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Pakistan: Mughals, Gandhara and the Karakoram

Pakistan’s rich history is marked by several ancient cultures, from the 8,500-year-old Neolithic site of Mehrgarh in Balochistan to the Bronze Age Indus Valley civilisation and the ancient Gandhara civilisation. The regions forming modern Pakistan witnessed the rule of diverse empires and dynasties, including the Achaemenid, Maurya, Kushan, Gupta, Umayyad Caliphate, Samma, Hindu Shahis, Shah Miris, Ghaznavids, Delhi Sultanate, Mughals, and, most recently, the British Raj from 1858 to 1947. This historical tapestry reflects the cultural and geopolitical evolution of the region.

The Karakoram is a mountain range in South Asia, spanning the borders between Pakistan, India, and China. It is one of the Greater Ranges of Asia, and it is known for its towering peaks, including K2, the second-highest mountain in the world. The Karakoram Range has been historically significant as a part of the ancient Silk Road trade routes that connected the East and West. One notable aspect of the historical trade routes in the Karakoram region is the influence of Buddhism which originated in India, and spread along these trade routes, reaching Central Asia, Tibet, China, and beyond. The evident in archaeological remains, such as ancient stupas, monastic complexes, and rock carvings. These remains reflect the historical importance of the region as a crossroads of diverse cultures and religions.

The study trip includes Lahore, once part of the Mughal Empire from 1524 to 1752. Lahore flourished under Babur and reached its architectural peak during Akbar’s rule. Lahore Fort, Badshahi Masjid, and Alamgiri Gate were built during the Mughal era. As Mughal power waned, Lahore faced invasions, leading to Sikh control. In 1801, the Sikhs formed a sovereign state under Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

Taxila and Peshawar: The Gandhara Civilisation, located in present-day northern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan, existed from the 1st millennium BC to the 11th century AD. It thrived under Buddhist Kushan Kings but declined after Mahmud of Ghazni’s conquest in 1021 AD. The area was later administered from Lahore and Kabul during the Muslim period and was part of Kabul province during Mughal times.  Gandhara was a melting pot of various cultures due to its strategic location along the ancient Silk Road. Gandhara Buddhism reflects a unique fusion of Hellenistic, Indian, and Persian cultural influences, particularly in its art and architecture.

Hunza Valley – Nature and Culture: Situated in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan which is on a part of the ancient Silk Road.  It is renowned for its breathtaking natural beauty. Nestled amid the majestic Karakoram Range, the valley offers stunning landscapes characterised by snow-capped peaks, glaciers, and vibrant alpine meadows. The Hunza River flows through the valley, adding to its scenic charm. Towering mountains, including Rakaposhi, Ultar Sar, and Ladyfinger Peak, create a dramatic backdrop. The valley experiences diverse climates, from lush greenery in lower elevations to rugged terrain in higher altitudes.

Hunza Valley is home to a unique and vibrant cultural heritage. The local population, primarily the Burusho people, has preserved their distinct traditions for centuries. The people of Hunza are known for their hospitality, friendliness, and a strong sense of community. The valley is dotted with ancient forts, including the historic Baltit Fort and Altit Fort, showcasing traditional architecture and serving as cultural landmarks.

The Siam Society, under the leadership of Mrs Bilaibhan Sampatisiri, has arranged a study trip to Pakistan scheduled from 12 to 23 April 2024. The focus of this expedition is to explore the fascinating history of the Mughals and the Gandhara Civilisation. Followed by a journey along the renowned Karakoram Highway leading to the stunning Hunza Valley, combining cultural discovery with the breathtaking landscapes of the region.

When

Friday, 12 to Tuesday, 23 April 2024

Leader

Mrs Bilaibhan Sampatisiri

President of The Siam Society

Booking

The tentative programme will be as follows:

