A beautiful but often misunderstood country, Pakistan lies off the Beaten track for the cricket tourist, and has suffered in recent years for its proximity to Afghanistan and the threat of insurgency since September 11, 2001. A long history of animosity with its trendier neighbour, India, has added to that sense of the unknown, but a thawing of relations between the two has increased the opportunities to explore one of the jewels of Asia. The principal city, and the most obvious staging post for any expedition, is Lahore, where the magnificent domes of the Mughal-era Badshahi Mosque dominate a skyline that is dotted with some the best examples of British imperial architecture.
The major cricketing centres are found in the Punjab region of the country, and this provides a compact focus for a varied and scenic journey. The Gadaffi Stadium in Lahore is the headquarters of the Pakistan Cricket Board and consequently the best of the grounds, although Rawalpindi, near the capital Islamabad, comes a close second. Peshawar, in the legendary tribal areas of the North West Frontier Province is a truly fascinating venue, and gives a chance to visit the historic Khyber Pass to the West. The hot and hostile city of Karachi, way to the south on the coast of the Arabian Sea, offers little to make it worth an overnight train journey, and the National Stadium is among the most run-down in the world.
Cricket is a religion in Pakistan, and everywhere you turn there will be a game taking place somewhere, whether it's in one of the grand stadiums, or on a dustbowl in downtown Islamabad. Bagh-e-Jinnah, formerly known as Lawrence Gardens, is a fine ground in the middle of one of Lahore's largest parks, and with a splendid colonial-era pavilion, it is a sometime venue for international warm-up matches, and a perfect setting to take on the local opposition. The standard is high, so be warned - as Imran Khan discovered at a net session in 1984, a player of the calibre of Wasim Akram can appear from nowhere.
As a Muslim society, Pakistan is not the best destination for your Average boozy tour - to obtain alcohol in anywhere other than the diplomatic enclaves or the bars of the priciest hotels, you will first need to register as an alcoholic! Nevertheless, for those willing to forego their thirst, the rewards are ample, for Pakistan is an eye-opening tour like few others, with the city bazaars stocked with all manner of coffee shops and curiosities, including many rare and valuable books, often to be found in the backstreets of Lahore. Assuming you abide by the norms of Islamic society, the hospitality of the people is second-to-none.
India may be more popular, and Sri Lanka more renowned as a paradise isle, but for those of an intrepid mindset, Pakistan offers something completely different and memorable.