Thirty years ago Pakistan emerged on the world map as an independent sovereign state, the result of the division of the British Indian Empire. Historically, it is one of the most ancient lands known; half a dozen civilizations have flourished there. This is a country rich in landscapes, as well, offering some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in the world. Among Pakistan's attractions:
Lahore, capital of the Punjab province and the center of Pakistan's cultural and academic life, is an ancient town with some of the finest specimens of Mogul architecture in the world, including Badshahi Mosque (reputedly the largest mosque in the world), the 12th-century Imperial Fort and the famous Shalimar Gardens, built in 1637 by the Mogul emperor Shah Jehan, who created the Taj Mahal.
The Khyber Pass, the legendary gateway from central Asia to the plains of southern Asia, begins 11 miles west of Peshawar on the Afghan-Pakistani border and stretches 35 miles to the Afghan town of Towr Kham. It's a rugged site rich in history, romance and intrigue, the entry point for conquerors and explorers for more than 2,500 years.
The Chitral region in the far northwest is the home of the Kalash tribe, a primitive people who have lived in isolation for 2,000 years. Called the "Children of Nature," the Kalash are known for their pagan traditions and their love for dance and music.
Taxila, near the capital of Islamabad, is world famous for its archeological sites, dating to the 5th century B.C. The city's extensive remains include the magnificent Zoroastrian Temple and the monasteries at Mohra Moradu and Jaulian.
The Swat Valley in the northwest, with its broad river and magnificent scenery, is a popular spot for trout fishing, trekking, hiking and mountaineering.
The Gilgit and Hunza valleys in the northernmost reaches of Pakistan are known for their lush, unspoiled beauty as well as the longevity of their inhabitants. (Residents of the Hunza Valley are reputed to live well past 100.) The concentration of peaks and glaciers in the Himalaya, Hindu Kush and Karakoram mountain ranges make the area an ideal base for mountaineering and trekking expeditions.
Karachi, Pakistan's largest city (and former capital), is a bustling port on the Arabian Sea. It is a center of commerce and industry, with narrow, crowded bazaars side by side with modern commercial and government buildings.
The Karachi international airport is the largest in Asia.