Pakistan was a country that came onto my radar as I really began to fall in love with BIG mountains. This is because Pakistan, is home to the Himalayas. So when I got the chance to visit the country with a friend of mine and a bunch of soon to be friends, I was of course on board! Travelling Pakistan was going to be one of the best experiences of my life, I just didn’t know it.
This is a country that people to this date still aren’t too sure about. I traveled to Pakistan back in 2017 and it was right in the midst of a time where terrorism was front page news and terrifying just about everyone. So safe to say my mother was less than thrilled at my latest adventure. My dad at this point was totally not surprised and was pretty sure I could handle myself. I didn’t need to at any point. Although on a tour, it wasn’t one that was going to hold any of our hands. In fact my friend started it and it was his first tour to Pakistan, a real beta test for sure. Only the few of us that went were clearly nuts enough to do it.
So what was Pakistan like?
In a nutshell, insane, in a good way. It is one of the countries I’ve been to that totally took me by surprise. I had never met anyone who had been there (except my friend Will) and had not heard any travel stories except for those people who had been there on work. Kind of a different thing if you as me.
The whole trip surprised me; the scenery, the people, the food, getting around to the fact it was so new to tourism on the scale my friend was trying to introduce. I absolutely loved it and it is 100% on my list of places I need to go back to and explore more. I also want to go back with more time and more hiking time!
But lets ignore this brief summary and really dive in to the points which I personally think, made Pakistan one of the greatest places I’ve ever visited.
The People of Pakistan.
The people make most of our experiences in life and when travelling Pakistan, this is no different. I love human interaction, meeting new cultures and having a conversation you usually wouldn’t meet just fascinates me. It is one of the drives that takes me to random and out of the way places. Pakistan really excelled with it’s people. From the moment I stepped off the plane the people were just fantastic, they wanted to chat and find out what I was up to. It could have been the fact I was the only white, blonde haired female on the plane, but I’m going to go with pure fascination.
Throughout my experience here the people were more than accommodating. Every hotel owner came to eat with us, they wanted to know about each of individually. They invited us back to their homes, we visited our bus drivers family and ate meals with locals. We took their advice and offerings if appropriate. Pakistani people were simply so thrilled that a bunch of tourists from all of the world had come together to explore their country.
More than anything else, they wanted us to know they and their country, were not bad.
This simply just broke my heart the first time I heard it here. The last time I heard this was when spending time in Istanbul before arriving here. Our answer was that we didn’t think they were bad. They wanted to know why the media in our countries were telling us that they were. I mean, what do you even say to something like that? Heartbreaking right? Well we wanted to make sure that they understood we didn’t think that way, we were thrilled to be there and made sure they knew. All the people of Pakistan wanted was for us to go home and tell everyone how simply freakin’ awesome this country is. And safe.
Safe is such a funny word when describing travelling. I’m from the UK and at the moment I would consider London unsafe due to recent random stabbing epidemic. So what does safe mean? I really think everywhere is ‘safe’ your common sense just has to adjust to the different places you end up. And always take the locals advice, they know better after all.
For me travelling Pakistan is safe. As a female I never felt threatened or worried walking the streets and exploring. But I took the locals advice when they offered it and I made sure the clothes I wore were culturally appropriate. In some countries I have attracted attention with my blonde hair and people have been a bit more forceful than I would have liked when it came to asking for pictures. But in Pakistan, they were super respectful with your space. People were very curious and yes we would often get followed by very curious locals (both males and females) but it wasn’t scary. They would timidly ask for photos and if you accepted, be prepared for everyone to want at least 5. If not, they backed off straight away. What more could you ask for?
The people of Pakistan are some of the kindest, generous and interesting people I’ve ever met.
From opening their homes, helping carrying your luggage to offering you great conversation. These people are incredible and they sure know how to entertain and make friends!
Getting Around Takes Patience.
