Derived from the Persian words Punj (five) and Ab (water), Punjab literally means “(The land of) Five Rivers” referring to the Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Sutlej, and Beas. The Beas is now in Indian Punjab and Indus is included as the fifth river of Punjab in Pakistan. Punjab is the most fertile, populous, and prosperous province of Pakistan housing approximately 56% of the country’s population.
Geographically, Punjab is the land of contrasts, mostly consists of the alluvial plain of the Indus River and its four major tributaries – the Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, and Sutlej rivers. From the plains of the Indus River to the deserts of Cholistan and from the Himalayan foothills to the Potwar plateau and the Salt range, it encompasses an area of 205,344 square kilometres. The province is surrounded by Kashmir to the northeast, the Indian state of Punjab and Rajasthan to the east, Sindh to the south, Baluchistan to the southwest, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to the west and Islamabad (the capital) to the north.
There are 36 districts in the province of Punjab. Lahore is the provincial capital and the largest city which had been the historical capital of the wider Punjab region before the creation of Pakistan. Major cities in Punjab include Bahawalpur, Multan, Gujranwala, Sargodha, Sialkot, Gujrat, Sheikhupura, Sahiwal, Faisalabad, Lahore, Jhelum, Attock, and Rawalpindi,
Shreds of evidence reveal that man settled on the bank of the Soan River more than 100,000 years ago. However, it was the 5000 years old Harappan civilization that shaped subsequent cultures in South Asia and Afghanistan and still speaks louder today. Invaders from Greece, Central Asia, Iran and Afghanistan entered the subcontinent through Punjab due to its strategic location. Historically Punjab has been part of various empires and dynasties including the Indus Valley Civilization, Aryans, Kushans, Scythians, Greeks, Persians, Arabs, Turks, Ghaznavids, Timurids, Afghans, Mughals, Sikhs, and the British just before the creation of Pakistan.
Traditionally the land of Punjab has served as an epicentre on the old Mughal Highway – the Grand Trunk Road (GT Rd) – from Central Asia to the Indian subcontinent. Lahore even then (way before partition) was the capital for almost thousand years and remained a significant cultural, historical and intellectual hub of the region.
During the partition of the subcontinent in 1947, the Muslim dominated areas went on to constitute the present-day province of Punjab while the Sikh and Hindu controlled regions formed the Indian states of Punjab. Punjab today serves as the hub of the nation and centre of all political and economic progress.
The warm-hearted and fun-loving people of Punjab live in rural and urban areas making up a heterogeneous society belonging to tribes, clans, and communities. Punjabi people in the villages live a simple and harmonious life having respect for cultural norms yet with strong beliefs on superstitions like ir-faqeers, Jogi, Taweez, manat-ka-dhaga, saint of repute, and black magic. In the cities, however, due to literacy, people have become somewhat rational. Punjabis also believe in the caste system but gradually with rising education, the differences are getting blurred. Popular casts of Punjabis are: Jats, Maliks, Mughals, Arains, Gujjars, Awans, Rajputs, Gakhars, Khokhars, Sheikhs, Kambohs, Niazis, Legharis, Khosas, Dogars, Mirani, Qureshis, and Syeds.
The traditional dress for Punjabi men in the villages is Pagri (turban), dhoti/Lacha (lose cloth used as tourers) kurta (knee-ling shirt), and Khusa (traditional shoes). Women wear Gharara, or choridar pyjama or colourful shalwar kameez, Paranda, choli/duppata, Khusa, kola puri chappal or Tillay wali Jutti. In cities, both men and women follow fashion and wear trend trendy dresses.
Punjab was predominantly a Hindu state with some Buddhist minorities before the arrival of Islam by Muhammad bin Qasim in 712 AD. Gradually the religion spread in the region through the strong teachings of Sufi saints. Although the region remained under the Mughals control for more than 200 years from 1524-1739 who erected great architectural wonders; mostly mosques, forts, and gardens, the province has been strongly influenced by Sufism. Numerous Sufi shrines spread across Punjab which attracts millions of devotees annually.
Arts and crafts
Punjab being the most populated province is also the major manufacturing industry in Pakistan’s economy. There is a place for manufacturing of each art and craft. Major produce of the province included basketry, pottery, textile, embroidered cloth woven on handlooms, cotton, silk, carpets, stone craft, jewellery, metalwork, truck art, woodworks, etc.
The rich culture of Punjab traces its roots in the highly developed Harappan Civilization. The succeeding civilization gradually shaped the culture from time to time. Therefore, the Punjabi culture is deeply rooted in philosophy, poetry, music, artistry, architecture, and cuisine. The scope, density and history of its culture are rather vast. However, Sufism had a significant role to play in the society in spreading Islam which is the main source of harmony among the people. There were other religions with traditions tied. People have different festivities to commemorate these traditions. The fairs and festivals of Punjab reflect the entire circle of its folklife and cultural traditions. Punjab is known in Pakistan for its relatively liberal social attitudes.