Day 1: Friday, 12 April 2024:  Bangkok – Lahore
17:30 Meet at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi International Airport, Check in at the Thai Airways counter
19:50 Depart Bangkok to Lahore by Thai Airways flight TG345 (direct flight/ duration 4 hrs.)
22:30 Arrive at Allama Iqbal International Airport (Lahore), and transfer to the hotel in Lahore
Overnight at Luxus Grand Hotel, Lahore
Day 2: Saturday, 13 April 2024: Lahore
Breakfast at the hotel
Morning: Full-day tour at Lahore. In just one corner of Lahore, a heterogeneous example of Mughal, Sikh, Colonial, and Contemporary architecture can be found.
Visit the historic Lahore Fort and Badshahi Mosque or Royal Mosque. Lahore Fort, built in the 11th century AD, is the only place where one can see different phases of Mughal architecture, as a long line of rulers has made additions. Inside the Fort, you can visit many of the rooms, including the Shish Mahal, and the Palace of Mirrors. Overlooking the Fort is the Badshahi or Royal Mosque, constructed during Emperor Aurangzeb’s rule from 1658 to 1707, which stands as one of the few significant architectural monuments from his era. It held the title of the world’s largest mosque from 1673, until 1986 when the Faisal Mosque in Islamabad was built. Despite being constructed during the period of Mughal decline, the mosque’s beauty, elegance, and grandeur make it a standout monument in Lahore.
Noon: Lunch at a local restaurant
Afternoon: Visit the Lahore Museum, which houses a rich and varied collection of historical objects. This is the oldest museum in Pakistan and has many galleries displaying artefacts from the Gandhara, Buddhist, Jain, Mughal, and colonial periods. The famous statue of the fasting Siddhartha (Buddha) is also on display here.
Visit of Wagah Border to see the flag-lowering ceremony between the Pakistan and Indian border.
Evening: Dinner at a local restaurant

Overnight at Luxus Grand Hotel, Lahore

Day 3: Sunday, 14 April 2024:  Lahore – Islamabad (400 km, 7 hours)
Breakfast at the hotel
Morning: Check out of the hotel and proceed to visit two architectural masterpieces of Shah Jahan’s era. The Wazir Khan Mosque, built in 1634 by Shaikh Ilm-ud-din Ansari, Viceroy of Punjab under Shah Jahan, stands out for its unique architectural design with minarets at each corner—a first in Lahore. Ansari, originally from Chiniot, studied medicine and became the personal physician to Prince Kuram, later Shah Jehan, who awarded him the title Wazir Khan in 1620. This mosque is regarded as one of the most intricately adorned Mughal mosques.
Visit Jahangir’s Tomb, built from 1627 to 1637, was initially a favoured spot of Jahangir and Nur Jahan. Following Jahangir’s death in 1627, Shah Jahan commissioned a grand mausoleum to honour his father. The construction took a decade and covered a vast quadrangle subdivided into four gardens, each with a central fountain. Currently, both sites are on the tentative list for UNESCO World Heritage status.
Noon: Lunch at a local restaurant
Afternoon: Proceed to Islamabad
Evening: Dinner and overnight at Serena Hotel, Islamabad
Day 4:  Monday, 15 April 2024: Islamabad – Taxila – Peshawar (300 km, 4 hr plus excursion)
Breakfast at the hotel
Morning: Check out of the hotel and depart to visit Taxila – dating 5th BC to 6th AD, Taxila was situated on the crossroads to western Asia and Eastern Asia with Kashmir in the north. It was part of the Great Achaemenian Empire in 5th BC, it was invaded by the Macedonian armies under Alexander the Great in 326 BC. It was part of the Mauryan Empire when Ashoka the Great was appointed as Governor of Taxila during his father’s rule in 2nd BC. Then successive rulers of Taxila were Bactrian Greeks, the Scythians, and Parthians but the best period of Taxila was under Kushan rule when massive construction of Buddhist monasteries and stupas took place. We shall visit the site of the first city of Taxila and later see the huge stupa court of Dharmarajika and visit Sirkap, the second city of Taxila planned by the Bactrian Greeks in 1st BC – we can see a well laid out city plan with some interesting buildings.
Afterwards, visit the Archaeological Museum of Taxila, see the well-preserved articles and statues from all around the famous site of our history, and visit Jaulian Buddhist monastery ruins situated on a high hill with a very well-preserved stupa court and parts of the monastery.
Noon: Lunch at a local restaurant
Afternoon: Continue to Peshawa0r
Evening: Dinner and overnight at Serena Hotel, Peshawar
Day 5: Tuesday, 16 April 2024: Peshawar – Takht-i-Bahi – Islamabad (200 km, 5 hr plus excursion)
Breakfast at the hotel
Morning: Visit the beautiful Peshawar Museum housing one of the best collections of Gandharan Art –Buddhist Art in the best Greco-Roman style of art with an admixture of Indian decorative art.
Sightseeing tour with a visit to traditional bazaars of Peshawar – we shall start our walking tour with Qissa Khawani Bazaar (storytellers street), Copper Bazaar, the spice street, cloth market, and later walk to local shoe bazaar, the colourful vegetable market and visit Mahabat Khan Mosque constructed by the Mughal governor in 1630 AD.
Noon: Lunch at a local restaurant
Afternoon:

 

