It is overwhelming to realise how incredible Pakistan is… there is a need to better understand the country
“Ma’am welcome on board the PIA (Pakistan International Airlines). InshaAllah your journey with us shall be comfortable” is how the cabin crew welcomed me with smiling faces as I boarded the Peshawar-bound PIA flight from the United Arab Emirates.
It was my first-ever experience of a Pakistani airline. I was the only foreigner and the lone female passenger on the plane. I was soon attracting the attention of everyone on board. The rest of the passengers were Pakistanis returning home or visiting.
I was relaxed to see that everyone was observing Covid-19 related restrictions during the entire flight. The flight landed at Peshawar International Airport in the morning at 4 am. As I entered, the airport, it seemed small but neat and clean. The airport staff welcomed me very politely and professionally.
Despite being a frequent traveller around the world I had never experienced the polite and welcoming behavior at any other international airport. I remained in the country for 21 days and beside Peshawar visited Swat, Kalam, Malam Jabba, and the Northern Areas including Gilgit and Skardu. I also visited Islamabad and saw the world’s second-largest salt mine at Khewra in the Punjab.
I never felt like a stranger in the country throughout my stay. I felt I had to write this to tell everyone why I fell in love with Pakistan.
To begin with, Pakistan has amazing natural beauty. I don’t think it is possible to ignore just how stunning the landscapes are. Pakistan has the Hindukush, Himalaya and Karakoram mountain ranges. It has beaches, forests, deserts and rivers. It has mighty peaks like K-2, Nanga Parbat, Gasherbrum 1, 2 and 3. It also has lush green valleys, huge glaciers and beautiful lakes. These are mostly unspoiled and undiscovered and that’s the magic.
Pakistan has five peaks that are over 8,000 feet high, which is why the country is known as a heaven for mountaineering and trekking. I also travelled to the historic Khyber Pass, stunning Deosai plains and saw the amazing Mantoka waterfall in Khurman near Skardu, the serene Shangrila and Siosher lake, the beautiful Lower Kachoora lake, the meandering Silk Road and the magnificent Passu glacier. I never felt unsafe despite frequently travelling alone. I met tourists from the US, Germany, Kazakhstan and the Check Republic as well as many local tourists even though tourism has been affected by the Covid-19.
Pakistan has a unique and amazing road network. No matter how good or bad they get, these roads are amazing. Driving on these roads is an adventure. They leading one to the most inaccessible areas in the world. I drove from Skardu (the gateway to the mighty K-2) to Gilgit via the breathtaking Deosai plains even though the road remains closed almost six months a year due to heavy snowfall.
Pakistani cities are another wonder. They are bustling metropolises filled with people, cars, traffic, noise, beauty, lights, colours, a mix of tradition and modern, architecture styles, street food stalls, spices and markets, animals and everything in between. Enjoying food in old restaurants makes you think that time was stopped here. One also has the options of exclusive and prestigious places. Old and new make a perfect and unique picture of life in Pakistan.
One might be lucky to find on the street a glimpse of colours and textiles of some of the beautiful clothes worn by Pakistani women. Though the fashion here is modest, it is still bold and brave and beautiful in the way that it sparkles. It presents itself in the way it twirls all the fabrics all around you.
While we talk about the concept of fashion and art we should mention literature too. There are unique voices conveying the experience of being Pakistani. They give voice to this complex identity, grasp and capture it and turn it into art.
But the talent doesn’t end there. There is music, film making, photography and making selfies with foreigners. There is so much beauty in art-making by the artists known and unknown all across the country.
Another trait Pakistanis have that no other nation in my view has in the same measure is optimism. Living here is not always easy for everybody but all I have seen is a sea in an ocean of positivity, a consistent belief that things will somehow be okay.
Generosity is another good deed here. I am not talking about material generosity only. I am talking about generosity with time, spirit, attention, and a listening ear. I have never been refused help in Pakistan. I have been offered help, guidance, attention, information, thoughts, and souls of the people on a daily basis.
Pakistan had never figured in my calculus due to a number of reasons that I received from the media and information gathered through my friends. What we Westerners had usually gathered from the media was that Pakistan is a politically unstable state due to some conflicts with neighbouring states. This created public opinion that Pakistan is an unsafe place, especially for foreigners. I visited Pakistan ignoring the media, fake news, negative people... and now I regret I didn’t go there earlier.
It is overwhelming how incredible Pakistan is. Therer is a need to better understand the country.
Do visit this amazing country!
The writer is a trekker, climber, and traveller.