The Tomb of Asif Khan is a magnificent edifice crowned by a high bulbous dome. Asif Khan’s tomb is situated in Shahdara Bagh, adjacent to Akbari Sarai, in the city of Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan. Like that of other noble persons in the Mughal courts, Asif Khan’s tomb is also octagonal in shape and embellished using attractive designs and colours. Octagonal shaped tombs were only used for Mughal nobles and never for Mughal emperors.
Asif Khan was the title given to the Mughal statesman Mirza Abdul Hassan Jah, who was also known as Asif Jah. He was the brother the of Empress Noor Jahan, father of Arjumand Bano Begum who later became the consort of Shah Jahan under the name of Mumtaz Mahal, and he was also brother-in-law to the Mughal Emperor Jahangir. Asif Khan was elevated as Khan e Khana, commander in chief, and became governor of Lahore a year later.
Asif Khan died in a battle against the forces of rebel Raja Jagat Singh in 1641 and his tomb was commissioned to be built by emperor Shah Jahan. It cost 300,000 rupees and four years from 1641 to 1645 to complete the construction of this marvellous erection. The tomb is only separated by Akbari Sarai from Jahangir’s tomb which makes an axis.
The garden, where to tomb stands, measures 300 yards to each side and was divided by long pools along pathways into four squares (the Persian Chahar Bagh system). Each square is set with fountains, water reservoirs, and trails. The tomb once had water reservoirs at its four corners to fed fountains and pathways.
The garden was accessible through the gates erected on its northern and southern walls. The southern gate is a double storied structure, square in shape, serves as the primary entrance to the garden complex. Its southern face is decked with red stone and white marble while the other three faces are decorated with plasterwork. Its interiors feature small chambers. Its central portion features a tall two-story iwan portal finished with stucco work and flooring is done in geometrical design brickwork. The northern side gate is known as Jawab (response) gate, a two-storied structure with a central arched iwan portal flanked by four smaller portals. Its front is adorned with intricate tile work (Kashi Kari) but much of the intricate ornamental work has already gone. There is a small mosque found in the eastern wall which was used as a residence during the British era while there is access to Jahangir’s Tomb via the Akbari Sarai in the western wall.
Asif Khan’s tomb was built in Central Asian style architecture. The tomb was noted to feature some of the finest examples of building art and craft at the time of construction.
Standing in the centre of a vast garden the tomb is erected on a 3-foot 9-inch elevated podium accessible by stairs. It was built octagonal in shape with each side measuring 38 feet 8 inches with access to its interior from eight sides and arched window looking into the tomb. Each side of the tomb has a deeply recessed iwan or alcove.
The exterior of the tomb was originally decorated with red sandstone and rich marble stone inlay work. Its finishing was done with stucco tracery and blue Kashi tiles. The high bulbous double dome, resting on the octagonal base, was originally covered with white marble finishing. The use of bulbous domes was initiated by Emperor Shah Jahan and were never used before.
The interior of the tomb, renowned for its lavish use of white marble and precious inlay, ornamented with very bold stucco design, tile mosaic, and Ghalib Kari. The inner dome ceiling is decked in high plaster relief of interlacing patterns. The central cenotaph is made of pure marble carved with inscriptions from the Holy Qur’an like that in the nearby tomb of Emperor Jahangir. The floor on which the tomb stands was built red limestone (Sang-e-Abri) which does not exist anymore.
Sikh Era Mutilation
During the rule of the Sikh Empire, Asif Khan’s tomb along with Jahangir’s Tomb and other monuments were heavily damaged. Notable Sikh rulers like Gujjar Singh, Lahna Singh, and Subha Singh carried out the damages and planted large Pipal trees next to the tomb to obstruct its views which were removed later. Its marble, various decorative stones, and sandstones were pillaged and installed in the Golden Temple in Amritsar and to build the Hazuri Bagh Baradari in Lahore.
If the tomb had existed in its original shape with all designs and colours, it would have been a masterpiece. It did not attract much attention because its beauty was snatched by the Sikhs. It was later repaired by did not gain its glory. Also, the gardens and gateways were repaired too by the British and its walls were swept away by flooding in 1955 when River Ravi was inundated, and a second flood occurred in 1973 while repair work was carried out in 1986-87. But the tomb and its walls are still in disappointing condition.
