Photo: Katya Tsvetkova/Shutterstock

What NOT to Do in Pakistan

by Heather Carreiro Mar 8, 2010
Tips from Matador’s destination expert on Pakistan on how to make your trip a smooth one.
1. Don’t… expect to understand Pakistani English

Some Pakistanis speak English fluently, but most have a distinctly local flair to their speech.

Locals who’ve learned English solely from grammar books and flawed pronunciation drills may wonder what funny language you’re speaking.

Do… learn basic phrases in Urdu

While only about 10% of the population speaks Urdu as a native language, many more use it as a trade language. I’ve found that pulling out even basic Urdu phrases can result in lower prices and invitations for chai.

The proper linguistic skills can even weasel you out of speeding tickets.

2. Don’t… travel by day during Ramadan

Long trips during the Muslim month of Ramadan are brutal. Most people are fasting, or at least pretending to fast, and it’s rude to eat, drink, or smoke in public. This includes on a bus, train, or plane.

I was once on a bus during Ramadan that didn’t stop for a bathroom break until we’d been driving eight hours straight.

Do… go by night

If the trip you’d like to take is longer than you can go without water or a toilet, travel from sunset to sunrise.

Passengers are in a festive mood after nightfall, and there’s a collective feeling of relief that everyone can eat and drink at will. Bring some snacks to pass around.

3. Don’t… fill up on the first course

Often when you visit a Pakistani house for a meal, you’ll be served an array of fried appetizers, meats, cookies, and sweets. This is not the main meal, even if there are a dozen dishes.

If there isn’t bread or rice on the table, it’s probably just a starter.

Do… budget your stomach space

Save room for the main course and dessert.

This is particularly important during Ramadan, when locals host iftar parties to break the fast.

Iftar is a special meal eaten when the sun goes down, but almost immediately after it dinner is served, which in turn is followed by a sweet dish.

4. Don’t… assume “no” means “no”

In Urdu it’s polite to say “no thanks” (Nahin, shukriya) at least once before accepting something. If you offer something to a local, always ask at least three times.

Do… make it clear when you really mean “no”

When you genuinely don’t want something, like a seventh serving of biryani, it can be hard to communicate it.

Put your hands over your heart in a gesture of sincere thanks while saying, “Bas, shukriya,” — No more, thank you.

5. Don’t… visit city monuments on Sundays

Important monuments and shrines are swarmed by locals on Sunday afternoons. Pakistani tickets usually cost just 10 to 20 rupees, so many families head to forts or parks for picnics on their day off.

Do… go on a weekday morning

Foreigner tickets to those same forts and parks, like Lahore Fort or Hiran Minar, will set you back 200 rupees, so go when you can have the place to yourself.

Between 10 and 11 AM is the best time to arrive, as there won’t be as many beggars and hawkers as there are in the afternoon. If you go earlier than 10, the gates might not be open yet.

6. Don’t… think you know what a “dance party” is

If a middle-aged man invites you to attend a late night “party,” this is what you’ll get: a bunch of men drinking, smoking, and gawking at a teenage dancing girl they’ve hired to entertain them.

Yes, female tourists may also be invited to such an event.

Do… cut it at a Pakistani wedding

Weddings here last for three days or more. The best day to attend a wedding is on mehndi (a day or two before the main ceremony), when there’s usually a high-energy bhangra dance party going on.

7. Don’t…wear shorts or tight clothing

You may see some local men wearing cargo shorts in posh areas of Islamabad, Karachi, or Lahore, but don’t assume you can follow suit.

Locals will give you the stare down, and showing skin outside certain neighborhoods will attract unwanted attention.

Do… try on local Pakistani dress

Pakistani shalwar kameez are quite comfortable, especially during Punjabi summers. You can buy these suits ready-made in malls or outdoor markets, or you can pick out cloth and get one made by a local tailor.

Men’s and women’s outfits have loose, baggy pants and long, tunic-style shirts.

Women also wear a matching dupatta to cover the head and chest. Think of a dupatta as a protective shield from wandering eyes.

8. Don’t… freak when the lights go out

Make the phrase “load shedding” a part of your vocabulary. In almost every part of the country there are frequent, government-controlled power cuts.

Power usually goes out on the hour and for an hour at a time. There may or may not be a schedule, and depending where you are you might only have juice for 12 hours out of 24.

Do… bring a flashlight

Keep a small one on you and have some matches and candles in your bag. When booking a hotel, ask if the property has generator or UPS backup.

9. Don’t… fly between Islamabad and the Northern Areas

Flights are often canceled or at least delayed due to weather, and you might end up spending days or weeks in Islamabad waiting for the next available plane.

Do… take the Karakoram Highway

The Karakoram Highway runs through the Indus River Valley and continues to the Chinese border at the Khunjerab Pass.

Air travelers miss out on the Karakoram’s cliffs, rocky beaches, and tiny chai shops set up near glacial waterfalls.

Community Connection

Trips has been leveraging the wisdom of Matador’s destination experts to compile advice similar to this on destinations around the world. See more at our What NOT to Do page.

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