Things You Must Know Before Visiting Pakistan
There are many great reasons to take a PIA flight out to Pakistan. Not only is it a beautiful country with diverse landscapes including golden sandy deserts and imposing mountainous regions, but it's one that is culturally diverse too. There are sites of historic value that date back to the Indus Valley Civilisation and Mughal architecture. There's the rich and flavoursome food and the friendly people.
When travelling anywhere for the first time, it is a good idea to avail yourself of as much information as possible, so that you get the very best out of your trip as possible. This is even more important when you are travelling to a country, like Pakistan that has different customs and ways of doing things compared to the west. In the following post therefore, that is exactly what we are going to look at - some of the most important things you need to know, not only before you arrive, but before you even book your flights.
Travelling Around Pakistan
Making plans well in advance is advised. It helps you to make sure you have the basic needs arranged, such as accommodation and transport, because if you leave these to the last minute you might end up dealing with avoidable delays and high costs. You should also try to draft up an itinerary, even if it is one that you can alter easily. This will ensure you make enough time to see and do everything you want. There are various places you can look at online for templates and mock-up itineraries. Another reason for planning ahead is that some locations are only accessibly to tourists if they have a valid NOC or No Objection Certificate.
Learn Some Conversational Urdu and Common Phrases
You'll find that most people in the urban and big city areas of Pakistan can understand, speak and even write in English, to varying degrees of accuracy. However, it is still recommended that you at least try to learn some conversational Urdu, or at the very minimum, some of the most commonly used phrases to make your time in Pakistan a little easier.
Be Mindful of Cultural Differences and Sensitivities
As mentioned earlier, there are numerous ethnic groups in Pakistan. The main ones of these are Baloch, Hazara, Sindhi, Pashtun, Punjabi and the Urdu speakers. Each individual group has their very own distinct cultural beliefs, practices, traditions, food, customs and languages. So, it is best to research the particular parts of Pakistan you are planning on visiting and although you don't necessarily have to agree with their practices, you do have to be mindful. There are, however, some general points that can be applied to all areas and ethnicities, such as avoiding unchaste behaviour interactions between members of the opposite sex and wearing reasonably modest clothing.
Pack Your Suitcase and Luggage Appropriately
It is possible during a single trip to Pakistan that you could experience a whole manner of different weather conditions and climates. It really depends on when you are travelling out there and the parts of the country you are going to visit.
Generally, most of the country has excessively hot summers, with the exception of the northern region, making them ideal if you're looking to get out of the sun. While in wintertime, the half the country that lies to the south has a cold climate and as you go further north it is even colder. Remember, there are glaciers to the north of India. So, always pack for the time of year and specifically for the area. The layers method of clothing can be helpful if it is more changeable.
Always Carry Cash on You
Pakistan is becoming more modernised all the time, but is still catching up in a lot of ways with the west and things like paperless transactions. In fact, much of the country still relies on cash. Therefore, while you should definitely take you credit and bank cards with you, it is best to also have a reasonable amount of cash in your wallet or purse, so that you are not caught unaware by a trader or retailer that doesn't have more sophisticated point of sale machines.
Pakistanis Can be Incredibly Hospitable
Pakistanis have a reputation for being incredibly hospitable, and are known to be very welcoming to visitors from other parts of the world. They will often go out of their way to ensure that tourists feel comfortable. Keep this in mind if you are staying with a family or spend a day, or even just a meal with them. It may feel very out of your comfort zone to see them going to great lengths to ensure you are comfortable and satisfied, putting your needs before their own. This is part of their natural inclinations. So, always use a good measure of tact when trying to explain that they are going to too much trouble, or just follow the old adage of 'When in Rome'.
Haggle and Bargain with Traders
With the exception of the more upper market shopping centres, Pakistan is a great place to bag a bargain or three. Most vendors, traders and shop owners are open to bartering and haggling, so don't be afraid to do this. When tackling a big shopping spree around the many bazaars, it is often helpful to have a local guide or if you happen to know a Pakistan resident, to go along with you. Handmade craft items tend to be the most popular items, along with jewellery, nuts, dried fruits, shawls, shoes and traditional garments.
Always Carry Photocopies of Important Documents
As well as bringing with you all the important ID and travel documents, it is a good idea to take plenty of copies of everything too. There are many checkpoints and other ports of call that will require you to register, in order to keep you safe.
Regarding Food, Water and Alcohol
Pakistanis love highly flavoured and spicy food and it is best if you stick to bottled water rather than from a tap. On the subject of alcohol though, this is more or less seen as a no-no in most of the country as it is an Islamic area. There are some restaurants that offer foreign food and mild options, but these will be much harder to locate when you are visiting small towns and cities. Give the local food a try though, particularly the fruit as it is some of the best you will find anywhere.