Travel guide to Pakistan

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Pakistan is known as a country of Muslim fundamentalism and violence, but there is much more than this exaggerated media myth to the country. It possesses amazing scenery, and has incredibly friendly and hospitable inhabitants who gladly invite travellers into their homes.

Facts

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Local name
Islamic Republic of Pakistan
Capital
Islamabad (525,000) (1998)
Size
796,095 sq km
Principal Languages
Urdu, but English, Punjabi and Sindhi are also widespread.
Principal Religion
Islam
Inhabitants
130,000,000 (1998)
Government
Federal Republic
Geography
One and a half time as large as France, Pakistan borders up to India, Afghanistan and China, with the Himalayas, some of the world's highest mountains, located in northern Pakistan. Most of the country enjoys a dry continental climate, where the monsoon, in July-October, supplies the necessary rain. It is only the border of the monsoon, though, that brushes the country, and so the rainfall is much less heavy than in India.

Travel preparation

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Best time to visit

The best time to go depends on which region you want to visit. Sind, Baluchistan, Punjab and the southern part of the North-West Frontier Province are best from November to mid-April. The northern part of Pakistan, Azad Jammu and Kashmir are at their best from May to October, although storms can occur because of the very cold and snowy winters.

Literature

Lonely Planet Pakistan Footprint Pakistan Handbook

Local conditions

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Currency

Pakistani rupee (RP)

Net cafes

After the Pakistani telephone network has been extended, Internet connection has been easier, but is still unstable. The primary places to find it is still in large hotels and in business centres. Actual Internet cafes are still lacking.

In case of emergency

To call for help in Pakistan, dial the following number: Police (15)

Tipping

Luxury hotels add 10-15 per cent on the bill themselves, but 5 per cent on top of that is appreciated if the service has been good. Big city taxi drivers expect 10 per cent in tips. You shouldn't be surprised if tips aren't accepted in some rural areas, where the Islamic hospitality still flourishes. "Baksheesh" (alms) are common in Pakistan and shouldn't be confused with tipping. It is a part of the Islamic character to believe that those who have more give a little amount to those who have less, for different services in both the public and the private sector.

Timezone

When it is 12.00 in the UK, it is 16.00 in Pakistan.

Weight and Measures

The following units of measurement are used in Pakistan: Length: metre Weight: kilogram Volume: litre

Photography

Because of Pakistan's strangeness it is a paradise for photography. Fantastic, magnificent and wild nature, colourful buses and trucks, unique architecture and, of course, the inhabitants. For Muslims, especially in rural areas, it is considered an insult to photograph a woman without her permission. This is also the case if you are actually just interested in the surrounding landscape. It can also be dangerous if she has relatives nearby. Men, on the other hand, urge you to take their picture, and if you agree to send them a copy of it then remember to do so. A promise is never forgotten, and it is considered a breach of hospitality if it isn't kept.

Drinking water

It isn't safe to drink the tapwater. Buy bottled water, and make sure that the seal hasn't been broken.

Electricity

In Pakistan, the current used is: 220 V, 50 Hz

Behaviour

For female solo travellers it makes a difference where you are. There's a difference between big city and village, city and country, between the different regions, and it can be anything from heaven to hell. Most men outside of the largest and most Western cities have no contact with women other than their own family, which leads some to believe that single females are cheap. This causes a good deal of harassment. If something unpleasant happens, then stop abruptly in the street and yell out - people will notice you and he will be embarrassed.Don't use your left hand for eating, as this is used (by locals) when going to the bathroom.

Business Hours

Banks are open (Sunday to Thursday) and 9.00 to 11.30 (Saturday). Shops are open 9.00 to 19.00 (Saturday to Thursday). Offices are open 9.00 to 13.00 and 14.00 to 17.00 (Saturday to Thursday).

Food and drink

Pakistani cuisine is quite similar to that of northern India, with curries, oil and chili. If your budget is tight you probably won't find Pakistan a great place to eat in, and will end up losing weight even if you didnt intend to. It is possible to find some good places to eat though. For reasons of economy and because of the lack of supplies - not for ethical or religious reasons - Tuesday and Wednesday are meat-free days. Tea with milk is served everywhere, and lassi is a drink made from yoghurt.

Disabled travellers

Pakistan can be a hell for the disabled, as there are no wheelchair facilities anywhere and no law demanding it either.

Holidays

Pakistan Day, 23 March Labour Day, 1 May Bank holiday, 1 July Independence Day, 14 August Pakistani Defence Day, 6 September Ur's Day, 11 September Iqbal Day, 9 November Mohammed Ali Jinnah's birthday, 25 December Holiday, 31 December

Accommodation / Hotel

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Camping

Most hotels are willing to let you camp in their back yard. You can then use the bathroom facilities for a small fee.

Hotels

The hotel standards vary greatly, so you might want to shop around before deciding. Often the prices aren't fixed, so you can bargain about it.

Hostels

There are about a dozen Youth Hostels, which are very popular in the summer, among locals as well as tourists.

Other Accommodation

You can usually find lockers in the train stations, where you can keep your belongings, if you have arrived too early.

Local transport

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Planes

There are domestic flights between most major Pakistani cities. It's cheapest to buy the ticket after arriving in Pakistan.

Bus

If you tend to get sick when driving, don't take the bus. The bus stations are chaotic, but if you shout where you want to go, somebody will grab you and lead you to your bus.

Trains

The trains are calmer than the buses, even though some stretches can be very crowded.

Taxi

There are many taxis and motorised rickshaws in Pakistan. As the taxi drivers rarely use the taxi-meter and the rickshaws haven't got any, you should agree on the price before the ride. The driver doesn't always know where you're going.

Car rental

Avis rents out cars, with or without a driver, in the major cities. You'll need an international driver's license. Taxis can be rented by the hour.

Other Transport

Bicycles are a great way of getting around in the smaller cities, and can be rented from some hotels.

Special conditions

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It is not completely safe to travel in Pakistan, especially since 1997. A fundamentalist 'Islamisation' of society is taking place, influenced by the Taliban militia in Afghanistan, which has resulted in deteriorating conditions for local women. The Sind region is the least peaceful place, including Karachi - and kidnapping of foreign tourists has happened. Check out the latest news and advice from the Foreign Office before travelling there.

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