Lavisha Kapoor visits Pakistan and finds that this relatively ‘unvisited’ nation is safe for tourists (yes, including women), a foodie’s paradise, and a land of unbelievable landscapes
One Sunday, while watching a movie, I came across a scene that was just too beautiful to ignore. An airport surrounded by mesmerising snowy mountains. Curious to know where it was, I paused the movie to Google it. The result—Gilgit Airport, Pakistan.
It was at that point, instead of telling asking myself ‘Oh Pakistan?’, I excitedly said to myself ‘Oh yes, Pakistan!’ and that’s when my adventure started.
I refer to myself as a ‘third culture kid’. I was born and raised in Thailand to parents of Indian origin, settled in Australia for the past 13 years. Travelling to Pakistan as a single female traveler wasn’t an easy thought to process. When I told my mum she was understandably skeptical. Pakistan is a country which is often portrayed in the media as a war-torn hellhole. Every year, only a very small number of international travellers visit the country I was determined to be one of them. Little did I know about Pakistan, except that it is a country of great food, Coke Studio music and actors. Travel guides such as Lonely Planet were of no help. A year into researching and leading up to my trip, I had faced various reality checks and moments when I had questioned myself but I knew it was a now or never moment.
First stop Karachi
Landed at night, alone. My name was announced and I was asked to step aside in the immigration line. At that point, a thousand questions went through my head. Like any solo female traveller, the immigration officer asked general questions and I was granted entry into the country. Was I asked to step aside because my name sounded Indian? It was for my own safety and I said to myself, it was too late to head back now, so let the adventure begin!
Karachi is the largest and most cosmopolitan city in Pakistan, an economic hub for the country. Staying at a 5-star hotel, I experienced the amazing hospitality that the country had to offer. From visiting the mausoleum Mazar-E-Quaid, an impressive monument, a tribute to the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and having a friendly conversation with the guard on duty, I soon realised that fear is only a mindset that we have and there is nothing to fear about. Unless visiting religious sites, at no point did I feel the need to cover my head. No one would see you as someone who would stand out if you did not have your head covered. It was more of a choice rather than an obligation in Pakistan from my experience.
Is Pakistan Safe at Night?
I was often asked this question, is Pakistan safe at night? The answer is yes! Karachi has a culture of ‘chai dhabas’ which are makeshift eateries offering amazing varieties of chai and food. They have a lot of options for vegetarians as well. At 2 am while sipping on Kashmiri chai and having parathas, I felt as safe I would while travelling to any other country. The media feeds on fear and prejudice, I did not let it influence me.
Are there Hindus in Pakistan?
A Pakistani-Christian friend from Australia suggested I visit a famous 1,500-year-old Hanuman Temple in Pakistan. Sounds strange doesn’t it? I was surprised how the Muslim guard at the temple asked me to show my ID card to prove I was a Hindu before allowing me to enter. He explained that the Pakistani Government wanted everyone to respect different religions. I was also asked not to take photographs in sacred places as a tourist. I came across various Hindu temples throughout my trip to Pakistan and each one of them was very well maintained and protected by the government, which was a pleasant surprise, something unexpected.
- Late Night Chai Dhabas
- Hindu Temples
- Metropolitan Feel
Lahore is the cultural hub of Pakistan. This city is vibrant and replete with examples of Mughal architecture. After visiting the birth place of Guru Nanak at Nankana Sahib Gurudwara, and speaking to the local Pakistani-Sikhs looking after the site, I realised that yes, in a world full of different ethnic background and religions, we can co-exist peacefully.
Should I say I am from India while visiting Pakistan?
Yes. While shopping in Pakistan, I was often mistaken for being an ‘overseas Pakistani’, a person of Pakistani origin living overseas. However, as soon as I mentioned I am from India, I was treated like royalty! Respectfully called ‘baaji’ (sister) and offered tea, snacks and discounts which I would have never been able to get otherwise. Being a traveller of Indian-origin in Pakistan was the best identity I could have! Being fearful as a female tourist was irrelevant, in fact, it served to my protection. The Uber driver would drop me and wait outside for me to enter the hotel lobby safely before he left as they considered me as their guest and treated me with respect.
There is a famous saying that “You’re not born until you’ve seen Lahore”. Travelling to amazing sites such as ‘Badshahi Mosque’, and trying on famous eateries such as ‘Butt Khadhai’ definitely proved this saying!
- Food, food and more food!
- Mughal Architecture at Badshahi Mosque
- Nankana Sahib Gurudwara
Gilgit… here I come
Gilgit and Hunza are one of the most beautiful provinces that Pakistan has to offer. Both are almost untouched tourist places that sit in the northern areas of Pakistan. Because they border Afghanistan and China, security in the northern areas is tight. My flight from Lahore to Gilgit was cancelled due to heavy snowfall so I took the journey by road. During the 12-hour road trip with my ‘Pathan’ driver who hardly spoke any ‘Urdu’ and mainly conversed in the local language ‘Peshto’, I crossed villages where there were no women in sight. Having separate ‘family rooms’ in local eateries especially designed for females and families made me feel very liberated. Though surrounded by men, I did not at any point feel uncomfortable being the only woman in the area. It is a sign of respect for women that men don’t often stare or talk directly to women, especially solo travellers.
Are people in rural areas of Pakistan educated?
I came across a woman whom the locals referred to as ‘Lal Shehzadi’ (Red Princess). Lal signified her grit and shahzadi signified her ideals. Both of which, I will dearly admire my entire life. She ran this small eatery famous for a local pizza like dish called ‘Chap Shuru’. She was a science graduate from Japan who was offered a job in the city but preferred living the village lifestyle with her children instead.
I came across many women in the northern areas who believed in an equal society where men and women would work equally to run a household.
- Driving along the Karakoram Highway (KKH), highest road in the world
- Eating biryani and chai to the backdrop of some amazing views
- Visiting world heritage sites like the Altit and Baltit Forts
A short transit in Islamabad made me understand some important things about Pakistan and its culture. The number of fancy cars I saw on the road in Pakistan was something I had not expected. People of Pakistan and Islamabad are not all poor. Like any other country, it has its various social and economic classes—Pakistan is not as poor a country as the world perceives it to be.
Is alcohol banned in Pakistan?
Yes, for all Muslims in Pakistan it is! But for non-Muslim tourists like me, Pakistan has its very own brewed beer owned by a multi-national Parsi company called ‘Murree Bewery’. Alcoholic beverages such as Murree Beer and other international labels are available to any non-Muslims in Pakistan. I had to show my passport to prove I am a non-Muslim tourist to get a can of chilled Murree Beer at the hotel.
- Faisal Mosque
- Pakistan Monument
- Well planned capital city
I am a globe trotter and have travelled over 15 countries but Pakistan was the most enriching experience so far. At every step of my journey, this country offered me with surprises and there were many instances where I just left stupefied by how utterly special this place is. I am very blessed and lucky to visit a country like Pakistan!
‘Fasla Na Rakein, Pyaar Hone Dein’
This sums up my Pakistan trip quite beautifully. Let there be love!
Lavisha Kapoor a passionate globetrotter. Being a third culture kid, she was born and raised in Thailand to parents of Indian origin and is now settled as an Events Manager in Melbourne since the past 13 years.