It’s no secret that I absolutely love Pakistan… I’ve been traveling in this amazing country since 2015 and it never fails to amaze me just how stunning it can be. The mountains, and the people, are just out of this world… For adventurers, Pakistan is simply the greatest country in the world.
But unfortunately, these amazing things aren’t what Pakistan is typically known for. Years of fake news and biased reporting has led many to believe that the country is a massive, dangerous desert.
And let me be the first to tell you that such lies could not be farther from the truth. Pakistan is a beautiful, diverse and magical country that will never fail to surprise you at each and every turn. And it just so happens to be home to the most hospitable people and most amazing mountains in the world…
Still not convinced? Read on, amigo, for 22 AMAZING things I’ve learnt about Pakistan on my trips so far…
22 Amazing Things I Never Knew About Pakistan
A land that’s truly chock-full of surprises.
1. Pakistan Has the Greatest Density of 8000-Meter Peaks in the World
Pakistan’s greatest mountain chain is the Karakoram and is located in the far northern province of Gilgit-Baltistan. It is one of the most epic ranges in the world and makes Pakistan a trekker’s paradise, truly.
Because of their size, the Karakoram are often compared to the nearby Himalayas.
However, I think that the Karakoram are in a league of their own though and after spending over 8 months in total exploring the Indian, Nepalese and Bhutanese Himalayas, I can honestly say that the Pakistani Karakoram mountains are the most stunning mountain range that I have ever seen…
Northern Pakistan actually contains the densest collection of 8000-meter peaks in the world, so you could very rightfully assume that Pakistan’s hikes are among the planet’s best.
In the Central Karakoram National Park, which is roughly the size of Jamaica, you can see four 8000ers – K2, Broad Peak, Gasherbrum I, and Gasherbrum II – and endless 7000ers. K2 is also the world’s second-highest mountain at 8,620 meters.
2. The Karakoram Are Not a Part of the Himalayas
Contrary to popular belief, the Karakoram are not actually a part of the Himalayas. In reality, the Karakoram and the Himalayas couldn’t be more different…
The Karakoram range was formed after the Himalayas and in a much more dramatic fashion. The intensity of their formation is probably one reason why they look the way they do. Unlike the bulky, gargantuan Himalayan peaks, the Karakoram are crooked, cracked, jagged, and extremely sheer.
The Karakoram also fall in the rain shadow of the Himalayas. This means that they receive far less rain and actually have 4 seasons. Whilst the Himalayas are getting monsoonal downpours in the summer, the Karakoram are clear and bright. You can’t miss them while backpacking in Pakistan.
3. You Can Travel to Pakistan With My Personal Tour Company
In 2017, I co-founded Epic Backpacker Tours with my partner Chris. Since then, we’ve taken dozens of adventurers into the insane Pakistani mountains and have curated some truly unreal experiences.
While Pakistan is safe for independent travel, if you don’t have a lot of time or much experience travelling in off-beat countries, it can be a bit overwhelming.
That’s why we put together three amazing itineraries that are only possible because of our combined decade of experience and INCREDIBLE Pakistani team. Choose from a Karakoram Adventure, a Skardu adventure, or our EPIC 3-week long journey to K2 basecamp, where you’ll get insane views of the world’s second-highest mountain!
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4. The Glaciers are Among the Largest Outside of the Polar Regions
Of the seven longest glaciers in the world, four are located in the Karakoram Range of Pakistan. These are the Siachen, Biafo, Baltaro, and Batura Glaciers. Having seen several glaciers in the region, I can attest that there is indeed a huge amount of ice in these parts – the Batura Glacier is my favourite and it is absolutely massive!
Most people only see the glaciers from afar, either from a distant trail or from high-up on a road. They look big from these vantage points, of course, but it doesn’t really hit you how massive they are until you walk on them, which you can do with my company Epic Backpacker Tours on the Karakoram Adventure itinerary.
Close-up, the glaciers of Pakistan are like worlds unto themselves. They have their own valleys, peaks, rivers, and fields, all made from ice. It’s a surreal experience and is definitely a good reason to travel to Pakistan.
5. The Indus Valley Was One of the Original Cradles of Civilization
In ancient times, there were only a few regions that thrived. There were gloriously fertile lands where humankind flourished thanks to a surplus of water and resources. The Nile River Delta and Mesopotamia are usually the areas that get the most attention but in reality, there were lots of other civilizations hustling hard for their space in the world!
Did you know that the Indus River was also one of the great centres of human civilization? For thousands of years, the Indus River was providing to a myriad of people a means to live in an otherwise arid land.
The ruins of Mohenjo-daro are a testament to this. Travelling along the Indus river today, there’s quite a lot of ancient towns and village ruins which you can see that sprung up around the mighty giver of life (The Indus, pay attention dude).
