“Pakistan has a distinctly bad reputation in the international media, and boundless curiosity had to overcome our apprehensions. I had similar reservations about Iran before travelling there. So I can say from experience that Iran is, from a tourism perspective, a much less demanding country than Pakistan. What both have in common, however, is the natural and good-natured character of the local people, who do everything they can to show visitors the best possible face of their country.
Pakistan is rich in historic monuments, and there are plenty of sights. What’s more, there are no hordes of Japanese and Korean tour groups as elsewhere: we hardly saw another tourist.
The biggest problem was definitely transport, because they are not sufficiently prepared to meet the needs of European travelers. Transport is slow, and the timetable for long-distance buses could hardly be more convoluted. Of course, being foreign tourists, the bus drivers overcharged us wherever possible.
Still, for us, Pakistan was a very inexpensive country, and somehow we didn’t do too badly with the currency exchange. We were able to eat very well and cheaply. I only had stomach problems once, and that didn’t last more than a day. What bothered us more was the terrible pollution in the cities, and the constant, deafening noise. In most places, there are piles of trash in the street.
The vast majority of Pakistanis were extremely friendly towards us. It seemed to us that they found it easier to adapt to our worldview than we could to their rigid world of customs. In Pakistani society, the rules and expectations for women are light years away from our way of thinking.
We were constantly struggling – strictly within ourselves and with one another – with what to think about these things. Just to be clear, this is NOT a destination for parties and holiday flings.
Compared to the monuments, the most important sights were the natural wonders, and especially those majestic mountain ranges.
Our feelings of personal safety varied a lot. We felt safe in the countryside, in villages and small towns, but not in big cities. Staying in the suburbs of Karachi, we were normally in gated compounds. Pakistan is a very poor country, and we felt that the actions of the urban poor could be unpredictable. Tens of thousands of illiterate people seemed a possible source of danger. Where possible, we tried to arrange some sort of protection for ourselves. Not the people who offered themselves to us as guides or security, but those whom we ourselves chose. That way we felt somewhat safer.
It wasn’t just robbery we were worried about – we also sensed, in spite of the many friendly people, a certain amount of mistrust towards white Europeans. It was impossible to say where and to what degree this mistrust might have curdled into hatred, which might put us in some degree of danger. What if someone falsely accused us of something? Would that spark widespread anger towards us? I worried about things like that. Again, though, I had to say that in 90% of cases, people were extremely friendly towards us.
They speak good English, but the strong accent makes it damned hard for a non-native speaker to follow.
What we liked best among the cultural attractions: Lahore Fort, the bazaars, and chaotic alleyways of Rawalpindi (for some reason we didn’t feel at all anxious there). Looking at Islamabad from a terraced park above the city, the Rawal Lake in Islamabad, the pink and white marble houses of Lahore, the huge mosques. We learned at our cost that it’s best to avoid the famous sights on Sundays because they’re visited by enormous crowds of locals. (D&K, 2016)