The pleasures of Pakistan are old: Buddhist monuments, Hindu temples, Islamic palaces, tombs and pleasure grounds, and widely spaced Anglo-Mogul Gothic mansions – some in a state of dereliction which makes their grandeur even more emphatic. Scuplture is dominated by Graeco-Buddhist friezes, and crafts by ceramics, jewellery, silk goods and engraved woodwork and metalwork.
Even Pakistan’s flotillas of vintage Bedford buses and trucks, mirror-buffed and chrome-sequinned, are dazzling works of art. Traditional dances are lusty and vigorous; music is either classical, folk or devotional; and the most patronised literature is a mix of the scholastic and poetic. Cricket is Pakistan’s greatest sports obsession and national players are afforded hero status – unless, of course, they proselytise young and wealthy English women, then marry them.
Nearly all Pakistanis are Muslim and Islam is the state religion. Reminders of their devotion are many: the muezzin’s call to prayer from the mosques; men sprawled in prayer in fields, shops and airports; and veiled women in the streets. Christians are the largest minority, followed by Hindus and Parsees, descendants of Persian Zoroastrians. Note that dress codes are strictly enforced – to avoid offence invest in a shalwar qamiz – a long, loose, non-revealing garment worn by both men and women.
Pakistani food is similar to that of northern India, with a dollop of Middle Eastern influence thrown in for good measure. This means menus peppered with baked and deep-fried breads (roti, chapattis, puri, halwa and nan), meat curries, lentil mush (dhal), spicy spinach, cabbage, peas and rice. Street snacks – samosas and tikkas (spiced and barbecued beef, mutton or chicken) – are delicious, while a range of desserts will satisfy any sweet tooth. The most common sweet is barfi (it pays to overlook the name), which is made of dried milk solids and comes in a variety of flavours. Though Pakistan is officially `dry’, it does brew its own beer and spirits which can be bought (as well as imported alcohol) from specially designated bars and top-end hotels.
Nationwide celebrations include Ramadan, a month of sunrise-to-sunset fasting which changes dates every year (as the Islamic calendar differs from the Gregorian one); Eid-ul-Fitr, two to three days of feasting and goodwill that marks the end of Ramadan; Eid-ul-Azha, when animals are slaughtered and the meat shared between relatives and the needy; and Eid-Milad-un-Nabi, which celebrates Mohammad’s birthday.