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Pakistan Geography & History- An Overview

by Pomy

In this blog, our goal is to showcase Pakistan as an emerging tourism destination with a rich cultural heritage. Despite its untapped tourism potential, geopolitical factors have hindered its development. Misconceptions fueled by sensationalized media stories often limit people’s knowledge about the country, presenting a narrow and one-sided perspective.

While Western influencers and vloggers have recently highlighted Pakistan as a unique travel destination, the tourism industry is still in its early stages. One significant challenge is the insufficient number of certified tour guides capable of offering authentic information to visitors.

To address this gap, we strive to provide comprehensive insights into Pakistan’s history, cuisine, and culture. Although the country is generally safe, it’s crucial to acknowledge that cultural and social expectations for female travelers may differ. In response, we have crafted a tailored guide specifically for female solo travelers who wish to explore Pakistan.

Snapshot of Pakistan’s Rich Diversity and History

Pakistan is the fifth most populated country in the world, with a population of 231.4 million (2021), and is located in South Asia. It is the 33rd largest country in the world by area. It is a young country, with approximately 65% of its population under 30.

Name and Etymology

Pakistan is an acronym formed from the names of various regions/provinces – Punjab, Afghanistan (Afghan for Pakhtoon), Kashmir, Sindh, and Baluchistan. Chaudhary Rehmat Ali, an activist, selected this name for Pakistan.

Location and Geography

Pakistan shares its borders in South Asia with India to the east, Afghanistan and Iran to the west, and China to the northeast. To the south, Pakistan has a coastal area along the Arabian Sea.

Mountain Ranges: Exploring Pakistan’s Majestic Terrain

The Himalayas, Hindu Kush, and Karakoram Mountain ranges in the northern area are home to the world’s second-highest peak, K2, more than 100 peaks are over 7,000 meters (22,965 feet) in elevation, such as Nanga Parbat and Gasherbrum I and II.

The country’s mountainous terrain and diverse topography make it a significant destination for mountaineers and adventure enthusiasts.

Plateaus: Rugged Beauty at Its Peak

  • The Balochistan Plateau is the most extensive plateau, marked by arid and semi-arid rugged mountain areas and flat expanses.
  • Situated in northern Pakistan, the Potwar Plateau shares borders with the Margalla Hills and the Salt Range to the south.
  • In the northeastern portion of Pakistan’s Punjab province, the Potohar Plateau encompasses the region where Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, is located.
  • Hazara Plateau is a fertile agricultural plateau in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, near the Himalayas and Karakoram mountains.
  • A harsh and arid climate characterizes the Kalat Plateau, which is in the central part of Baluchistan.
  • Deosai Plains is the highest plateau in the Gilgit-Baltistan region and extends into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Rivers Flow Through Pakistan: Lifelines of a Nation

  • The Indus River originates in Tibet.
  • Jhelum River originates in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir.
  • Chenab River originates in India.
  • Ravi River is a transboundary river.
  • Sutlej River is a transboundary river.
  • Kabul River originates in Afghanistan.

Plains: Echoes of Ancient Civilizations

The Punjab and Sindh Plains, agriculturally rich, are the thriving grounds where ancient civilizations, including Mehrgarh and the Indus Valley Civilizations, once flourished.

Deserts: A Tale of Hot and Cold Sands

Pakistan exhibits a diverse range of deserts, encompassing both hot and cold varieties, spread across all provinces, ranging from coastal areas to high altitudes.

  • The Thar Desert, known for its arid and sandy landscape, is situated in the southeastern region of Pakistan (Sindh).
  • The Cholistan Desert in Bahawalpur and the Thal Desert in Bhakkar are within Punjab.
  • The Kharan Desert is situated in Balochistan.
  • The Katpana Desert, located in Skardu (Gilgit-Baltistan), represents the cold and high-altitude desert in the country.

