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Herald Exclusive: What is Pakistan’s most attractive destination?

Updated Jul 21, 2014 04:40pm
Fairy Meadows, Giglit Baltistan. Photo by Mobeen Ansari
Fairy Meadows, Giglit Baltistan. Photo by Mobeen Ansari

Travelling is arguably one of life’s most enriching experiences. For many, the places they visit and the people they meet along the way define them. Whether you travel in search of a deeper meaning to life or simply to get away from the harsh realities of everyday life, the ultimate question you will be confronted with is — where to go?

The answer depends a great deal on what kind of traveller you are. Many like to travel alone. Some must escape tourist traps at any cost. Others look for beauty. The foodie plans an itinerary based on cuisine, while the adventurer searches for anything off the beaten path. So perhaps the real question to pose is: who are you? The answer to that will guide your choice of tourist destination.

Herald invited five travel writers, adventure-seekers, photographers and commentators to share what they believe is the most attractive tourist destination in Pakistan.

Hunza Valley, Gilgit Baltistan

By Tahir Jahangir

Attabad Lake, Hunza Valley. Photo by Usman Khan
Attabad Lake, Hunza Valley. Photo by Usman Khan

It was 4am, I picked up my torch and stumbled up the hill, following our guide. We reached the top and looked over the Hunza Valley with its magnificent peaks all around us. It was dark and hushed, and then a shaft of sunlight streaked across the sky and lit up the summit of the Rakaposhi.

It was as if a huge beacon had been lit. The snow and ice reflected the full power of a summer sun as yet invisible to us. The valley was pitch dark. Then the Dobani lit up, and seconds later the Golden Peak of Karoun started blazing. Soon after, the Ultar peak lit up. We stood there awed by the power of nature!

Where else in the world can you sit on your hotel terrace and see four seven thousand meter peaks in one go?

Hunza Valley retains the magic of ancient culture, yet provides comfortable hotels, quaint shopping, and a choice of restaurants. The city of Aliabad has a dozen hotels, ranging in quality from two to five stars. There are a couple of Chinese restaurants, run by Chinese restaurateurs, as the Khunjerab Pass is not far.

The shops sell Hunza handcrafted shawls, rugs and clothes, all designed by Italian experts — thanks to the Agha Khan. Vendors sell cheese from yak milk. The Agha Khan has had the Baltit Fort at the top and the Altit village in the valley below fully restored to world standards.

Hunza Valley. Photo courtesy: ADifferentAgenda
Hunza Valley. Photo courtesy: ADifferentAgenda

The Khunjrab Pass is a day’s journey, past the Attabad Lake and Dassu glacier. The Nagar Valley is across the river with its black glacier. Or one can just sit dawdling in an orchard, gazing at the slopes of the Rakaposhi until an avalanche erupts with a boom and hurtles down to the base.

This spectacular valley is a two-hour comfortable drive from Gilgit, which is only an hour’s flight from Islamabad. So when the weather is fine it is easy, quick and enjoyable.

Tahir Jahangir is a businessman and travel writer

Bahawalpur, Punjab

By Shanaz Ramzi

A camel herder leads his camels through the front of the royal graveyard of the Abbasi family near Derawar Fort, Bahawalpur. Photo by Madeeha Syed
A camel herder leads his camels through the front of the royal graveyard of the Abbasi family near Derawar Fort, Bahawalpur. Photo by Madeeha Syed

With so many beautiful tourist destinations spread all across Pakistan, it is extremely difficult to choose just one. That said, I think Pakistan’s most attractive tourist destination – especially in today’s precarious security environment – is the historical city of Bahawalpur. With none of the usual trappings that most tourist destinations offer, it has a wealth of attractions for the holidaymaker.

For one thing, it is one of the safest cities to visit, with polite, hospitable people. For another, it boasts so many wonderful historical sites in and around the city that you could fill up albums with some of the most amazing photographs. Examples include the magnificent world heritage site of Derawar Fort with its 40 bastions, in Cholistan Desert.

There is also the royal family necropolis of the Abbasis of Bahawalpur, the exquisite architecture of which merits it a visit.

Then there is the incredibly beautiful palace Noor Mahal which belonged to the Nawab of Bahawalpur during the British Raj and is today in the possession of the army. Some may recall seeing it in the TV play Noor Bano.

There are other beautiful palaces too in Bahawalpur, including Darbar Mahal and a magnificent mosque, Derawar Mosque.

Derawar Mosque was constructed in 1844 AD, Bahawalpur, Punjab. Photo by Madeeha Syed
Derawar Mosque was constructed in 1844 AD, Bahawalpur, Punjab. Photo by Madeeha Syed

There is plenty more to feast your eyes on — but if there’s a limit to the amount of sightseeing you want to do, don’t despair for Bahawalpur is also a shopper’s paradise. One can pick up the most amazing bargains there, be it embroidered fabric, gota-work suits or silver jewellery.

And What holiday could be regarded as complete without great manna? The city has the wholesome offerings of Punjab at its unadulterated best — and what’s more, at very reasonable rates. So even if this may not be the best season for visiting Bahawalpur, if you haven’t been there, don’t miss it. You won’t regret it.

Shanaz Ramzi is a journalist and author.

Naltar Pass, Gilgit Baltistan

By Mobeen Ansari

Self portrait with Milky way visible, Naltar Pass, Gilgit Baltistan. By Mobeen Ansari
Self portrait with Milky way visible, Naltar Pass, Gilgit Baltistan. By Mobeen Ansari

Every summer I make it a point to visit a place which is off the beaten path, especially when I go up north.

