Pakistan is a misunderstood country. It’s on the news daily about the latest car bombs, Taliban’s attacks and riots. However, since I’ve been in this country I haven’t felt at all unsafe or experienced anything like what the travel advisories keep on reminding me about. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, it does! What I’m saying is that I’ve found Pakistan’s heaven, a large province in the north called Gilgit – Baltistan.
Gilgit-Baltistan is geography located in and around three of the highest mountain ranges in the world. It has borders with four countries – Afghanistan, Tajikistan, India and China, making this area the most influential province in Pakistan, with huge potential to develop and grow in many different areas. Move over Punjab, you might see your capital move again!
Within Gilgit-Baltistan, there is 7 districts, all with their own individual character, features, culture and tourist hot spots. In the 5 months I’ve been in Pakistan I’ve managed to explore roughly 80% of the main tourist sites and a few unknown gems. While being dazzled myself by amazing lakes with huge mountain backdrops, I decided to write it all down and collate a guide book for overlanders. As you can imagine, this is a huge task and it will take time to finish off. But below I am giving you a snap shot of Gilgit-Baltistan to wet your appetite and hope you book your next holiday to Pakistan.
Fairy Meadows (at 3,306m) is an emerald tucked away from plain sight in the heart of Northern Pakistan. It is the only place of its kind in the whole of Pakistan, where you will find lush green pastures surrounded by pine forest, overlooking Raikot Glacier with Nanga Parbat Mountain as your back drop. You couldn’t find a more relaxing, dramatic place if you tried.
Nanga Parbat (Killer Mountain – 8126m) is the 9th highest mountain in the world and second highest within Pakistan as K2 is the first. This give Fairy Meadows calm pastures a dramatic back drop where everyone stands mesmerized.
Let the colours of Hunza surround you, as the fields change colours with the seasons and the snow-covered peaks bore down on you, in turn giving you an odd sense of scale. Hunza is not only known for its Forts but also for its different culture. Women take a huge part in community, by openly working, socializing and even driving vehicles.
– Altit Fort
Altit Model Village
View from Altit Fort window
Once upon a time Altit Fort was the home to the hereditary rulers of Hunza, now it has been recently renovated by the Agha Khan Trust for Culture, who created an astonishing tourist destination with a model village at its feet.
Just received the ‘2011 Unesco Asia-Pacific Award for Cultural Heritage Conservation’
Baltic Fort stands proudly above central Hunza. Its position was once well protected by the Ultar Glacier, which has since receded well up into the valley. In 1996 the restoration was completed by Agha Khan Trust for Culture and is now open for tourist to explore.
Rakaposhi View Point
A cool breeze brushes over you as you stand on the bridge and gaze up at gleaming snowy glaciers. At 7,788 meters (25,550 feet), Rakaposhi is the 27th highest mountain in the world. This is a perfect spot to break the trip between Gilgit and Hunza.
Gilgit is the capital of Gilgit-Baltistan, in other words it’s a hub, where you can arrange and purchase anything you need or desire. It’s not what’s in Gilgit but around Gilgit, there are many stunning day trips to be had. What Gilgit lacks in tourist activities is made up in the friendliness of the locals. Before you know it, you have a chai in your hand and made a new friend.
The weather beaten Kargah Buddha rock carving stands proudly on a prominent, north facing cliff 10 kilometers north of Gilgit. It resided below a hill top monastery built in the seventh century, which has since dissolved into the ground. However Kargah Buddha still shows signs of how it was carved.
Naltar Valley is a where you will discover electrifying colored lakes, pine forests, alpine meadows, wildlife and magnificent snow covered peaks. Within the Valley you will discover Northern Pakistan only ski field, including a chair lift to the upper fields!
Ishkoman valley is usually unnoticed and backward. But nature has been very generous in providing the Ishkoman valley with a wealth of beauty. Many people here, despite being deprived of the modern necessities of life, are not ready to move from Ishkoman.
Ghizer warms your heart as you venture up the valley alongside the Gilgit River. Passing busy beautiful villages, ever changing fields and fruit orchards are two of the most amazing lakes in this area. Every corner has a new vista to give you a glimpse for what’s to come, if you need more tempting.
Shandur towers 3,700m between two rival provinces, Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan in Northern Pakistan. This is where the Hindukush, Pamir and Karakoram ranges meet creating an amazing flat wetland area, which only can be crossed between late April to early November. The rivalry between the two provinces comes to heat every year at the famous polo tournament.
On route to Deosai Plateau, one travels along a slender gorge with sheer drops, narrow roads and hair raising bends which is the entrance to Astore Valley, filled with beautiful green pastures, mud houses and lakes.
Crossing suspension bridges are all part of Deosai
Standing with my arms stretched out wide, like Julie Andrews in ‘The sound of music’, surrounded by hundreds of different varieties of flowers (I personally know this as we tried hard to collect at least one of every type!), snow peaked mountains in the background, I find myself in Deosai Plateau, the 2nd highest plateau in the world.
Skardu, capital of Baltistan is perched 2,438 metres above sea level and is nestled in a basin with a backdrop of the great peaks of the Karakorams. Apart from its incomparable cluster of mountain peaks and glaciers, Baltistan’s five valleys – Shigar, Skardu, Khaplu, Rondu and Kharmang are noted for their luscious peaches, apricots, apples and pears.
– Shigar Fort
The Shigar Fort is something not to be missed. A recently renovated ex-Raja’s fort and palace, by the Aga Khan Trust has been converted not only into a tourist sight but also a hotel! Sleeping at a fort, surrounded by a beautiful gardens and mountain ranges isn’t something you should skimp on. Turn those pockets inside out and have an experience you will not forget.