Visit Takht-i-Bahi Monastery. Takht-i-Bahi or “Throne of the Water Spring” is an Indo-Parthian archaeological site of an ancient Buddhist monastery in Mardan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. The site is considered among the most imposing relics of Buddhism in all of Gandhara, and has been “exceptionally well-preserved”. The Buddhist monastery was founded in the 1st century CE and was in use until the 7th century. The complex is regarded by archaeologists as being particularly representative of the architecture of the Buddhist monastic centre from its era. Takht-i-Bahi was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980.
Continue to Islamabad
Evening: Dinner at a local restaurant

Overnight at Serena Hotel, Islamabad

Day 6: Wednesday, 17 April 2024: Islamabad – Skardu
Breakfast at the hotel
Morning: Check out of the hotel and transfer to Islamabad Airport
10:00 Depart to Skardu by Pakistan International Airlines flight PK451 (direct flight/ duration 1 hr)

Important Note: If the Islamabad – Skardu flight is cancelled because the weather does not permit, the programme in Skardu must be cancelled. We will drive to Chilas and overnight in Chilas instead (around 11-hour drive).

11:00 Upon arrival, we will proceed to Shigar, a town in the Baltistan division of Gilgit–Baltistan, near Skardu in northern Pakistan. Shigar is known for its architectural significance linked to the Noor Bakhshi Sufi community. Inhabited mainly by the Balti people of Tibetan descent, the town is situated near the Shigar River.
Noon: Lunch at a local restaurant
Afternoon: Visit the Historic Shigar Fort and enjoy some free time for a leisurely walk in the charming village.
Drive back to Skardu. On the way, visit Manthal Buddha Rock. It is a large granite rock featuring a relief sculpture of Buddha, likely originating from the 8th century. Reflecting the pre-Islamic era in Gilgit-Baltistan, when Buddhism was the dominant faith, numerous rocks in the region bear sculpted images of Buddha.
Evening: Dinner and overnight at Maple Resort, Skardu
Day 7: Thursday, 18 April 2024: Skardu – Hunza (285 km, 8 hr)
Breakfast at the hotel
Morning: Check out of the hotel and drive to Hunza along with the Indus River. We shall join the Karakoram Highway after covering 130 kilometres and then continue to drive to Hunza Valley with many beautiful stops in different mountains, namely Rakaposhi, Diran Peak, Golden Peak, Ultar Peak, and Disteghil Sar Peak. – All mountains are above 700 metres.
Noon: Lunch at a local restaurant
Evening: Dinner and overnight at Hunza Darbar Hotel, Hunza
Day 8: Friday, 19 April 2024: Hunza
Breakfast at the hotel
Morning: Embark on a full-day tour of Hunza, a captivating mountainous region that recently integrated fully with Pakistan after being a semi-autonomous state for over 600 years. Nestled along the ancient trade route to Kashgar, now traced by the Karakoram Highway, the picturesque Hunza boasts lush greenery, snow-capped mountains, and abundant summer fruits like apricots, peaches, pears, and grapes. Karimabad, the main town of Hunza, sits along this historic route. Renowned for the longevity of its people, attributed to a simple, natural diet and unpolluted mountain air, Hunza is often referred to as “Shangri-La” by Tibetan traders.
A highlight of the tour is a visit to the Baltit Fort, originally constructed over 700 years ago by porters who escort a Balti bride to the Mir of Hunza. Serving as the administrative centre for former rulers, the fort is like Ladakhi architecture with indigenous woodwork. Positioned strategically, it offers a panoramic view of Hunza and neighbouring valleys. Now a Fort Museum under the administration of the Aga Khan Foundation Cultural Board, the fort has undergone reconstruction and renovation, featuring exhibits of artefacts and musical instruments from Hunza.
Noon: Lunch at a local restaurant
Afternoon: Visit Nagar Valley which offers a fine view of some of the highest peaks in Hunza and Nagar.
Continue to the Hopper Valley to the scenic viewpoint of the great Hopper Glacier.
Evening: Dinner at a local restaurant

