What it’s like to travel in Pakistan during Ramadan

Traveling during Ramadan can be a daunting idea. We know—we traveled in Pakistan for the entirety of it! To clear up your questions, here’s what it’s like to travel in Pakistan during Ramadan.

 

To non-Muslims, Ramadan sounds like a month of hell.

It’s a month of fasting in all senses of the word: no food, no water, no cigarettes, no swearing, no sex, no negative thoughts, no nothing during daylight hours. Um, pass.

But to Muslims, Ramadan is a holy month, a month for God. In Pakistan, people will tell you how Ramadan is their favorite month, how fasting is easy (lies), how much they love Ramadan. It’s a month where the Muslim community can come together and show self control for God. People are enthusiastic—earlier in the day, anyway—and are more than happy to teach non-Muslims about the holiday.

Despite their enthusiasm, Ramadan can be a difficult month for both Muslims and travelers in Muslim countries. This holds especially for Pakistan, an official Islamic Republic, where official rules regarding Ramadan are more strict than in many other countries.

 

 

Wondering if you should travel in Pakistan during Ramadan? Worried you'll commit a faux pas while you do? Click to learn what it's like to travel in the Islamic republic during the holy month of Ramadan, and get tips on what to expect and how to act.

 

 

Travel in Pakistan during Ramadan - Evening prayer at Badhshahi mosque in Lahore - Lost With Purpose

Evening prayer at Badshahi mosque in Lahore

What it was like to travel in Pakistan during Ramadan

Before entering the country, we were definitely concerned about traveling in Pakistan during Ramadan—and during summer, no less!

We were under the impression that publicly violating fasting rules during Ramadan would result in being arrested and rotting away in a Pakistani jail cell, neck deep in our own excrement. If we didn’t land ourselves in jail, we’d definitely land ourselves in one of the readied mass graves for all of the dead-to-be from the hot holiday season.

Needless to say, we were slightly concerned.

Travel in Pakistan during Ramadan - Dead by heat in Makli, Sindh, Pakistan - Lost With Purpose

Ultimately, it wasn’t so bad. As expected, it was the heat that did us in, but people were very understanding about us not fasting. In fact, a surprising number of people don’t actually fast during Ramadan. They’re just quiet about it due to social pressure.

We openly carried around water bottles around with us wherever we went, though we’d only drink while riding in rickshaws or taxis or behind closed doors. We bought snacks at convenience stores during the day, then retreated to hotel rooms or back alleys to feed.

Travel in Pakistan during Ramadan - Stealth mango juice in Larkana, Pakistan - Lost With Purpose

Stealth mango juice from inside a minivan

There was only one instance in which a man in a small town resisted selling food and drinks to us during daylight hours. Luckily, Sebastiaan is tall, white, blond-ish, and most definitely not Muslim. The man eventually caved.

 

Travel in Pakistan during Ramadan - Iftar with Let's Go to Pakistan in Lahore, Pakistan - Lost With Purpose

A sumptuous iftar spread with our friends from Let’s Go to Pakistan

The best part of travel in Pakistan during Ramadan

Being addicted to all things food, I actually enjoyed parts of travel during Ramadan, namely having iftar, the breaking of the day’s fast, with different people each day.

Travel in Pakistan during Ramadan - Having iftar with a family in Lahore - Lost With Purpose

Pakistanis are very welcoming to all foreigners, and despite not being a Muslim, they were all too happy to invite us in at sunset to feast. You might dine with anyone from a family to the entire neighborhood on the street! It’s a pleasure, and, of course, I never say no to free food. /glutton

 

Travel in Pakistan during Ramadan - Empty mountains of Hunza Valley before Ramadan's end - Lost With Purpose

The Hunza Valley was gloriously devoid of tourists during Ramadan… then Eid happened.

Should I travel in Pakistan during Ramadan?

Tough question. If there’s no alternative option, just do it! Pakistan is incredible, and it’s fascinating to witness Ramadan in an Islamic country. Just be cautious about the timing: Ramadan falls on a different date each year, and Ramadan in summer will be much more difficult than Ramadan during cooler times. Alternatively, you can just hide in the mountains of northern Pakistan where it’s cooler and people are more relaxed about fasting rules.

If you have a bit more flexibility, consider avoiding Ramadan, or enter the country towards the end of the holiday so that you can witness a bit of what it’s like… then capitalize on the Eid feasts and parties at the end!