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.
Modern day Pakistan is a land enormously blessed with a rich history like no other country in the world. A journey through the history of Pakistan outlines the significance and richness of this land. It is a land hosting ancient civilizations of the world and housing most significant archaeological sites recognized worldwide. These sites and cities, dating back to thousands of years, are simply a testimony to the existence of ancient civilization in human history on this land. The legacy has passed through different empires and each empire has left a mark that made the history of this country alluring. A brief account of historic events this land has hosted is highlighted below.
Ancient History of Pakistan – A journey through the ages
Soanian Culture: From the lower Paleolithic era
The edged pebble tools discovered during an excavation on the bend of the Soan River near the twin cities (Rawalpindi/Islamabad) is perhaps the oldest sign of life in the heart of Pakistan. Thus, long before the emergence of the great Indus Valley Civilization (IVC) on the banks of River Indus, about some 5,000 years ago, the earliest known humans to make present-day Pakistan their abode were a hunter-gatherer society who lived some 50,000 years ago called the Soanians. They are called Soanians because of the site called the Soan Valley where Stone Age relics are found in the form of tools and pottery. The Soan valley is a rich archaeological and natural heritage site along the Soan Riverbank. Today, the river has been reduced to nothing more than a sewer and a dump site, unfortunately.
Mehrgarh: the world’s oldest village culture
Mehrgarh is one of the most significant Neolithic (7000 B.C.E. to 3200 B.C.E.) sites located in Balochistan province of Pakistan, on the Kachhi plain near the Bolan Pass, between the cities of Quetta (Kalat) and Sibi. The 9000 years old settlement encompassing an area of about 200 hectares was discovered in 1974 by an archaeological team directed by French archaeologist Jean-François Jarrige.
The earliest settlement unearthed was a small farming village dated between 7000 B.C.E.–5500 B.C.E. from early food-producing era called Pre-Harappan phase. Evidence founded from the excavation at Mehrgarh unfolded an exceptional insight to life before and during the first stages of the Indus Valley civilization, one of the earliest sites of human civilization existed in today’s Sindh province of Pakistan.
Archaeologists divide the occupation at the site into several periods. The first period (7000 B.C.E.–5500 B.C.E.) called the Neolithic and aceramic (without the use of pottery). Early Mehrgarh inhabitants lived in mud brick houses, used to store their grain in granaries, created tools fashioned with local copper ore, and lined their large container with bitumen. The progress continued through several hundred years until 2600 BCE when the region largely became arid and was abandoned in favour of Indus Valley Civilization.
Indus Valley civilization (3300 BC to 1800 AD): An advanced society of the ancient time
The Indus valley civilization (also known as the Harappan Civilization) was a Bronze Age riverine civilization that flourished along the Indus River Valley around 3300-1800 BCE. The IVC is known to have consisted of two major cities called Harappa in Punjab and Moenjodaro in Sindh excavated in 1921 and 1922 respectively.
The more than 5000 old Indus Valley Civilization is divided into three major phases and eras: the Early Harappans from 3300 to 2600 BCE (Regionalization era), the Mature Harappans from 2600 to 1900 BCE (Integration era), and the Late Harappans from 1900 to 1300 BCE (Localization era).
The people of Indus Valley Civilization were said to be very advanced in the use of technology. Their tools and system for measurement, their uniform size moisture-resistant fire-backed bricks, their buildings and sewage system all suggest the features of a highly advanced society at a time when America was the land of Red Indians and people in Europe dressed in animal hide. By around 1800 BCE, about five million inhabitants of Indus Valley Civilization cities had been abandoned and the reason was the climate change which disrupted the rivers system and they could not produce food anymore.
Gandhara (1st Century BC to 11th century AD): the cradle of Buddhism
The ancient kingdom of Gandhara comprised of the major cities in Northwest Pakistan, the Potohar plateau, and Jalalabad in Kabul. Its main cities were Pushpapura (current day Peshawar), Pushkalavati (Current day Charsada), Mardan, Swat, Dir, Malakand, Bajaur agencies, Takshashila (modern Taxila ) in Punjab and Varmayana (Bamiyan in Jalalabad) in Afghanistan. The kingdom was the cradle of Gandhara civilization and spread to rest of the Buddhist world as far away as Japan and Korea.