Once outside of the bigger cities of Islamabad and Lahore you better prepare for a road trip! Get those tunes downloaded, bus songs prepared and podcasts ready. Getting anywhere rural in Pakistan is a journey in itself. But this is no bad thing I promise you!
I love a good road trip. There is nothing better than hopping in a car with a bunch of people you like and drive into the unknown! This adventure to Pakistan had a lot of road trips and some of course were better than others. But all turned out epic!
So why do I say it takes patience to get around? Well Pakistan is an awesome country but pretty much everyone drives, some kind of vehicle. Outside of the cities there isn’t much transport that tourists can use as police frown on hitch hiking. The roads have a mixture of paved, gravel and complete off road. This is due to the countries terrain. The mountainous regions of Northern Pakistan surprisingly don’t have much, if any, vegetation on them and because of this landslides and rock falls are super common. Especially in the wet season. So much like Nepal, the roads often get destroyed and blocked. So you need to have patience when that happens.
Traffic jams can be common from herding cattle as well or just badly parked lorries. You really just have to be patient getting around Pakistan and prepare for the long journeys but also, enjoy them. We had a super comfortable mini bus driving around, most of us had our two seats to ourselves and the tunes were spot on. Plus our Pakistani guides were absolutely hilarious! When I go back to Pakistan I will definitely be hiring a jeep with a drive, mainly because I would be way to scared to drive a motorbike on those roads.
The best thing about long road trips though? The stops a long the way. One of the best stops of the journey has to be when the road went past a Glacier. Yep. A glacier, right next to the road! They often have to dynamite the Glacier to stop it engulfing the road. But it is awesome and the smart locals have set up a shop there. Selling what you ask? Cold drinks of course! They have carved shelves out of the glacier and pop the fizzy cans in them to keep them chill. As well as chocolate. Totally genius and probably one of the most bazaar things I’ve ever witnessed!
So when you travel in Pakistan, prep for not just a big journey, but an adventure!
Food in Pakistan is great. Veggies, we struggle a little.
Food, it is a highlight for most of us when we travel right? Me too! I LOVE food. And lately my favourite food is always found in Asian countries. They know how to do good food! So when travelling Pakistan I actually expected the food to be similar to Indian or Nepali food. Surprisingly Pakistani food is a mixture of both of those with their own flare on it.
Muslim is the main religion in Pakistan and with that they eat quite a lot of meat. On tour in Pakistan we tried a lot of epic food places. When in the cities and towns of Pakistan there were a lot of options which were super easy for us veggies. Before Pakistan I wasn’t aware I had a terrible intolerance to dairy, it would flare up big time during this time. So when travelling Pakistan dairy was not off the menu for me. Veggie options in Pakistan mostly consisted of a lot of lentils, potatoes, rice, limited vegetables and deep fried options. The cities of course offered a bit more in terms of what you could order, once we were out in the rural area I was pretty lucky if there were veggie options at all.
You have to be a little more flexible.
Other vegetarians may not be happy to hear this but in order to eat something different, you have to be flexible. I.e. if that rice dish looks good but there is some meat through it, pick it out. Myself and a friend on the tour did this. There is only so much potatoes and lentils you can take until you need something a little more flavorful. The people are so helpful though and will really go all out to make sure you get something good to eat. They will even ask you how to make it! So although there is limited food for us veggies, those who aren’t, prepare for a feast! The meat dishes looked pretty damn good.
Anyway, there is always dessert! And who can say no to cake? Or some pretty good sorbet for that matter!
Pakistan’s Scenery is Out of this World Incredible!
With some of the biggest mountains in the world it would be hard to say that the scenery isn’t incredible. Am I right? Pakistan is home to two massive mountain ranges, the Karakorum and the Himalayas. People often forget the Himalayan range starts here and it is also the country that is home to the mighty K2. Pretty impressive right? But yet Pakistan doesn’t get heaps of climbing tourists. Which might actually be a good thing with everything happening on Everest Nepal side at the moment.
