Southern Pakistan: Confluence of Civilizations

Traveling through Pakistan’s Indus River Valley from Islamabad to Karachi, we find a host of historical riches to celebrate: UNESCO World Heritage sites, extraordinary mosques, Mughal monuments, Buddhist monasteries, Hindu temples, and Greco-Bactrian ruins. At the same time, we appreciate the diverse attractions of contemporary Pakistan, from exhilarating bazaars to delicious cuisine to hospitable Pakistani people. Among the prime joys of our journey are encounters with locals: watching traditional musicians play the tabla and sitar while their friends dance and sing their hearts out; witnessing an entire Pakistani village emerge to help when a vehicle gets stuck fording a stream; and breaking bread with new friends over endless Punjab and Sindh specialties. As we venture south, we gain a new appreciation of Pakistan’s infinitely intriguing layers and reflect on how much richness we have been given by this marvelous and all-too-often misunderstood land.


Check out this blog post from GeoEx, I think you will really enjoy reading it.


January 10 - 25, 2024 (Extension January 25 - 29) 

A 19-day journey to discover southern Pakistan.

Southern Pakistan

Day 1 - Arrive IslamabadUpon arrival Pakistan at Islamabad International Airport, you are met by our local representative and taken to the hotel.

Though human settlement in the area dates as far back as the Stone Age, Islamabad as it exists today is a remarkably young city. In 1950, three years after the region gained independence from the British Empire and Pakistan came into existence, the area had a population of just over 30,000 people. Today the capital is home to a diverse population of one million people. Islamabad is not only Pakistan’s political capital, but also the modern face of the country, from its cosmopolitan lifestyle to its contemporary architecture, its verdant parks and forests. Islamabad Serena Hotel
Day 2 - Excursion to Taxila & RawalpindiTaxila is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with some of the most important archaeological treasures in Asia dating from 600 BCE to 600 CE. The fortified city of Sirkap’s stupas and temples reveal stages of development on this trade route junction of the
Indus River, influenced by Persia, Greece, and Central Asia, surviving the reign of many empires. Jaulian was a center for Buddhist learning, home to dozens of Buddhist monks and graced with Gandharan stone relief and statues.

Rawalpindi, twin city with Islamabad and commonly called Pindi, is known for its thriving commercial center and diverse cultural heritage. This is particularly apparent in the Babu Mohalla neighborhood, where you can find a thriving Bohra community attending mosque in close proximity to a Victorian church, Hindu temple, and important Jewish heritage building. Islamabad Serena Hotel
Day 3 - Drive to Lahore, Exploring en RouteDrive along the scenic Karakoram Highway (KKH) via Lake Karakol to Tashkorgan via the village of Upal, briefly stopping to visit its Monday market and buy nan. Lunch in yurt at Lake Karakol. Four Points by Sheraton Lahore
Day 4 - LahoreUnderneath the sprawling, crowded exterior that is the city of Lahore lies a legacy of hidden art and cultural riches built upon its centuries of history as a hub for visitors from every country. These many treasures are more readily uncovered with the aid of knowledgeable local guides.

Having already been influenced by various empires, Lahore was at its zenith during the Mughal Empire between the 16th and 18th centuries. Passing through Sikh, Mughal, and Persian control, in 1849 it became the capital of British Punjab, finally becoming an important capital of the newly independent Pakistan in 1947.

Surrounded by more modern construction, the old city was originally enclosed by gated walls and a moat. Inside the old city are several notable Mughal-era structures. The spectacular kasha kari tilework of the Wazir Khan Mosque (1634), and restored frescoes of the Persian-style Shahi Hamam (1635) royal baths nearby were both commissioned by Shah Jahan, while the massive red brick and white marble Badshahi Mosque (1673) was built by Aurangzeb.

The UNESCO-listed Lahore Fort is considered a Mughal masterpiece. Commissioned by Akbar in 1566, with additions from Jahangir, Shah Jahan, and Aurangzeb in later years, the evolution of architectural styles can be witnessed in the 21 monuments that comprise the Fort.

Lahore became the capital of the Sikh government under Ranjit Singh in the early 19th century, and the Samadhi of Ranjit Singh houses his remains in the old city. The adjacent golden domes of Gurdwara Dera Sahib, a Sikh temple, mark the location where Guru Arjan Dev died in 1606. Four Points by Sheraton Lahore
Day 5 - Further Explore Lahore & EnvironsShahdara Bagh, a historic town on the north bank of the Ravi River, was the gateway to Lahore under the Mughal Empire and the location of formal pleasure gardens, laid out in the Persian style.

The wife of Mughal emperor Jahangir, Nur Jahan became an adept influencer whom many historians feel was the real power during Jahangir’s reign. Her Dilkusha Garden is the site of the elaborately frescoed tomb of her husband, and many credit her with its conception. Her own red sandstone tomb is nearby, believed to be constructed under her direction before she died.