Buddhism was adopted as state culture and lasted here for over 1000 years. The famed archaeological sites spread over Taxila, Swat and other cities of KP, as well as rock carvings and petroglyphs along the Karakoram Highway (ancient Silk Route), are a great reminder of the Gandhara Civilization. The Kingdome of Gandhara lasted from 6th century BC to 11th century AD. It attained its height under Kushan Kings from 1st to 5th century AD and was disappeared when it was conquered by Mahmud of Ghazni in 1021 AD.
Alexander (326 BC): The Great Conqueror
Alexander the great (famous as Sikandar-e-Azam in Urdu) of Macedonia, a wise philosopher and a fearless conqueror, entered Punjab in Pakistan from the northern route at Swat in 326 BC. He received a glorious welcome from Ombhi, the then ruler of Taxila, and was offered an alliance against the King Porus who was a source of agitation for Taxila and annexing regions. Alexander stayed at Taxila for some time and held the discussion with the learned people of the time. He left for south via the Indus River and crossed over to the region what is called Balochistan today.
Alexander wandered major parts of today’s Pakistan and left a sizeable population of his armies in every region he conquered including Gandhara. When he died in June 323 AD, most of his armies returned home but he left his mark in the form of the Greek centre and people. The Kalash tribe in the north are said to be descendants of Alexander’s men. There are relics of Alexander and his armies all over Pakistan, such as old coins commemorating his battles and victories and the Jandial Temple in Taxila.
The Maurya Empire (322 BCE – 185 BCE): an iron grip of Kings
The departure of Alexander the Great created a void which was filled by Chandragupta Maurya. He recruited an army and killed the king of tyrannical Magadha kingdom and ascended the throne and founded the Mauryan dynasty. Chandragupta used different techniques to expand his kingdom and expanded from eastern Iran to Burmese hills including the subcontinent. After 25 years of rule, he passed on the throne to his son, Bindusara, and became a Jain monk while he was Hindu. Bindusara further expanded the realm. After the death of Bindusara, Ashoka (son of Bindusara and grandson of Chandragupta), whom the world has ever known the greatest ruler, became the king of Mauryan dynasty. The empire Ashoka inherited was even larger than what his predecessors seized. He gave up violence and actively patronized Buddhism.
Ashoka (273 BC-232 BC), like his grandfather, started his career from Taxila as a governor. He himself collected the ashes of Buddha and distributed among major cities of his empires and he constructed grand stupas and renovated older ones. Dharmarajika stupa in Taxila and the Butkara stupa in Swat are two of them. Mauryan control over northern areas is confirmed from the Rock Edicts left by Ashoka, such as at Shahbaz Garhi, Mardan.
Chandragupta, the founder of Mauryan Empire was Hindu but converted to Jain and became a monk in his later life, while Ashoka promoted Buddhism but it was not clear whether he formally converted or not. The stronghold of Mauryan Empire shrank 50 years after the death of Ashoka when the king was assassinated by his own general.
The Mughal Empire (1526-1707): Where the splendid art and architecture boomed
Babar was the first Mughal ruler and founder of the Mughal Empire in the subcontinent. The dominance of the six Great Mughal Emperors lasted from 1526 to 1707 (Babur (1526-1530) Humayun (1530-1540, 1555-1556), Akbar (1556-1605), Jahangir (1605-1627), Shah Jahan (1627-1658), and Aurangzeb (1658-1707). During this period, the Mughals experienced ups and downs yet founded and built remarkable buildings with unique architecture, even boasting today, such as the Badshahi Mosque, the Shalimar Gardens, the Lahore Fort, Wazir Khan Mosque, Hiran Minar, and many more monuments in Punjab.
The Mughal way of architecture features decorating with stone carvings, glazed tile decorations, and beautiful decorative designs in precious stones set in marble. A vivid testimony is an exquisite work done inside the buildings in Lahore Fort, Badshahi Mosque, and Makli Tombs in Thatta (the largest necropolis in the world and home to the resting place of Sindh’s people, between the 14th and 18th centuries, with many belonging to kings, Queens, and saints).
