FCO travel update: the FCO advise against all travel to Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas and against all but essential travel to other specific regions of Pakistan. There could also be an increase in anti-western sentiment. For full details, see the FCO website.
However, Pakistan is a very impressive country. Its rich history is that of an Asian country which has experienced Greek and Buddhist influences, surrounded by Iran, Afghanistan, China, India and the Oman Sea. The landscapes from the Indus valley to Gandhara, via the Kalash villages will fill you with unwavering memories.
Surface area : 796095.0 km2
Population : 176700000 inhabitants
The best places to buy souvenirs are the shops in the bazaars of Lahore, Peshawar, Karachi and Rawalpindi. This is where you will find a great variety of handmade items: carved wooden objects, hand-woven wool rugs, bags, leather shoes and sandals, embroideries with small mirrors, Bukhara silks and fabrics, Kashmir shawls, saris, pottery, copper and silver items, bracelets and antique jewels, wool kaftans, semi-precious stones (lapis-lazuli), etc.
Haggling is one of the inevitable rituals here.
The shops are generally open from 9:00am to 7:00pm with breaks for meals at the hottest point of the day. They are closed on Fridays.
Pakistani cuisine is very similar to Indian cuisine but with a Muslim element, inspired by Arabian, Turkish and Persian traditions and baptised 'Moghul cuisine', which is mainly eaten in Lahore.
The dishes are less spicy than in India but there are just as many subtle blends of saffron, cardamom, sesame and cloves, with a lot of yoghurt to neutralise the effect of the spice.
On most menus you will find a choice of meat and poultry that is either served in a spicy sauce (masala), stewed (bhuna ghost), roasted (tandoori), marinated in yoghurt (korma), or on skewers (kebab).
Biryani is a type of steamed rice, richly flavoured and served with a sauce with chicken, mutton or fish. Pilao is the same thing, just less spicy, and sag ghost is lamb and spinach curry.
Most dishes are served with lentils (dal), raita (a yoghurt sauce seasoned with salt, pepper and coriander) and unleavened flatbread (chapatti, paratha or naan).
As for dessert, you will be able to try the many varieties of halva: a delicacy made with walnuts or caramel with almonds or pistachios incorporated into the paste, and shahi tukra, a pistachio and almond flavoured custard.
Meals are generally enjoyed with a lassi, a yoghurt-based smoothie, or black tea (shai) with milk, sugar and cardamom.
Alcoholic beverages are only served in the large hotels with an international clientele, and only to guests who have filled out a special form.
Since the opening of the Karakorum Highway, which connects Gilgit to the Chinese city of Taxkorgan, northern Pakistan has become one of the best hiking spots for enthusiasts.
There are some tour operators who propose treks in the high valleys of Karakorum, on the Baltoro glacier and to the K2 base camp, as well as circuits on the old Silk Road in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Northeast China.
Some also propose an exploration of the Chitral Valley, Kalash country, and even the Indus valley on the trail of the Gandhara treasures. Travellers eager to go on a trekking expedition should organise one through a tour operator, as it is difficult to do this on your own when you get here.
Moreover, some of the medium and high altitude mountain regions are only accessible with a permit.
You can find some good agencies specialised in trekking and even catering to beginners in Islamabad and Gilgit. The prices, on the whole, are much higher than in Nepal. However, the beauty of the landscapes here is rather unique.