Shalimar Gardens is a UNESCO-listed 3-tiered royal water garden built by Shah Jahan in 1642. The geometry of pools, pavilions, and fountains were edged with almond and orange trees, grassy lawns, and flower beds. Much of the splendor remains in frescoes, a marble waterfall, ornamental ponds, and more than 400 fountains.

A spectacle of high-stepping, perfectly-coordinated, and elaborately-costumed security forces lower the respective Indian and Pakistani flags in unison during the Flag Ceremony at Wagah Border as the gates are closed at sunset. Serena Hunza Baltit Inn
Day 6 - Drive to Multan via HarappaHarappa's earliest cultural history stretches back over 5000 years. The ancient site contains the archaeological remains of a Bronze Age walled city, which was part of the Indus Valley Civilization, one of three early civilizations along with Egypt and Mesopotamia, which stretches through a large part of Pakistan, northeast Afghanistan, and into India. Intriguing artifacts unearthed here include soapstone seals engraved upon with animal and human designs. Ramada by Wyndham Multan
Day 7 - Explore MultanMultan, also known as "the city of saints" for its many notables buried here, is the ancient cultural capital of southern Punjab. Since its early history, it sustained sequential invasions until it fell under the rule of the great Mughal Empire in the 16th century, when it enjoyed stability for 200 years.

Sufi tradition holds that the spiritual powers of saints remain attached to their bodies after death. During the 13th century several elaborate shrines decorated with gleaming tile work were built in Multan to honor the burial sites of significant saints. Ramada by Wyndham Multan
Day 8 - Travel to BahawalpurMultan is renowned for kasha kari, the ornate tile work that decorates the facades of shrines in the region. The tradition evolved from the Persian and Chinese blue-and-white ceramics. Today the color palette has expanded to include greens and oranges, and the process is no longer restricted to mosaics, with stunning dishes and housewares also being produced.

Founded in 1748, Bahawalpur is the city of the Abbasi family of nawabs (Muslim nobles) situated between an important agricultural area fed by the Sutlej River Valley and the dry Cholistan Desert. The city has a relaxed, open feel with the former palaces of nawabs interspersed with tree-lined streets and modern architecture.

The Bahawalpur Library was built in 1924 and is considered an icon of the city’s culture, housing a treasury of hundreds of thousands of books, rare manuscripts, and other historical documents. Hotel One Bahawalpur
Day 9 - Cholistan Desert & Uch SharifThe Cholistan Desert, covering 6,200 square miles, extends south into the Thar Desert, and east into India’s Rajasthan Desert. Archaeological evidence shows the Haka River, a vital resource for the caravans which passed along trade routes to the east once flowed here. The river was protected by a series of forts which ran along its banks, the best-preserved of which is Derawar Fort. A massive and beautiful 9th-century construction of mud-bricks, Derawar features 40 rounded bastions visible for many
miles across the desert.

The historic town of Uch Sharif contains the photogenic ruins of 17 tiled Sufi shrines, most notably the 14th-century tomb of
Jalaluddin Bukhari and associated mosque, which is surrounded by tombs for his associates and relatives. Hotel One Bahawalpur
Days 10/11 - Drive to Sukkur & ExploreSukkur is strategically placed on the Indus River where it cuts through the last outcrop of solid limestone before proceeding to the sea. The town is largely located on the west side of the Indus River, and its twin, Rohri, occupies the opposite bank.

Built during the British Raj, the Sukkur Barrage feeds the largest irrigation system of its kind in the world, diverting water from the Indus River to a network of canals which can water 10 million acres of farmland throughout Sindh province. Construction of this system freed the province from dependence on seasonal floods for irrigation.

The temple complex on the island of Sadhu Bela, in the center of the Indus River between Sukkur and Rohri, is a revered Hindu pilgrimage site. Carved white marble decorates the temples, complemented by gardens, a monastery, and a library. Occasionally the rare Indus River dolphin is spotted around the island. Hotel One Sukkur
Day 12 - Drive to Larkana via Kot DijiKot Diji, first excavated in 1955, is an early archaeological site from the Indus Valley Civilization. It stands on one of the rare outcrops of limestone, part of the Rohri Hills. There is evidence of it being occupied as early as 3300 BCE. Its construction consists of two distinct areas, a fort protected by bastions on higher ground for the elites and an outer area for the rest of the city consisting of mud and stone residences. Sambara Inn
Day 13 - Drive to Sehwan via Mohenjo-daroSehwan is a historic city also known as Shewan Shareef, visited by thousands of patrons every year particularly for the Shrine of 13th-century Sufi poet and philosopher, Lal Shahbaz Qalandar. The saint was respected by both Hindus and Muslims as he preached tolerance between faiths.

