Undiscovered World’s inaugural Pakistan expedition in February proved to be an amazing adventure. Arriving in Karachi with only two days to explore this teeming megalopolis we visited some of the main sights of interest but concentrated mainly on kitting ourselves out with fabulous cotton clothes from the city’s surprisingly fashionable boutiques.
On our second day we explored the fascinating Chaukandi tombs, and then a very interesting trip into the lesser-known delights of undiscovered Karachi.
Shah Jehan’s mosque. Built in his youth while fleeing the displeasure of his father Jehangir, when he ascended the Moghul throne himself it became the prototype for his masterpiece, the Taj Mahal
Islamic art at its finest. Shah Jehan’s mosque at Thatta
Leaving Karachi we embarked on a 1000 kilometre journey across the Sindh desert and the lush fields of Punjab, to the ancient city of Lahore. Although I was in my element as Expedition leader, our tall and distinguished local guide Murtaza (a professor of archeology!) was an unfailing source of accurate information not only on antiquity but every other aspect of Pakistani life.
With lavish breakfasts and dinners on offer every day, on the road we ate marvellously amongst the locals at the truck-stops, where, as Murtaza pointed out, the high turnover ensures that the food is always fresh and delicious.
A rather unexpected thrill was the police escort that is now a requirement of all official tours as part of Imran Khan’s new policy of promoting Pakistan tourism, ie., a police truck with a motley crew of heavily-armed constables that rocketed along ahead of us, clearing a pathway through the trucks and barrelling through toll gates without stopping, with a dramatic running change-over at the border of every police district. Stopping at our various destinations. these chaps provided invaluable insights into the affairs of their district, and with the exquisite diffidence and politeness that distinguishes Pakistanis from many others on a rather over-touristed sub-Continent, frequently invited us to meet and dine with their friends and family.
The dynasties of Sindh built enormous tombs on the Makli Hills.
Makli tilework. A dream of limpid waters in a harsh desert.
Shah Jehan Mosque, a prototype for the Taj Mahal
The scenic highlights of this journey through Undiscovered Pakistan didn’t disappoint. Conspicuous was the rarely visited Shah Jehan Mosque at Thatta, his prototype for the Taj Mahal, the serenity of Haleji Lake, the well-preserved sites of the world’s first civilization at Mohenji-Daro, the remote and haunting ruins of the Tomb of Bibi Jawindi at Uch Sharif, and the staggering magnificence of Derewar Fort in the midst of the Cholistan Desert.
Closer to the secret life of Sindh however was the succession of Sufi shrines en route, at Bhit Shah, Sehwan Sharif and Multan, where the people pay joyous homage to the saints, traditionally the protectors of the poor, to a background of dance and surging Qawwali music.
The Chaukandi Tombs
Remote Ranikot Fort on the Balouchistan frontier; 24 km in circumference, it’s claimed to be the largest in the world.
“You are the first foreigners to come here for over 40 years.”
However, perhaps the feature of this expedition that attracted most comment from our guests was the complete absence of any other tourists. We did not see another ‘Westerner’ on the entire trip.
At Ranikot Fort, we were gravely told by the curator that ‘You are the first foreigners to come here for over 40 years.’ Although it’s difficult to test the veracity of that astonishing claim, throughout the trip it felt like we had been the only visitors since Partition. The warmth of our welcome was overwhelming wherever we went. Selfies were over-produced no doubt, but never too intrusively. In a country that lives for its guests, it was rather touching to see the surprise and gratitude that our unexpected appearance caused. Many hoped that we were a sign that Pakistan might eventually regain the golden reputation that it once so widely enjoyed amongst those that travelled the Overland ‘hippy trail’ in the 60’s and 70’s including myself in 1975!
In all, our journey through Undiscovered Southern Pakistan along the Golden Indus was a remarkable experience and true adventure that one of our guests remarked ‘reminded her of the joys of travelling when she was young.’ It’s a sentiment that we will keenly remember as we embark on our next expedition to the glorious North of Pakistan, later this year.
Expedition Leader, Undiscovered World.