General Pakistan Information
Traffic Conditions and Road Surfaces:
Traffic in Pakistan moves on the left side.
Overland travel in Pakistan on motorcycle has a variety of risks. Big trucks and buses, speeding cars, motorcycles and bicycles coming suddenly from anywhere, donkeys, cattle, horse carts, street dogs, skittish baby goats and Tuk tuk’s that never signal before turning to name just a few. You need to be incredibly patient, open minded and ready for anything.
Roads, including major highways, are suffering from poor maintenance with numerous potholes, broken barriers and minimal sign postage. In recent years there has been some major works on highways with excellent new roads being constructed however these major links between cities such as the M2 between Lahore, Islamabad and Peshawar are not open to motorcycle travel. Most importantly nobody follows the traffic rules. You have to be careful, calm and focused while riding in Pakistan.
Major link roads connect big cities such as Lahore to Peshawar via Rawalpindi Grand trunk road (N5), Lahore to Karachi via Multan National Highway (N5), Peshawar to Karachi Indus Highway (N55). All these highways are dual carriage way. In the mountains almost every single highway is single road for both sides of traffic such as the Karakoram Highway (N35), Skardu road (S1), Mardan to Chitral (N45), Mardan to Swat (N95), Manshera to Chilas via Babusar Pass (N15).
One of the most common roads that riders might take on their loop around the north other than the Karakoram Highway is the Skardu road (S1) following the Indus and connecting the Karakoram Highway to Skardu from just south of Gilgit city. This road is currently undergoing heavy construction for major improvements. Some patches of the road are already finished and provide an excellent smooth surface but there are many areas where there will be periods of long delays. These works are due to be finished by 2022. The charm of the Skardu road is the twists and turns as it follows the Indus under rocky overhangings. It may be that some of this charm is lost in coming years as the road is being widened, however the joy of following the Indus on its tumultuous path will always remain.
The main Karakoram Highway is an excellent paved surface from Khunjerab Pass to Gilgit, however the area around Chilas and Dassu often suffers from landslides and seems to be under an endless cycle of construction. Expect rough, sandy and narrow sections. The good road starts again after Dassu and the area around Besham is back to a beautiful meandering fun ride following the Indus river.
When riding side valleys and lesser known routes expect extreme rough conditions and limtied facitlies. We are currently writing a series on specific areas and routes that will cover more out of the way areas in far greater detail. Stay connected and check back to our website regularly :)
Pakistan has four clear seasons: Winter is December to February, Spring is March and April, Summer is May to September, Autumn is October and November. Rainy season or southwest monsoon period is between June through September and the retreating monsoon period of October and November.
Important information regarding weather:
Travelling in mountains can be critical in the rainy season due to landslides, check weather conditions of your route, and make sure there are no landslides. If there has been landslides these are mostly cleared by authorities within 24 hours.
In Winters, mountain areas can get a lot of snowfall and roads may be slippery due to ice from snow melts. Punjab and Sindh region will often get a lot of fog which makes riding difficult in low visibility.
In Summers, some days are more than 40 degree celsius. Spending long days riding in such conditons can make you sick from heat stroke and dehydration, please make sure you have adequate drinking water.
Pakistan has a lot to learn with regards to hotel hospitality but it is improving gradually. You should not expect the average middle range place to be equivalent to the standard you may have experienced in other well touristed countries. Prices are generally more expensive than other Asian countries.
Hotels range in quality from extremely basic to high end however the majority of places can be affected by power outages and intermittent hot water. You should carry your own back up charger for your devices just in case. There are a few high end hotel chains in cities, like Pearl Continental, Serena and Marriott Hotel. There is not really a newtork of hostel style accommodation or homestays. Most homestay experiences will arise from literally being invited to stay at the homes of locals you meet, this is out of genuine kindness. Karakoram Bikers has started two places for accommodation to help try to fill the need for guesthouse/homestyle experiences without breaking the budget. We operate these under the name Five Giants and you can see further details here, Five Giants Lahore and Five Giants Danyor/Gilgit.
Some hotels may choose to turn unmarried couples away. It is sometimes simpler that if you are travelling with a friend of the opposite sex to just say you are married if questioned. It is rarely a problem but we know this can happen at some places in both Lahore and Islamabad. Some hotels in areas such as Multan and further south may refuse foreigners to stay altogether. Gilgit Baltistan is the most relaxed region and we are not aware of any issues staying at places as a foreigner or a couple.
