A Pictorial Guide – My Trip to Pakistan for Exploring Off the Beaten Path Attractions

It was a second instance where I was observing a group of school going kids visiting a tourist destination under the supervision of their teachers. No it was not Canada, USA, any European country, or a developed Asian country like Malaysia. This was at a historic fort in Pakistan, a country that was written off the tourism map due to terrorism, but is increasingly claiming top spot in the adventure travel category.

This was in September – October of 2018, when I took a whirlwind touristic trip to Pakistan. The trip turned out to be the most exciting adventure of my life. I was not only able to relive some of my childhood memories in the company of my siblings, but was also able to confirm that Pakistan has the ingredients to become a leading destination for many segments of domestic and international tourists.

Blooms at a historic fort.
Blooms at a historic fort

1. Confluence of architectural styles

Being a civil engineer by education and lingering interest, I was interested in seeing Pakistan’s historical Mughal and British colonial and neo-Islamic architecture.

We visited Rohtas Fort near Jehlum to observe an example of Mughal architecture. The Fort was built by Sher Shah Suri in the middle of the 16th century. Suri gave India and Pakistan the Grand Trunk Road or the GT Road as it is affectionately called. Rohtas Fort fused architectural and artistic elements from Turkey and Asian sub-continent that laid the foundation of a distinct Mughal architectural style.

We visited several destinations, such as Frere Hall in Karachi, to observe an example of British colonial architecture.

The building stood tall in all its grandeur and majesty in the heart of that busy city. There were few professionals busy in taking creative wedding shots. I, on the other hand, took shots of wild birds against the contours of the building, as I usually do.

Frere Hall, Karachi.
Frere Hall, Karachi

My trip to St. Patrick’s Cathedral with my sister, two nephews, and a niece turned out to be a success from spiritual point of view, but a failure from photography point of view. I had to get Parish Priest’s approval. We waited for an hour for him, but he was busy in a meeting.

The aesthetically designed cathedral was built in 1878 and celebrated its centenary in 1978.

St. Patrick's Cathedral
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Nicholson's Obelisk was erected in 1868 in honour of Brigadier-General John Nicholson, a famous military figure of the British Empire.
Nicholson’s Obelisk was erected in 1868 in honour of Brigadier-General John Nicholson, a famous military figure of the British Empire
Our childhood home, constructed about 100 years ago, is also reflective of Raj architecture.
Our childhood home, constructed about 100 years ago, is also reflective of Raj architecture

Finally, we observed buildings and structures showing neo-Islamic architecture at all destinations we visited.

The arch of this Port Grand building in Karachi reminds one of a typical Islamic style.
The arch of this Port Grand building in Karachi reminds one of a typical Islamic style
Shah Faisal Mosque, designed by renowned Turkish architect  Vedat Dalokay, in Islamabad combines the elements of Islamic architecture with modern Turko-Arab architecture.
Shah Faisal Mosque, designed by renowned Turkish architect Vedat Dalokay, in Islamabad combines the elements of Islamic architecture with modern Turko-Arab architecture
Modern architecture that retains significant elements of Islamic architecture at Habib University in Karachi.
Modern architecture that retains significant elements of Islamic architecture at Habib University in Karachi

2. Religious attractions

Observing my fascination with places of worship of different faiths, my sister in law took me to the beautiful village of Saidpur, near Islamabad. The picturesque village was nestled at the foothills of Margalla and was home to a Sikh Gurdwara, which has been designated as a heritage site.

A historic church, under repairs, in Galyat, the Hill Stations.
A historic church, under repairs, in Galyat, the Hill Stations

While I traveled to Karachi, 1000 km south of Islamabad, my two brothers, sister, and their families decided to visit beautiful Kathas Raj temples in western Punjab where Hindu pilgrims come as far as from India.

Katas Raj Temples
Katas Raj Temples
Buddha engraving in Swat valley attracts Buddhist pilgrims from as far away as Japan
Buddha engraving in Swat valley attracts Buddhist pilgrims from as far away as Japan
A Buddhist archaeological site, which is again a destination of Buddhist pilgrims from across the globe
A Buddhist archaeological site, which is again a destination of Buddhist pilgrims from across the globe

3. Birding and wildlife photography

The diversity of wildlife has the capacity to attract birders and wildlife photographers from across the globe.

