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Pakistan is undeniably beautiful but, tragically, isn't quite suitable for leisure travel at the moment. Home to the entire coast of the Arabian Sea, the snowy peaks of the Karakoram Mountains, and a cultural legacy that needs no introduction, it is sadly too politically unstable to accommodate any but the most intrepid of adventurers. Should the country's situation ever improve, tourists will undoubtedly scurry to enjoy its varied delights.
The country itself may be relatively new but the Indus region has hosted civilisation for thousands of years. History buffs who dive into this particular pool will discover depths that recall the British Empire's influence, rivalries between Hindu and Islamic dynasties, the Silk Road trade network that connected China, India and the Roman Empire, and Alexander the Great's conquest of the East. Nature lovers can follow the Indus River down from the spectacular mountain ranges in the north (which include the world's second highest peak, K2) to the arid plateau of Balochistan in the rugged southwest, which is as beautiful as it is unforgiving.
The major cities of Karachi, the capital Islamabad, Lahore and Rawalpindi are all situated in the lowlands of the Indus valley. Life in these bustling urban areas is a mix of ancient tradition and modern technology, where shoppers haggle in colourful bazaars and craftsmen ply their trade, while others tuck into hot and spicy treats at street restaurants, or unwind at teahouses.
For now, sadly, Pakistan must continue to be overlooked as a mainstream travel destination due to valid safety concerns. Those brave souls who do decide to explore its cities and landscapes, however, will be rewarded with unforgettable sights and experiences.
Pakistan contains marvels for its travellers to explore, mostly due to its complex and intriguing history. With so many rich cultural and historical sites to be seen, a trip to Pakistan will surprise visitors with the unexpected and give them something to remember.
Offering visitors beautiful mosques to see nationwide as well as forts, tombs, and national monuments to explore, those in search of military or religious landmarks will not be disappointed. There are also incredible caves to be seen in the Balochistan Province for the adventurous, and the historical city of Lahore boasts some wonderful historic architecture with its pink sandstone and white marble buildings, and the beautiful Moghul-era Badshahi Mosque, one of the largest mosques in the world. Visitors will also see the Shalimar Gardens and the Tomb of Jahangir, both memorable sites.
The city capital, Islamabad, offers much to discover in any one of its museums, most popular of which are the Pakistan Museum of Natural History, the Lok Virsa Museum, or the National Art Gallery. All will leave visitors with a deeper understanding of the colourful Pakistan.
Pakistan's climate is varied because of the difference in elevation from one end of the country to another. During the summer months from April to September the mountainous north is pleasant and temperate, but the Indus Valley swelters in temperatures of 100ºF (40ºC) or more. In late summer the southern region experiences monsoons, particularly along the coast. In winter the low-lying areas cool down appreciably to average temperatures of between 50ºF and 70ºF (10ºC to 25ºC), while the northern mountains ice up with the air well below freezing.
The Pakistani Rupee (PKR) is divided into 100 paisa. Larger shops and hotels commonly accept credit cards, and ATMs are available in big cities. Banking hours are generally 9am to 5pm, Monday to Thursday, but close earlier on Fridays and on weekends. Bargaining is expected in street markets and small stores.
Urdu is the official language, but English is widely spoken and understood. There are also several regional languages and local dialects.
Electrical current is 230 volts, 50Hz. Round two or three-pin plugs are used.
US nationals: US nationals require a valid passport, and a visa.
UK nationals: UK nationals require a valid passport, and a visa.
CA nationals: Canadian nationals require a valid passport, and a visa.
AU nationals: Australian nationals require a valid passport, and a visa.
ZA nationals: South African nationals require a valid passport, and a visa.
IR nationals: Irish nationals require a valid passport, and a visa.
NZ nationals: New Zealand nationals require a valid passport, and a visa.
All foreign passport holders require a visa issued in their country of origin (or the nearest consulate if there is no diplomatic representation) to enter Pakistan. A return ticket and all documents needed for next destination are required. All visitors are advised to carry a photocopy of their passport, including the Pakistani visa, at all times. If the stay exceeds 30 days, passengers must register within 30 days at the Immigration Head Office. It is highly recommended that travellers' passports have at least six months' validity remaining after the intended date of departure from their travel destination. Temporary and emergency passports are not accepted. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required for entry to Pakistan by travellers coming from an infected area. Malaria exists in areas below 6,562 feet (2,000m) year round, and travellers should seek medical advice before travelling. Dengue fever is another reason to protect against mosquito bites. Vaccinations for typhoid, Japanese encephalitis (long-term travellers to rural areas) and polio are also recommended. There is a risk of diarrhoeal diseases; visitors should only drink bottled or otherwise sterilised water, and avoid dairy products, uncooked meat, salads, and unpeeled fruit. There is a low risk of Hepatitis E. Outside the major cities there are few hospitals of a high standard. Medical insurance is strongly advised.
