Vastly varying landscapes, archeological sites and historical monuments make Pakistan an enticing tourist destination whose potential remains largely untapped and existing tourist flow marred by political upheavals and terrorism.
Ancient cultural history dating back to the Indus Valley Civilization of 3300 BC and the traditions and cuisine of Islamic
culture offer a slice of history, while the Himalayan mountains and vast expanses of the Thar desert, with their modern
tourist infrastructure, has a date with the young and the adventurous.
This seamless blend of the past and the present is the essence of Pakistani tourism, evidenced also in its modern bustling
cities such as Islamabad, and in the cultural bastion of Lahore and the picturesque Swat Valley in the Hindu Kush mountains.
Frequent terror attacks, unfavourable political conditions, and lack of infrastructure have hit tourism badly. The 2005
earthquake and last year’s floods, particularly in North Pakistan, a tourist hub, has maimed the tourism industry. Even
domestic tourism has been hit, but the top destinations are still accessible to the tourist prepared to rough it out.
1. Lahore Fort
The Lahore Fort, locally referred to as Shahi Qilais citadel of the city of Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan. It is located in the northwestern corner of the Walled City of Lahore. The trapezoidal composition is spread over 20 hectares.
Origins of the fort go as far back as antiquity, however, the existing base structure was built during the reign of Mughal Emperor Akbar between 1556–1605 and was regularly upgraded by subsequent Mughal, Sikh and British rulers.It has two gates one is known as Alamgiri Gate build by Emperor Aurangzeb which opens towards Badshahi Mosque and other older one known as Maseeti (Punjabi language word means of Masjid) or Masjidi Gate which opens towards Masti Gate Area of Walled City and was built by Emperor Akbar. Currently Alamgiri Gate is used as the principal entrance while Masti Gate is permanently closed .The fort manifests the rich traditions of Mughal architecture. Some of the famous sites inside the fort include: Sheesh Mahal, Alamgiri Gate, Naulakha pavilion, and Moti Masjid. In 1981, the fort was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with the Shalimar Gardens.
2. Shah Faisal Mosque
The Faisal Mosque is the largest mosque in Pakistan, located in the national capital city of Islamabad. Completed in 1986, it was designed by Turkish architect Vedat Dalokay to be shaped like a desert Bedouin’s tent.
It is situated at the north end of Faisal Avenue, putting it at the northernmost end of the city and at the foot of Margalla Hills, the westernmost foothills of the Himalayas. It is located on an elevated area of land against a picturesque backdrop of the Margalla Hills. This enviable location represents the mosque’s great importance and allows it to be seen from miles around day and night.
The Faisal Mosque is conceived as the National Mosque of Pakistan and named after the late King Faisal bin Abdul-Aziz of Saudi Arabia, who supported and financed the project.
The largest mosque in South Asia, the Faisal Mosque was the largest mosque in the world from 1986 until 1993, when it was overtaken in size by the newly completed Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, Morocco. Subsequent expansions of the Masjid al-Haram (Grand Mosque) of Mecca and the Al-Masjid al-Nabawi (Prophet’s Mosque) in Medina, Saudi Arabia, during the 1990s relegated Faisal Mosque to fourth place in terms of size.
3. Kaghan Valley / Saiful Muluk
The Kaghan Valley is a valley in the north-east of Mansehra District of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province of Pakistan. It attracts many tourists from around the world. The inhabitants were affected by the earthquake disaster on 8 October 2005.
The Kaghan valley is named after the town of Kaghan rather than for the Kunhar River which flows through the length of the valley. The valley extends 155 kilometers (96 mi), rising from an elevation of 2,134 feet (650 m) to its highest point, the Babusar Pass, at 13,690 feet (4,170 m).The Naran is the main town and tourists destination in valley. It is the base station to Lake Saif-ul-Malook and Lalazar.
The peoples of valley speak Hindko and Gojri, while Urdu, Pakistan’s national language is also familiar among the locals. The region is Alpine in geography and climate, with forests and meadows dominating the landscape below peaks that reach over 17,000 feet (5,200 m).
Saiful Muluk is an alpine lake located at the northern end of the Kaghan Valley , near the town of Naran. It is in the north east of Mansehra District in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, Pakistan. At an altitude of 3,224 m (10,578 feet) above sea level it is amongst one of the highest lakes in Pakistan. There is also a similar named fictional story associated with the lake.
The weather here is moderate during day time while the temperature drops to minus degrees at night.
Mohenjo-daro is an archeological site in the province of Sindh, Pakistan. Built around 2600 BCE, it was one of the largest settlements of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization, and one of the world’s earliest major urban settlements, contemporaneous with the civilizations of ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Crete. Mohenjo-daro was abandoned in the 19th century BCE, and was not rediscovered until 1922. Significant excavation has since been conducted at the site of the city, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980.However, the site is currently threatened by erosion and improper restoration.
Taxila is a town and an important archaeological site in Rawalpindi district of the Punjab province in Pakistan. Taxila is situated about 32 km (20 mi) north-west of Islamabad and Rawalpindi; just off the famous Grand Trunk Road. The town lies 549 metres (1,801 ft) above sea level. It is the head-quarters of the Taxila Tehsil in Rawalpindi district.
Ancient Taxila (literally meaning “City of Cut Stone” or “Rock of Taksha”) was situated at the pivotal junction of India, western Asia and Central Asia. Owing to its strategic location, Taxila has changed hands many times over the centuries, with many empires vying for its control. When the great ancient trade routes connecting these regions ceased to be important, the city sank into insignificance and was finally destroyed by the nomadic Huns in the 5th century CE. Renowned archaeologist Sir Alexander Cunningham rediscovered the ruins of Takṣaśilā in mid-19th century. In 1980, Taxila was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 2006 it was ranked as the top tourist destination in Pakistan by The Guardian newspaper.
