Travel Guide to Exploring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa: Pakistan has gained popularity as a tourist destination in recent years. Many foreigners and travel enthusiasts are now looking to visit Pakistan, which has recently been listed as the top tourist destination in the world for 2020 by an international travel magazine, Conde Nast. Also, Forbes has declared Pakistan as one of the top 10 under-the-radar tourist destinations for 2020. So much for a country that was considered unsafe up until a few years ago. Since we have covered some of the best places to visit in Sindh, Punjab, and Balochistan, it is now time to explore the wondrous and historic province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).
Travel Guide to Exploring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa not only shares its border with Afghanistan but also has a deep influence of its culture on the province, which is reflected in its language, dresses, food, and also in cultural events. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is blessed with breathtaking beauty, mesmerizing crystal clear blue lakes, pristine valleys, natural forests, and historical landmarks, some of which date back to the Gandhara civilization. In fact, KP was the center of the ancient kingdom of Gandhara and still has some of its archaeological remains. KP is also a good reservoir of water dams and the government is making efforts to turn five dams in Haripur, Kohat, Swabi, Nowshera, and Abbottabad into picnic spots for tourists and domestic travelers.
Best Tourist Attraction Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
Since there are plenty of attractions in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa we have divided the content into four parts. First, we will explore some of the most prominent cities and valleys of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and then we will take a closer look at the top attractions in KP. The last two sections will focus on the top cuisine in KP and the souvenirs you can buy from KP. But first, let us take a look at the cities you must visit in KP.
TOP ATTRACTIONS IN KP – VALLEYS AND CITIES
Pack your bags and explore the beautiful cities and valleys in KP.
Situated towards the west of River Kunhar, this veritable piece of heaven on earth is nestled at the base of the Hindu Kush mountain ranges. Chitral is known for its captivating landscapes, fruit-laden trees, snow-peaked mountains, and lush green meadows. If you really want to make the most of your time at Chitral, then visit the valley during the summer months when you will see fruit-laden trees of cherries, apricots, and pomegranate.
Chitral is known for its picturesque Kalash Valley where you will find women dressed up in the traditional embroidered dresses and men with feather caps. Other places to visit in Chitral are the enchanting valleys of Broghil, Barmoghlast, Goleen, and Ayun Valley. Garam Chashma is a refreshing river flowing freely through the valley and if you are a history buff, then you shouldn’t miss visiting the Shahi Qila, which is also known as Chitral Fort. It was built during the time when Chitral was a princely state, before partition. It housed the barracks of the guards of the rulers – Mehtars in local terms.
The best time to visit the valley is between April and October. During the winter season, the valley is covered in deep snow. You can either visit Chitral by air and take a flight from Islamabad to Chitral or take a road trip to Chitral. If you are traveling by road, remember that it would take almost 10 hours to reach the valley via the N-45 motorway.
Swat is a picturesque valley with gushing waters of Swat River cutting through it. You will find plenty of resorts just next to the Swat River that offers breathtaking views both at sunrise and sunset. You can visit Swat any time of the year but most travelers plan a trip during the summer season to enjoy the refreshing waterfalls and cold river streams.
Also dubbed as East Switzerland, it is a delight for international tourists thanks to the free-flowing rivers, natural waterfalls, gushing river streams, tall pine trees set against the snow-capped mountains. From the Buddhist stupas, White Palace, and Takht-i-Bahi that depict rich history to the picturesque blue waters of the Mahodand Lake, a snowy ski resort at Malam Jabba, and the lush green meadows and pine forests of Kalam, everything seems right out of a fairytale!
Naran and Kaghan
People visiting northern areas visit Naran, Shogran, and Kaghan Valley which is about 240 km away from Islamabad. It has some picturesque tourist attractions such as Siri Paye, which is a mesmerizing place with lush green meadows set against the mountainous backdrop.
