Being situated between Afghanistan and India, Pakistan is a nation that has a variety of religious beliefs and ideologies flowing through its veins. Along with other South Asian countries like Bangladesh, it's somewhere most people have never travelled nor considered. Pakistan is host to a variety of holy sites that have become one of the main attractive factors for aspiring visitors. We’ve compiled a breakdown of three major places of worship that we believe are worth checking out, we hope this will serve as both an informative piece on why these spots are so revered and as a solid source of inspiration to chart your next trip to this cultural hub.
Faisal Mosque, Islamabad
Few places of worship impress quite like Islamabad’s Faisal Mosque, which holds the title of the 2nd largest mosque in the world. With input from Pakistan’s 2nd president, Marshal Ayub Khan, the mosque was constructed with the goal of creating a modern focal point for the city that is a centrepiece of any panoramic view of the city. One look at the impressive architecture of this structure will make it easy to see why it stands out so effectively in the city.
Designed by architect Vedat Dalokay and drawing from both Turkish and Arabian influences, the building spans 5000 square metres and was built with a roof design reminiscent of a desert Bedouin’s tent, built as a truncated pyramid with four giant minarets built on it’s four external corners. The holy centre’s white marble construction gives it a uniquely elegant aesthetic, while the interior utilises gold tones, calligraphy, and mosaic’s in a variety of colours to contrast the sleek exterior, bringing the light the spirit, proportions, and geometry of the Kaaba, the small shrine located near the centre of the Great Mosque and considered by Muslims to be the most sacred place on Earth, in an abstract fashion.
With the courtyard and main prayer hall hosting up to 100,000 people, no matter what time of year you choose the visit this sublime spot, provided it’s not during prayer times or Fridays if you are non-Muslim will bear you witness to a variety of folks from all walks of life that come from around the world to marvel and this mosque’s incredible architecture and its significance to practitioners of the Islamic faith.
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Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur, Narowal
When it comes to structures of significance to the Sikh religion, few places outside of India, Sikh’s country of origin, are as revered as the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur. This hallowed destination is located only 1 kilometre from the India-Pakistan border on the east bank of the river Ravi, and just a few kilometres away from the town of Kartapur, situated on the western side of the river. Followers of the Sikh religion hold this particular place in incredibly high regard due to its ties to the founder of Sikhism and the first to receive the title of ‘Guru’, a nomenclature to designate the spiritual masters of the practice, Guru Nanak Dev.
Guru Nanak chose Kartapur to settle in after his missionary work, after which he spent 18 years living in the city and assembling the Sikh community, before eventually passing away due to natural causes. While the Sikh religion is not one traditionally centred around any particular divine figure, Guru Nanak was believed by some Sikhs to be an incarnation of god or having some form of connection with higher powers due to his inspired reflections on spirituality and the human condition. He was the first of 10 ‘Gurus’ to pass down his teachings through generations of Sikh’s before compiling their knowledge into the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book that would become the basis for all Sikh ideology.
If you manage to make your way to this cornerstone of Sikh culture at the right time, you may be able to catch one of the pilgrimages that occur throughout the year as Sikh’s move through the Kartarpur corridor, a visa-free religious corridor and border crossing connecting Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan to Gurdwara Dera Baba Nanak in India, in order to pay respects to the late Guru and commune their fellows. The corridor runs 4.7 kilometres long and was inaugurated on 9 November, 2019 to commemorate the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, with routine excursions along this route being available since, save for a period between March 16th 2020 and November 17th 2021 where the route was closed due to the covid-19 pandemic. Being a Sikh building, the sanctum is open to people of all beliefs to visit and breathe in the serene atmosphere, take in the sights, and taste the delicious food cooked for all visitors.
Katas Raj Temples, Chakwal
Finishing off our list we have the Katas Raj Temples, a series of seven temples from a variety of eras dating back to the latter half of the 6th century AD all of which surround the pond Katas, a hugely important body of water to Hindu mythology. Believed to be created from the teardrop of Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction who is said to play a vital role in the universe’s cycle of life, shed after the death of his wife, Sati. The temples are also a significant set piece of the Hindu epic poem, the Mahābhārata, as it is believed to be where the Pandavas brothers spent much of their exile and engaged in a riddle contest with the Yakshas according to the Yaksha Prashna, a story from the poem.
After enduring somewhat tumultuous relationships between India and Pakistan due to the partition between the two countries and the Indo-Pakistan war, the temple was reopened to Indian Hindus in 1984 after being closed off to them for many years. Since then, the temple has undergone renovations in order to satisfy Indian Hindu’s and to pay proper respect to the holy site. Since 2006, when the renovations took place, the treatment of the temple by the local government has come under scrutiny and ultimately has resulted in the temple standing out as more of an archaeological and historical site rather than an active place of consistent worship.
Despite this, the temple is still revered and visited by many Hindu’s every year looking to make a pilgrimage to a site believed to have been crafted by their deities themselves and that has served as an important home to many a mythological figure in Hindu texts. Whether you are a follower of Hindu beliefs, or simply fascinated by historical architecture and ancient places of worship, this collective of temples has stood the test of time as an excellent destination.