Punjab is home to the Punjabis and several other ethnic groups. Punjabi is the mother tongue spoken by 44% of Pakistanis and understood by most of the population followed by Saraiki, Hindko, Pahari, Pathowari along with some other dialects. Urdu is the national language spoken mostly in the cities to communicate with non-Punjabi populations and English being official language used for official correspondence.
People of Punjab celebrate both religious and cultural festivals with zeal and zest. Shab-e-Barat, Eid ul Fitr, Eid ul Adha, Eid Milad u Nabi, and Muharram are revered religious festivals of Muslims while cultural festivals include national horse and cattle show, Pakistan day, Baisakhi/Vaisakhi (Sikh festival), Basant, Teej, and Kanak Kati.
Punjabi foods are delicious and most traditional Punjabi dishes are usually made using oil or clarified butter with extensive usage of spices. The food is eaten either with rice or roti (bread). Sugar tea, butter and paratha are part of breakfast. Major Punjabi dishes for lunch and dinner mostly made in villages are Mash di daal, Makai ki rotti, Saron da Saag, while in cities Choley, Haleem, Biryani and other popular spicy dishes. Zarda, Gulab-Jamuns, Kheer, and Jalaibi, are popular sweet dishes while Samosa and Pakorey are eaten any time with tea mostly as a refreshment. During summers people drink lassi, doodh-soda, aloo bokharey ka sharbat, lemonade etc.
Punjab is richly diverse in tourist attractions – from the prehistoric era to contemporary times. The timeline of the province is lavishly rich in significant events and erections that have turn out to be a rich heritage today. Its diverse landscape is rich in natural attractions and manmade marvels. From the cool and cloudy hill stations of Murree to the burning deserts of Cholistan the province harbours the Khewra Salt Mines, sites of Buddhist and Hindu influences, Islamic heritage, Mughal architecture, Sikh legacy, the British heritage, and the glorious buildings of the Nawabs of Bahawalpur. Punjab has the potential of becoming a destination of choice owing to what it preserves for tourists including historical monuments, cultural diversity and hospitable people.
Punjab is also one of South Asia’s most developed regions with approximately 40% of people living in urban areas. Its human development index rankings are high relative to the rest of Pakistan. Its economy is supported extensively by agriculture followed by industry and both sectors are the main sources of income and employment. The agricultural output of the province contributes 68% of Pakistan’s food grain production. Wheat, rice, corn, millet, cotton, sugarcane, fruit, and vegetable are the major productions. Likewise, the manufacturing industries make up 24% of the province’s GDP by producing textiles, machinery, electrical appliances, surgical instruments, metals, bicycles and rickshaws, floor coverings, and processed foods.
The economy of Punjab is subject to the climatic conditions as is mostly supported by agriculture. It is not uniform over the entire region; weather extremes are notable from the hot and barren south to the cool hills of the north making the sections adjacent to the Himalayas receiving heavier rainfall. Punjab’s climate is characterized by three distinct seasons – hot summers (mid-April to June end with temperature reaching to 49 °C (120 °F)), monsoon (July to September), and cold and foggy winters accompanied by rains (December and January with average temperature of 5 °C (41 °F)) – and two transitional periods between monsoon and winter, and between winter and hot season.
During the transitional period from winter to the hot season, sudden hailstorms and heavy showers may occur followed by temperature rise; springtime weather continues until mid-April when the summer heat just about to set in.
Best time to visit
Most of Punjab, except the Murree Hills near Islamabad, is located southwards and makes up the hottest regions of Pakistan. Punjab is the best to visit during winters preferably from November to March. During summers, it is sometimes unbearable for the heat resistant tourists visiting from the cooler regions of the world.
Things to do
Be it an adventure tour or cultural city sightseeing, Punjab has a diverse range of attractions. Murree hills offer a great retreat during summers for the heat resistant while people rush from far regions to enjoy the snow. The Mughal heritage in central Punjab has always been a focus for culture lovers while the Sufi shrines in Multan and the iconic castles of the Nawabs of Bahawalpur have no parallel for the architectural intricacy and rugged beauty. Besides, the Khewra salt mines, Ketasraj temples, and Wahga border flag lowering ceremony are must-visit places for all tourists.
Punjab being in the heart of the country has easy access to/from all provinces and territories of Pakistan. There are airports in Lahore, Multan, Bahawalpur, and Islamabad giving direct international access from around the world. By road, Punjab is well connected by train and by bus.