You might dismiss Lahore from your wanderlust wish list over concerns for safety, but don’t! The city is a welcoming hub of culture and hospitality. There are a few things that it helps to know before you go, though, so we’ve listed some of the most important below.
Before you book
In order to visit Lahore, you need to apply for a visa. For this, you’ll need six months left on your passport, a sponsorship letter from Pakistan and a reference letter (or equivalent) from a UK employer. For more information visit gov.uk or the Pakistan high commission website.
The majority of the Pakistani population practices Islam, which means that there are a few customs that it helps to be aware of when travelling to the country. Firstly, Friday is the holy day, which means that you’ll find a lot of businesses and attractions, such as the Lahore Museum, are closed or have reduced opening hours. If you happen to be in the city on a Friday, then this could be an opportunity to visit some of the intricately decorated mosques, or wander around some of its lush green expanses like Jallo Park or Iqbal Park. Similarly, shops can be closed or trade for less hours on Sundays, so it’s best to plan ahead and look up opening times in advance. During Ramadan, it’s considered disrespectful to eat, drink, smoke or chew gum in public.
Lahore is part of an Islamic republic, however it’s not quite as strict as the more rural areas in Pakistan. In terms of dress code, guidelines advise that women should only have their head, hands and feet showing, and should avoid clothing that reveals too much of the shape of the body. It’s also recommended that you carry a shawl, so that you can cover your head or chest if needed.
Men are advised to wear trousers rather than shorts and a t-shirt that covers at least the shoulders. This dress code is particularly necessary for when visiting places of worship – you’ll also be expected to remove your shoes before you enter holy buildings. If you’re visiting for a few days, it might be worth purchasing a traditional outfit from one of the many markets – this way, you can’t really go wrong!
Dining & Drinking
One of the starkest differences between the UK and Pakistan is that the latter is a dry country – meaning there’s no bar culture in Lahore – but it is possible to get alcohol from a handful of hotels, including Holiday Inn, Avari, Pearl Continental and Ambassador. Basically, this isn’t the place to go for a boozed-up break, but we imagine that’s not the reason you’ve been drawn to visiting anyway!
It’s likely that you’ll get a taste for the local chai, which is fuel for Pakistanis in the same way a brew is for us Brits. Chai also belongs to the tea family, but it tends to be more aromatic and milky than your standard builders’; the taste can vary according to which spices are used, and how much sugar or honey is added. Lassi is another popular beverage in Lahore – it’s a chilled blend of yoghurt, water, spices and sometimes fruit, and it can be sweet or salted! A surprisingly refreshing drink on a warm day, lassi also acts as an excellent antidote to spicy food.
Despite the lack of alcohol, dining and socialising is a huge part of Pakistani life. Natives are known for their generous hospitality, and it’s quite likely that you’ll be invited around to locals’ homes for tea. When eating a traditional meal, you’ll generally be expected to eat with you hands. If so, remember to use your right hand!
Finally: electricity blackouts are common in Lahore, but they usually only last a few minutes, and you’ll quickly get used to them!
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