Lahore to Northern Areas: A Trip to Pakistan’s Paradise
The central character of our tour plan was one of my friends who just landed in Pakistan a week ago from Scotland to explore this region’s native culture, behavior, conventions and natural beauty. The decision to travel to North of Pakistan was sudden at an inappropriate time of the night. With the support of having a vote of confidence and a veto power, the idea was put forward, the audience seemed reluctant and idea appeared intractable.
Some facts to know before you travel to North of Pakistan
There are two options to travel to north either you flying from Lahore directly to Gilgit, missing all the fun and adventure part of it, or either you hit the road. North of Pakistan has become an international tour destination recently and its lush green beauty has been featured in international travel magazines titled as “Road to heaven” especially Hunza. The vast mountain ranges in the North of Pakistan has always been the destination of the international adventure clubs, some of the worth mentioning are Karakoram having the world’s highest peak K2 and Himalayas which is the second highest peak of Pakistan having Nanga Parbat. The north of Pakistan is rich in its own culture, even the variability of culture can be seen within the northern areas of Pakistan.
Start of the journey
As we declined the decision to get going on our own cars we got the tickets booked to Islamabad and started our journey at the odd time of the night. While packing the bags guys threw everything out of the cupboards in order to find any warm clothes, jackets and overcoats. Although it was a cessation of summertime in Lahore, and the temperature in the north was lower. As we were now onboard everyone was searching the catalogue of the movies provided by the bus service and equally disappointed at finding no high rated movie enough to pass the night.
It was the dawn of the first day when we reached Islamabad and got off our ride half asleep. Next target was to book a car service that can carry us to Gilgit. We sent our wisest members of the council to negotiate the terms with the service providers. Meanwhile we decided to have some breakfast. They say you cannot find a good food in Islamabad as per Lahori’s standards; we experienced it on practical grounds. We could not find anything other than only a shop which offered the parathas fried in worse oil, one of my friends called it diesel parathas. So we ate that diesel pratha and again started our journey.
The amidst of the journey
First stop in our journey was Abbottabad at one of our friend’s place whose uncle was the food minister of KP. We visited his farms and stayed at the place which they used to hold their Jirga’saccording to their local traditions. It was like a dream place situated on a hill. If you stand at this place and look around all the houses they were each situated at each hill. These were their properties and the hills were inherited to their offspring’s generation after generation. I felt like I can live in this place for ages which of course was not possible practically.
Karakoram highway is the road to get to Gilgit, which has its own mixed aesthetic and scary features. Next day we decided to move for our next destination saying an emotional goodbye to our friend because it has been a night full of fun. Now we were travelling at a height of approximately 15,397 ft. and the Indus River flowing along. If you look through the window of your car down to the river, it feels like you are shivering, especially if you are height phobic. The moment you gaze at the water flowing through the river it looks blue and the next moment it looks green. Either it is the reflection of light or the encumbrance in the mind that is trying to absorb so much in a single moment. It will take almost 27 hours of continuous drive to reach from Chilas to Bisham and then to Gilgit. The irony of this phase of the journey is that along the way of Karakoram there are no phone signals, you can’t stop, you cannot call for help even if you needed it in case of emergency or your car’s engine crashed. The scene is so mesmerizing even you are thinking of a jump from this point that will be worth it. In order to kill time and keep the driver awake we discussed things.
Arrival in the Gilgit
It was again night when we arrived in Gilgit, we were being stopped by the rangers of the army. They interviewed us and searched our bags and then welcomed us to Gilgit by abolishing our excitement by saying you have come in a wrong season of tourism to the North. Now at this time it was difficult to find out a hotel to stay in but we found one and paid extra charges for availability of warm water which only we found out was a myth when we settled in our rooms, ironically there can nothing be done about it because bills have already been paid, let God be the judge to that. The view from the hotel was enthralling to the eyes, if you stand on the rooftop you are surrounded by the colorful mountains. You feel like raising your hands like the concertmaster of the orchestra being played with the sounds of birds chirping and the sound of air stirring your ears, only if you are a music and composition loving person.