The larger hotels and restaurants add a service charge of 10 percent to their bills, otherwise tipping is not obligatory in Pakistan. However, Baksheesh (a tip) helps get things done more quickly.
Holiday visits to Pakistan are currently not advised and only necessary business travel or visits to family should be contemplated in light of the threat of terrorist activity. Major cities such as Karachi and Lahore have improved their security situations in recent years but are still dangerous. Foreigners of Western origin are particularly likely to be targets for terrorists, including kidnapping. Women are not advised to go anywhere alone. Crime is also high, as are incidents of sectarian attacks and tribal killings. It is recommended that visitors avoid places of worship during busy prayer times and festivals.
Kashmir in the north is regarded as particularly dangerous, with a high incidence of lawlessness and militant activity. It is recommended that all travel to Waziristan and to northern and western Balochistan be avoided, and only essential travel to the Sui area, the Swat Valley in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and to the border areas other than official crossing points be undertaken. Travel by bus and train in Balochistan should be avoided due to repeated bomb plants. Visitors should avoid the centre of Gilgit, as there are occassional outbursts of sectarian violence. It is recommended that road travel along the Karakoram Highway to and from Islamabad be undertaken only during daylight hours.
Pakistan is a strict Muslim state and religious customs should be respected, particularly during the month of Ramadan when eating, drinking, and smoking during daylight hours should be discreet as it is forbidden by the Muslim culture. Homosexuality is illegal. It is considered offensive to give, receive or eat with the left hand. Affection between opposite sexes is not shown in public. Women, in particular, are expected to dress and behave modestly in public; even in the large cities shoulders and legs should be covered, and men should not wear shorts. Westerners should expect to be stared at - this is not considered rude in Pakistan, and is purely because you are new and different. Do not take photographs at military establishments, airports, or any infrastructure.
In Pakistan, third party introductions are vital to doing business successfully. Building up good working relations and a level of trust is essential and plenty of time will be spent socialising and getting to know each other. Face to face dealings are imperative and meetings are usually conducted somewhat formally. Communication may be somewhat frustrating as Pakistanis can approach things in a roundabout manner, although English is widely spoken and understood. Bureaucracy can also hold up any deals. Punctuality is important, although meetings might not begin on time. Business cards are usually exchanged on greetings. Greetings should be between same sexes only. Business attire is usually formal, and women in particular should dress conservatively. Business hours are usually 9am to 5pm Monday to Thursday and Saturdays. Some businesses are open until 12.30pm on Fridays.
The international dialling code for Pakistan is +92. The outgoing international code is 00, followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0027 for South Africa). Visitors should purchase a local sim card to avoid costly roaming charges.
Passengers arriving in Pakistan over 18 years do not have to pay duty on either 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars or 500g tobacco, as well as 250ml eau de toilette and perfume, provided that not more than 125ml of that is perfume, and gifts and/or souvenirs up to the value of US $100. The import of alcohol is strictly prohibited for both residents and non-residents, regardless of nationality. Other prohibited items include matches, fruits, plants, and plant material.
Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation: +92 051 927 2089 or http://www.tourism.gov.pk/
Pakistan Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 243 6500.
Pakistan High Commission, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 7664 9200.
Pakistan High Commission, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 238 7881.
Pakistan High Commission, Canberra, Australia (also responsible for New Zealand): +61 2 6273 1114.
Pakistan High Commission, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 362 4072.
Pakistan Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 1 261 3032.
Pakistan High Commission, Wellington: +64 4 479 0026.
United States Embassy, Islamabad: +92 51 201 4000
British High Commission, Islamabad: +92 51 201 2000.
Canadian High Commission, Islamabad: +92 51 208 6000.
Australian High Commission, Islamabad: +92 51 835 5500.
South African High Commission, Islamabad: +92 51 226 5302.
Irish Consulate, Karachi: +92 21 3589 1181.
New Zealand Consulate-General, Karachi: +92 21 3565 6993.
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