Let’s be honest! For most of the western world, hearing the name Pakistan sends images of burqa-clad women and Kalashnikovs-holding turbaned-men to the mind. This may be all that some of you know about it and thus keeping you from thinking of Pakistan as a travel destination, and I wouldn’t blame you. Looking at how the media portrays my country could even intimidate me from setting foot outside my house.
However, by stepping aside from the mainstream media and doing a little Google search on tourism in Pakistan, you’ll get tempted to know more about this gorgeous country that is waiting to be explored and loved!
Give me a chance to show you a side of Pakistan that you may not have seen before and let me convince you why Pakistan should be on top of your travel bucket-list. I’ll take you through a trip up to the North of Pakistan, which hosts some of the bluest lakes, highest white-sand deserts and sky-touching peaks. The raw, untouched beauty makes it all the more alluring.
GETTING TO THE NORTH OF PAKISTAN
Okay, so first thing first, how does one reach all these beautiful sites? There are multiple modes of transportation, including flights, public transport by road, and private transport through rented cars or with tour groups. If it’s your first trip and time is on your side, I would totally advise against flying and instead recommend going by road.
Though flights to the biggest cities up north are considerably shorter than the drive (I am talking 1-hour flight against 12-13 hours’ drive), these flights are scheduled for specific days of the week and are subject to weather conditions. Public transport, though cheap, will not allow you to experience the views like one can in a private vehicle. Trust me on this that the mesmerizing views will have you wanting to stop on the way, step out of the car and take it all in.
Thanks to the newly emerging tourism industry of Pakistan, there are a number of Tour Groups operating in the area that regularly arrange trips to this side of the country. My personal recommendation would be to check out Baydaar Travels (they are also arranging girls-only trips) and Find My Adventure.
MY FAVOURITE SPOTS
1) BABUSAR TOP
Expecting that you guys heed to my advice and opt for the road, make sure that you catch up on your sleep before you set out. You wouldn’t want to be snoozing away while driving past these breathtaking views!
Two hours from the valley of Naran, you will come across this beautiful lake called Lulusar Lake. On a bright sunny day, this lake mirrors the sky and the snow-peaked mountains around it and mesmerizes you with its serenity.
In another two hours, you reach the Babusar Top. The Babusar Route is one of the highest paved highways, open between June – late October, and situated at a staggering altitude of 13,700 ft above the sea level. The rest of the year it is closed off because of the heavy snow this area witnesses. The road is smooth (though curvy) and the views enchanting.
Want to experience a blend of rich culture, beautiful landscape and the most hospital people in the world? Spend some time in Hunza Valley. The Altit and Baltit Forts offer some 700-year-old Tibetan-inspired history; while the very young Attabad Lake gives a glimpse of nature’s wrath and beauty at the same time.
This lake came about as a result of a massive landslide in 2010, which blocked the river and altered the landscape. Looking at this lake, it’s hard to imagine that this 30km expanse of calm, azure water displaced some 15,000 people. The contrast between the barren peaks surrounding the lake and the colourful boats popped against the striking blue water is sure to leave one spellbound.
3) KHUNJERAB PASS
At a distance of 70km from Hunza lies the highest country-border on earth – the Khunjerab Pass that connects Pakistan and China. There’s nothing much to do at the border, except maybe draw some cash from the world’s highest altitude ATM, but the drive to the border offers some of the most scenic views I have ever come across.
Take, for example, the Passu Cones – also dubbed as the Cathedral Cones. The hauntingly beautiful cones are the most photographed feature of the valley. The village boasts some of the largest glaciers, Passu and Batura. The Batura glacial is, in fact, the fifth non-polar glacier in the world.
Skardu is a melting-pot of diverse landscapes. Can you imagine a white sandy desert amidst some of the highest peaks in the world? I couldn’t either until I visited one. Katpana Desert is situated at an altitude of 7,303 ft in Skardu. Powdery white sand-dunes take on a veil of white snow in winters. Spot a lake, and you enter an oasis. Check out the mountains, and you learn to appreciate the wilderness. Enter a fort and you live history. There’s something for everyone.
Among the numerous lakes the Skardu has to offer, my favourite is a hidden gem called ‘Upper Kachura Lake‘. A blue sheet of glass with reflective power so strong that you don’t even need to look up from the lake to see the detail on the mountains. There’s also an option of camping on the banks of this lake and enjoying a scrumptious meal made from fresh catch of the day.
5) DEOSAI PLATEAU
This is probably my favourite place. After a 2-hour bumpy jeep-ride uphill from Skardu city, you arrive at an immense stretch of lush green plateau. On the way, you cross another beautiful lake called the Satpara Lake. Legend has it that there’s a goldmine hidden under the depths of this lake. Gold or no gold, the greenish-blue aura of the lake surely calms one down and prepares you for the not-so-comfortable ride ahead.
The steep, broken and narrow road opens up to vast, green plains stretching as far as the eyes can see. The mind cannot grasp that sitting on top of the pointy peaks are these serene plains. It’s almost as if one enters into another universe. Fresh-water streams fed from the glaciers far-across, lush green grass, adorned with blue and purple wildflowers and marmots sprinting across what looks like heaven’s garden.
As you explore the plateau, you come across another lake called Sheosar Lake. It is considered to be the heart of the Deosai Plateau.
Fun Fact: Deaosai literally translates into ‘Land of the Giants’. It is a National Park and is famous for its Himalayan Brown Bears. There are no hotels in the National Park, however, you can camp the night there and try your luck in spotting some brown giants.
Seeing and reading all this, I sure hope that the next time someone says Pakistan, you recall all this beauty that this country has to offer and say, ‘Oh, the country with the bluest lakes and highest mountains!?’ Yup, that’s Pakistan!
Have you ever been to Pakistan? If you have any additional tips for our readers or questions please leave these in the comments below.
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- Luxus Grand Hotel
- Islamabad Serena Hotel
- Pearl Continental Hotel, Muzaffarabad
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