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There, I will leave Pakistan with regret after almost two months. Some strong moments, others, more tranquil, and a few really boring moments.
I did not make any publication concerning my stay except for a few photos. But for those interested, a first article was published in Road Trip No. 53 concerning my crossing of Balochistan and a second should be published in Road Trip No. 54 concerning my stay with Prince Malik. But to know more about it, you’ll have to wait until June (yes, the written press has its own tempo, far from the Internet… but I think the pleasure of reading an article in a magazine remains something different.)
I would have liked to write an article about northern Pakistan, a mountainous landscape, which is probably the most beautiful region of Pakistan… but until now the temperatures were too cold and now that the weather would allow me to go there… I have to leave the country without a visa. I will come back to this last point a little later.
What I loved about Pakistan:
- The reception! To say that Pakistan is probably the most welcoming country in the world is not an exaggeration. Even the Iranians, whose welcome is more than exemplary, are not reaching their level. I do not have the words to describe to you how hospitable the Pakistani people are. I am almost 57 years old, I have been travelling since I was a child and I have never met such hospitality before. Amazing Pakistan.
- The food. Certainly it’s spicy. But it’s frankly good. Feel free to try street-food in Lahore in particular, you will be surprised by the variety of flavours. Feel free to test the different fruit juices as well: they are excellent. As for health risks. Well, certainly I had a little dysentery that lasted 24 hours once. But nothing bad, no more than anywhere else in any case.
- Rural life and traditions. Alongside the Prince, I was able to discover a people whose traditions are rooted in centuries.
- Corollary to the previous point: Horses and equestrian traditions. I am a rider, and I must admit that I had no idea that Pakistan had such an equestrian tradition. I particularly appreciated the finesse of their horses and was amazed to attend the Tent Pegging competitions and “Horse Dancing” shows. I won’t say more about it: it will be the theme of my next article in Road Trip.
What surprised me :
The dynamism and modernity of some entrepreneurs. I have the opportunity to visit the offices of a tourism agency (130 people) and a farm (about 100 dairy cows). In both cases, a professionalism and a modernity that I did not expect to find here. Like what… never have any preconceived ideas.
What I didn’t like so much:
- A people of men. Once again I think I can say that I am an “experienced traveller”, but I have never been to a country with so few women on the streets before. There are certainly some, and fortunately, but they are really not very present in the landscape.
- Garbage, and in particular plastic piles thrown here and there. In particular, I remember a street I rode on a motorcycle in Lahore. Cars, motorcycles, tuk-tuks and pedestrians were travelling in the middle of a real open dump for several kilometres. I didn’t have my camera with me at the time, but I plan to go back and take some pictures.
- The impossibility of driving on motorways by motorcycle: they are prohibited. There is certainly a possibility for motorcycle owners over 600 cc to obtain a permit allowing them to travel on these highways… but this authorization is only granted at the end of a procedure that I suspect (burned by my experience “visa extension”, I did not have the patience to try to obtain it), can take several weeks.
What I hated: The administrative hassles! So there, clearly of all the countries I have been through since the beginning of this trip, except Turkmenistan perhaps, Pakistan is REALLY the bad student in the class. Some explanations are required:
- Obtaining a visa: the visa must be obtained at the embassy of your country of residence. This is a real problem for the long-distance traveller…. since by nature, he is not for long months in his country of residence. For my part, I had solved this problem by leaving my second passport in France. It was a specialized agency that obtained the visa for me and then sent the passport. But this is expensive (DHL fees are high), risky (risk of losing the document) and requires 2 passports. In addition, while I had initially planned to return to Pakistan in June, I gave up this option which would have forced me to send my passport back to France (so double DHL fees, plus agency fees, plus visa fees, in the end the bill is high).
- Visa extension. I made the mistake of making this request to Islamabad. Obviously the procedure is simpler, faster and more flexible in Lahore. That being said, I met a young traveller who applied to Islamabad and easily obtained an extension of several months with multiple entries when the attendant had told me that it was impossible… so it was a bit at the head of the client and I suspect that the fact that she was a pretty young woman helped a lot… for my part, I only obtained an effective extension (and not extendable: final extension) of 3 weeks after 3 weeks of delays. The procedure is also complex. You have to go to 2 different administrations to submit a file each time and then come back for the agreement and then the visa a few days later. By comparison, visa extensions in Iran were made in less than 2 hours each time. For those interested, you will find details of this procedure here.