The special bit about Siri Paye is the floating clouds that stoop to a low level, where you can actually pass through them like a ghost. Tourists also visit Lake Saif-ul-Malook, 9 km from Naran in Mansehra District, where you can view the image of Malika Parbat in the blue waters. Another top attraction in Naran is Babusar Top, which is a mountain pass, 70 km from Naran and connects Thak Nala with Chilas.
The list does not end here as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is blessed with unsurmountable beauty and pristine landscapes. Malam Jabba is one such place, but in recent years it has been developed into a winter destination, and numerous winter sports activities, events, and festivals take place at Malamjabba Resort.
Malam Jabba is a beautiful valley and also a ski resort in the winter season. It is situated in the Hindu Kush range of Swat Valley, located more than 9,000 ft. above sea level. The spot offers some of the best avenues for professional and amateurs skiers in the region. During winters, when the snow is thick and firm, skiers enjoy snow tubing, skiing, and skating on top of the snow-clad peak. There are a couple of 800-meter ski runs and well-maintained pistes that offer various difficulty levels both for amateurs and professionals.
The skiing season in Malam Jabba usually begins in January and ends in March and is a major attraction for tourists visiting Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The resort is also accessible via road from Islamabad, which is almost a 6-hour drive.
Abbottabad serves as a transit city for tourists visiting the northern areas such as Nathiagali and Naran etc. Apart from being a stopover, Abbottabad is a beautiful tourist destination with many tourist spots such as Hanoi, which is located about 11 kilometers away from the main city center.
It is surrounded by tall green mountains and cold-water streams that flow through the city. People who stop even for a day or two in Abbottabad, visit Thandiani, which is 31 km from Abbottabad and 2,700 meters above sea level. It is surrounded by lush green pine forests and the weather is bone-chilling cold – hence the name Thandiani. If you are into history, then visiting St. Luke’s Church won’t disappoint you. Established in the 1860s, the building was established during colonial times. The Lady Garden Public Park predates the partition era when British ladies from the elite group used to visit the park to enjoy some relaxed time during the evenings. That is why many tourists who visit KP, explore the park because of its historical significance.
Unexplored and well-hidden from the world, Kumrat Valley is one of the best places to visit in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It is surrounded by tall, dense pine forests, gushing waterfalls, and refreshing river streams. Located in Upper Dir, Kumrat Valley was not open for tourism up until now due to security concerns. However, the government of Pakistan has made efforts in bringing tourism to those areas which were previously neglected.
You will find this on Dir-Chitral road and it would take roughly about four hours from Timergara to reach Thall Town, where you will want to stop at the 19th-century wooden mosque and explore the beautiful mosque made from Deodar trees with intricate carvings and detailed artwork. From Thall Town, around half an hour to one hour, you will reach your destination. From Kumrat Valley, tourists also trek to Jahaz Banda meadows and waterfalls, Katora Lake, and Kaala Chashma.
It is a narrow strip between Abbottabad and Murree. Basically, the Galiyat region comprises a hill tract featuring green meadows, chilly weather, and tall pine trees. Ghora gali, Nathiagali, Changla Gali, Dunga Gali are all part of the Galiyat region in KP. In a recent bid to promote tourism in Pakistan, many fast-food chains, 3-star resorts are also being constructed here. In 2019, Galiyat saw an unprecedented hike of 139% in the influx of tourists.
The capital of the province, Peshawar is one of the oldest cities in Pakistan, which dates back to 539 BC. Peshawari people are hospitable in nature and the streets are always buzzing with people casually roaming around buying stuff they like from roadside markets.
Since it is an old city, you will find various historical buildings, relics, and archaeological sites that reflect the Mughal era and rich history. Among the top tourist attractions in Peshawar are Qissa Khwani Bazaar, Bala Hisar Fort, Mahabat Khan Mosque, Sethi Houses, and Peshawar Museum. Ghanta Ghar or Clock House was built in 1990 to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. It is also known as Cunningham Clock Tower, named after Sir George Cunningham, who was the former British governor and political agent in the province. The Peshawar Museum is known for its Buddhist sculptures belonging to the Gandhara period. Founded in 1907, the red brick building comprises a spacious hall, two side galleries on the ground, and two on the upper floor. The impressive life-size sculpture of Buddha looks magnificent in the main hall and is a major attraction for tourists.
