We didn’t spend much time in Pakistan, and this was mostly on the north, so again I cannot speak for the whole country. But I had some impressions that I’d like to share, mostly because they don’t come along with the view that we have of this country.
Definitively. Pakistan contains some of the most impressive views I have ever seen. The geography is spectacular and wild here. A very rich history decorates. And the people make it a great country (especially if you compare it to the neighbourhooding India!).
Rawalpindi and northern Pakistan are safe areas. Sure, you may run into some troubles, but just like you might in any “western” city. Forget about a wartime situation. Nothing like that at all. There will be some (armed) military police in couple of places (we found some in Chillas and that’s basically it), but much less than what you can find in, say, the Basque Country.
People are not happy with what happened after 11-S though. Everybody said the area was full of tourists then, and there’s almost none nowadays. We learnt that even Spanish princesses use to spend their holidays there. And that’s why most of them blame the taliban. We heard in couple of places not very nice words towards them, and neither towards the most extreme sides of their religion. I guess that when it affects your wallet, the vision you’ve got of your religion changes.
No hate for the US neither. Yes, we found some graffity against the US and Israel, but we also found lots of people wearing Tshirts with the US flag, the Yankees hats and stuff like that. It could mean that they have no clue what they’re wearing (it happens in lots of countries, especially in Spain), bit I guess the flag would be recognized everywhere…
The country is still cheap, but that much compared to what it used to be (that’s what we heard and read in older guidebooks). The standard sleeping cost is around 500 ruppies (some 4 euros/5 USD), and eating should be half of that maximum (and that’d mean a good lunch!!). A 16-hour bus trip was 1500 ruppies (but they’ll always ask for some more money for uploading your bags or simply because you’ve got bags!).
People are increadibly nice. They’ll try to buy you food or a drink most of the time, even invite your for tea to their place, and try to talk to you with the little English they know. It can even be a little bit too much at some points, mainly if you’re tired and/or if there’s a few of them, one after the other, coming to ask you the same questions time and time again.
But not everybody is like that. Police and any official charge can give you trouble. Lots of them are very nice and they treat you like any other citizen would, but you can easily come across some stupid ones who want to show off their authority or just want to steal whatever they can from you. Avoid police; if you need instructions, ask anybody else on the streets or on the road if you can. When camping, make sure there’s no police anywhere near. Getting into and out of the country, try to show them as little as possible (they took some stuff from us just because).
You might find some problems with women’s rights. Yes, they’re not very open minded on that issue. Or at least not from our point of view. Women are rarely seen the more southern you go, they’re relegated to home works mostly, their clothes are what they are… I’m obviously not in favour of all of this, but you must admit that it’s their thing. The same way us in the “west” would never buy lunch to a tourist from a richer country because our ideas/religion/tradition/beliefs tell us to (actually, we’d try to charge them more or make a whole industry around them), we shouldn’t judge this other ideas so easily. I cannot understand arranged marriages, or young girls marrying old guys, or not being able to work… but I cannot judge them so easily. I guess you need to live in the country (and speak their language) to form a clearer idea.
We had no problem at all except the rockfalls (and that was serious; I’m really happy to be alive!!). The road are in quite good conditions, there’s very little traffic and there’re towns/stopping points every so often. Also, just one pass… and you might not even be able to cycle through!! (I explain this on that day’s description).
There were couple of very hot moments when we ran out of water. We carried a water filter that proved to be very useful!! But those were our first days, so I guess if you’re used to it you shouldn’t have too many problems (we still recommend the use of the filter; reduces the plastic use of the country by a lot!! And no recycling scheme here!)
And last: visa. We found lots of people who were denied a visa into Pakistan. We obtained ours in Madrid, and it was quite easy (and cheap compared to some other countries nearby!), except the fact they ask you to go there for an interview (5 minutes of easy questions; quite pointless really). Just make it clear you’re staying in the north, you’re not going anywhere near the south, and bring some document showing that. It should all be fine!