Mohenjo-daro, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was one of the largest and best-preserved settlements of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization, and one of the world's earliest major cities. With the decline of the Indus Valley Civilization, Mohenjo-daro was abandoned in the 19th century BCE, and rediscovered in the 1920s. Built entirely of unbaked brick, the acropolis, the ramparts, and the lower town provide excellent evidence of town planning. Hotel Sehwan Divine
Day 14 - Drive to Karachi, Exploring en RouteThatta sits west of the Indus River and was the medieval capital of Sindh province. The Shah Jahan Mosque was gifted to the city by the Mughal ruler of the same name, constructed during the 17th century. It is considered the most elaborate example of tile work in South Asia and notable for geometric brickwork, unusual during this period.

The Necropolis at Makli Hills is a UNESCO World Heritage Site near Thatta which holds hundreds of thousands of graves and tombs. Kings, saints, governors, and philosophers are interred in shrines of diverse architectural styles across the hilltop. Karachi Marriott Hotel
Day 15 - KarachiTheater, spectacular wedding displays, bazaars, incredible food, and millennia of history, Karachi is an extraordinary city to visit. It is also the fifth-largest city proper in the world in terms of population and one of the fastest-growing cities in the world. The mid-19th-century arrival of the British East India Company marked a major transformation into the modern city that it is
today, building its seaport and connecting the railway.

Muhammed Ali Jinnah was the revered founder of Pakistan. His mausoleum, also known as the Mazar-e-Quaid, was completed in 1970 and is an iconic symbol of Karachi.

The affluent seaside neighborhood of Clifton holds the Mohatta Palace, now converted to a museum, and the tomb of Abdullah Shah Ghazi, widely recognized as the city’s patron saint.

The Empress Market was built by the British Raj and named after Queen Victoria. Stalls offer vegetables, spices, housewares, textiles, handicrafts, and more. Karachi Marriott Hotel
Day 16 - Fly to IslamabadFly to Islamabad and drive to Peshawar.

The drive to Peshawar on Grand Trunk Road is a unique experience. In existence for centuries, traders and invaders made their way back and forth to India, making and losing fortunes. You can still see traces of ancient fortresses and caravansaries along the way. Pearl Continental Hotel
Day 17 - Explore PeshawarThe romance of Peshawar has traditionally been linked to its frontier location, close to historic Khyber Pass. Today, Peshawar is a large and rapidly developing city, but has a distinct character all its own.

Once the capital of the Buddhist kingdom of Gandhara, and later a significant center of transit-caravan trade with Afghanistan and Central Asia, the city is full of historic structures and fascinating bazaars.

In the traditional Central Asian style, the Old City was formerly completely encircled by a wall and centered on a citadel. Today, the fortified stronghold of Bala Hisar, the most imposing landmark, is almost certainly the site of ancient citadel. It was the key to control of the Peshawar and changed hands many times. When Mughal Emperor Babar arrived in 1509, he occupied and strengthened the existing fort and built Shalimar Gardens. The Bala Hisar and Shalimar Gardens were destroyed by Ranjit Sing who later rebuilt the fort. The present fort was built by the British who replaced the mud walls with ‘pucca’ bricks. It is currently closed for public, being occupied by the Frontier Corps.

Among other interesting parts of the Old City is Namak Mandi, a famous food street where there are several very interesting Tikka restaurants and Qissa Khawani Bazaar, or street of story-tellers. Here is where the old Khave Khanas’ tea shops and eating houses were located, and travelers and traders met to exchange their tales and news of faraway places. Pearl Continental Hotel
Day 18 - Drive to SwatDrive to Swat Valley via Mardan district, visiting the Buddhist monastery of Takht-i-Bahi and the historic village of Shahbaz Gahri, before continuing over Malakand Pass to Swat.

Takht-i-Bahi, "Throne of the Water Spring," is considered among the most imposing relics of Buddhism in all of Gandhara and has been exceptionally well-preserved. TheBuddhistmonastery was founded in the 1st century and was in use until the 7th century. The complex is regarded by archaeologists as being particularly representative of the architecture of Buddhist monastic centers of its era and was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1980.

Despite numerous invasions into the area, Takht-i-Bahi's hilltop location seems to have protected it from destruction, unlike many comparable early Buddhist monastic complexes. The first modern historical reference to these ruins was made in 1836 and explorations and excavations on this site began in 1864. The site underwent a major restoration in the 1920s. Swat Serena Hotel
Day 19 - Explore Swat; Drive to Islamabad; DepartSwat is a cool, beautiful, lush green valley, hence why ancient visitors from Central Asia and China called it Suwastu, which translates to "garden."

Today you'll visit Swat Museum to enjoy one of the best collections of Gandhara art, a form of Buddhist visual expression that developed between the 1st century BCE and 700 CE. Later stroll the bazaar of Mingora, the commercial town of Swat.

Afterwards, drive back to Islamabad and fly home tonight (book flights after 10:00pm).