Region Visited: Gilgit Baltistan
Places: Islamabad, Fairy Meadows 3300 m, Nanga Parbat Base Camp 4300m
Overall Satisfaction: Great
Watch Pakistan Trailer Video
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 photos so do the locals. Don’t be surprised when every guy in the street will try to ask you to take a “selfie” 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 International 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? Holly Mother of Nature! 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.
DAY2 – The second day we left Chilas around 8 am in the morning and we headed east towards the Raikot Bridge from where we rented a Jeep with a driver. To reach the Raikot Bridge, it took us only 2 hours driving on the KKH with a nice view on Indus River. The Jeep driver was an old local guy, highly experienced in mountain driving. Although the road is narrow and bumpy and you think there is barely space for one car you are wrong. It can fit passing Jeeps both sides. There were around 10 other Jeeps descending from the mountain and passing us by. Again it is not as scary as it sounds.
I really enjoyed the drive and I felt very safe in the hands of this old man (I know it sounds so wrong 😉 . We had to change 3 different Jeeps since there are passages that are too narrow for a car to cross. How did they took those Jeeps through crossings remains a mystery. The Jeep-roller coaster ride took around 2 hours until Tatto Village. From there we had to hike up the mountain to the Fairy Meadows cottages.
The hike takes around 2-3 hours (depending on your fitness and stamina) but it is worth to leave your bags with a porter who carries it up (they charge 50 rupees per kg and they always add 2 kg – still it’s worth, trust me). By now you are at the level of 3000 m ASL and the level of oxygen is getting less dense. No matter how fit you are you will find difficult to hike up. Your heart beat rapidly increases and by every step you feel more exhausted. The view on Nanga Parbat, however makes it all up for you. Although whole area has no coverage there is one spot in Fairy Meadows with a signal. Just ask the locals for “Signal Spot” in case you need to send any messages to your dears assuring them of your safety.
The Fairy Meadows lodges are simple. One room with 2 beds and covers and a bathroom with shower, sink and toilet (not a hole). The sealing is very poor so the room gets pretty cold in the night (9 C in August). For dinner, you can order BBQ or Butter Chicken with rice or fresh prata. Evenings are spent around bonfire with other guests and locals performing their local dance (done on request). If you are lucky and come during the full moon you can enjoy beautiful view on the naturally lightened Killer Mountain – the view is killing.
DAY 3 – I woke up into a stunning view on the most beautiful mountain I have ever seen in my life. And this is a comment from a girl that had seen the High Tatras, one of the most exquisite mountains in Europe, from the kitchen window throughout her whole childhood. But the Himalayas are different. Here it stands the 8123 m tall Nanga Parbat, like a gorgeous lady whose beauty is so inviting but also fearsome. At that moment I felt blessed that I was so close and could admire her beauty in peace. I wished I could wake up watching her every day.
After the breakfast around 9 am, we hit the road to the Nanga Parbat Base Camp (4300 m) which lead us through the Beyal Camp 3500 m and the View Point 3700 m. The trek to the View Point is very easy and suitable for families with kids and takes around 1,5 -2 hours. In the Beyal Camp is a small snack house where you can purchase soft drinks or water for the trek. I do not recommend to drink from the springs as it can cause stomach problems (personally I had only few sips and I felt bit uneasy).
The View Point 3700 m ASL
The trek from the View Point to the Base Camp is moderate mainly due to the difficulty of high altitude. The trek is not steep and it takes only additional 1,5 to 2 hours passing through a glacier. I had a local guide who was excellent hiker and chose safe paths.
On the way back we encountered with heavy rain. Thankfully it was close to the Beyal Camp where we searched refuge under one of the huts. The weather in the mountains change fast and you need to make sure you have good hiking shoes, a rainproof jacket and enough water.
DAY 4 – It’s time to head back. I still have a long way to the airport in Islamabad. The descent from the mountain is very easy and takes much less time than going up. The Jeeps were waiting for us at 10 am. From Raikot Bridge we drove through the Kaghan Valley and stayed overnight in one of the Naran hotels. Naran is a famous local destination for Pakistanis due to its various attractions – rafting, hiking, jeep ride to the lake Saif ul Muluk and Lulusar and local bazaar.
Day 5 – I am heading home. Well, getting there, slowly slowly. We departed from Naran early morning after having a nice breakfast in the hotel – fresh prata and omelette, yum yum. I miss vegetables, tomatoes, cucumbers. When I asked if I could get some vegetables the staff just brought me cut onion which is very healthy, but come on. I would like to have some conversation with locals not repel everyone around me.
The Kaghan valley is enjoyable place for a road trip. We stopped by Kawai, a lovely small village with a restaurant placed inside a waterfall. Fresh spring water is washing your feet while you enjoy a mango juice or karak tea. Best place for a small rest maybe a little nap as well. I found it amazing to sit on a bed. The only thing that bothered me were the covers from soft drinks. Be careful and always were flip flops.
Kawai – waterfall restaurant