The Indus River is still important today. Its waters are diverted to irrigate millions of acres of farmland. In fact, Pakistan has the world’s largest continuous irrigation system thanks in part to the Indus. The picture above is taken from the ancient town of Karimabad and shows the Karakoram Highway following the old silk road’s route all the way to China.
6. The Karakoram Highway is the Highest Paved Road in the World
The Karakoram Highway is one of the greatest road trips that you can ever make – and it’s best done on a motorbike! A marvel of engineering, the highway twists and turns through the mountains in epic fashion.
Along the way, you’ll encounter UNESCO heritage sites, hidden communities, and some amazing trails where you can enjoy an off the beaten path adventure!
There are several EPIC pros to the Karakoram Highway. Aside from being the highest paved road in the world itself, it also shares the world’s highest border with China and hosts the world’s highest ATM machine, both at Khunjarab. The ATM is almost always out of cash though 😛
In August 2019, I explored the Karakoram Highway exclusively by motorbike and I can safely say – it was one of the greatest trips I’ve ever done in my ten years of travel.
7. The Faisal Mosque in Islamabad Was Once the Largest in the World
Following its completion in 1986, Islamabad’s Faisal Mosque was the largest in the world. Built with a modern design, the mosque could accommodate almost 100,000 worshipers. To put that into perspective, that was about half the population of the city at the time.
Nowadays, there are larger mosques out there and Islamabad is a much more crowded city. The Faisal Mosque is still a treat to visit though. Its unique architecture is still one-of-a-kind and it is still one of the most interesting structures in the modern Muslim world.
8. Lahore Used to Be the Capital of the Mughal Empire
The Mughals aka the guys who brought you the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort were originally based in Pakistan before they became the rulers of India as well. For a period of time, Lahore was the capital of the empire and during this time the city flourished.
Many of Lahore’s most famous structures come from the Mughals. The Badshahi Mosque, one of the most beautiful religious places in the world, the Wazir Khan Mosque (commissioned by the very same guy who brought you the Taj Mahal) and Lahore Fort were all products of the emperors.
In these buildings, you can still see the greatness of the Mughals: the ingenuity, the power, and the beauty all together.
9. There Are Over 74 Languages Spoken in Pakistan
Pakistan is a VERY diverse country. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of culturally distinct communities living there today and each has its own set of customs. Language is extremely variable in Pakistan – most citizens can speak at 3 different types.
Urdu is the official language of Pakistan but, shockingly, only 7% of people consider it their mother tongue. The local dialects of Punjabi (44%), Pashto (15%), Sindhi (15%), and Sarakhi (10%) are actually more common than Urdu. When you take the other 69 languages into consideration, then you may realize how multi-ethnic Pakistan is.
Luckily, English is widely understood too as Pakistan’s former colonial overseers, the British Raj, made English mandatory in school. The prevalence of English makes travelling in Pakistan a bit easier.
10. Malala Yousafzai is the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner EVER
If you want to feel like a piece of shit and like you’ve never done anything with your life, you should read the bio of Malala Yousafzai.
Malala was raised in the Swat Valley during the recent Taliban occupation. When the Taliban came they outlawed many things like TV, games, and education for women. Malala decided to leave Swat and began speaking in public about the oppression against women she experienced. Along the way, she was harassed, lauded, and even shot in the head by a vigilante.
In 2014, Malala was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize at the age of 19, becoming the youngest recipient ever. Having survived all of her trials (including the gunshot) she has gone on to start the Malala Fund, which seeks to support young girls who are denied an education. She is a champion of not only Pakistan but the entire human race. She is, in short, a fucking awesome human being.
11. An Arm of the Silk Road Once Came Through Pakistan
The Silk Road was THE most important trade route in history. Running through most of Central Asia and across the Mediterranean, it served as the primary connection between the West and East. It was over 7000 miles long and who knows how many tributaries it had.
One arm of the Silk Road that we do know about is the one going through Northern Pakistan. This extension ran through the Karakoram, into the Hindu Kush, and then Afghanistan before rejoining the main route.
Nowadays, the Silk Road isn’t used so much due in part to the completion of the KKH. You can still see the old route from the road when you drive through the Hunza Valley.
12. The Kalash People Are Believed to be Descended from Alexander the Great’s Army
The story goes…
Many years ago, Alexander the Great came to Pakistan during his mission to conquer the entire known world. He was returning from a bittersweet campaign in India where he had defeated a king but lost his own troop’s devotion.
On the way back home, some of his generals revolted. They dropped arms and fled into the nearby mountains. When they arrived, they found paradise and settled in the valleys. Here, they would be removed from any sort of violence or war.
Such are the stories surrounding the Kalash People of Chitral. Believed to be descendants of Greek runaways, the Kalash are fair-skinned, bright-eyed, and have wildly different cultures.