Overnight at Hunza Darbar Hotel, Hunza

Day 9: Saturday, 20 April 2024: Hunza – Gilgit (115 km, 2.5 hr)
Breakfast at the hotel
Morning: Drive to Gilgit with a few viewpoints stop
Noon: Lunch at a local restaurant
Afternoon: Tour of Gilgit starts from the Home of Gilgiton, the popular polo grounds, and the typical mountain bazaar. We’ll also visit the impressive rock carvings of the Kargah Buddha carved into a rock face, which is believed to date back to the 7th century. This ancient artefact stands as a testament to the rich cultural and religious history of the region, reflecting the influence of Buddhism in the area during that period.
Visit the Gilgit Suspension Bridge over the Gilgit River
Evening: Dinner and overnight at Serena Hotel, Gilgit
Day 10: Sunday, 21 April 2024: Gilgit – Chilas – Besham (360 km 10 hr)
Breakfast at the hotel
Morning: Check out of the hotel and drive to Besham on the Karakoram Highway
Following the downstream course of River Indus, during the drive we shall make photo stops at the confluence of River Indus and Gilgit, the unique point where three mountain ranges, the Karakoram, Himalayas, and Hindu Kush meet, Nanga Parbat viewpoint offers breathtaking panorama behind.
Visit a Buddhist rock carvings and inscriptions site along the Indus River near Chilas, this vast gallery of ancient Rock art includes engravings of Ibex, stupas, meditating Buddhas, and religious motifs and inscriptions in various languages.
Noon: Lunch at a local restaurant
Afternoon: Continue to Besham
Evening: Dinner and overnight at Besham Inn Hotel, Besham
Day 11: Monday, 22 April 2024: Besham – Islamabad (268 km 5 hr)
Breakfast at the hotel
Morning: Check out of the hotel and proceed to Islamabad
Noon: Lunch at a local restaurant
Afternoon: Sightseeing of Islamabad, a well-planned city in Pakistan. Visit to Faisal Mosque, named after the late King Faisal of Saudi Arabia. The mosque also houses an Islamic University specialising in Islamic Philosophy and Law.
19.30 Transfer to Islamabad airport
Check in at the Thai Airways counter
23:20 Depart Islamabad for Bangkok by Thai Airways flight TG350 (direct flight/duration 5 hr 5 min)
Day 12: Tuesday, 23 April 2024: Bangkok
06:25 Arrive at Suvarnabhumi International Airport

The Siam Society reserves the right to change the programme as necessary.

Booking:

Contribution of THB 125,000 (THB 129,000 for non-member). Single room surcharge of THB 27,000. A deposit of THB 50,000 and a photocopy of the identification page on your passport must accompany the booking. Your reservation will be confirmed as soon as the deposit has been made. In addition, basic accident insurance is included. There is a 3% surcharge for credit/debit card payments to cover bank charges. Payment in full will be required 30 days before the start of the trip (i.e. by Tuesday, 12 March 2024). Please pay by cash or cheque payable to “The Siam Society”. Transfer can also be made to The Siam Society travel account at TMBThanachart Bank (ttb), saving account no. 053-2-18000-7 or by scanning the QR code below. Once payment has been made, please e-mail the deposit or transfer the docket to us.

Inclusions:

  • Domestic air ticket is included in the price (Islamabad – Skardu)
  • Accommodation (twin sharing basis), meals as mentioned in the programme, transfer and sightseeing coaches, entrance fees, gratuities, and other costs incurred to make this trip possible.

Exclusions:

  • International air tickets are not included in the price (Bangkok – Lahore and Islamabad – Bangkok),but for those who would like us to book their tickets, it can be arranged at the time of booking.
  • Visa fees (if any), personal expenses, personal food and beverage consumptions, etc.

Tourist Visa

Thai passport holders and foreign nationals will be required a visa to enter Pakistan. However, visitors can apply for an eVisa via an online application, which is the most convenient option and can be completed from your home. The documents that are used for applying for the eVisa will be followed. The cost of the eVisa would cost around USD 8 up to USD 60 depending on your nationality.

For more information, please follow the link below: https://visa.nadra.gov.pk/tourist-visa/

Cancellation charges:

40 days before the start of the trip: Deposit forfeited
39-30 days before the start of the trip: 50% of the tour cost
Less than 30 days or cancellation without notice: No refund

*The cancellation charges will also depend on the date we pay the deposit to our travel agent. If we have to pay the deposit to the travel agent before the 40-day period prior to the start of the trip, our officer will send an email to inform every participant before we make the payment as only a partial amount of the deposit can be refunded after that point.

Covid-19 policy

Due to a lower number of worldwide infections, many countries have relaxed their travel restrictions and quarantine requirements regarding Covid-19.

Nevertheless, when travelling as a group, The Siam Society would like to remind you of the following measures that we have put in place:

– In the event that trip participants are tested positive during the trip, the group will continue to follow the planned itinerary. To ensure the health and safety of all trip participants, those who tested positive shall adhere to appropriate self-isolation measures as directed by the trip leader.

– Those tested positive with severe symptoms shall be treated in accordance with the health measures stipulated by the local government. Medical costs in excess of the insurance coverage shall be at the expense of the trip participant(s).

– The Siam Society will provide health insurance for all trip participants. Medical costs in excess of the insurance coverage shall be at the expense of the trip participant.

– Our staff and local tour operators will constantly provide you with the latest updates on local health and safety regulations.

For further information and bookings, please contact Khun Thun at 02-661-6470-3 ext 205, or studytrips@thesiamsociety.org. The Society’s office is open from 09:00 to 17:00, Tuesday to Saturday.

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