The British Raj (1858 to 1947): A dominant realm in the subcontinent
The British came in the guise of East India Company, ruled the Subcontinent from 1858 to 1947 and divided the subcontinent into Pakistan and India after almost 90 years presence in the region. However, much was done by the British for the administration of the country, infrastructure, and institutions. The glorious monuments like Aitchison College Lahore, Clock Tower in Peshawar, the clock tower in Faisalabad, Frere Hall Tower in Karachi are some of the remarkable pieces of architecture left by the British.
From the mighty Himalayan Mountains in the northern areas (now Gilgit-Baltistan) – crowned with world’s highest mountains and longest deep-rooted glaciers in a knot of four mountain ranges outside polar region – to the serene beaches making the 1046 km long coastline in the south bordering the Arabian Sea, the country is enormously rich in wealth of attractions – a source for flourishing Tourism in Pakistan.
Geography and Accessibility:
Spread over an area of 796,095 km², Pakistan, a country of approximately190 million people from diverse cultural backgrounds, is poised at a strategic location on the globe. To the northeast it has 585km border with China connected through the KKH at 4,733m Khunjerab Pass. Likewise, to the southeast Pakistan has 2,912km border with India accessible through Wahga border in Lahore. Similarly, to the north and northeast Pakistan has 2,252km Durand line with Afghanistan. The legendary Khyber Pass from Peshawar in Pakistan connects Afghanistan. Finally, Pakistan shares a 909km long southwestern border with Iran and accessible by road via Taftan. To the south, there is only 1046km long coastal line bordering the Arabian Sea.
By air, Pakistan is accessible from number of international destinations by various airlines. PIA (Pakistan International Airlines) is the national flag career having direct flights to US, Canada, Europe, Middle East, and China. Likewise, international airlines including Emirates, Qatar airways, Etihad airways, Thai airways, Gulf air, Turkish airline, Kuwait airways, Saudi air, Sri Lankan airlines etc. fly to Pakistan’s major international airports including Islamabad, Lahore, Peshawar, and Karachi from major international destinations.
Historic background of Tourism in Pakistan
Since the very inception of Tourism sector, after partition of the subcontinent, it did not get its due space to grow in full capacity. Tourism remained part of the Ministry of Railways till 1955 and later functioned under Ministry of Commerce till 1964, before it was made part of Civil Aviation Department. After the creation of Tourism Development Corporation of Pakistan (TDCP) and Ministry of Tourism in 1972, tourism received a temporary attention in policy making but again in 1976 it was dragged to perform under the Ministry of Commerce. Later, between 1977 and 1996 tourism remained the part of Ministry of Culture, Sports & Tourism until a separate Ministry of Tourism was created in 2004.
However, in the 18th amendment Tourism Ministry was devolved to the provinces simply to be neglected. No any due attention and solid steps were taken on part of the state to draw benefit from this most rewarding sector practically though much has been boasted in papers.
Flow of Tourism in Pakistan
Tourism in Pakistan enjoyed its heydays during the 70s, 80s and until mid 90s when the country received record number of international tourists from all over the world, mostly from Europe and America. It was the time when international tourists would frequently travel to Pakistan without any reservation and need for invitation. It was also the time Pakistan was considered a hot tourists destination for its scenic natural beauty and alluring cultural heritage.
Major tourist attractions to fascinate international tourists included monuments and beachside in Karachi, the Mughal treasure in Lahore, the legendary Khyber Pass in Peshawar, ancient Taxila ruins in the heart of the country, and old bazaars of Rawalpindi. Besides, Chaukandi tombs, Makli hills, Shah Jahan mosque in Thatta, Ruins at Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, Palaces and Forts in Bahawalpur, Shrines in Multan, Buddhist treasure in Swat, Rohtas fort, and Salt mines were among the must visit tourist sites for culture lovers.
Likewise, for adventure enthusiasts exploring the scenic valleys of Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral, traveling to the alluring Kalash tribe, the fascinating journey along the KKH leading to Pak-China border at Khunjerab, and taking up trekking & mountaineering expeditions through the famous routes in the northern mountain kingdom have been the famous activities of foreign tourists.