If you still can’t decide…

Pros and cons of traveling during Ramadan

Cons

  • Must be sneaky about drinking despite walking around all day
  • Not drinking publicly is hard when it’s a billion degrees outside
  • Not much fresh street food available during the day
  • Many stores are closed until evening
  • No ice cream in the sunshine (sob)

Pros

  • Low season for domestic tourism. Accommodations are cheaper, sights less busy
  • Stronger community atmosphere
  • Witness an important Islamic holiday in an Islamic country
  • You’ll often be invited for iftar
  • People will take extra special care of you out of concern
  • Eid parties at the end of Ramadan!

 

What it's like to travel in Pakistan during Ramadan - Lost With Purpose

Iftar on the streets of Lahore

What do I need to know about Ramadan before traveling in Pakistan?

Vocabulary

  • Sehri is the morning meal before the first prayer of the day. It must be done by about 2:30, and definitely before sunrise.
  • Iftari is the meal at sunset, before evening prayer. You’ll often hear sirens to signify sunset time.
  • Rosa means “fasting”. You can ask someone “Rosa?” to determine if they’re fasting.

Should I travel in Pakistan during Ramadan - Friendly faces at iftar in Wazir Khan mosque in Lahore, Pakistan - Lost With Purpose

How it works

  • Both Sunni and Shia Muslims observe Ramadan. Pakistan is majority Sunni, with pockets of Shias in the northern areas.
  • It’s technically illegal to eat and drink in public, but as a foreigner you’ll be given some leeway
  • Ramadan lasts for one lunar cycle. It begins on a night of no moon, and ends at the first sighting of the new moon of the next cycle.
  • Eid is the three-day celebration at the end of Ramadan.
  • Children under 12, elderly, and sick people do not have to fast
  • Travelers do not have to fast, though many do. You’re safe!

 

What it's like to travel in Pakistan during Ramadan - A hidden lunch on the bus to Skardu, Gilgit Baltistan, Pakistan - Lost With Purpose

Sneaky Ramadan luncheon on a bus ride to Skardu

Practicalities of Ramadan in Pakistan

What’s supposed to happen and what actually happens on the ground can be a bit disjointed. Here are some practical tips to keep you from stepping on any toes (or dying from hunger) during Ramadan:

  • Most convenience stores and some markets are open during the day
  • Most restaurants and street stalls are closed during the day (Western options might be secretly open for business), and will open one or two hours before sunset
  • Bakeries are open all day, and offer savory and sweet options
  • Mosques and people on the street will have iftar you can join in for free
  • Don’t drink the beverages served during iftar on the street. They’re made with tap water, regardless of what people tell you

Travel in Pakistan during Ramadan - Women having iftar in Wazir Khan mosque in Lahore, Pakistan - Lost With Purpose

  • You can eat and drink in public if you’re a clear foreigner, but it’s better not to out of respect for those fasting
  • You’ll still see some people eating and drinking on the street in certain places. (Note the resentful stares they get from others.)
  • On buses, if the bus will still be driving around iftar time, food will not be handed out until sunset. Otherwise, you might get a snack box at the normal time on Daewoo buses.
  • Buses will sometimes stop at rest areas for food. Sometimes you’ll see people eating in public, other times people will vanish into back rooms to eat. If everyone on your bus suddenly disappears, there’s probably a small restaurant nearby.

 

Travel in Pakistan during Ramadan - Kind Ramadan boy on the train to Bahawalpur - Lost With Purpose

Once, a boy in a train station saw that we were hungry while waiting. He went back to his home, had his mother cook us this food, and brought it to us so we could have something to eat on the train. It’s our favorite story to tell from Ramadan.

How to prepare for travel in Pakistan during Ramadan

  • Figure out when Ramadan actually is! The date changes every year, based on the lunar cycle. You can find out the dates of the next Ramadan holiday here. In 2017, it begins on May 26th, and goes until June 24th (approximately).
  • Bring a Camelbak or something similar. They’re great for subtly drinking in public.
  • Buy hydration salts. They’re a lifesaver, and no one should travel in extreme heat without them!
  • Bring a method of water purification, in the event that you can’t find any open stores selling decent bottled mineral water. Yes, there’s lots of bad bottled water in Pakistan.
  • Stock up on hearty snacks like dates, and drink lassi if you wake up early enough to find them.

 

More resources about Ramadan travel

 

Wondering if you should travel in Pakistan during Ramadan? Worried you'll commit a faux pas while you do? Click to learn what it's like to travel in the Islamic republic during the holy month of Ramadan, and get tips on what to expect and how to act.

 

Need more info on Pakistan? Don’t miss our practical Pakistan travel guide!

 

Yay transparency! Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you buy one of the linked items, we’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you. Think of it as supporting our blog!

Alex

American by birth, citizen of nowhere in particular by nature. Addicted to ice cream. Enjoys climbing trees, dislikes falling out. Has great fondness for goats which is usually not reciprocated.

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