In the beginning I started with known places like Fairy Meadows, Nanga Parbat and Rakaposhi. As I gained more experience over many expeditions, I began exploring the less known areas of Pakistan. Using my lens, I could also show the rest of the world and fellow Pakistanis what these places are like.

I do not have one ideal destination but if I had to choose right now, it would be Naltar Pass in Gilgit Baltistan, which I scaled last summer. When people hear the name, they generally recall it for the famous Naltar Lake, which is only the starting point of the 4600-meter pass. It is so high up that if the skies are clear on a moonless night, you can see the Milky Way, shooting stars and even the green aura.

One wonders if it is the nebulae. My fondest memory is setting up my own camp to photograph the night skies and falling asleep under them.

View of sunrise from Upper Shani camp, Naltar Pass, Gilgit Baltistan. Photo by Mobeen Ansari
View of sunrise from Upper Shani camp, Naltar Pass, Gilgit Baltistan. Photo by Mobeen Ansari

Every day requires four to 10 hours of trekking for eight days. The beauty of this place is that you don’t go back down the same way you went up. Landscapes keep changing — from spectacular forests full of oak trees and crystal-clear lakes to barren snow-capped mountains and magnificent waterfalls. Not to forget the beautiful people of the area who love being photographed.

Mobeen Ansari is a photographer and social activist

Soon Sakesar Valley, Punjab

By Raheal Ahmad Siddiqui

Jahlar Lake, Soon Sakesar Valley, Punjab. Photo by Salman Rashid
Jahlar Lake, Soon Sakesar Valley, Punjab. Photo by Salman Rashid

Driving along Punjab’s M-2 motorway you must slow down to enjoy life or else you will miss the scenery. Get off at Kalar Kahar Interchange, drive pass the lake, which is fast turning into a cesspool, and follow the winding road for an hour till you reach a point where the road forks into two. Here, you should pause a little to think which beaten track you want to follow.

The Soon Valley is like a cup surrounded by rolling unsymmetrical green hills presenting a breathtaking vista.

Turn left and you will reach the Sodi-Jaiwala forest bungalow. Located at the foothills of the valley, in the 1960s it served as a hunting lodge for the poaching expeditions of the Nawab of Kalabagh. At night in pitch darkness, you will be greeted by howling jackals and creaking insects.

The bungalow lacks electricity and the chowkidar’s lantern reminds you of its colonial legacy. As you drive on, pass the lazy cattle and green fields, limited by stone hedges, and you will reach Nowshera Jadeed, a simple rural town.

Soon Sakesar Valley, Punjab. Photo by Salman Rashid
Soon Sakesar Valley, Punjab. Photo by Salman Rashid

From here one can reach a shallow scenic lake called Khabeki, where the family can cool their feet in the summertime when roaming along its grassy banks. In winter the misty lake is full of migrating water fowls.

The same road, curving and sloping, takes you to “Kan-Nutty” garden, another remnant of the Raj. It is a wealth of sylvan beauty which can make Artemis, the Greek goddess of woodland, feel at home.

The next destination in Soon should be Ochali Lake, crossing which the road ascends sharply to Phulwari rest house, which is shrouded in trees and creepers. This is not exactly the peak of Sakesar mountain(for which you need special permission) but the vantage point gives a bird’s-eye view of the panoramic Soon Valley. The temperature is mild to pleasant in the summer and cold in winters. Soon Valley in Khushab District is heavenly in all seasons, especially when the monsoon clouds engulfs the valley and a chill breeze races down Sakesar to welcome wandering tourists.

Dr Raheal Ahmad Siddiqui is a civil servant, conservationist and animal rights activist.

Shandur, Gilgit Baltistan

By Moin Khan

Moin Khan with friends camping in Shandur, Gilgit Baltistan. Photo by Usman Khan
Moin Khan with friends camping in Shandur, Gilgit Baltistan. Photo by Usman Khan

Travelling is to challenge yourself by exploring outside your comfort zone, do things you’d never think to do, and think in ways you never thought to think.

The word “attractive” is used to describe people and places, almost always in a physical perspective. When I travel, the destinations that I am attracted to are those that overwhelm me emotionally.

Shandur is such a place.


Shandur Lake. Photo courtesy: A DifferentAgenda
Shandur Lake. Photo courtesy: A DifferentAgenda

Home to the highest polo ground in the world, this flat barren field is nestled between mountains and a lake, where one feels like one can touch the stars.

No beautiful people to look at, no city skylines to admire, and no modern-day commodities to rely on. You are there with the sounds of your thoughts, which take over the silence and bring you that much closer to the answers you seek in your journey of self-discovery.

Pakistan boasts beautiful architecture, rich culture and an intricate history — but Shandur’s isolation lures you in with the promise to let you experience the magic of nature.

For those who are concerned with being by your lonesome, all you have to do is to visit Shandur during the famous polo festival where people flock towards the grounds to witness the match between arch rivals, Gilgit and Chitral.

Moin Khan with his companions at their Shandur campsite. Photo courtesy: ADifferentAgenda
Moin Khan with his companions at their Shandur campsite. Photo courtesy: ADifferentAgenda

Camp out and enjoy the beauty of the land without compromising the connection to humanity. For the brave ones who want to appease their search for emotional satisfaction, venture to Shandur when the crowd is gone and get lost under the starlit sky.

Moin Khan an adventure-seeker and social activist. Khan rode his bike from San Francisco to Lahore in 18 months

This article was published in the Herald July 2014 issue. Click here to subscribe to the Herald.