Due to the flow of international tourism, a diverse range of businesses flourished rapidly in Pakistan. Stakeholders including airlines, hotels, restaurants, travel companies, tour operators, tour guides, transporters, museums, forts, ancient sites, souvenir shops, vendors, and a number of tourist attractions continued to grow and enjoyed a steady stream of income. The trend of international tourism also helped other businesses grow indirectly and the country enjoyed an aura of prosperity and happiness so more than two decades.
The downfall of international tourism:
The turn of the century proved unfortunate for the tourism industry of Pakistan and distorted the whole scenario. Some inauspicious occurrences, particularly the ill-fated incident of 9/11, which proved to be a devastating episode in the history of the tourism industry of Pakistan, lead to a decline in international tourist arrivals. The sheer drop observed in the influx of international tourism following 9/11 and the subsequent launch of “war on terror”, which broadcasted the impression to the potential markets around the world as Pakistan a major harbor of terrorism, lead to change the whole mechanism of tourism business in the country.
The decline in inbound tourism led most leading tour operators and stakeholders to reduce the field of operations or closed down the fading businesses gradually. At the same time destinations and businesses suffered poorly in the major tourist destinations. This phenomenon loomed as a gloomy aura in the tourism industry. No major immediate step was taken at any level to revive international tourism. The image of the country on the international front had altogether changed.
Realistically, there seemed no strong basis to uphold Pakistan as a tourist destination when the whole world saw the state as a chaotic destination. Pakistan was amongst the few countries that suffered most because of war on terror. It was a time of uncertainty. Most of it was only because of the biased media that fabricated and exaggerated a false notion about Pakistan on the international front. This exaggeration brought with it a hard time for the government, tourism stakeholders, and for the public at large.
Attempts for revival of tourism
Some specific attempts, however, at home and abroad were instigated to fascinate international tourism much later. The pioneering step was taken, following the devastating earthquake of 2005, was by “The Guardian” by releasing “The top five tourist sites in Pakistan” in order to help the country’s dwindling tourism industry. These sites included Taxila, Lahore, Lake Saif ul Muluk, Karakoram Highway and Karimabad.
Likewise, in 2007 Pakistan launched “Visit Pakistan” marketing campaign which involved year-long organizing of various events including fairs and festivals, sporting events, different arts and craft shows, folk festivals and numerous openings of historical museums.
Similarly, in 2009, The World Economic Forum’s Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report ranked Pakistan as one of the top 25% tourist destinations for its World Heritage sites. This credible international level ranking had positive implications on the overall image of the country.
The outcome of these successive efforts resulted in 1.1 million foreign tourist arrivals in the year 2011 and almost 1 million in 2012. However, tourism again portrayed a picture of a negative growth gradually. It might, however, be more because of global economic crisis than for anything else.
Role of Stakeholders
Private tour operators left no stone unturned to maintain connections with international markets either by promoting destinations from home using electronic and social media or by physically participating in mega international tourism fairs including ITB, WTM, and a number of other mega exhibitions. Through participation in these events, tour operators have been able to secure some business to survive.
It goes without saying that the most effective role Pakistani missions abroad could and still can play to attract international tourism by promoting the country’s remarkable destinations and that is also the need of time. It is possible by adding an informative section on tourism on their respective embassy website featuring information on tourism attractions in Pakistan. Moreover, Pakistani embassies and consulates overseas can also help boost tourism by ensuring their participation in mega tourism fairs. The most important step Pakistani missions abroad can take is by softening visa granting process.
Today if our neighboring countries enjoy boom of tourism it is most because of the continuous efforts their tourism ministries play at international level. China, India, Iran, and Nepal, for example, earn a good chunk of foreign exchange from tourism only because of the keen interest of their respective governments in boosting tourism sector, formulation of tourism-friendly policies, and effectively marketing their destinations by exhibiting their attractions in a professional manner. There is a dire need for the state tourism department to efficiently market the tourism treasure in Pakistan using essential media.
However, unless there is a strong government backing to ensure internal peace and exhibit the country’s tourism products efficiently, private tour operators’ endeavor alone will never be sufficient. Moreover, in order to boost tourism in Pakistan, there is also a dire need of public-private partnership at home which in many countries is playing a pivotal role to enhance tourism and derive enormous economic benefits.