Their unique origins have made them somewhat infamous in Pakistan and the Kalash Valleys are a STUNNING place to visit and to trek.
13. Pakistan Was the First Official Islamic Republic
An Islamic Republic is a blend of democratic and caliphate legal systems. Unlike some Muslim nations that are organized in a centralized way under a single leader, an Islamic Republic incorporates representative and sometimes secular aspects into the government.
When Pakistan became an independent nation in 1947, it was not immediately deemed “Islamic.” It was only after reform in 1956 that Pakistan deemed itself an “Islamic Republic.”
Pakistan possesses a lot of features that you’d normally see in a Western nation. It has a constitution, a parliament, a Supreme Court, several branches of government, and a prime minister (currently Imran Khan – the world-famous cricket player).
Pakistan is not a totalitarian religious state, as some would believe. I’d say that Pakistan is even moderate compared to some Islamic nations and is not really radical outside of a few political parties.
14. Nanga Parbat aka the ‘Killer Mountain’ is Not the Deadliest Peak in Pakistan
In the early 20th century, Nanga Parbat quickly gained a reputation among European mountain climbers. At the time, it was one of the most intimidating mountains in the world. So many people died trying to summit it that it was eventually nicknamed “The Killer Mountain.”
Today, Nanga Parbat is still a very, very difficult mountain to climb and modern climbers still perish here pretty often. But since more of the Karakoram has opened up, more dangerous peaks have been found so if you’re seeking an even bigger challenge, well – Pakistan has got you covered!
Of course, K2 is ridiculously challenging and is generally considered the most difficult of all 8000-meter peaks. No peak conjures more terror though than Baintha Brakk. Referred to as “The Ogre,” this mountain is the stuff of nightmares and only a handful of climbers have actually summitted it.
If climbing a mountain isn’t your cup of chai, you can also get some sick views of Nanga Parbat from the Fairy Meadows Trek.
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15. Kashmir is Currently Shared by Pakistan, India, and China
There is a lot of mystery surrounding Kashmir and what it exactly is. Many foreigners believe that is a part of India. Others think that is own independent nation. Some just think it’s where cashmere sweaters come from.
Whilst there is some truth to all of the above statements, Kashmir is a tricky subject to nail down.
Kashmir typically refers to a mountainous region that straddles the current India-Pakistan border. Historically, it has vacillated between surrounding kingdoms and has been associated with Hindi, Buddhist, Tibetan, Mughal, and Persian rulers, among others.
The only things that are known for sure about Kashmir are that it is culturally its own and undeniably beautiful. People have described Kashmir as Heaven on Earth, which makes its current situation disheartening.
Since the partition, Kashmir has been claimed by Pakistan and India. It is currently torn between the nations and has been divided for a long time.
The majority of Pakistan is safe for travel, and that includes Azad Kashmir or AJK as its own. But things could still be better if everyone just got along. The vast majority of Kashmiris are Muslim and want to either be part of Pakistan or to run their own state. Indian occupation of Kashmir is, in my opinion, a crime
16. More Than Half of the World’s Soccer Balls Are Made in Pakistan
Having been to Pakistan more than a few times, I was surprised to hear that a little town in Pakistan produced half the world’s soccer balls.
I had no idea that Pakistan played such an influential role in my childhood! Without those soccer balls, how would’ve gotten my kicks in as a kid?! (I love puns.)
Soccer players can go ahead and send thank you letters to the town of Sialkot, located north of Lahore.
This town, which is responsible for producing more than just sports equipment, is a monster manufacturer and crucial to Pakistan’s economy. They’re responsible for half the world’s footballs and they’re not even doing it at an efficient level.
I don’t expect everyone to make the pilgrimage to this place but at least say a silent thank you to the people of Sialkot next time you go for a penalty kick.
17. Benazir Bhutto was also the first female leader to be elected in a Muslim nation
Benazir Bhutto has a complicated legacy. She was politically controversial, popular at home and abroad, and radical in her vision at times. Following accusations of corruption and pressure from an increasingly despotic, Musharaf-lead group, Bhutto was eventually ousted. In 2007, she was assassinated by a lone suicide bomber in Rawalpindi.
Bhutto faced Herculean trials – some were conquered while others may have lead to her demise. Although her image was constantly under fire during her career, she ultimately is seen as a hero today.
It is undeniable that Bhutto was an enormously influential person. Not only was she a powerful woman in an otherwise male-dominated society, but she was also a pioneer of democracy.
She started discussions on civil liberties, represented Islam in a positive way, and helped Pakistan connect with the outside world. She should be seen as an inspiration to other nations, especially those that struggle to imagine a woman in charge.
