Pakistan, with its diverse cultures, people and landscapes attracted 1 million tourists in 2012. Pakistan's tourism industry was in its heyday during the 1970s when the country received unprecedented amounts of foreign tourists. The main destinations of choice for these tourists were the Khyber Pass, Peshawar, Karachi, Lahore, Swat and Rawalpindi.
The country's attraction range from the ruin of the Indus Valley Civilization such as Mohenjo-daro, Harappa and Taxila, to the Himalayan hill stations. Pakistan is home to several mountain peaks over 7000 m, which attracts adventurers and mountaineers from around the world, especially K2. The north part of Pakistan has many old fortresses, ancient architecture and the Hunza and Chitral valley, home to small pre-Islamic Animist Kalash people community.
The romance of the historic Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province is timeless and legendary, Punjab province has the site of Alexander's battle on the Jhelum River and the historic city Lahore, Pakistan's cultural capital, with many examples of Mughal architecture such as Badshahi Masjid, Shalimar Gardens, Tomb of Jahangir and the Lahore Fort.
Before the Global economic crisis Pakistan received more than 500,000 tourists annually. In October 2006, just one year after the 2005 Kashmir earthquake, The Guardian released what it described as "The top five tourist sites in Pakistan" in order to help the country's tourism industry. The five sites included Taxila, Lahore, The Karakoram Highway, Karimabad and Lake Saiful Muluk.
To promote Pakistan's unique and various cultural heritage, the Prime Minister launched the "Visit Pakistan" marketing campaign in 2007. This campaign involved various events throughout the year including fairs and religious festivals, regional sporting events, various arts and craft shows, folk festivals and several openings of historical museums.
Pakistan is such a diverse region, it is the center of various religions and settlements long before the creation of the nation that exists today. Today, Pakistan is formed of four large provinces – Sindh, Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and four territories – Islamabad Capital Territory, Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. The cultural and physical diversity of Pakistan has developed the country into a tourist hot spot for foreign travellers as well as adventurers.
Pakistan was ranked 47 out of 200 countries in an analysis of the World Travel and Tourism Council’s (WTTC) growth figures by Lovehomeswap.com, which said "If the country becomes more peaceful, visitor numbers are predicted to rise".
Pakistan's Natural Beauty
Sindh is located in the south-eastern region of Pakistan. The province is known for its religious heritage and rapid-urbanisation. The province is home to the ancient Indus Valley Civilisation. Mohenjo-daro near the city of Larkana was one of the largest city-settlements in South Asia and is an official UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Chaukhandi tombs are another example of ancient Sindhi and Balochi heritage located near the town of Landi.
Another ancient city, Aror, located near the city of Sukkur is also a famous tourist spot for its ruins. Kahu-Jo-Darro is a famous ancient Buddhist archaeological site near Mirpurkhas were a Buddhist stupa was excavated.
The first arrival of Islam in the South Asia took place in Karachi, Sindh, Pakistan. It is the provincial capital of the province and largest city of Pakistan. It is home to the founder of the nation, Mohammad Ali Jinnah. His tomb, Mazar-e-Quaid, is the most iconic mausoleum in Pakistan. The city has the largest port in the country, Port of Karachi, followed by the second largest, Port Qasim. Karachi has also been ruled under a number of tribes which meant the city is home to a number of cultural sites including, Mohatta Palace, National Museum of Pakistan, Empress Market, Frere Hall, Jehangir Kothari Parade, Karachi Municipal Corporation Building and the Hindu Gymkhana.
There are also several beaches within the city, some of the most famous are Clifton Beach, French Beach, Sandspit Beach and Manora Island. It is also the basin for the Indus river. Port Grand Food and Entertainment Complex is a recreational area built in the centre of Karachi, Pakistan along the waterfront. The complex is expected to attract up to 5,000 visitors a day and is a major hub of shopping, dining, cultural and coastal recreational activities in the city. Port Grand spreads over an area of 200,000 sq. ft. The one kilometre bridge has been transformed into an entertainment and food enclave housing numerous eateries totalling 40,000 sq. ft of climate-controlled area and space for kiosks of exotic Pakistani and foreign food and a variety of beverages.
Punjab is the second largest province in Pakistan. It is known for its ancient cultural heritage as well as its religious diversity. The lands of Punjab have been home to a number of religions and civilisations. The Indus Valley Civilization once ruled the region and a significant archaeological find was discovered at the ancient city of Harrapa. The Gandhara civilisation was also quite dominant in the northern region of Punjab at the site of Taxila. Several other civilisations such as Greeks, Central Asians, and Persians ruled Punjab leaving a number of sites which still exist today.
The arrival of Islam came about during the rule of the Umayyad Caliphate followed by the Ghaznavids. The Mughals took control of the region and ruled its land for several centuries. The mughal heritage remained quite strong in Punjab with a large number of forts, tombs and monuments still intact today.
The Durrani Empire ruled the Punjab at the fall of the Mughal Empire for a short period following the rise of the Sikh Empire. The strong control of the Sikhs also lead to a number of sites still remaining intact throughout Punjab. The provincial capital, Lahore is the second largest city of Pakistan as is known to the Cultural Heart of Pakistan. The Mughal Empire left behind the Lahore Fort and Shalimar Gardens which are now recognised World Heritage Sites. The Walled City of Lahore, Badshahi Mosque, Wazir Khan Mosque, Tomb of Jahangir and Nur Jahan, Tomb of Asaf Khan and Chauburji are other major sites visited by tourists each year.