Our competitors and their allies would try hard to portray Pakistan a failure state by investing in activities which directly discourage international tourism flow to Pakistan and malign the image of the state at an international platform. This would most times result in regulating travel advisories by the countries considered potential markets for Pakistan. Ultimately, the flow of inbound tourism tends to shrink which further leads to limited foreign exchange earnings for the country.
Tourist Attractions in Pakistan
Pakistan is abundantly blessed in all aspects of tourist attractions and has a unique potential for attracting international tourists. Within a latitudinal difference of 0 to 8611m, from the Arabian Sea to the summit of K2 (the highest mountain peak in Pakistan), a rich cultural heritage and a diverse landscape vibrantly boast its beauty. The country’s captivating landscapes, scenic valleys, burning vast deserts, golden beaches, tranquil lakes, gushing rivers, four distinct seasons, flora and fauna, diverse cultures, charming history, ancient ruins, and alluring manmade attractions make Pakistan a destination of choice.
The Coastal Highway from Karachi to Gawadar and further to Jiwani is packed with attractions. The golden beaches at Sonmiani, Kund Malir and Ormara, the Princess of Hope, the Sphinx, Hingol National Park, Buzzi wildlife sanctuary and Gwadar city are some of the attractions one can enjoy while traveling along the highway. The wetland making a unique bird sanctuary at Jiwani is an added beauty.
Sindh is rich in Heritage. Start with exploring Karachi. The beach site, Museum, Mazar-e-Quaid, Frare Hall, Quaid-e-Azam museum house, Mohatta Palace, Tooba mosque, Clifton beach, and Hawks bay are some of the prominent sites to visit. While traveling north from Karachi to Punjab via N-5 National Highway one can come across countless of attractions. Chaukandi Tombs, Makli Hills, Helji Lake, Keenjhar Lake, Lake Manchar, Bhanbor,
Pakistan also has the leverage of being a country hosting six of the world heritage sites and almost three times as many are on the wait list. All these sites have an international recognition and are a reason to attract international tourists.
The fact that only the physical environment is not the viable solution to attract international tourists, there also has to be an amicable social environment for a country to be tourism friendly. What tourists expect on a foreign land is the best value for their money. This is only possible when all the essentials of pleasure are made available to the tourists with least invasion on their privacy without compromising on our cultural values. There has to be a balance between tourist demand and our cultural values.
Recent Developments in tourism sector in Pakistan
Obviously, there are hurdles in promoting tourism in Pakistan but there have also been gradual developments most recently. With tireless efforts of Pakistan army, the successful operation Zarb-e-Azb had great repercussions on the overall internal stability in the country. The operation led to improved law and order situation and stability in the affected parts of the country. Pakistan seems to have regained the lost glory after a long period of uncertainty which is a great omen for the tourism industry in Pakistan.
Likewise, the Karakoram Highway (KKH) which was considered to be a great lure to attract international tourists has now been reconstructed. It embraces a rich treasure of attractions for tourists traveling along the highway from Hasanabdal all the way to Pak-China border at Khunjerab. Lush green fields, waterfalls and creeks, valleys, snow-capped mountain peaks, glaciers, historic monuments, Petroglyphs, and people with diverse cultural background are all part of this highway. The recent reconstruction of the highway paved the way to international tourists, including Chinese tourists, to visit Pakistan through Khunjerab. This will result in a boom of tourism to Pakistan in general and Gilgit-Baltistan in particular in the coming years.
Gondogoro La, a famous pass at 5,585m altitude was subject to NOC and full expenses of a liaison officer which most times resulted in cancellation because of formalities and high costs. Recently the condition of accompanying liaison officer has been lifted and the process has been made easy which has made it easy for tour operators to promote the famous route for international tourists.
Foreign tourists will no longer need no-objection certificate (NOC) to travel to Malakand Division. The statement issued by Tourism Corporation Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (TCKP) was a major initiative to promote tourism. All foreign tourists now no longer need NOC to travel to Swat, Chitral and other areas of KPK province.
The Karakoram Highway (KKH) is the highest paved international road and a major trade artery linking China and Pakistan at the Khunjerab Pass at an elevation of 4,733 meters. The highway is also a legendary tourist attraction encompassing a rich blend of historic landmarks, cultural diversity, and natural beauty – a thrill for adventure lovers.