18. Hunza Has the Highest Literacy Rate in Pakistan
Hunza Valley is the jewel of Gilgit-Baltistan. Where other rural districts struggle to clear 50% literacy rate, Hunza has a literacy rating of 97%. That’s markedly higher than the rest of the north and actually higher than the national average of 59%.
Why is Hunza so good at reading? It could be that early governors placed a high emphasis on education. Others claim that it’s because the dominant faith here is a sect of Islam called Isma’ilism, which usually holds education in high regard.
Either way, Hunza is really something else. People here are smart, open-minded, culturally tolerant, and very friendly. Honestly, Hunzokuch are very easy to be around and are among my favourite people in Pakistan.
19. Hashish is Everywhere
Before I travelled to Pakistan, I certainly didn’t think it would be a good place to dabble in drugs on the road. How wrong was I!
While technically illegal, Pakistani hashish (a product of the cannabis plant) is truly the best in the world. You can find some of the good stuff all over the country, though the best comes from KPK.
You might be wondering… but how? Let me explain. While alcohol is explicitly forbidden in the Quran, hashish/marijuana is not. As such, you can find Pakistanis from every sect and valley enjoying the devil’s lettuce.
Foreign travellers will likely not have any issues even if caught smoking by the police, but to avoid any hassle altogether, remember that this is not Amsterdam and walking through the Walled City of Lahore enjoying a cheeky smoke is not a scene.
That’s okay though because hashish pairs best with the mountains anyway 😉
20. Pakistan Has Hundreds of Sufi Shrines
And boy do they get lit on Thursday eves! Sufism is an ‘order’ of Islam, not a sect, meaning anyone of any sect could also be a Sufi.
Sufism is characterized as “Islamic mysticism” and the goal of many Sufis is to have a direct, personal experience with God. This is often attained through a meditative, trace-like dance known as dhamal.
You can experience dhamal for yourself come Thursday at many shrines throughout Pakistan, and annually at each shrine’s Urs.
You can find Sufi shrines of all shapes and sizes all over Pakistan, though they’re most prevalent in the Sindh and Punjab provinces. Shrines usually hold the actual remains of notable Sufi saints, philosophers and poets from centuries ago, and every year thousands of pilgrims flock to their Urs festivals.
A Urs is a celebration/remembrance of each particular saint’s/poet’s death and typically goes on for three days. Notable Urs festivals that are absolutely worth attending include the Urs of Madho lal Hussain in Lahore, Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan Sharif, and the urs of Baba Bulleh Shah in Kasur.
21. Pakistan Roughly Translates to “The Place of Purity”
Stan is a Persian word that means “land” or “place of.” Pak is “purity” or sometimes “peace” in Pashtun. When the idea of an independent nation was swirling prior to Partition, the name Pakistan just kind of hit home for a lot of people.
The title is appropriate too. Pakistan is a land of purity: pure beauty, pure hearts, pure life. The country speaks to many people, not just natives. Hikers, foodies, travellers, climbers and pilgrims alike have all heard the calling to Pakistan.
22. Pakistanis Are the Most Hospitable People in the ENTIRE World!
Most travellers who have been to Pakistan say they never found anywhere else with such friendly people. I ABSOLUTELY agree.
The people are equally wonderful as the scenery and I feel a connection with many Pakistanis, whether they’re from crazy Lahore or easy-going Ghulkin. This is one of the most amazing countries in the world and I fall in love every time I go back.
The acts of hospitality I’ve received while in Pakistan have truly been shocking. From strangers insisting I stay in their homes to Couchsurfers hosting me for weeks, to store owners who refused to let me pay, I’ve truly never experienced anything like what I’ve seen from Pakistanis.
While the media is dead set on painting it differently, let this be the most important point of this article. Because the most important thing to know about Pakistan is how straight-up awesome Pakistanis all over the country are.
Travel Insurance for Pakistan
While I believe Pakistan to be a safe country to travel in, travel insurance is something you should bring absolutely everywhere and anywhere.
Members of The Broke Backpacker team have been using World Nomads for some time now and made a few claims over the years.
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If there’s one insurance company The Broke Backpacker trusts to cover them while roaming the planet’s furthest reaches, it’s World Nomads. To find out why we recommend World Nomads, check out the World Nomads Insurance review.
Getting an estimate from World Nomads is simple—just click the button or image below, fill out the necessary info, and you’re on your way!
Final Thoughts On the Things I Didn’t Know About Pakistan
Well there amigos, I hope you have now learned something new about one of my favourite places in the world. From the fabulous people to mind-blowing landscapes, rich cultures, and tasty food, there are few countries out there that are diverse and interesting as Pakistan.
And even after 6 years of exploring this place, I know I still have so much more to learn.
Now, what are you waiting for? Get yourself to Pakistan, you never know what awaits!
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