Pakistan is home to five of the worlds fourteen mountains higher than 8000 meters. For those of you, like me, who are obsessed with mountains and one day dream to climb high. This has got to be a pull factor for you. It certainly was my highlight when travelling Pakistan
Nanga Parbat is one of those mountains and has to be one of the highlights of my trip to Pakistan. When exploring the country we went up to a place called the Fairy Meadows. It’s the destination you have to drive the ‘death road’ to get to. Very exciting! And wow, this place is absolutely stunning and I would happily build a house here, have a few sheep and chickens and settle in. Staying up here in a little log cabin, beds around the cabin with a cosy fire place in the middle.
We were in the Fairy Meadows for a few days and on one of them, a few of us opted to go on hike with some local guides to Nanga Parbat base camp. Yes, my first time hiking to 4000 meters. It was the most incredible experience of my life! Fair enough we were already pretty high but this was the first time hiking in altitude. We were lucky, the day we woke up the mountain was there to greet us. It was cold but crisp and the wind was minimal. It was going to be a good day!
The hike to basecamp took us alongside a glacier, navigating the rocky trails and being weary not to follow the rabbit trails into the glacier. And keeping a watchful eye for rockfall from goats grazing above us. The hike itself was pretty straightforward. It wasn’t technically too challenging and a few hours later we made it. Standing at basecamp of one of the worlds tallest mountains was amazing. From basecamp we went to a memorial site the local guide wanted to show us, reminding us of how cruel the mountain could be. In the distance on the mountain an avalanche fell down the mountain side.
Thankfully no climbers were on the mountain when we were there, not the right season for it.
But standing at basecamp by the little hut up there. We enjoyed some green tea and hot noodles as it started to snow. This moment, right here, will never be one I can write down but it is one of the most magical experiences of my life.
Whether you are driving and watching the views from the window or trekking to see them, the scenery of Pakistan will really blow you away. It is just incredible.
Pakistan is Poor & New to Tourism But Don’t Let That Stop You.
The biggest thing to remember when travelling Pakistan and getting irritated that it’s not easy is that they haven’t had it easy. The impact the terrorist organisations and media coverage from this has had on the country and tourism has devastated Pakistan. This country is not just rich in the scenery, people and food but there is so much history here.
Hundreds of year old buildings, forts and temples with sensational detail are all open to you explore. Mosques will let you in (dress code permitting) to view the building when not in prayer session. The animal life is pretty rich and the culture here is so fascinating to learn about. On top of that they have the nicest people, good food and of course sensational mountains. All it takes to travel Pakistan in a worthwhile way is a little give and take. Take a step into their shoes and culture and see through their eyes just how good you’ve got it.
Yes of course there is poverty and in our eyes it is very apparent. By travelling to countries like Pakistan you are spending your money there and that helps so much. As does hiring local guides and travelling with companies who ensure the money is staying in Pakistan. Although some of these people are poor they are some of the happiest and will give you everything they have to make you happy. It is a good lesson to take away with us.
Throughout travelling Pakistan we did at times get frustrated but I always try to come back to that thought. This country is so rich in so many things and it just needs people like us, to help repair it’s unfair reputation. If your adventurous, like a bit of hiking, don’t mind long drives and enjoy meeting local people you should go. My friend Will runs some tours to Pakistan that you can find here, but if you want to go it alone, do it. Just get some preparation and research done before hand.
So what did I really think of Pakistan?
If you can’t tell already, I LOVED it! My time spent travelling Pakistan was far to short and sadly for some of the days I was hit with some sick days. So i didn’t get to experience everything I wanted to. But in my time there I had some of the most incredible experiences of my life and ones that will stay with me forever. Pakistan is a country that you wont forget in a hurry. It’s unlike any other place in the world and the adventure you will have here is limitless.
So I think that Pakistan should be a place anyone with a sense of adventure, curiosity or a desire to see places many hasn’t, should go and explore. You don’t need pictures of videos to remember this trip. Your eyes will take the best memories for you.