The tomb of Qutb-ud-din Aibak from the Delhi Sultanate is located in the historical market of Anarkali Bazaar in Lahore. The Samadhi of Ranjit Singh and Hazuri Bagh Baradari are prime example of Sikh architecture during the rule of the Sikh Empire. There a number of other sites within Lahore such as Minar-e-Pakistan, Lahore Museum, Data Durbar Complex, Tomb of Muhammad Iqbal, Bagh-e-Jinnah, Lahore Zoo, Tomb of Shah Jamal, Sukh Chayn Gardens, Gaddafi Stadium which all create a large number of visitors annually. Rawalpindi is known to be a famous hill station stop for tourists before setting out to Murree, Bhurban, Patriata, Northern Areas, Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan.
There are a number of sites from the Mughal Empire in the city of Sheikhupura called Hiran Minar and the Sheikhupura Fort. The Rohtas Fort near Jhelum is a major fort built by Sher Shah Suri is a World Heritage Site. The Katasraj temple in the city of Chakwal is a major destination for Hindu devotees. The Khewra Salt Mines is another major tourist attraction as its one of the oldest mines in South Asia. The city of Nankana Sahib is birthplace of the founder of Sikhism.
Multan is another major tourist destination in Punjab, known for its mausoleums of saints and Sufi pirs. The most famous being the Rukn-e-Alam and Baha-ud-din Zakariya. The Lal Suhanra National Park is a major zoological garden on the outskirts of the city.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is located in the north-west region of Pakistan. It is known as the tourist hotspot for adventurers and explorers. The province has a varied landscape ranging from rugged mountains, valleys, hills and dense agricultural farms. There are a number of Buddhist archaeological sites from the Gandhara civilisation such as Takht Bhai and Pushkalavati. Other archaeological sites including Bala Hisar Fort, Butkara Stupa, Kanishka stupa, Chakdara, Panjkora Valley and Sehri Bahlol.
Peshawar is the provincial capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The city is home to a number of sites including Bala Hisar Fort, Peshawar Museum, archaeological site of Gor Khuttree, Mohabbat Khan Mosque, old city of Sethi Mohallah, Jamrud Fort, the Sphola Stupa and the most famous market of Qissa Khawani. The city of Dera Ismail Khan is known to be the entrance into the province from Punjab and Balochistan. The city is famous for its Hindu ruins at Kafir Kot. The Buddhist ruins at Shahbaz Garhi are also famous in the city of Mardan. Heading North, the divisions Swat valley.
One of the most important cities in the province is Mansehra. The city is a major stop for tourists setting out to the Northern Areas and Azad Kashmir. The city is connected by the famous Karakoram Highway which ends up in China. Along the route there are several stops including the Kaghan Valley, Balakot, Naran, Shogran, Lake Saiful Mulook and Babusar Top. There are also several other sites within the province which attract a large number of tourist every year including Ayubia, Batkhela, Chakdara, Saidu Sharif, Kalam Valley and Hindu Kush mountain range in Chitral.
There are also several mountain passes that run through the province. One of the most famous is the Khyber Pass which links Afghanistan with Pakistan. The trade route sees a large number of trucks and lorries importing and exporting goods in and out of the region. The highest mountain pass in Pakistan is Shandur Pass which connects Chitral to Gilgit and is known as the Roof of the World. The pass is the centre of three mountain ranges – Hindukush, Pamir and Karakoram.
Balochistan is the largest province by geographical area of Pakistan, constituting approximately 43% of the total area of Pakistan. It is home to one of the oldest Neolithic (7000 BC to c. 2500 BC) sites in archaeology. Mehrgarh and Nausharo, was an ancient city linked to the Indus Valley Civilization. Another ancient sites dating back 800 years are the Nausherwani tombs at Qila Ladgasht. There was also an ancient port at the site of Oraea which proved to be a useful port during the Hellenistic civilisation. Quetta is the provincial capital of Balochistan. There are a number of sites of interest including the protected Hazarganji-Chiltan National Park, Hanna Lake, Quetta Geological Museum, Balochistan Arts Council Library, Quetta Archaeological Museum as well as Command and Staff College Museum. The Quaid-e-Azam Residency is another major site in Balochistan in the city of Ziarat. Ziarat is also famous for the juniper forests which are the oldest and largest in the world.
There are a number of mountain passes within Balochistan. The Bolan Pass has been the main entrance to the provincial city of Quetta. There are several others including Lak Pass, Khojak Pass and Harnai Pass. The Balochistan coastline extends from the Sindh province to the Iranian border measuring a total distance of over 750 km. The city of Gwadar holds the largest port in the province which is based near the ancient area of Makran.
Azad Kashmir is Administrative region of Pakistan situated in Northern part of the country. The northern part of Azad Jammu and Kashmir encompasses the lower part of the Himalayas, including Jamgarh Peak (15,531 feet [4,734 meters]).
Sarwali peak in the Neelum Valley is the highest peak in the state. Fertile, green, mountainous valleys are characteristic of Azad Kashmir's geography, making it one of the most beautiful regions on the subcontinent.
The southern parts of Azad Kashmir including Bhimber, Mirpur and Kotli districts has extremely hot weather in summers and moderate cold weather in winters. It receives rains mostly in monsoon weather.