Hunza ----- Heaven on earth
Next day we started our journey towards Hunza which is sometimes captioned to be the heaven on earth. Whole way to Hunza is surrounded by various valleys, Rakaposhi top is worth mentioning. There was a café on the way suggested by our driver where we stopped for refreshment. The best thing about it was if you look around you, are surrounded by mountains and can have a clear view of K2, the top which is sprinkled by white snow. The moment you are looking at it, you feel like going all the way through to be at the top, which is not practically possible. Finally, we arrived in Hunza which is 102 kilometers further away from Gilgit, Some of the guys among us had appalling hunger and their only concern was finding good food.
Stay in Hunza
In Hunza, we stayed in hotel “Eagle’s Nest”. One of the distinguishing features of this restaurant is that it is at the possible highest point in Hunza, thereby named Eagle’s Nest. Inside the restaurant you can sit beside the window enjoy your food and the view below the mountain. By standing right at the rooftop of the Eagle’s nest you feel like you have conquered the world, ready to fly and the view is mind hacking. For a moment I wanted to be a bird and would fly above the mountains, where dark band of nebula crept into the zenith, I would poise in the air with my wings flattened. You want to make that leap of faith but suddenly awake, you realize this is not a game you played while growing up, but real life. The remarkable fact about the people of Hunza is literacy rate which is 99 percent and people are much prettier. Reading culture is more empowered in Hunza as compared to Punjab as we saw kids on the street reading English novels, their parents encouraged them to. They don’t have state run schools but they have community based schooling system.
Agha khan is the historic figure of this area that have a long history of ruling these areas, each son who will succeed his father will also be named as the Agha khan. Although the current Agha Khan is resident in UK but considered by the natives as their sole leader. Two ancient forts are also situated in the valley of Hunza, the Altit Fort and Baltit fort which were two ancient dynasties of Hunza. People of Hunza have preserved these forts for the sake of remembering their ancient culture and presenting it to the world. We got the tickets for these forts and the tour guide told us all the historic facts of the Agha Khan dynasties, the way the kings and queens used to live in their fort and the things they used. These forts are situated on the hills where you have to climb by hiking and the shops for local culture based ornaments are present along the way.
Hunza to Khunjrab Pass
Then we started our journey further from Hunza to khunjrab pass, the highest point where Pakistan’s border meets china’s border. As we were moving to the higher altitude the temperature was lowering and the composition of oxygen was also declining. After many hours of drive and breath taking views we finally arrived our destination, the khunjrab pass. The first reaction we had was that we drove all the way just to see a gate from where state of china begins. But we had to see it anyway; it was the world’s most peaceful border, with no strict security or any barbed wires. Two countries working in a perfect harmony, the trade of CPEC was being carried out. At this highest point due to lack of sufficient oxygen you feel like the attack of nausea is overtaking you but you got to deal with it on your own as there is no paramedic staff for you.
Journey Back to Home
After almost a stay of a week we decided to go back to our normal life so we started the journey back to Lahore from Gilgit. We were again on the Karakorum highway to way back to Islamabad. Our driver had awesome collection of old is gold 90’s songs which I requested him that I want to copy these songs and he granted me permission to do it, I still have that collection. Next morning, we arrived in Islamabad and got the tickets to Lahore. It was the afternoon of the daytime when we arrived back to our apartment and slept like we haven’t done it in ages. It was a journey full of experiences, fun and adventure.
Things still left to explore in Future
There are many things about the northern areas that we left unexplored because it was not possible to cover all these areas in a short time. Our next plan to visit again to the northern area is to attend the shandur mela and polo festival, which attracts the gathering of the people from all over the Pakistan and the world. Cultural events of the Kailash valley and their strange traditions are still left to explore. We are planning a miles of hiking to get to fairy meadows and spend some nights there as it is said that the nights in fairy meadows are beautiful because you feel like you are nearer to the stars. Camping at this point will even enhance the beauty of the night.
By Mudasar Attique