In Pakistan finding fuel is usually easy, if there is no strike going on those days. Mainly it's Petrol and Diesel that are available at fuel stations. Some of the Fuel Stations have high octane petrol, which is a bit more expensive than standard petrol. Note!! Be careful and try to refill your tank with Original petrol and diesel providers like PSO, Shell, Total, Byco, Hascol and Attock petroleum. Unknown and small operators may have unclean or diluted fuel. There are major brand stations in all cities and large towns. These are generally spaced close enough together that finding fuel should not be a problem. If you are heading into far remote areas with rough roads and staying overnight in out of the way places only then you might need some extra fuel.
Note: Its very easy to find petrol stations in Pakistan, We have never seen any overland motorcycle traveller carrying or using filters in Pakistan and have never heard of anything going wrong because of using dodgy petrol.
Pakistan has a lot of different varieties of food, with traditional styles of cooking according to specific regions. Punjabi and Sindhi food are recognised as being very spicy with lots of seasoning. Khyber Paktunkwah (KPK), Balochistan, Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan have flavours that are generally milder and far less intense level of spiciness.
According to the practice of Islam it is forbidden to eat Pork, so you will not find Pork availble for eating anywhere in Pakistan. Other types of meats are widely used in dishes with mutton, chicken, beef and fish being popular, especially the chicken... Pakistanis love a good chicken BBQ and Karahi. Many dishes are heavy with meat and quite dense but you can still get vegetable dishes as well. Pulses are hugely popular with daals of chickpeas, lentils and rice dishes being very common. There are good fresh fruits and nuts in the markets which are perfect for snacking as you travel your route.
Alcohol consumption is banned in Pakistan for the local Islamic population but still you can find alcohol to buy from high end hotels like Pearl Continental and Serena and hotels catering specifically to foreginer travellers may have a licence to serve alcohol. Pakistan also has its own brewery called Murree Brewery. It is possible to find alcohol from people who have "connections". Foreigner travellers are allowed to carry alcohol with them so you do not need to worry about legalities and just carry it with you if you want to. Be mindful though that while drinking alcohol as a foreginer is fine it should be done privately in rooms or walled gardens and not in market areas or public restaurants.
In breakfast (Nashata), most commonly Hotels will offer eggs with paratha and jam, butter and toast with Pakistani Chai (Tea). If you want to experience real Pakistani Breakfast you have to go out and find some breakfast restaurants. Some key Pakistani desi breakfast dishes are Siri-Payay a soupy gravy based dish with the slow cooked head and feet of goat or cow for flavours, Nihari is a dish which is also cooked for many hours usually overnight so the meat becomes extremely tender, Nihari is a thicker richer gravy than Siri-Payay with the higher qualtiy of meat cuts such as the thigh and calf of the animals. One of our favourites is the Naan Chanay (Naan is tandoori Bread and Chana is chickpeas with spices) this is a hearty and filling dish that is cheap and delicious. Halwa poori, another of our favourites is a dish made from deep fried bread and a sweet semolina.
Dishes for Lunch and Dinner are quite similar. Rice, Chicken, Beef and Mutton dishes, Vegetables and Daals. Pakistani people use bread called Roti to eat with these dishes, breaking off sections of bread and "scooping" the food. Some of the famous dishes we suggest you to try when you are Pakistan.
Rice Dishes: Biryani, Pulao, Daal chawal and Sajji chawal, Vegetable fried Rice.
Meat Dishes: Chicken/Mutton Karahi, Chicken/Mutton Handi (Boneless) , Nihari, Qeema, Korma. Barbecue: Chicken Tikka, Malai Boti, Chicken/Beef kababs.
Snacks: Dahi Bhalay, Aloo tikki, Chana Chaat, Fruit Chaat, Samosas, Pakora, Masala Chips,
Seafood: Mostly it's Fish, some of the famous ones are Trout, Rohu, Salmon usually cooked by bbq or deep fried or with gravy.
Drinks: Lassi (a yoghurt drink), Lemu pani (lemon soda often with salt), Sardai - a mixture of different nuts and dried fruits(kishmish) with milk added, Sugarcane Juice, Milkshakes,.
