A Travel Guide to The Northern Areas of Pakistan – Stunningly Beautiful and Safe to Travel

Karakoram_Highway_

By Muhammad Asad

The original article was published by Travel Video News.

Northern areas of Pakistan are considered as paradise on earth among regular travellers. These areas are beyond the grip of ongoing terrorism. Terrorism in Pakistan is only on those areas where Pushtuns population lives or controls the areas. The situation is the same as it was in Sri Lanka where civil war or terrorism was confined to Tamil community areas or big cities where Tamils were visiting or living. The same situation is in Pakistan where terrorism is mostly in big cities and in Pushtun community areas. In this travel guide, tourists are informed about only those areas where no law and order situation has been indicated and these area are known as very friendly and peaceful areas.

The Karakoram Highway

The Karakoram Highway, or KKH, is the greatest wonder of modern Pakistan and one of the most spectacular roads in the world. Connecting Pakistan to China, it twists through three great mountain ranges – the Himalaya, Karakoram and Pamir – following one of the ancient silk routes along the valleys of the Indus, Gilgit and Hunza rivers to the Chinese border at the Khunjerab Pass. It then crosses the high Central Asian plateau before winding down through the Pamirs to Kashgar, at the western edge of the Taklamakan Desert. By this route, Chinese silks, ceramics, lacquer-work, bronze, iron, furs and spices travelled west, while the wool, linen, ivory, gold, silver, precious and semi-precious stones, asbestos and glass of South Asia and the West travelled East.

For much of its 1,284 kms (905 miles), the Karakoram Highway is overshadowed by towering, barren mountains, a high altitude desert enjoying less than 100 millimetres (four inches) of rain a year. In many of the gorges through which it passes, it rides a shelf cut into a sheer cliff face as high as 500 meters (1,600 feet) above the river. The KKH has opened up remote villages where little has changed in hundreds of years, where farmers irrigate tiny terraces to grow small patches of wheat, barely or maize that stand out like emeralds against the grey, stony mountains. The highway is an incredible feat of engineering and an enduring monument to the 810 Pakistanis and 82 Chinese who died forcing it through what is probably the worlds most difficult and unstable terrain. (The unofficial death toll is somewhat higher, coming to nearly one life for each kilometre of road).

The Karakoram and the Himalaya, the newest mountain ranges in the world, began to form some 5 million years ago when the Indian sub-continent drifted northwards and rammed into the Asian land mass. By this time the dinosaurs were already extinct. Indian subcontinent is still trundling northwards at the geologically reckless rate of five centimetres (two inches) a year, and the mountains are still growing by about seven millimetres (1/4 of an inch), annually. The KKH runs through the middle of this collision belt, where there is an earth tremor, on average, every three minutes. Karakoram is Turkish for ‘crumbling rock’, an apt description for the giant, gray, snow-capped slag heaps that tower above the gorges cut between them.

The Indus River flows northwest, dividing the Himalaya from the Karakoram, before turning south at the Hindu Kush. The KKH hugs the banks of the Indus for 310 kilometres of its climb north, winding around the foot of Nanga Parbat, the ninth highest mountain in the world and the western anchor of the Himalaya. The highway then leaves the Indus for the Gilgit, Hunza and Khunjerab rivers to take on the Karakoram Range, which boasts 12 of the 30 highest peaks in the world. By the time the road reaches the 4,733 meter (15,528 foot) Khunjerab Pass, it has earned the name of the highest metalled border crossing in the world.

Gilgit

At an elevation of 1454 meters, Gilgit valley, offers spectacular scenic beauty. It is surrounded by lakes, rivers, glaciers and high mountain ranges. Some of them are the world’s highest peaks, such as Nanga Parbat, 8125 meter and Rakaposhi, 7788 meter are located here. The best time to visit is from May to mid October. The local dialect is Shina, however, Urdu and English are also spoken and understood.

