Pakistan

March 27, 2018

Dramatic Mausoleum of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan.
Pakistan was phenomenal. It was one of the friendliest countries I've ever visited.

I spent several days in each one of the three major cities:

• Karachi (commercial capital);
• Lahore (cultural capital); and
• Islamabad (political capital).

Some mosques were extraordinary and historical highlights were impressive, but the heartfelt welcomes everywhere every day astonished me the most.

Packed into a territory not much larger than Texas or France are some 200,000,000 people, making Pakistan the world's sixth most populated country.

English and Urdu are the official languages and almost all urban signs were in English. Most people I encountered spoke some English or were fluent in English. That helped a lot when I walked around Karachi or Lahore without a trusty guide.

Karachi

A fast growing mega-city, the dense Karachi urban area has over 25 million people making it the sixth largest in the world. Many fond photos but now my highlights:
What a welcome to Pakistan!
My first day in Karachi I walked over to nearby Bagh-e-Quaid-e-Azam Park filled with hundreds of guys playing dozens of games of cricket. They stopped several games to come welcome me. Suddenly music was on a loud speaker and celebratory dancing ensued. I declined the invitation to dance but was busy with lots of hand shakes and many selfies. Wow, I'm gonna like this country a lot.

The second day in Karachi each time Pakistanis asked me to join them in a selfie, I started asking for a camera photo in return.

Pakistan's privately owned buses and trucks are famously colorful, garish, and whimsical.

Completely unlike the rococo buses is the streamlined, mid-century modern Islamic design of the enormous Tooba Mosque; it had a small madrasa for a dozen boys.

Christians (mainly Catholics) in Karachi were surprisingly high profile. Above is St. Patrick's Cathedral where girls were practicing for an Easter presentation. The new towering cross (140 foot high) is the largest in Asia. Roughly one million out of 25 million in the Karachi area are Christian. Over 90% of Pakistanis are Muslim.

With Ameer, a gentleman and wise guide in Karachi,
at the handsome Ali Jinnah Mausoleum (aka Mazar-e-Quaid).

Another important mausoleum is the shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi. Thousands come daily to pray and pay homage to this 8th century Sufi mystic who has become a sort of patron saint of Karachi.

The large, strong Pakistani military establishment has been a powerful force in the country's politics. Above is part of the museum and park honoring the navy. Another even larger complex features the air force.

At Clifton Beach were Pakistani tourists from inland getting their first glimpse of the Arabian Sea. Also saw this festooned camel promenading on the beach sand.

Clifton Beach area was by one of the more upscale parts of Karachi.

Lahore

With many of Pakistan's Mughal treasures, Lahore is the top tourist destination. It's also big with over 10 million people (about the size of the Chicago metro area).


Beautiful morning in Lahore walking around Jahangir's Tomb and Kamran's Baradari Pavilion and chatting with students from the University of the Punjab.

The Badshahi Mosque was breathtakingly beautiful. For good reason is it Lahore's most iconic landmark and, like the Taj Mahal, another triumph of Mughal architecture.

Over four centuries ago, using mostly red sandstone and intricate marble inlay, the Badshahi Mosque was constructed with this brilliant, balanced composition of elements.

The Badshahi Mosque was the one and only location where Pakistani women asked me to join them in photos. Cool. Those on the left subtly let me know they are Christian. And most ⎼ but not all ⎼ Muslim women like those on the right wore a scarf, hijab, or sometimes more covering; practices varied.

Opposite Badshahi Mosque is the imposing Alamgiri Gate of Lahore Fort from the 1500s.

Fashion at the Fort: Striking model strikes a pose and photographer moves into place. Behind her a minaret of the Badshahi Mosque and dome of a Sikh temple.

Jointly lowering the Pakistani and Indian flags as the border closes for the evening has become a theatrical ceremony and pep rally at the Wagah border crossing. Nothing like it in the world. Big amphitheaters have been built to seat the daily crowds of rivals on each side of the border. Bring your earplugs. Plus, photo with the nice guys I was sitting beside.

Here is a sample of my reciprocated shots following selfie requests.
(Yes, it took a while to finally finish that cappuccino you see in several of these photos.)

Narrow street in the old town in Lahore.

Older neighborhoods, such as this part of Lahore, were often wonderfully jammed with motor bikes, horse carts, buses, cars, and tuk-tuks (aka "chingchis" in Pakisan).

My most memorable experience of intense comradery was at the shrine of a deeply revered Sufi saint Data Ganj Baksh. At one point, it was overwhelming to be surrounded by so many sincere young men and older men waiting to shake hands and wanting to make me feel welcome and my visit appreciated. Two of the shrine caretakers brought me that garland of roses. Difficult not to choke up.

Cameras were not allowed but I was given this one photo taken with a cell phone as I was exiting. Actually it was nice to embrace the experience without the distraction of photos.

Islamabad

This city was purpose-built in the 1960s to replace hectic Karachi as the national capital. It has become the most affluent (and expensive) city in Pakistan with wide boulevards, large white granite government buildings, and relatively costly housing.
On the interesting five-hour drive from Lahore to Islamabad, we stopped at the old Rohtas Fort built in the 1500s with a five kilometer wall. More friendly college boys in blue.

On a hill overlooking Islamabad sits the creatively designed Pakistan Monument with the large petals representing the four provinces and the small petals for the three territories.

Ultra-modern Faisal Mosque in Islamabad is the largest in Pakistan and one of the ten largest in the world.
Final photo is my favorite. Smart eyes, friendly smiles, pretty hijabs. Near the mosque, I had a chance to ask gently for a photo. I introduced myself as an American tourist who loved Pakistan and they welcomed me and said "OK, sure."

Some Reflections...

Click to see a larger map.
Many Pakistanis were painfully aware of a bad national reputation and strongly negative travel advisories. The U.S. State Dept. dismisses the whole country and "warns U.S. citizens against all non-essential travel to Pakistan."

As usual the British and Australians offer more nuanced appraisals that identify specific areas to avoid (see map) but they don't green light travel here either.

Still the UK advisory admits: "Around 270,000 British nationals visit Pakistan every year. Most visits are trouble-free."

I want to scoff at the overly cautious warnings but, alas, the day I arrived in Lahore a Taliban suicide attack killed a dozen policemen twenty miles south of my hotel. Happily, I only met the 99.99% of average Pakistanis who could not have been kinder and gave me an unforgettable, thoroughly wonderful nine days.