I grew up in the Middle East and we always vacationed abroad so I never got to see much of Pakistan. Fast forward to present day where I now live in Karachi, and imagine my excitement when we started planning a road trip to the Northern areas of Pakistan. I had always heard people say that the beauty of Pakistan is just as good as what we see elsewhere, but I thought that’s just patriotism talking. Little did I know that I was going to feast my eyes on some of the most beautiful places I have ever seen in my entire life. I thought to share some of the pictures I took, and also share some travel tips for people interested in visiting these places.
- If you are going for a road trip, the more the merrier. I can’t imagine long drives with only two or three people in the car. That would be too boring. We were a group of 8, so we had fun along the way, taking and sharing pictures, playing games, snacking and taking turns to nap while the others kept an eye on the road. Take some board games along or buy them on the way for the nights you spend at your hotel / guest houses.
- Keep an offline map of the place with you (although the roads and directions are fairly simple) because you will end up losing internet connectivity for several long spans of time along the route. We found that out of all the networks, Telenor had the best connectivity in remote areas of North Pakistan.
- Don’t bother to book a travel company for your road trip if you are more than 3 people. That’s because the route has so much to offer. There are chances that you will end up changing your itinerary every now and then and decide to spend longer than you thought at a particular place. Plus its always nicer to travel at your own pace depending on how much energy you have.
- For groups of more than 4, I would recommending hiring a Hiace or similar car due to its size and comfort, along with performance on the uphill roads. The car will take you wherever you want to all the way till any border you like. We opted to visit the Khunjerab Pass (China border), where you can even enter China for a bit at a moderate charge if you show your valid passport. If not, you can still go and greet the Chinese people awaiting you at the gate.
- The more beautiful places have the tougher access routes. For areas like Lalazar, a jeep is your best option. Luckily those are easily available along the route (charges vary according to season) and you can hire one for a few hours while your mother ship (your primary vehicle) rests for a few hours.
- Carry one pair of sports shoes and one pair of rubber slippers wherever you go. That’s because there is a lot of walking and trekking to do, with some beautiful fresh water streams and falls where you can dip your feet along the way.
- I noticed that the temperature changes drastically as you go from one place to another due to the difference in altitude. I would advise to pack all kinds of clothes accordingly and check the weather forecast in advance.
Sharing a few pictures from my favorite spots along the way:
One of the first few stops we made, and fell in love with the place so much that we had to spend two nights here. We were lucky to stumble upon a few nice hotels here, and there is so much to do. One could also visit Siri Paye which is closeby, but we didn’t. You can take a horse ride to several view points where you can settle for a while and just take in the fresh air. There is something about the mountain air that makes even the simple anda paratha so delicious. And that’s what we did for two days; hogged on anda paratha and some amazing variants of chicken karhai and sajji.
This is one of the roads that you have to take by jeep, and it will be a bumpy (and scary) ride. But trust me, its worth it. I mean, just look at this! (picture#3) The best way to see all of Lalazar is on a horse, and always better to come back before sunset and before there are chances of any rain. This is not one of those places where you can stay overnight; a day trip will suffice.
Lake Saif ul Muluk
Had read about this jheel so many times, and the folklore associated with it was passed on to me by several elders as well. The story goes that a Persian prince fell in love with a fairy princess here on this lake, which is how it got its name. So naturally this place was on my list, although I was told by the locals that the story is just an old tale. Another jeep ride from Naran and you get to the jheel pretty quick. Its too big and crowded so the best time to visit is early in the morning, and tour the place on the horse. Depending on which time of the year you go, there will always be some snow around the mountains, and you can take a slide down the snow for a mere Rs.20.
This was my personal favorite place. Didn’t find beauty like this anywhere else in Pakistan. From this point on, the roads become so much better and the drive is totally smooth. We are talking an altitude of almost 14,000 ft so its really cold up here, but the views are worth it.
After this spot, you will cross some majestic tunnels (we were driving for up to 3 to 5 minutes in some of them; they were THAT long), cross Lulusar Lake, Attabad Lake, Rakaposhi mountain, and will even be able to see the Nanga Parbat. It got too tiring for us, especially with a 3 year old so we skipped Fairy Meadows at this point. The Rakaposhi Peak is special because it is said to be the only peak which plummets directly, uninterrupted, for almost 6k meters from its peak to the base. We stopped there for a bit, although my phone camera was unable to capture the true beauty of the peak.
It’s a very long drive from here on out to the border. But along the way there is a lot to see which is a stark contrast to the kind of greenery that Pakistan had to offer up until now.
The border is such a dreamy place, and its at an elevation of almost 15.5k feet so oxygen is a little low and you will need to bring out the fur coats. This place boasts of the worlds highest ATM, a lot of snow, and the chance to touch or cross the border and meet a bunch of Chinese people. I just loved it.
For someone who was such a skeptic about what its like to visit Pakistan, I have no shame in admitting that I was totally wrong. I would recommend that any of you who have the slightest doubts should give it a shot. The people are lovely, the food is great, and the places are to die for. You won’t be disappointed!