Fairy Meadows has been a source of enchantment since long for back packers, climbers, wildlife researchers, photographers, painters & geologists, besides nature lovers. The pine forests skirting Fairy Meadows are perhaps one of the virgin forests in the north of Pakistan, and are home to a number of species of birds and wildlife. The site overlooks the Raikot Glacier and provides a majestic view of the North Face of Nanga Parbat, commonly known as the Raikot Face.

PLACES OF INTEREST

Fairy Meadows

Fairy Meadows can be easily approached from the capital city of Pakistan, Islamabad. Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) operates two flights to Gilgit daily, which is the main city of Northern Areas of Pakistan. Further via silk route (KKH) up to Raikot Bridge, 76 km from Gilgit & further jeep able journey.

A road journey from Islamabad on Karakoram Highway (KKH) takes 11 hours to Chillas. From here, Raikot bridge on silk route is 61 km away. Another scenic approach by road from Rawalpindi is through the Kaghan Valley. Jeep able road passes through the Kaghan Valley via the Babusar Pass (4173 m) through Chillas, reaching the Raikot Bridge. Jeeps are available at Raikot Bridge round the clock, carrying 6 passengers on one vehicle. A small place in Jail village offers refreshments and lunch.

At Fairy Meadows Cottages, log cabins are available having the fascinating views of Nanga Parbat. Cottages have a camping site where tourists can pitch their own tents or, they can hire tents. Dining area & kitchen are located adjacent to camping site. Toilets & baths can be reached very comfortably from cabins & tents. The whole area is demarcated with a controlled access and the tourists are free to enjoy the privacy within the vicinity.

The famous day hike from Fairy Meadows is for Beyal Camp & the Base Camp of Nanga Parbat. Friendly and experienced mountain guides, who are familiar with the terrain, accompany the visitor, taking them to different treks. Staff at cottages is experienced and help trekkers in planning their routes. Camping equipment & food can also be arranged for these treks. Natural rock climbing pitch is a part of this beautiful setting, where climbing may be practiced under the supervision of well trained staff.

Karimabad

Miles and miles of terraced fields and fruit orchards mark Karimabad, the capital of Hunza Valley. It offers a panoramic view of the Rakaposhi, Ultar and Balimo peaks. It is 112 kms from Gilgit and it takes about 3 hours by jeep to cover the distance.

Punial

Sher Qila is the main village of the picturesque Punial valley. The distance is 40 kms and time required to reach there is about 2 hours.

Singal

This spot in the Punial valley offers ideal trout fishing opportunities. It is 56 kms away and takes 3 hours to get there.

Yasin

A valley providing ideal opportunities for hiking and trekking, it lies at a distance of 160 kms and the jeep journey requires about 7 hours.

Phandar

This picturesque area has a lake which abounds in trout. It is about 177 kms away and the time required to get there is about 8 hours.

Shandur Pass

This 1250 feet long pass connects Gilgit to Chitral. The pass remains snow-bound during winters. It is 250 kms and 15 hours away by jeep.

Rama

A lake in this region offers an awe-inspiring view of the eastern side of Nanga Parbat, 8126 meters high. It is 120 kms away and takes 6 hours to get there. For the adventure-loving tourist, hiker, angler, art-lover, mountaineer or polo enthusiast, there are a few places in the world that could compare with Gilgit.

Naltar

Naltar is the ideal full day outing from Gilgit. About a two-hour drive away, it is an area of alpine meadows and pine forests 3,000 meters (10,000 feet) above sea level and surrounded by snow-capped mountains. The road up from Nomal climbs steeply through a rocky gorge to emerge on the fertile, high-altitude pastures. Those who wish to stay can choose among the Public Works Department rest-house, the very basic local hotel, or camping. Naltar is the perfect base for gentle walks through the forest or up to Naltar Lake, where the fishing is excellent. The village is also the starting point for more energetic treks across the 4,000 meter (13,000 feet) Naltar Pass to the Ishkoman Valley, or across the 4,800 meter (15,700 feet) Daintar Pass to Chalt. The two ski-lifts at Naltar are reserved for army use.

