Region Visited: Gilgit Baltistan
Places: Islamabad, Fairy Meadows 3300 m, Nanga Parbat Base Camp 4300m
Overall Satisfaction: Great
People often ask me “Why did you decided to travel to Pakistan? The country is not safe, it must be dirty, there is nothing interesting to see.” Wohoo, please do not judge any country based on watching videos in the evening News. Current media tend to grab our attention with horrifying information about explosions, kidnappings and killings rather than showing us the simple life of common people and the treasures of nature they live in. To be honest I was very concerned about my safety before my travel to Pakistan. Even my Pakistani and Indian friends were uneasy thinking I am traveling on my own (just FYI – I was not alone I had arranged guide and driver from recommended travel agency).
No matter where in the world you travel there is no 100% guarantee of your safety. You might be knocked down by a coconut in Seychelles, hit by a car in your hometown or get heart attack from eating too much junk food. You never know. So why to limit your curious spirit? I went to Pakistan and I came back safe and sound. People were very friendly and welcoming. Locals in the remote mountainous areas are poor (compared to our standards) and they are not used to see foreigners but they are kind and highly curious. I must admit that the men keep staring at me like there is no tomorrow but this is apparently pretty normal. These guys haven’t seen many white skinned tourists roaming in their villages very often that’s why they make sure to create proper mental memory in their minds. And just as the tourists love to take selfies so do the locals. Don’t be surprised when every guy in the street will try to ask you to take a picture with him. You may not even know how fast you can become a village most famous superstar. So don’t feel offended. Grab your camera and create your own memories with these lovely chaps.
Picture with the local drivers in Raikot Bridge
Pakistan was more than I expected. It surprised me with its tremendously beautiful places in the Northern area of Gilgit Baltistan, surrounded by green valleys and high mountains of the Karakorum, Himalaya and Hindu Kush ranges with the famous K2 (8611m ASL – part of Karakorum – the 2nd tallest mountain in the world) and the stunning Nanga Parbat (8126 m ASL – part of Himalayas – the 9th tallest mountain in the world).
View of Nanga Parbat from Fairy Meadows
My travel from Islamabad to Fairy Meadows (3300m) and back took 5 full days by road. You can shorten the time by taking a short flight with Pakistani International Airlines (PIA) from Islamabad to Gilgit (the closest airport in Nanga Parbat). This flight takes only around 1 hour (compared to 12 hours by car to Chilas) but might have 2 issues. It is either overbooked close to the travel date or can be cancelled due to the bad weather. The price of the ticket costs from $100-$200.
I left Dubai early morning, on the 17th of August from Dubai International Airport. I boarded Shaheen Air, one of the Pakistani’s private airlines flying from Dubai to Islamabad. When I arrived to the check in counter in Terminal 1 I was not very enthusiastic. The queue was pretty long and I was the only female foreigner. In few minutes a ground staff employee approached me asking if I am boarding to Beirut. I said “No, Islamabad”. Giving her my brave big smile. She looked surprised “Oh, ok. You can come to the front. You don’t have to stand in the queue.” How pampering. You might be surprised but this happens a lot in the Middle East and beyond. Ladies have always some kind of advantage in certain situations (special lines for ladies only, special seating for ladies only, special discounts for ladies only).
There are more options to fly directly from Dubai to Islamabad – Pakistani Ineternational Airlines (PIA), Airblue and Emirates. I chose Shaheen Air due to more convenient timing. The price of a return ticket cost around 1400 AED ($383). Pakistani airliners as I heard from many different sources have very good reputation and employ skilled and experienced pilots. One passenger in the boarding hall assured me of the quality of their service “Don’t worry our pilots can fly even without working engines”. What a relief.
DAY 1 – My guide Umer and my driver Nadeem were waiting for me in the arrival hall of the Benazir Bhutto International Airport in Islamabad. I had pre – booked my trip with a travel agency recommended by my Pakistani colleague which made my travel so much easier. Traveling without male companion in such remote areas is possible but not very convenient (for really brave ladies only). Our exciting journey with an older Toyota Corolla was about to start. The road through the Kaghan Valley was picturesque.
The first day we managed to drive 363 km (till Chilas) for over 12 hours with some small breaks. We drove through small villages and vibrant cities with people, sheep, cows and colourful trucks crossing our way. Green hills, flowing rivers, glittering blue lakes. I was again surrounded by nature that I’ ve missed so much in Dubai. The quality of the roads are in very good condition despite few land slides that fall on the street during heavy rains in the monsoon period. The relatively newly build Karakorum Highway (KKH or N35) runs from Islamabad until Chinese city Kashgar. It is the highest paved highway in the world with the highest border crossing at 4800 m (more about KKH at https://en.wikivoyage.org/ wiki/Karakoram_Highway).
When we stopped at a fuel station for a short pee break, while exiting the toilette (more like a hole in the ground with door) I spotted something interesting. Not being a botanic specialist I was still wondering “Really? Could this be… ?”
Local plant in front of fuel station in Kaghan Valley
The temperature in the valleys reached up to 37C during August. Of course, the higher we climbed the colder it got. At the Babusar Top (4137 m) the temperature dropped to 9C forcing us to pull out our sweaters. What surprised me in Pakistan was that despite their beautiful pristine nature the locals had no clue how to preserve it. Some drivers washed their cars or spilling fuel in the streams, some villagers were burning rubbish making the air unbreathable and other littered. Hopefully, the Pakistani government will invest more in environmental awareness in these remote areas preventing unnecessary pollution.
Before reaching Chilas, we had to stop by a police check point where they offered us a free armed police escort (this is a standard practice offered to all foreigners traveling through Gilgit Baltistan). One of the police guard wrote down my contact details and issued for me a “temporary pass” which I was able to use and show at any check point. The procedure didn’t take too long and we were able to head to our close by hotel located on a cliff overlooking the mighty Indus River.
To be continued …