Discover: Northern Areas of Pakistan – a Heaven on Earth
Pakistan has been in highlights for its fast developing tourism market for quite some years now. In 2019, one of the most famous travel magazine of the US ‘Traveler by Condè Nast’ listed Pakistan as one of the top tourist destinations for 2020. The magazine cited several reasons from scenic and mesmerizing tourist attractions to presence of more taller peaks (more than 22,965 ft) in Pakistan than China and Nepal combined.
Similarly, in 2018, the British Backpacker Society identified Pakistan as its top travel destination terming it as “one of the friendliest countries on earth, with mountain scenery that is beyond imagination”. They visited Pakistan twice in 2016 and 2018 and were extremely impressed with the hospitality they received from the local people. On a blog on social media, the backpackers who explored over 101 countries indicated Pakistan as the clear winner of the ‘British Backpacker Society’s top 20 adventure travel destinations 2018’, encouraging keen travelers to book a trip to Pakistan immediately. Also in 2019, Forbes ranked Pakistan as one of the ‘coolest places’ to visit in 2019.
To many people these distinctions of Pakistan as a tourist friendly country, may come as a surprise. Yet, the fact remains that Pakistan, in addition to several ancient historical landmarks, is also blessed with one of the most amazing landscapes, mountain ranges and valleys in the world. The northern areas of Pakistan are especially home to the world’s three famous mountain ranges — the Himalayas, the Karakorams and the Hindukush. The whole area, blessed with several high mountains, landscapes, lakes, glaciers and valleys with their breathtaking views coupled with the warm hospitality of the local people, is truly a dream for any tourist.
With more than twenty peaks of over 20,000 feet (6100 m) and four over 8,000 meter (out of 14 all over the world), the area is especially a paradise for mountaineers, climbers, trekkers and hikers. The shapes, forms, sizes and colors of these peaks provide tremendous contrast, which defy description. Some of these major peaks include: K-2 (8611 m – world’s second highest) — the undisputed monarch of the sky; Nanga Parbat (8126 m) — once dreaded as the “Killer Mountain”; Broad Peak (8047 m) — massive and ugly; There are several other nameless peaks over 7000 meter high in these mountain ranges which have not even been explored till date.
For many centuries, caravans braved these treacherous mountains, treading precariously along paths providing shortcuts between Central Asia and the rich markets of South Asia. In 1967, Pakistan and China joined hands to construct a 900 km, “Karakoram Highway” (also known as the ‘eighth wonder of the world’) on the alignment of the ancient Silk Route. For its sheer mountain grandeur and breath-taking panorama of beauty, few places on earth can match the superb landscape through which the Karakoram Highway snakes.
The northern areas of Pakistan also host some of the longest glaciers (outside polar region) especially in the Karakorams. The Siachin glacier is 75 km long. The Hispar, (52 km) joins the Biafo at the Hispar La (5154 m) to form a 116 km long ice corridor. The Batura is 58 km in length. But the most outstanding of these is the Baltoro (62 km). Several high-altitude lakes like Sheosar (in the Deosai Plains), Naltar (in the Naltar Valley), Satpara Tso (in Skardu), Katzura Tso (in Skardu) and Tso (in the Shigar) give a grandeur to the whole area. The most famous and magnificent of these is lake ‘Saif-ul-Malook’ which has a rich eco-diversity and species of blue-green algae giving an eye-catching contrast to its crystal clear water.
The presence of several high peaks, lakes and glaciers means that the whole area is home to a number of adventurous sports which the locals and foreign tourists enjoy. Since 1954, when the Karakoram Range was opened to expeditions for climbing and trekking, the mountains and glaciers of the north have become an international playground. There are hundreds of peaks still lying un-climbed posing a challenge to the mountaineers and climbers from all over the world.
Similarly, those who dare take up the challenge of the frothy white waters of the roaring mountain rivers in Northern Pakistan, know the excitement and thrill that such sports offer. Tourists now undertake white water sports such as rafting, canoeing and kayaking in the rivers Indus, Gilgit, Hunza, Swat, Shigar, Shayok and Kunhar. Similarly, the rivers and lakes of the Northern Pakistan are filled with trout, which is very popular with anglers.
Ski facilities are also available at Malam Jabba (Swat Valley), Naltar (near Gilgit) and Kalabagh (Nathiagali). Annual ski tournament is organized by Pakistan Ski Federation at Malam Jabba and Naltar in February.
The most favorite sport in the area though is polo, which originated here. The polo played in this area is the more rugged and free-style version than the sedate variety known in the plains. Passion for Polo remains the highest on the world’s highest polo ground. Every year, Shandur (3,700 meters) invites visitors to experience a traditional polo tournament between the teams of Chitral and Gilgit. The festival also includes folk music, folk dance, traditional sports and a camping village is be set up on the Pass.
The magnificent Northern Areas of Pakistan have everything ranging from magnificent and sky-kissing peaks to mesmerizing lakes. This coupled with the affordable costs - giving true value to your money and the warm and traditional hospitality of the local people, makes Pakistan truly a top destination for the tourists to explore.
Author: Omer Manzoor Malik
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