Coastal Areas

Two provinces of Pakistan, Baluchistan and Sindh, have coastlines along the northeastern Arabian Sea, which stretches for about 1,046 kilometers (650 miles). Karachi and Gwadar are the two ports in Sindh and Balochistan respectively. These coastlines comprise deserts, deltas, sandy beaches, bays, and rocky cliffs.

Islands: The Mystical Charms of Pakistan’s Mud Volcanoes

There are several islands in the Arabian Sea, including Astola Island, Malan Island, and Zalzala Koh in Balochistan. Manora Island, located near Karachi, is one of the thirteen small islands in Sindh. The Baluchistan islands are uninhabited and mud volcanic islands that appear and disappear frequently.

Ancient History: Unraveling the Secrets of History from 9000 BCE to 1947

Pakistan’s history dates back to 9000 BC, with its origins in Mehrgarh, situated in the Kachin plains of Balochistan. The inhabitants were both hunters and farmers, and they are believed to be one of the earlier civilizations that started the domestication of plants such as wheat and barley, along with animals such as chickens and goats.

This civilization evolved into the Indus Valley Civilization (4000-2500 BCE), also known as Mohenjo-daro and the Harappan Civilizations. They are considered one of the world’s earliest well-developed and advanced urban civilizations.

The Aryans or Vedic Period (1500–500 BCE) succeeded the Indus Valley Civilization, marked by the arrival of Aryans following the decline of the latter. This era played a pivotal role in the rise of Vedic culture and orthodoxy, becoming early proponents of Hinduism. The foundational texts and hymns of Hindu philosophy trace their origins to this period. This civilization extended its influence across the Ganges plain.

Ancient Hindu Empires (600-321 BCE) emerged during this phase, characterized by the transition to urban cities, towns, and villages, accompanied by the emergence of empires such as the Mauryan Empire, the Indo-Greek Kingdom, and The Gupta Empire.

Islamic Rule (8th century CE – 1857) began with the Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates, followed by Turkic and Afghan dynasties (including Tamerlane), and later the Mughal Empire, founded by Babur, which conquered the region and established a strong Muslim presence in the subcontinent. Sufism, an Islamic mystic tradition, became prominent much later, during the medieval period.

The Arrival of Westerners and British Colonial Rule (1858-1947): The British set up The East India Company following Dutch, French, and Portuguese influences and started influencing state affairs, dividing India into various provinces. This era witnessed the decline and ultimate end of the Mughal Empire as the British progressively took charge, reshaping the political landscape of the Indian subcontinent.

Pakistan’s Creation (1947): The creation of Pakistan in 1947 occurred when the British left Hindustan after dividing the Indian subcontinent. The partition resulted in the establishment of India, East Pakistan (later Bangladesh), and West Pakistan (Pakistan). Political, linguistic, and cultural differences between East and West Pakistan made it challenging to coexist, leading to a civil war that led to the formation of Bangladesh in 1971.

Since its inception, modern Pakistan has faced various challenges, including two major wars with India in 1965 and 1971, several military coups, the Afghanistan Taliban era, political instability, and economic hardships, primarily attributable to its geostrategic location.

Religions: Islam and Beyond

Pakistan is also the birthplace of almost most of the religions of the subcontinent religions originated that have impacted the social landscape of the region over the millennials.

