Did you know that, in Persian, the name Pakistan means “Land of the Pure?” Well, now you do! The Middle Eastern country extends for 7,257 km, bordering Afghanistan, China, India, and Iran. Pakistan’s population is of 238 million, while the main ethnic groups in Pakistan are Punjabi (48%), Pashtun (15.4%), Sindh (14.1%), Saraiki (8.4%), Muhajir (7.6%), and Balochi (3.6%). Most people live in cities and provinces alongside the Indus River, especially in Punjab.
Just from these few tidbits, it’s easy to imagine that Pakistan is an extremely culturally rich country, but perhaps the fact that there are more than 70 spoken languages is what best illustrates just how diverse it really is. Punjabi (48%) and Sindhi (12%) are the most popular languages in Pakistan, with English and Urdu being considered the official languages.
Below, we’ll get into the different regions of .Pakistan, some pakistani culture facts, and the country’s traditions, but just to give you a taste, know that Pakistan is home to the second-tallest mountain in the world, the K2, and six UNESCO World Heritage sites!
Indigenous civilizations of Pakistan
When it comes to ancient history, Pakistan shares a lot of it with its neighboring countries in the Indus Valley, namely India, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. That’s because all of these countries were once part of the great Indus Civilization. The Bronze Age civilization was able to flourish thanks to impressive irrigation systems and a proper management of the Indus River valley area, which required controlling annual floods. To this day, Pakistan has the fourth-largest irrigation system in the world, covering 202,000 square kilometers along the Indus Basin.
It wasn’t until 1947 that Pakistan began writing its own history, independent from India, after partitioning. In 1971, Bangladesh, which used to be East Pakistan, became an independent nation. Given this historical background, it’s evident that a lot of Pakistani traditions, and gastronomy is no exception, share similarities with the rest of the Indian subcontinent. However, Pakistani food has also been influenced by the many ethnic groups that have migrated to the area throughout time, giving Pakistani dishes their own flair.
Doodh Patti. The national drink of Pakistan, Doodh Patti is a type of milk tea made with sugar and cardamon.
Gol Gappay. Also known as pani puri, gol gappay is a popular street snack consisting of fried dough which holds a small soup in its center. The “soup” itself is sour water, usually infused with tamarind, and mixed in with other ingredients such as potatoes, chili, chickpeas, and onions. Depending on the size, it’s either eaten in one whole bite or with a spoon.
Pakora. Deep-fried veggies coated in spiced batter.
Bun Kebab. A student-favorite, bun kebabs are the Pakistani take on hamburgers where kebab meat takes the pace of ground beef patties.
Paratha. Baked flatbread that is commonly eaten with eggs for breakfast.
Chicken Karahi. Chicken dish cooked in a thick gravy-like sauce made mostly of garlic, tomato, and ginger. The same sauce recipe can be used for Mutton Karahi, the lamb version of this dish, which is common during Eid.
Lahori Paaye. A traditional Muslim dish and a staple of the food culture of Pakistan, lahori paaye is a soup made with goat feet.
Nihari. A meat stew usually made with long pepper, shank meat, and bone marrow. It is popular for breakfast but can be had for lunch or dinner as well.
Kata Kat. Also known as taka-tak, this Lahorian dish is made from offal, a mixture of meat organs such as brain, liver, kidney, and heart, that are cooked in butter.
Peshawari Chapli Kebab. A Pashtun flat kebab that is prepared as a patty. Although originally a beef dish, chicken and lamb variations have also become popular. It is a favorite during Eid and Ramadan.
Sindhi Biryani. Mixed rice dish from the Sindh province of Pakistan made with mutton, chicken, shrimp, or fish.
Sohan Halwa. Pudding made with a solidified mix of water, sugar, milk, and cornflour. Dried fruit such as almonds and pistachios are mixed in.
Gajar ka Halwa. Carrot pudding made with grated carrots, water, milk, sugar, and cardamom. Common during festivals.
Don’t these just make your mouth water? But wait until you see the sights!
Places to Visit in Pakistan
Because of its longstanding history and rich cultural heritage, Pakistan is a wonder to behold, with many incredible historical places to see. We had already mentioned that Pakistan is home to six World Heritage Sites, but the cities that hold them are splendorous on their own right.
The capital of Pakistan, Islamabad was built in the 1960s to replace Karachi as the capital. For this reason, the city designed by Greek architect Costantinos Apostolou Doxiadis boasts of many parks, such as the Shakarparian park, and the Margalla Hills National Park and the Shak, and is elegantly divided into eight zones housing residential areas, industrial sectors, etc. Islamabad is also home to the largest mosque in South Asia, the Faisal Mosque, which is fitting considering the city’s name means “City of Islam.” It is one of the safest cities in Pakistan and home to 20 universities.
Although it is fairly new as a city, the land in which Islamabad sits has a long-standing history. In fact, it was one of the first inhabited places in Asia, which has been confirmed thanks to the many Stone Age artifacts that have been found in the area. Some are even as old as 500,000 years!
The second-largest city in Pakistan, Lahore is the capital of the Punjab province. Considered one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the country, Lahore is an architectural wonder thanks to the many empires that settled in the area over the centuries. As Pakistan’s cultural center, the Paris of the East is also known for housing Pakistan’s leading universities as well as its publishing, film, and music industries.
As to be expected, you can find several UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Lahore, namely the Lahore Fort, a citadel that was rebuilt in the 17th century, and the Shalimar Gardens, a garden created during the Mughal empire and meant to resemble a utopia on Earth.
An administrative territory of Pakistan, Gilgit-Baltistan is part of the Kashmir region. As of 2020, the area has gained provisional provincial status. Although a disputed region, Gilgit-Baltistan has won the hearts of many travelers over the years. For one, it is home to the famous K2 (Mount Godwin-Austen), the second largest mountain in the world, as well as four other “eight-thousanders,” of which there are only fourteen in the world. Three of its glaciers are also record-breaking, adding to the region’s attractive trekking and mountaineering activities.
Located at the bank of the Chenab River in Southern Punjab, Multan has witnessed many historical events. For one, the city has been continuously inhabited for almost 2000 years, and some believe it was founded by the grandson of Noah. It was also the site of the Hindu Multan Sun Temple and crossed paths with Alexander the Great. As such, it was an important commercial center for the Indus Valley region during medieval times. It was also a religious focal point for Sufi mystics, garnering the city the name “City of Saints” in the 11th and 12th centuries. It is precisely the large number of Sufi shrines that are a sight to behold for visitors of Multan, along with 2000 years of preserved architecture.
Although a coastal region, Makran is located in the Balochistan desert, which covers parts of Pakistan and Iran. Its beaches are found alongside the Gulf of Oman, and quickly rise into mountain ranges. One side of the coastline is mostly lagoons, while the other side is mostly comprised by the Gwadar Bay and the Gwatar Bay.
The largest city in Pakistan and 12th largest in the world, Karachi is the capital of the Sindh province. It is also considered a “beta global city,” meaning it plays a major role in the global economy. Thanks to its proximity to the Arabian Sea, Karachi is a transport hub housing Pakistan’s largest seaports. Karachi is considered the fashion capital of Pakistan and is gained the title of “City of Lights” thanks to its vibrant nightlife in the 60s and 70s.
And there you have it! Hope you’ve enjoyed this virtual tour of Pakistan.