By some accounts, Taxila was considered to be amongst the earliest universities in the world. Others do not consider it a university in the modern sense, in that the teachers living there may not have had official membership of particular colleges, and there did not seem to have existed purpose-built lecture halls and residential quarters in Takshashila,in contrast to the later Nalanda university in eastern India.
In a 2010 report, Global Heritage Fund identified Taxila as one of 12 worldwide sites most “On the Verge” of irreparable loss and damage, citing insufficient management, development pressure, looting, and war and conflict as primary threats.
The Badshahi Mosque or in Persian Padshahi Masjed means the ‘Imperial Mosque’ in Lahore, commissioned by the sixth Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in 1671 and completed in 1673, is the second largest mosque in Pakistan and South Asia and the fifth largest mosque in the world. Epitomising the beauty, passion and grandeur of the Mughal era, it is Lahore’s most famous landmark and a major tourist attraction.
Capable of accommodating 55,000 worshippers in its main prayer hall and a further 95,000 in its courtyard and porticoes, it remained the largest mosque in the world from 1673 to 1986 (a period of 313 years), when overtaken in size by the completion of the Faisal Mosque in Islamabad. Today, it remains the second largest mosque in Pakistan and South Asia and the fifth largest mosque in the world after the Masjid al-Haram (Grand Mosque) of Mecca, the Al-Masjid al-Nabawi (Prophet’s Mosque) in Medina, the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca and the Faisal Mosque in Islamabad.To appreciate its large size, the four minarets of the Badshahi Mosque are 13.9 ft (4.2 m) taller than those of the Taj Mahal and the main platform of the Taj Mahal can fit inside the 278,784 sq ft (25,899.9 m2) courtyard of the Badshahi Mosque, which is the largest mosque courtyard in the world.
In 1993, the Government of Pakistan recommended the inclusion of the Badshahi Mosque as a World Heritage Site in UNESCO’s World Heritage List, where it has been included in Pakistan’s Tentative List for possible nomination to the World Heritage List by UNESCO.
Concordia is the name for the confluence of the Baltoro Glacier and the Godwin-Austen Glacier, in the heart of the Karakoram range of Pakistan. It is located in Baltistan region of Pakistan. The name was applied by European explorers, and comes from this location’s similarity to a glacial confluence, also named Concordia, in the Bernese Oberland, part of the Central Alps.
Around Concordia are clustered some of the highest peaks in the world. Four of the world’s fourteen “eight-thousanders” are in this region, as well as a number of important lower peaks.
Concordia offers the region’s best place to camp for mountain enthusiasts not involved in climbing. With breathtaking views, it also offers short hikes to several important base camps: K2 (three hours), Broad Peak (two hours) and the Gasherbrums (three hours). An alternative exit to returning down the Baltoro Glacier is available by climbing the Gondogoro Pass (5450 meters). Visitors to the region are advised to carefully monitor their water intake with concern. To avoid often painful and sometimes debilitating stomach upsets at high altitude, water should be obtained from clear water sources and brought to a rolling boil, or purified before consumption.
8. Nanga Parbat
Nanga Parbat (literally, Naked Mountain) is the ninth highest mountain in the world. It is the western anchor of the Himalayas around which the Indus river skirts before it debouches into the plains of Pakistan. It is located in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan, and is locally known as ‘Deo Mir’ (‘mir’ meaning ‘mountain’).
Nanga Parbat is one of the eight-thousanders, with a summit elevation of 8,126 metres (26,660 ft). An immense, dramatic peak rising far above its surrounding terrain, Nanga Parbat is also a notoriously difficult climb. Numerous mountaineering deaths in the mid and early 20th century lent it the nickname “killer mountain”. Along with K2, it has never been climbed in winter.
9. Fairy Meadows / Hiran Minar
Fairy Meadows, named by German climbers (fairy tale meadows) and locally known as Joot,is a grassland near one of the base camp sites of the Nanga Parbat, located in Diamer District, Gilgit-Baltistan. At an altitude of about 3,300 meters above the sea level, it serves as the launching point for trekkers summiting on the Rakhiot face of the Nanga Parbat. In 1995, the Government of Pakistan declared Fairy Meadows a National Park.
Hiran Minar(Minaret of Antelope) is set in peaceful environs near Lahore in Sheikhupura, Pakistan. It was constructed by Emperor Jahangir as a monument to Mansraj, one of his pet deer.The structure consists of a large, almost-square water tank with an octagonal pavilion in its center, built during the reign of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan; a causeway with its own gateway connects the pavilion with the mainland and a 100-foot (30 m)-high minar, or minaret.
At the center of each side of the tank, a brick ramp slopes down to the water, providing access for royal animals and wild game. The minar itself was built by Emperor Jahangir in 1606 to honor the memory of a pet hunting antelope named Mansraj.
Unique features of this particular complex are the antelope’s grave and the distinctive water collection system. At each corner of the tank (approximately 750 by 895 feet (273 m) in size), is a small, square building and a subsurface water collection system which supplied the tank; only one of these water systems is extensively exposed today.
Another special feature of Hiran Minar is its location and environment: the top of the minar is perhaps the best place in the province of Punjab to get a feel for the broader landscape and its relationship to a Mughal site.
Looking north from the top of the minar, one can see a patch of forest which is similar to the scrub forest vegetation of Mughal times, while to the west are extensively-irrigated fields, a product of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but similar in size and appearance to the well-irrigated fields of the Mughal period.