is best reflected in its national language or the ligua franca – Urdu - an Indo-Iranian language formed gradually as trading caravans from all these regions mingled somewhere on the lands of Asian sub-continent some 300-500 years ago. However, the official number of regional languages actively spoken in Pakistan is 73 - 76.
Pakistani truck art, shown below, is now being internationally recognized. However, its handicraft includes a diversified range of styles, materials and aesthetics.
There are over 15 major ethnic groups in Pakistan. The cuisine itself is a mix of delicious foods from Indian heartland, Persia, and central Asia, but having a distinct flavour of its own.
Not to be forgotten is Chai (now known as Chai-Tea in the west). Pakistanis love Chai and prepare it in many different styles.
Delicious Chapli Kababs, shown below, are from the northwestern province of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa. Many varieties of Kababs show connection with Central Asia with flavour that is endemic to Pakistan.
And last but not the least – weddings. A single wedding will introduce one to hospitality, multitude of colours, beautifully embroidered flowing fabrics in silks and chiffon, delicious food and beverages, plethora of music and dance, etc.
Where archaeological remains send you to a distant past of 3 ancient civilizations
The Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report of World Economic Forum in 2009 tagged Pakistan as one of the top 25 tourist destinations for its World Heritage sites, which ranges from mangroves to the 5,000-year-old cities of the Indus Valley Civilization, including Mohenjodaro and Harappa.
Pakistan was home of 3 great ancient prehistoric civilizations - Mehrgarh, one of the most important Neolithic civilization (7000 BC to c. 2500 BC), the Indus Valley Civilization that flourished between 5000 BC to 1500 BC, and Greco-Buddhist or Gandhara Civilization (500 BC to 600AD).
The most well known of the three, the Indus Valley Civilization that flourished along the Indus River and its several tributaries in areas now comprising northwestern India, northeastern Afghanistan, and almost all of Pakistan.
In the words of Sir Mortimer Wheeler, famed British Archaeologist, "No part of the world is richer in vestiges of a varied past than Pakistan."
Where 3 faiths contribute to international religious tourism
There has been a significant increase in number of tourists from Japan, China, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong and even from Myanmar in recent years. Reason is followers of the Buddhism, Hinduism, and Sikkism visit Pakistan for religious reasons.
Once known as the heart of the Gandhara civilization, Takhtbai or Takht-i-Bhai (throne of origins) is the most visited site by the Buddhists, who flock to see the ancient monastery dated back to the 1st century.
Pilgrimage sites for Sikhs include the birthplace of Baba Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikh religion who was born in 1469 in Nankana Saheb district, and Gurdwara (monastery) Punja sahib in Hasan Abdal town, where the handprint of Guru Nanak is believed to be imprinted on a boulder at the monastery.
Hindus, Pakistan’s second largest minority after Christians, equally revere the water of a lake in the Katas Raj temple as they believe the lake was filled with the tears of Shiva, one of the principal deities of Hinduism.
Where 3 historical buildings designed in 3 architectural styles are on display
One will find historical buildings built by the three distinct regimes that have ruled over Pakistan.
Mughal Empire gave the country forts, mosques, gardens, and other historical structures.
British Raj gave the country public buildings, infrastructure still in use today, churches, university buildings, and gardens built in Greco-Roman style.
Completed in 1865, Frere Hall, below, was originally intended to serve as Karachi's town hall, and now serves as an exhibition space and library. It is considered one of Karachi's most iconic buildings.
Local population added tombs of local saints, temples, mosques, and gurdwaras to its historical and architectural heritage.
Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartapur below is about 100-km from Lahore.
3 Local Sports That Are Reaching out Globally
Pakistanis love sports and have been world champions in squash (still existing record winning streak), cricket, snooker, and field hockey (most cups).
However, for tourists, it is the 3 local sports that draw huge crowds – Kabaddi, tent pegging, and polo.
Kabaddi has become an international sport and is now a fixture at Asian Games.
Tent pegging is a cavalry sport of ancient origin, and is one of only ten equestrian disciplines officially recognised by the International Equestrian Federation. Today, tent pegging is practised around the world, but is especially popular in Australia, India, Israel, Oman, Pakistan, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.
The local version of polo is already attracting foreign tourists. Shandur Polo Festival invites visitors to experience a traditional polo tournament which is held among teams from Chitral and Gilgit every year since 1936. The tournament is held on Shandur Top, the highest polo ground in the world at 3,700 meters (the pass itself is at 3,800 meters).
Where 3 genres of local music attract listeners
Pakistanis have a strong connection with music. The local music can be divided into 3 genres. Qawwali, mystic music has its roots in religious ceremonies performed by local Hindus and Muslims at the respective religious festivals, mostly at temples and mosques. The world renowned Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan belonged to this genre.
Ghazal and poems are higher lyrical form sung by more refined singers accompanied by classical string, keyboards, and rhythm instrument players. This form is more popular in the urban centres of the country and has contributed the most to the music of Indian and Pakistani films.
Folk music, or country music as it is called elsewhere, is the genre of the real heartland. It is played at local festivals and gatherings and is immensely popular with general population.
In the video below, the Candian Qawwali Group, Fana FiAllah, sings a poem by the National Poet of Pakistan, Sir Allama Mohammad Iqbal, in Qawwali form.
I am not sure if through this article I have been able to prove that Pakistan is indeed one of the best destinations to travel through. I have convinced myself though. So I am going and for a good company, I am taking my long time hiking partner, my furry friend - K2, the Great White - along. I am sure that the two of us are going to have a great time there.