So the only reason we got to visit Turkey was because we wanted to visit Pakistan, and Turkish Airlines had the best deal! The last time I went to Pakistan was 6 years ago–which was a rushed 10 day stay for my sister’s wedding. So I was excited to reconnect with cousins and explore more of Pakistan! Here’s another long post of our Pakistan adventures.
Some background: I was born in Pakistan but have lived in the United States since I was 4 years old. Despite spending the majority of my life in the US, we would visit Pakistan every 2-3 years growing up and our home was very Pakistani–we watched Pakistani TV channels, spoke exclusively Urdu at home, ate desi food–the whole nine yards. We can do think pieces about identity and nationality later 😉, the point here is that I have a strong connection to everything Pakistan despite having spent very little of my life there.
Most of my family lives in Karachi, a big port city in southern Pakistan. While in the past we would stay in Karachi or surrounding small cities, we decided to make our 9 days stay even crazier by visiting Nawabshah, Bahawalpur, Murree (Rawalpindi), Islamabad, and Lahore this time. Since most of those are on the northern half of Pakistan, we took a train up to Bahawalpur where my aunt lives.
From Bahawalpur, my uncle drove us up to Murree, which is a mountain resort town located in the outer Himalayas Range. It was actually founded by colonial Britain in 1853 and was a popular tourist destination for Englishmen throughout the colonial period. As I’m told, Murree is just the beginning of the beauty Pakistan has–if you keep going north to SWAT, Hunza Valley, and Kashmir the natural beauty continues.
Murree itself is a lively little vacation spot, with a “Mall Road” where you can do some shopping and views at every corner. There’s cable cars and horse rides and bus tours. Since we were on a tight schedule, we only spent a night in Murree, but we definitely got to enjoy all the sights and sounds. We bought some kashmiri/phatani dresses from my nieces, took a hike around the different sightseeing points, and even rode a little train/bus tour!
After enjoying a beautiful breakfast and taking 1,000 photos, we headed over to Islamabad, which was only a few hours away. Islamabad is the capital city of Pakistan, and it felt very different from other cities. There were huge mansions lining the roads between Faisal Mosque and the statehouse, the well developed roads reminded me of America, and it was just overall beautiful as the mountains overlooked the entire city.
In a span of a few hours, we had lunch in a mall (that seemed similar to Karachi’s Tariq Road) and visited Faisal Mosque, Shakarparian Park with Pakistan Monument, and drove by the Statehouse/Parliament building.
So up until this point I’ve been in Pakistan for ~5 days and have been very impressed by these northern cities. From the very nice rest stops and roads around Punjab to the natural beauty, I am constantly questioning why Pakistan isn’t a world tourist destination especially having just come from Turkey. And then on our drive from Islamabad to Lahore (~5 hours normally) we got stuck in the middle of the highway because some fringe political party was throwing a protest and blocked all the streets to the city for hours.
While I didn’t enjoy being feasted on by mosquitoes and questioning when the cars would move again, I was more just disappointed that dumb stuff like this still happens. Is this the reason why Pakistan–despite having the culture, history, and beauty of major tourist destinations like India and Turkey–isn’t a place people from around the world flock to? It’s probably a big part of it. Gotta hope for a better “naya Pakistan” right?
The personal downside to the whole mess was that because of how late we arrived and the possibility of the protest restarting later, we did not get to see Lahore at all. Lahore is a huge city with many historical buildings from Mughal era, a lively Punjabi culture, and just lots of sights and sounds to see. I definitely want to make the trip to Lahore next time I visit Pakistan! So after breakfast with family, we made our way back to Bahalawapur.
Bahawalpur, a smaller city located in more central Pakistan, also has many Mughal era relics, but we mostly spent the day with family and some shopping. When we did venture out to see some of the palaces and gates, a foreign guest of the Prime Minister was visiting and blocking half the roads (*sigh*) so we just drove by some notable places.
And then it was back on a train to Karachi! While there are many things to see and do in Karachi (the fourth largest city in the world), for us it is a place to hang out with family, enjoy our favorite food spots, and also to shop of course (gotta get those Eid clothes!) 😁.
By food, by the way, I mean getting some spicy toasted corn from a street vendor, fresh sugar cane juice, guavas, choley ki chaat, falooda…all the things somehow my body can still handle (it’s common for foreigners to get sick from street food; I’m stretching my luck as far as it goes 😂 ).
Growing up our trips to Pakistan would fill our entire summer–we’d spend months hanging out with cousins in Karachi. So nine days flying through six cities was a totally different experience! I wish we had more time so we could have spent a few days in each city and more time with family, but even the little we got to do was very fun and enjoyable.
Despite the few hiccups along the way, the biggest thing I got from this trip was that Pakistan genuinely has lots of tourism potential. I had just come from Turkey, and the fact of the matter is–Istanbul is not some perfect place where everything goes fluidly for visitors–but millions of people still visit the country every year for its rich culture and history. There are obviously systematic issues that Pakistan has to sort out before millions of visitors will feel welcome and safe, but the beautiful, vibrant sights and sounds are already there.
I can’t pretend to be an expert on Pakistani politics, but they just swore in a new Prime Minister whom lots of people believe will bring about the necessary change to move the country towards prosperity. For me personally, Pakistan is still a homely place of comfort despite its many issues. But it’s unfortunate that a country with so much potential (beauty and history that I only scratched the surface of in this post) is overruled by corruption and mismanagement. Whether it’s better resource management or more peaceful politics, one can hope that better days are in the future for everyone.