Pakistan's wonderful nature is not to be missed

The writer at Shigar Valley, with the Shigar River in the background. — Photos: ASI MOHAMED

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I have always considered myself an intrepid traveller. The thirst for exploring places in remote areas has been in me since I was a kid, and I am glad to have been able to travel to some of the best destinations as an adult.

Some of these include the Spiti Valley in India, the Tadrart in Algeria, the Pamir mountain ranges in Tajikistan and even the Antarctica, all of which I thought were very exciting. Then I met a like-minded traveller who told me about Gilgit Baltistan in northern Pakistan, and highly recommended that I go there.

I started doing some research on Gilgit Baltistan and discovered that it was right up my alley. There were snow mountains, beautiful valleys, lakes, glaciers and so much more to check out. I quickly made travel plans to visit the place.

In October last year, I arrived with some friends at Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. We got in at night so we did not really have much time to wander around the city. The next morning, we flew to Skardu in Gilgit Baltistan. The flight path is said to be one of the most picturesque as it cuts through the second-highest mountain range in the world, the Karakoram.

Attabad Lake is one of Pakistan’s top tourist attractions.Attabad Lake is one of Pakistan’s top tourist attractions.

I knew about this prior to my travels so I had purposely booked a window seat on the flight. What I saw was so gorgeous, it was almost unbelievable. We were flying close to some of the highest peaks in the world, including the K2 and Nanga Parbat.

I salute all the skilful pilots who have to navigate through this tricky terrain every day.

Skardu has an overwhelming number of natural gems, including the beautiful lakes Satpara, Kachura and Attabad. There’s also the Sarfaranga Cold Desert, an actual desert with sand dunes located 2,000m above sea level. It is one of the highest deserts in the world.

You can go on a dune buggy ride or paraglide here but we didn’t really have the time for that so we continued our journey to Khaplu, which was 104km away.

In Khaplu, we stopped by some villages to rest for a bit, and spent some time with the locals. They were so welcoming and some even invited us to have tea at their homes.

We then moved on to Shigar Valley, a spot with many natural attractions like glaciers, mountains, lakes and hot springs; Shigar River merges with the Indus River here.

We didn’t do much beyond just enjoying the views in Shigar, as we had a long journey – about 400km – the next day.

Thankfully, our road trip offered us stunning views. We stopped at Jaglot, the “junction” of three mountain ranges – the Hindu Kush, Karakoram and Himalayas.

Our next stop was the Khunjerab Pass. We drove on the Karakoram Highway, which is said to be a “marvel of civil engineering” as it is located high up in the mountains. The road features scary turns and twists but each one comes with awesome views.

The 1,300km highway extends to Kashgar in China’s Xinjiang region, and was once part of the historical Silk Road.

It runs through the highest concentration of mountain ranges and peaks, and is generally considered among the most spectacular natural areas on Earth. This is where we saw the most glaciers, alpine lakes and snow-capped mountains.

We stopped at Borith, which is the starting point of our hike to the glacier. After about 40 minutes of ascending, we reached the viewing point and saw the breathtaking Passu peak in front of us.

When we got to Khunjerab Pass (4,693m), we decided to spend more time marvelling at the place, rather than just take photos and be done with it.

The Khunjerab Pass, which is at the border of Pakistan and China, is the highest paved border crossing in the world, so it makes sense to enjoy the place for as long as you can. When we were there, the visa exemption rule between Malaysia and China was not in place yet, so we couldn’t cross over to the other side as we did not have a China visa. Perhaps I will do it again some other time.

After spending the night at Passu town we went to the Fairy Meadows, located between the Indus Valley and Nanga Parbat. At 3,300m above sea level, the place was simply wonderful – an oasis of pine trees, miniature lakes and pastures.

However, the drive to Fairy Meadows from Raikot Bridge was in contrast to that. Often touted as one of the most dangerous roads in the world, the narrow path featured death-defying drops, hairpin turns and other difficult conditions. It is certainly not for the faint-hearted, especially if you’re driving around in a weathered vehicle from the 1970s.

At some point, we had to get out of our cars and hike to the meadows as the trail got even narrower. But it was so worth it as Fairy Meadows really was mesmerising, and the view of Nanga Parbat – the ninth tallest mountain – made it even more special. After spending two freezing nights at the meadows, we trekked our way down and started our journey back home.

Apart from all that beautiful nature, what I loved about my trip to Gilgit Baltistan was spending time with the locals. They were not just hospitable and caring, they were also very genuine in their intentions.

However, the downside of the trip was realising just how much of a negative impact climate change has brought to the place. Northern Pakistan has the second largest glaciers in the world but in recent years, these glaciers have started to melt rapidly and over time, it may not be there any more.

The views expressed are entirely the reader’s own.

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