Starting from Hasanabdal in Punjab province of Pakistan, the Pakistani section of the highway culminates at the Pak-China border at Khunjerab Pass. The entire highway passes through the rugged terrain of KPK, twisting northeast along the bank of River Indus, and glides through the Karakoram and Pamir Mountains until it meets the Chinese section at Khunjerab Pass. The Chinese section of the highway continues further along the Pamir Mountains to Kashghar. The Karakoram Highway is called the Friendship Highway in China. Yet, due to its rugged terrain, high elevation, and hard conditions in which it was forced through, it is sometimes referred to as Eighths Wonder of the World.
The total length of the KKH is approximately 1300 (810 mi) km, with 887 km in Pakistan and 413 km in China Though the new route does not follow exactly the old silk route but the track follows mostly the same region so it can be said as revive of the old Silk Route. It is estimated that each kilometer constructed cost a labor, both Pakistani and Chinese. The Chinese workers who died during the construction are buried in the Chinese cemetery or China Yadgar in Danyore near Gilgit.
Historically the Karakoram Highway was a caravan trail – one of the several branches of the ancient Silk Route that has hosted traders, pilgrims, warriors, and common men for several centuries whose movement along the route brought about tremendous changes in social, cultural and economic aspects of the lives of residents.
Construction of the Highway
Long before the Karakoram Highway or the KKH was constructed the northern areas (now Gilgit-Baltistan) were attracted by the Russians, Chinese, and the British merely due to its strategic importance yet the access to the region was a sheer challenge. The British being in power during the 1800s decided to sustain their authority by building an all-weather communication infrastructure along the Indus. Materializing the idea was not an easy task though. The British simply improved an old Srinagar foot track into a mule track at the initial phase and later another seasonal passage was devised through Chilas over the Babusar Pass to connect to the Kaghan valley which hardly remained open for 3 months a year during summers.
Following the partition of the subcontinent in 1947, the Srinagar road was blocked permanently. It was the time when the northern areas were divided into several states functioning under the local rulers. In the year 1958, to build an all-weather road link between Swat and Gilgit, Indus Valley Road (IVR) was conceived. Its construction was started as a joint venture of the two governments in 1959. In 1966, under a Sino-Pak agreement, the government decided to develop the IVR into the Karakoram Highway. Near the completion phase, the construction work was discontinued due to financial constraints when the war broke out between Pakistan and India in 1971 but the valuable assistance from China made it possible to carry on.
At the initial stage, the KKH was to construct from Thakot to the Khunjerab Pass and then to be linked to the highway on the Chinese side. But later the entrance was shifted from Thakot to Hasan Abdal and the project was completed in 1979. The highway was opened to the general public in 1986. During the course of construction, about 800 Pakistanis and 200 Chinese workers lost their lives, mostly in landslides, yet the unofficial toll is believed to be much higher.
Reconstruction of the Karakoram Highway
In June 2006, a MoU was signed between Pakistan’s NHA and China’s CRBC to upgrade the KKH with overall width expansion from 10 to 30 meters to accommodate heavy-duty vehicles even in extreme weather conditions. However, the construction was carried out but the width remained almost the same as the original.
During the course of construction, the Attabad incident took place on 4 January 2010 when a section of the highway was damaged by a massive landslide in the Attabad valley of Hunza, about 19 kilometers upstream from Hunza’s capital of Karimabad,. The landslide shaped the 23 km long Attabad Lake, interrupted the flow of Hunza River and general travel along the Karakoram Highway. Construction of the tunnels through a revised 24 km long route began in July 2012 and was completed in September 2015. The realigned route through newly constructed 5 tunnels and a bridge restored the road link between Pakistan and China.
Socio-Economic Significance of the Highway
The entire region being mountainous the highway slashes through the collision zone between the Eurasian and Indian plates where China, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan come within 250 kilometers (160 mi) radius. Essentially because of the enormously complex Kashmir conflict between India and Pakistan, KKH has strategic and military significance to these nations, particularly Pakistan and China. The construction of Karakoram Highway has not only enriched trade and tourism between Pakistan and China but has contributed significantly to the improvement in living standards of the local population. CPEC is expected to bring enormous economic gains to the region but China and Pakistan are planning to link the Karakoram Highway to the southern port of Gwadar in Balochistan through the Chinese-aided Gwadar-Dalbandin railway, which extends to Rawalpindi.