  • Hinduism: Hinduism, one of the world’s oldest religions, is believed to have originated during the civilization of the Indus Valley, which thrived in what is now Pakistan.
  • Buddhism: The Mahayana and Vajrayana branches of Buddhism have roots in the Gandhara civilization of Pakistan. Ancient Buddhist sites and artifacts have been discovered in parts of present-day Pakistan.
  • Islam: The arrival of Islam in the Indian subcontinent is historically associated with the conquest led by Muhammad bin Qasim in the early 8th century. In 711-712 CE, Muhammad bin Qasim, a young general in the Umayyad Caliphate, invaded the Sindh, Pakistan. The conquest marked the beginning of Islamic rule in the Indian subcontinent. Bhambor, Sindh, in Pakistan, is recognized as Bab-e-Islam, or the Gate of Islam.
  • Sikhism: Guru Nanak, hailing from the Punjab region in Pakistan, laid the foundation of the Sikhism religion. Pakistan hosts significant Sikh historical sites, including Nankana Sahib, the birthplace of Guru Nanak.
  • Ismailism: The Ismaili branch is a distinctive part of Shia Islam, tracing its roots back to the early centuries of Islam in the Punjab region. Named after Isma’il ibn Jafar, the seventh Shia Imam, the Ismaili community is uniquely positioned within the broader Shia tradition.
  • Ahmadiyya: The Ahmadis follow the teachings of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who emerged in the late 1800s in Sialkot, Punjab. Their doctrine closely aligns with Islam on most points, yet they notably differ by rejecting the notion that Muhammad was the final Prophet of God. Despite this belief, Ahmadis do not classify themselves as non-Muslims.

People belonging to other religions including Christianity, Zoroastrianismand Baha’i Faith also  as minorities in Pakistan..

Language Mosaic: Urdu and Beyond

In the 2022 edition of Ethnologue, Pakistan is reported to have 77 established  languages. Of these, 68 are considered indigenous, while 9 are non-indigenous. Assessing their vitality, 4 languages are categorized as ‘institutional,’ 24 as ‘developing,’ 30 as ‘vigorous,15 as ‘in trouble,‘ and 4 as ‘dying.‘ The languages in Pakistan belong to various language families, including Indo-Iranian, Indo-Aryan, Iranian, Sino-Tibetan, and Dravidian.”

Urdu serves as the national language, while English is recognized as the official language and the medium of instruction in higher education. The Constitution and laws of Pakistan are written in English. Among the indigenous languages, Punjabi is the first language most widely spoken in Pakistan and the 11th most commonly spoken language in India. Following Punjabi, the other major languages spoken in Pakistan include Pashto, Sindhi, Saraiki, and Baluchi.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites

  • Archaeological Ruins at Moenjodaro (Sindh)
  • Buddhist Ruins of Takht-i-Bahi and Neighbouring City Remains at Sahr-i-Bahlol (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa)
  • Taxila, an ancient city and archaeological site (Punjab)
  • Fort and Shalamar Gardens in Lahore (Punjab)
  • Historical Monuments at Makli, Thatta (Sindh)
  • Rohtas Fort (Punjab)
  • Mountain Carving of Buddhas in the Bamiyan Valley (shared with Afghanistan)
  • Historical Monuments at Makli, Thatta

Sites on the UNESCO Tentative List

  • Badshahi Mosque, Lahore
  • Wazir Khan’s Mosque, Lahore
  • Tombs of Jahangir, Asif Khan, and Akbari Sarai, Lahore
  • Hiran Minar and Tank, Sheikhupura
  • Tomb of Hazrat Rukn-e-Alam, Multan
  • Rani Kot Fort, Dadu
  • Shah Jahan Mosque, Thatta
  • Chaukhandi Tombs, Karachi
  • Archaeological Site of Mehrgarh
  • Archaeological Site of Rehman Dheri
  • Archaeological Site of Harappa
  • Archaeological Site of Ranigat
  • Shahbazgarhi Rock Edicts
  • Mansehra Rock Edicts
  • Baltit Fort
  • Tomb of Bibi Jawindi, Baha’al-Halim, and Ustead
  • Tomb and Mosque of Jalaluddin Bukhari
  • Tomb of Shah Rukn-e-Alam
  • Port of Banbhore
  • Derawar and the Desert Forts of Cholistan
  • Hingol Cultural Landscape
  • Karez System Cultural Landscape
  • Nagarparkar Cultural Landscape
  • Central Karakorum National Park
  • Deosai National Park
  • Ziarat Juniper Forest
  • The Salt Range and Khewra Salt Mine

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