I was impressed by the variety of birds visiting the gardens of my two siblings. In two days alone, I was able to take shots of 23 different species of birds in their two respective home gardens, but this is nothing compared to the list of 555 birds that my wildlife photography loving friends have compiled for all to see on the facebook page of Birds of Pakistan.

Demoiselle crane from Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province
Demoiselle crane from Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province
Asian paradise flycatchers from northern Punjab.
Asian paradise flycatchers from northern Punjab
through the courtesy of my friend Noor Hussain 
Peacocks like this one are found in western Punjab and in Sindh provinces.
Peacocks like this one are found in western Punjab and in Sindh provinces
Greater flamingos like these are winter visitors to lakes and estuaries in Sindh province.
Greater flamingos like these are winter visitors to lakes and estuaries in Sindh province

I found rhesus macaques flourishing in at the foothills of Margalla Hills National Park and in upper Galyat. Their abundance means that common leopard may be able to make a full comeback in the lower Himalayas. Indeed, a roadside exhibit near Ayubia claimed the region as home of the common leopard.

Activities for adventure travelers: Wildlife photography throughout Margalla Hills National Park and the Galyat along the main road.

Other more exquisite wildlife that can be observed is as follows:

A yellow-throated marten in the company of two  barking deer at Margalla Hills National Park
A yellow-throated marten in the company of two barking deer at Margalla Hills National Park.
Courtesy: my friend Noor Hussain
Gray wolf.
Gray wolf through the courtesy of my friend Noor Hussain

4. Culture

Pakistan is a multicultural, multi-ethnic and multilingual country. The convergence of the cultures is best reflected in country’s cuisine.

I found the food to be delicious all over where we went– Islamabad, Galyat, Taxila, Nowshera, Mangla, and Karachi. The local restaurants, aesthetically designed, unlike 20 years ago, were serving top quality food from all the nooks and corners of the country.

This is called 'Sajji' and is a delicacy from the province of Balochistan.
This is called ‘Sajji’ and is a delicacy from the province of Balochistan
I made friends with this young man from Chitral. He was working on breads on a traditional oven called 'Tandoor'.
I made friends with this young man from Chitral. He was working on breads on a traditional oven called ‘Tandoor’
A beautiful hotel near Islamabad with a view of a river and hills on the other side.
A beautiful hotel near Islamabad with a view of a river and hills on the other side
This restaurant was located on top of Margalla Hills and overlooked the city of Islamabad.
This restaurant was located on top of Margalla Hills and overlooked the city of Islamabad
My brother, sisters, their family members and I stopped at this neat and clean restaurant to have our lunch.
My brother, sisters, their family members and I stopped at this neat and clean restaurant to have our lunch

5. Bonus attraction – lower mountains

The country boasts of 3 greatest mountain ranges of the world – . The country attracts thousands of rock climbers and mountaineers to conquer the mountains.

As a tourist, I was not planning to undertake any rock or mountain climbing adventures in the Himalayas, Karakorums and the Hindu Kush. Instead, my siblings and I explored lower Himalayas in the Capital Territory and in Punjab and Khyber Pukhtukhwa provinces. These hill stations are, on the average, about 2200-3000 meters above sea level offering such activities for tourists as motorcycling, bicycling, hiking, and visiting historic buildings.

Hiking in the lower mountains for non-adventure travelers.
Hiking in the lower mountains for non-adventure travelers
Beautiful mountain flora
Beautiful mountain flora
Horse riding can be thrilling on narrow tracks.
Horse riding can be thrilling on narrow tracks.
The views of the distant hills and valleys below are breathtaking.
The views of the distant hills and valleys below are breath taking

Two shots from a friend showing beauty of lower Himalayas and Karakorums:

Manthoka Falls, Kharmang valley, Skardu. Courtesy: https://www.facebook.com/pg/SBMsPhotography/photos/

Satpara Lake near Skardu at the foot of he Karakorums. Courtesy:https://www.facebook.com/pg/SBMsPhotography/photos/

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