Pakistan stands at the crossroads of South and Central Asia. This unique geographical position has given the country immense social and natural diversity. There exist many features, cultures and honors unique to Pakistan. Following are some of these surprises.
1. The Biggest Glaciers:
The north of Pakistan boasts undoubtedly the world’s most stunning mountain scenery. Forget about those touristy Himalayan trials in Nepal, if you are looking for real wild mountain beauty, then Northern Areas are the place to go. The extreme northeastern part of Pakistan is dominated by the craggy Karakorums, whose glaciers are the world’s biggest permanent mass of snow and ice outside the poles.
2. A Language Isolate:
The Hunza valley, with its beauty and isolation has inspired many legends. The former princely state only really opened up to the rest of the world with the completion of Karakorum Highway in 1986. Of the many unique features about the region, the presence of a language isolate is the most puzzling. Burushaski is not related to any other language in the world and with Korean and Basque, is the world’s most vibrant language isolate.
Nanga Parbat is a sight to behold. It towers above the surrounding terrain like a brooding giant. Its south face, known as “Rupal Face” is the world’s biggest mountain face, rising unbroken for 4600 meters from its base. If one considers the peak to base distance, the north face of Nanga Parbat forms the world’s deepest gorge, plunging almost 7000 meters to the Indus River.
Trango Towers are amongst the many jewels encountered during the epic trek to K2. Standing tall like guardians of the great glaciers, the biggest member of the group, the Grand Trango, features the world’s greatest nearly vertical drop; nearly 1340 meters. They also offer some of the most technical rock climbing and extreme BASE jumping opportunities.
5. The most Mysterious Tribe:
Although un-contacted tribes still exist in unexplored rainforest regions, Kalash are possibly the world’s most mysterious group. Surrounded for thousands of kilometers by Islamic strongholds, they are the only tribe which has kept its pre-Islamic belief religion. Their exotic European features have inspired many theories about possible origins but nothing substantial has yet been proven. Their long term existence is however in doubt due to increasing tourist exposure and Islamization.
The Shah Faisal Mosque in Islamabad can accommodate almost 100000 worshipers. Completed in 1976, it could at that time probably hold the city’s entire population. Built with Saudi donations, was named for its King and designed like a desert tent.
7. The Area of Greatest Linguistic Diversity:
The Chitral district of northwest Pakistan has 13 languages spoken, more than any other similarly sized area in the world. Many of these are unique to the district and are loosing strength in numbers. This incredible diversity, prevalence of European facial features and existence of a language isolate has lead to an extraordinary hypothesis; that the “White” race did not invade India from Central Asia but in fact originated in the area around Chitral and then migrated to Central Area and Europe.
Pakistan’s western neighbor Afghanistan has been in a perpetual state of war for generations. The Afghans however had largely learned to live with internal tribal conflicts and prejudices but the situation changed dramatically with the 1979 Soviet invasion. This coupled with non-existent border control resulted in more than 5 million refugees pouring into Pakistan. Although recent years have been some of the most peaceful of the past decades, around 1.8 million refugees still reside in Pakistan and its still hosting the world’s biggest such population.
9. The Highest Paved Border Crossing:
The phenomenal Karakorum highway reaches its highest point at the Khunjerab Pass, the world’s highest paved border crossing. It is located on a watershed and has largely flatter, rolling terrain on the other side into China. Despite its hostile altitude, the pass has been used for centuries as a part of the famous Silk Route.
Pakistan has the world’s largest canal based irrigation system. Dependant exclusively on the Indus river and its tributaries, this network has also irrigated a population boom. The system was originally built by the British and was then expanded in 1960’s but now has become a rusty, inefficient old machine.