- Visa on line and on Arrival. Pakistan wants to develop tourism. As such, they have just abolished the NOC that have hitherto been mandatory for foreigners (authorization to travel on Pakistani territory). They should also very soon implement an online visa procedure and on arrival, of which I do not have the details at the moment, BUT
o This only applies to people arriving by plane (so as a frequent traveller by road I am excluded)
o This requires arriving in Pakistan by air (impossible for example to arrive in India – where air tickets are significantly cheaper) and to travel to Pakistan on a leisure trip involving both countries for example.
Travelling as a woman in Pakistan
Ladies, can you travel as a single woman to Pakistan? Without hesitation, the answer is YES. You will be extremely welcome there even if sometimes some will be a little too insistent according to some testimonies of single women that I was able to collect. I met 4 young women about 20/30 years old, pretty and travelling alone in Pakistan (an American, a French woman, a Canadian woman, and a Chinese woman). For more information, I invite you to consult the pages of one of them, Alex.
In conclusion: is Pakistan a country to visit?
Without hesitation, the answer is YES. Personally, I loved this country, and I would have stayed there longer without this administrative hassle.
If you still have a doubt, go have an look on that article from an young american woman
Visa: you must ask for it in Paris (in your country of residence) – so you must have a second passport that you leave on the spot or do it before leaving but it requires having fairly precise dates and you must have a letter of invitation (see agency to have this letter on the caravanistan website). I called an agency. Cost: 50 dollars for the letter + 86 euros for the visa + agency fees. Plan photos, and a long list like the arm of paper (including bank statement) and an equally long form to fill out with your ancestry over 10 generations (I exaggerate a little I admit lol)
- Website of the Pakistani Consulate in Paris: http://www.pakembparis.com/visa/
- The visa for Pakistan can only be obtained in the country of residence.
- It is valid for 1 month but you can enter the countries within 6 months of its date of issue
- It is necessary to have a letter of invitation. https://caravanistan.com/visa/pakistan/loi/
- A form must be completed and all supporting documents requested must be attached
- It is complicated to obtain. I advise you to go through an agency.
At the time of writing, Pakistan has just implemented an e-visa procedure. For the moment, it is limited to certain countries and available only for arrivals at an airport. But the situation could change quite quickly, so check back.
Border crossing: We are taken care of by the Levies (security force) very quickly. Possibility to change cash with some resellers. The course is not very interesting, so change only the minimum: enough to fill up with gas, and buy some food if necessary before Quetta, or you can withdraw money from a ATM.
Les Levies: In Balochistan. You will be escorted to Quetta, (and even beyond). During this escort, do not hesitate to ask for stops to eat or even sleep (the journey between the border and Quetta is 650 km… or nearly 12 hours due to numerous police controls)… For more details, read Road Trip 53……;).
After Quetta: Impossible to take the road to the North: it is forbidden to foreigners because it is too close to the Afghan border. To reach Lahore, you will first have to go south. You will always be under escort. The end of the escort will depend a little bit on you. We should not hesitate to ask for it strongly. Personally the escort ended when he entered Punjab. But when they arrived at the hotel in Multan, they wanted to escort us back…. with my travelling companions of the moment, we then forced the way and we escaped cleanly.
Hotel: Outside Punjab, only certain hotels (quite expensive) are allowed to receive tourists.
NOC: These are permits to travel on Pakistani territory issued to tourists. It is necessary to indicate the cities visited, and this is mandatory. But it seems that they will disappear in the very near future.
Visa extension: Heavy, long and complicated.
I proposed to Islamabad. BIG ERROR. A Belgian I met made his request in Lahore: He obtained a double entry valid for 5 months.
In Islamabad, the procedure is as follows:
- Submit an application (passport photocopy: main page + page with visa, 1 photo) to the Ministry of Interior. GPS coordinates: N33.734107 E73.094224
- A letter of agreement will be issued a few days later. Please note that the start date of the new visa will be the date of issue of this letter: so do not do it too far in advance.
- Go with your passport and this letter (and again a photocopy of your passport: main page + page with visa + 1 photo) to the visa office and passport. GPS coordinates: N 33.686452 E 73.047686
- Pay the visa fee at the Bank of Pakistan (2 km from there. 2800 rupees or 18 euros)
- Submit the request to the said office (form to be completed on site)
- The visa will be granted a few days later… In total, the entire procedure can take up to 3 weeks. During this period, if your old visa has expired, your Pakistani SIM card will be deactivated. You will need to have it reactivated in the office of the operator you have chosen.
- It is possible to stay 2 weeks beyond the expiry of the visa without risk of a fine. However, you will need to apply for a permit to leave the country. After 2 weeks, the fine would be about 20 euros (I haven’t checked)