TOP HISTORICAL PLACES TO VISIT IN KP
If you are a history aficionado, then you must visit these historical places in KP.
Masjid Mohabbat Khan
Sethi House Complex
The Khyber Pass
Bala Hisar Fort
Masjid Mohabbat Khan
A Mughal-era mosque, Mahabat Khan Mosque stands today inside the alley of Andar Shehr Bazaar of the old city. It was built during the reign of 1670 AD by Emperor Shahjahan. According to some historians, the tall minarets of the Mahabat Khan Mosque were frequently used to hang prisoners and were used as a substitute for gallows. When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, the tribal leaders would congregate in the mosque in order to gather unity amongst Afghans against the Soviets. The mosque has an entrance that leads to a large prayer courtyard.
An ancient Buddhist monastic complex, Takht-e-Bai is a major tourist attraction because of its historical significance. Founded in the early 1st century CE, it has been listed as the UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980. This monastery has some of the most significant relics from the Gandhara civilization. The building is located at a serene spot making it a treat for the tourists who can enjoy the rich history and beautiful location. The site got its name from the two wells on the hills. Takht means top and Bahi means spring, which means a spring emerging from the top.
A magnificent structure standing tall on the western banks of River Chitral, the Chitral Fort was used by the region’s former rulers. The fort resembles Mughal architecture and was set up in the same style as that of the Lahore Fort.
The fort is made of mud bricks with lavish use of deodar wood and consists of three portions – the barracks of the troops, secretariat, and a residential area that opens up to the garden on the riverside. In the secretariat, the then rulers used to hold up open kutcheris and a special seating arrangement was put in place in this area amidst tall chinar trees.
If you hire a guide, he will tell you some interesting stories about Chitral Fort. One of the stories says that a British Army troop having 400 soldiers was besieged in the fort because they helped a prince in the war of succession, which began among Prince Aman-ul-Mulk’s sons in 1892.
It is a public park in Peshawar, built within a Mughal-era caravanserai, where traders and soldiers used to stop by to refresh themselves. It is a fortified compound with two gates – one in the east and the other one on the west. The Gorakhnath Temple is situated in the center of the caravanserai under a banyan tree, well-maintained by the Hindu community living in Peshawar. The government has built a museum in one of the buildings where important relics and artifacts can be found. There are also small shops in the premises where artisans display handicrafts and handwoven Peshawari shawls.
Interestingly, the excavations that were done in 2007 at Gor Khatri further push Peshawar’s age to a few centuries back, making it one of the oldest cities in South East Asia. Archaeologists that have done excavations at the site have found around 13 layers belonging to different civilizations, dating from the colonial era and going all the way to the Indo-Greek period in 200 BCE.
Sethi House Complex
When you walk out of the western gate of Gor Khatri, you will enter Bazaar Kalan, which is one of the oldest parts of Peshawar. Next to it is the Sethi Mohalla, comprising 6-7 residences and having a main haveli built by Karim Bakhsh Sethi. The main haveli has a courtyard with a centuries-old classic fountain in the middle and colorful windows of the bedrooms open in the lounge area reflecting light from all sides. Tourists marvel at the architectural style of the building and take great interest in the history.
The Khyber Pass
A mountain pass on the border of Afghanistan, Khyber Pass has seen many important invasions in the past from famous invaders like Genghis Khan, Mahmud Ghaznavi, and later by Moguls.
Bala Hisar Fort
A historic fort in Peshawar, it served as a royal residence for many rulers who reigned the area in the past. Up until the early 19th century, Bala Hisar Fort was the royal residence of Afghan Kings. Now, the fort is used by the Frontier Corps of the Pakistan Army. The provincial government in a bid to promote tourism has opened the site for tourists. On Saturdays, families can visit while on a Sunday everyone can visit the place but it is recommended to bring in your CNIC and if you are an international tourist, then it is advised to carry your passports with you as well for security check.