Different Teas: Karak Pakistani Tea (strong and less milk), Doud Patti (Milky), Kahwah (Green Tea), Kashmiri Chai (a pink, milky tea with pistachios and cardamom), Sulaimani chai, a black tea served with lemon. Many paces will have their own unique teas and drinks using ingedients local to their village or area, such as a fragrant rosehip type tea or arpicot nectar added. If you don’t like sugar in tea let them know, otherwise it will be extremely sweet. Say "Chini Nahi, shukriya", Sugar free, NO sugar Please.
If you are passing through Lahore we highly recommend you take one of our Food on Foot short tours to experience the most delicious hidden food places of the old city with our Lahori local team and taste some of the dishes we have mentioned here.
Note: Don’t drink water from taps or water streams as it's not healthy for you and might make you sick. Often when you stop at a restaruant they will provide a jug of water, this is tap water and can upset a stomach not used to the local liquid. We recommend politely asking for bottled mineral water instead and always check the seal is unbroken.
Money exchange and ATM:
Firstly, Inform your bank about your travel, so they don’t block your card while you use it in Pakistan. Money Exchange services are available at all airports and border crossing but the exchange rate can be quite low. It is better to exchange money when you are in big cities. Western Union, Pakistan Currency exchange company, Dollar East are reliable service providers. Secondly you may want to withdraw with your VISA or MasterCard. With Visa cards we recommend you use Allied Bank as they don’t charge any fees for the transaction. Alfalah and MCB charges 250PKR and Standard Chartered Bank charges 500PKR per transaction. In one transaction the maximum amount you can withdraw is 20,000PKR. (this can be done multiple times in a row if you need larger amounts but each individual withdrawal will have the fee). MasterCard usually doesn't work at Allied bank so you can try using MCB, Al-Falah and Standard Chartered Bank if you have Master-card.
Navigation on the road:
Navigation is not a big issue if you are riding in Pakistan especially on highways as the main routes are quite straightforward. Mostly you need to use navigational aids when you are riding into or exiting big cities like Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad and Peshawar to help navigate the warren of criss crossing major connections and roads. Google maps and maps.me have voice guide turn by turn navigation for Pakistan. When you are finding your way around smaller remote areas and through villages there may be no road markings and the way can be unclear however locals will always be ready to help you out and guide you where you are needing to go... usually combined with inviting you to have tea or dinner at their home :)
Safety and security:
Security has greatly improved in recent years however it's no wonder that Pakistan continues to suffer a negative wrap considering the region and the fact that it shares borders with Iran, Afghanistan and India. In the last several years since Karakoram Bikers began its tourism operations, (we officially registered as a tour operator at the beginning of 2017) we have seen a dramatic improvement in the on the ground situation. The areas of the Karakrom Highway and through Gilgit Baltistan now have very few security check points compared to numbering around 20 when we began. The region is definitely opening up and far more relaxed. Pakistan seems to be holding a somewhat moderate ground within the region.
That said it is wise to travel with a very open mind, avoid large gatherings of people do not enter areas close to restricted zones or border lines of control. Be mindful of your own behaviour and be respectful of local culture. Do not do things like photograph women working in fields, intrude uninvited in village life, or wear revealing clothing. Always expect the unexpected. Pakistan is unpredictable and will keep you on your toes but it is a hugely rewarding place to travel.
From time to time there are major security events such as the clashes with India that put western media in a spin but seem to have little to no affect on the ground within genral day to day Pakistan. Or in another example if a minor political party takes a stand on something, blocking roads and causing gridlock, these types of events are isolated to small areas and can easly be avoided by adapting your route. There is still tight security when crossing Balochistan from Iran or along border lines of control. We describe in further details what to expect in our region by region descriptions (updates coming soon).
With regards to general crime Pakistani people are generally very kind and warm hearted to foreigners, crime against travellers is rare and mostly you are treated like royalty. Crime in cities is comparable to any other major cities around the world. Don't leave expensive items obviously displayed, lock your belongings, avoid dark out of the way places. In the rural areas people are much more likely to be honest and protect or return to you things like lost phones or wallets. While majority of men are very respectful to women and prefer to avoid close conversation or will not make eye contact, it can very occasionally happen that you may get uninvited advances and learing as well as overtly sexual remarks made. Extreme crime is rare.