Tourism Potential along the Karakoram Highway (KKH)
The Karakoram Highway has sought to receive international recognition and is now ranked as a niche adventure tourism destination. From Hassan Abdal (about 50kms from Rawalpindi city) the dual carriage asphalt ribbon leaves dusty plains of Punjab and enters through the lower Himalayas of Hazara district while heading north winding through several interesting natural and historic sites until the Pakistan section of the road meets the Chinese part at Khunjerab border in upper Hunza valley.
The Pakistani section of the highway is connected through more than 90 small and large bridges while making the way through the junction point of three mighty mountain ranges – the Karakorams, the Hindukush, and the Himalayas – and also the high Pamirs in Gilgit-Baltistan. From Hasan Abdal the highway winds through many beautiful spots up to Thakot where it meets the Indus River. The highway further traverses parallel to the Indus River for almost 300 km to the junction point and joined by the Gilgit River. The highway then passes through Gilgit after almost 40 km, the capital of Gilgit-Baltistan, where Gilgit River is joined by the Hunza River and continues through the valleys of Nagar and Hunza for another 280 km before it climbed to Khunjerab border.
The entire 887 km section of the Karakoram Highway in Pakistan from the plains of Punjab to the culmination at the Khujerab border, the land is extremely diverse and rich in tourist attractions – from the272 BC edicts of Ashoka in Mansehra to the world’s highest metal border at Khunjerab Pass encompassing a blend of attractions including rocky and snow-crowned mountain peaks, glaciers and rivers, tiny mountain valleys and terraced fields, fruit laden orchards and serene pastures, hiking trails and challenging treks, the junction point of three mountain ranges in the world and the collision point of Eurasian and Indian plate, people with diverse cultural background speaking different languages and dialects, and the four distinct seasons manifesting a diverse range of natural colors. The Karakoram highway is a paradise for cyclists and bikers to explore thoroughly.
Major Attraction along the Karakoram Highway (KKH)
To begin with, the historic 4-yard thick and 16 yards high fortress in Haripur (Now serving as police station); then Major James Abbott’s historic city – Abbottabad; the 272 BC edicts of Ashoka of Maurya dynasty inscribed on three large boulders in Mansehra; more than 20,000 pieces of rock art and petroglyphs dating back to between 5000 and 1000 BC concentrated at ten major sites between Shaital and Hunza; access to Fairy Meadows and Nanga Parbat BC, stunning views of Nanga Parbat (The Killer mountain and 2nd highest in Pakistan 8,126m high); Junction point of three mountain ranges; Kargah Buddha and Henzal Stupa near Gilgit town; attractions in Gilgit city; Chinese Graveyard and ancient rock carvings in Danyore; Monument in Rahimabad; Collision point of Eurasian and Indian Plate near Chalt; Sections of ancient silk rote along the highway; Rakaposhi View Point; Altit Fort & Baltit Fort; Duikar; Karimabad town, Altit old settlements, and ancient village of Ganish; Haldikish; Attabad Lake and Borit Lake; Passu Cathedrals and Batura Glacier; scenic views of Rakaposhi, Diran, Golden Peak, and Lady Finger; Hoper valley and Hoper Glacier, Passu valley and glacier, and the tiny terraced valleys along the gorge leading to Khunjerab, and the Hunza River, Gilgit River and Indus River are all part of this beautiful journey.
The KKH was ranked as “third best tourist destination” in Pakistan by “The Guardian”. It provides mountaineers and cyclists easy access to the attractions along the highway including mountains, glaciers, and lakes and also to interact with people. The highway also provides access to the two major tourist destinations –Gilgit and Baltistan – which host the highest mountains and longest glaciers outside polar region besides manifesting wealth of attractions.
For travelers along the KKH, there are sufficient food and accommodation arrangements. The major stopovers recommended are at Besham, Chilas, Gilgit, Hunza, and Sust where tourists can find standard accommodation at a reasonable price. There are also several short excursions to the nearby mountains, glaciers, and valleys one can carry out between Gilgit and Khunjerab. The best time to travel along the KKH is between April and November. The border at Khunjerab remains closed from the end of November until the start of April every year.