There Is An Explorer In Every Soul

 

Altit Fort.              Photos: Amir Islam
Altit Fort. Photos: Amir Islam

For the intrepid traveller, the awe-inspiring landscape of Pakistan provides a never-ending bounty of majestic horizons

By Ghazala Tikki Zaman and Tabassum Vally

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Published: Thu 23 Mar 2023, 12:38 PM

It may be the call of the mountains, the alluring green fields, or perhaps the glistening snow on the highest peaks or the historical interest, that make people visit Pakistan.

Each year tourists have visited Pakistan in their pursuit for adventure, history, food trails and handicrafts.


It is indeed a marvel that a country which has arid deserts, also showcases the world’s highest lakes, plateau and lush polo grounds, orchards of fruit laden trees and dense forests that harbor snow leopards.

Given the alluring beauty and diversity of culture, it is not a surprise that some 3.2 million foreigners visited Pakistan in the pre-pandemic years.


As one travels, from the arid deserts of Sind, to the lovely blue sandy beaches of Balochistan, or the green fields of the fertile lands of Punjab up to the awe inspiring mountain peaks of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, one is immersed in a magical world of nature at its best.

Attabad Lake
Attabad Lake
Babusar Pass
Babusar Pass

HUNZA VALLEY – SILK ROAD TO SHANGRI-LA

A visit to the Hunza Valley is the crown jewel of the ultimate vacation one can take in Pakistan. The journey’s climax is the final dash to Khunjerab pass bordering China – one of the highest metaled roads at 16,000 feet.

Located in the upper Gilgit-Baltistan region, Hunza Valley is best enjoyed in all four-seasons, when it is not rushed. The region is surrounded by majestic mountains, flowing rivers, lakes, glaciers, meadows, and lush green Valleys. Spring and autumn are the most beautiful seasons in the Hunza Valley. From March-April, the Valley turns pink with the foliage of cherry blossoms. The fall colours of Hunza present a fiery display of beautiful orange and red leaves. Summers are the peak tourist season. Winters are harsh, dry, and cold, with heavy snowfall on the mountains and the Valley and can be a challenge for the visitors.

Baltit Fort
Baltit Fort

There are two-ways to reach Hunza Valley — by air or by road from Islamabad. Pakistan International Airline (PIA) has a daily ATR-42 flight from Islamabad, which crisscrosses over Valleys and takes you over mountain ranges with a majestic view of Nanga Parbat, known as the ‘Killer mountain’. Approximately a one and an half hour flight is subject to weather conditions and is prone to cancellation.

Hussaini Suspension Bridge
Hussaini Suspension Bridge

By road, there are two options — either via Karakorum Highway (KKH) or via Kaghan Valley. The journey usually takes two days with a stopover in between. During peak season, Kaghan Valley going over the Babusar Top is the most popular. However, this route opens in June and closes sometime in November when it becomes snow-bound for the rest of the time. Kaghan Valley gives the option to visit two destinations in one go. With a break in Naran, one can visit Saiful Muluk Lake, Lulusar Lake, and other side Valleys. Babusar top provides a bird’s eye view before the 12,000 feet descent towards Chillas through more than 110 hair-bend turns. Back on KKH, the journey starts towards Hunza Valley with some interesting places to stop such as a junction near Jaglot where three-moutnain ranges — Karakoram, Himalayas, and Hindu Kush mountains – meet. The confluence of Gilgit and Indus rivers is also located nearby. Moving forward, there is a view point to see the Nanga Parbat and closer to Hunza Valley Rakhaposhi view point.

When Babusar top is closed during winter, the journey takes us via KKH with overnight stops at Besham or Chillas, along the mighty Indus River. Close to Dasu is a prehistoric site where one can visit ancient rock paintings. When in the Hunza Valley, for many travellers, it is the usual popular destination – Baltit and Altit Fort, Attabad Lake, Hussaini Bridge, Borith Lake, and then a mad dash to Kunjerab pass. And then the return journey starts. With beautiful views of the mountains. Serene, calm and close to nature. All elements in one go; air, water, earth, honest people, extremely friendly and helpful. But Hunza is best enjoyed at a much slower pace.

ULTAR MEADOWS: Ultar Meadows is a hiking trail that starts from Baltit fort. It is an easy trail and not too steep. It continues up through the Ultar valley until it opens up into a beautiful set meadow of the same name. On a clear day, you will be able to view Ultar Glacier and Lady Finger.

HOPAR VALLEY: Hopar Valley, requiring a 4x4, is a short drive into the Nagar side of the valley. One passes through the old Ganesh village and ends at a point near the start of Hopar Glacier. This is also the starting point for the trek toward the Rakhaposhi base camp.

SHIMSHAL VALLEY: Shimshal valley is three-hour perilous jeep drive from Passu over a narrow path reaching a height of 3100 m. The village there is the highest human settlement with a population of over 2,000 inhabitants.

CHAPRUSAN VALLEY: Chaprusan Valley is located in the remote part of Hunza and borders the Afghan Wakhan. A 4x4 journey taking over four to five hours, the valley is accessible from Sost. It is growing in popularity, but remains a fairly peaceful off-the-beaten-path destination.

KARGAH BUDDHA STATUE: Karghah Buddha Statue is situated about 10 km from Gilgit and dates back to the seventh or eight century. It is carved on a cliff face at Kargah over a beautiful stream.

NALTAR VALLEY: Naltar Valley is situated at an altitude of 2500 m, 33 km from Gilgit. A 4x4 track connects the valley. There are five-lakes in the valley with Satrangi and Pari easily accessible.

Kaghan Valley, Lulusar Lake
Kaghan Valley, Lulusar Lake

With the beauty of this place and the tourist attraction it’s created - has also created an attraction for investors. The sad fact is that with the Valley gaining popularity, the mass unplanned infrastructure of hotels and resorts are ruining the natural landscape of this pristine Valley. The area around Karimabad is fast becoming the new Murree. The marketplace leading up to Baltit fort is filled with tourist-laden coasters and cars to reach their destinations. The region now has a double skyline; one with the mountain range, and the other with bed-and-breakfast lodges. Even Attabad Lake has not been left alone, with luxury hotels blocking the natural view of the lake.

So visit it soon till the raw beauty still exists. Anytime you would like to explore Pakistan, here is a person you should look out for, Amir Islam. Amir is a dedicated traveller and it is his travelling passion that led him to establish his tourist company, ‘rOaD.lEsS.tRAvELEd’, a destination management company based out of Islamabad. Each year, he organises many trails for tourists in the remote areas of Pakistan. They provide luxury group tours and customised holidays to destinations across Pakistan, be it the northern areas, salt range, national parks and reserves, or cultural and heritage sites. Combining journeys that are off the beaten path with comfort and time to explore.

Some of the testimonials vouch for the experience they talk about

Khadija: “Amir has a knack for picking the correct spot at the right moment and time. Trips organised have been fun, exciting, entertaining, adventurous and educationally informative. These group outings always had a diversity of members – professionals, homemakers, hobbyists, educationists, and students. Ladies, chaperoned and unchaperoned, individual and in groups, were part of these outings (at our own risk and responsibility of course), and we never felt unsafe or uncomfortable with either the arrangements or the company. Everyone was under Amir’s watchful eye, the gentleman at the helm.”

Sonia: “Every minute detail was taken into account from transport, places to visit, food and overall comfort. Most importantly, Amir himself is a well-informed guide and knowledgeable about the places we visited. Having travelled with other groups also, I can honestly say that it felt like family travelling with this group. Planning to join them on their other trips as well.”

The explorer in every soul will continue their journey, watch out for more.


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