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Hunza

Hunza has been ruled by the family known as Mirs of Hunza for 960 years. Hunzakuts are believed to be the descendents of five wandering soldiers of Alexander the Great. The people of Hunza speak Brushuski, an aboriginal language. This princely state retained its isolated independence for a long time in the remote part of the areas which now form the Northern Areas of Pakistan adjoining the Sinkiang Autonomous Region of China.

During early nineteenth century, Hunza resented Kashmir’s attempts to gain control and its rulers periodically expelled Kashmir garrisons, threatened Gilgit, and politicked with the rulers of Kashgar to the north where the Russians were gaining influence. Fearing Russians infiltration into their northern frontiers, the British took over direct political control at Gilgit in 1889. Fratricidal intrigues in Hunza and Nagar made the areas doubly insecure. This, coupled with the Mir of Hunza’s consistent intransigence induced the British to march on Hunza in December 1891, where they fought a decisive battle at Nilit, 60 km beyond Diaynor Bridge. After this the British garrisoned Aliabad until 1897 when Hunza became a princely state protected by the Government of British India. After Pakistan was created in 1947, the people of Hunza also gained liberation and the princely state was merged in Pakistan.

Baltit Fort

The Baltit Fort is a kilometer away from Karimabad. It was built 700 years ago by 30 labourers brought to Hunza in the dowry of the Princess of Baltistan when she married Mir of Hunza. The area is named Baltit after those labourers. Over the centuries it has been inhabited by the ruling family of the Hunza State.

Buddhist Rock Carving

The rock carving and inscriptions around Ganesh village give proof of the Buddhist influence in the area. The inscriptions are in four different scripts and the carvings are of human and animals figures.

Batura, Passu, Hopper, Hisper Glacier

Batura Passu glacier is 35 kms from Karimabad while the Hopper and Hisper glaciers are 25 kms away. The journey takes two hours by jeep and the last two kilometres have to be traveled on foot.

Altit Fort

Altit fort is situated in the village of Altit about three kilometres from Karimabad. It has been built on a sheer rock cliff that falls 300 meters (1,000 feet) into the Indus river. The fort is a100 years older than the Baltit Fort and was at one time inhabited by the ruling family.

Ultar Peak

The Ultar peak known as the killer mountain is the only un-conquered peak.

Nagar

Nagar, the large kingdom across the river from Hunza, was possibly first settled by people from Baltistan who arrived over the mountains by walking along the Biafo and Hispar glaciers. It was settled again in about the 14th century by Hunzakuts who crossed the river. A man called Borosh from Hunza supposedly founded the first village of Boroshal, and married a Balti girl he found there. The legend says the girl and her grandmother were the sole survivors of a landslide that killed all the early Balti settlers.

Nagar is entered by a jeep road that leaves the KKH just beyond the Ganesh Bridge across the Hunza River. The first five kilometres (three miles) of this road are dry and barren, then the road divides.

Once branch crosses the Hispar River on a bridge and climbs up into the fertile villages of central Nagar, where many kilometres of irrigation channels provide pleasant walks through fields and villages right up to the last village of Hoper. You can get here by public transport from Aliabad in Hunza, which leaves most days for Nagar, and occasionally continues to Hopar.

The KKH Beyond Karimabad

The KKH is at its most spectacular between Ganesh and Gulmit. The road rides high on the eastern side of the river, twisting and turning round the barren foot of the Hispar Range, which boasts six peaks over 7,000 meters (23,000 feet). On the opposite bank, villages cling implausibly to the side of the 7,388 meter (24,240 foot) Ultar Mountain. Between the villages, gray screen slithers down to the river, looking in the distance like piles of fine cigarette ash. Above the jagged teeth along the ridge lie the highest snow-covered peaks. from view.

The KKH crosses back to the west bank at Shishkot Bridge, from which the view upstream of the serrated ridge of mountains above the river is one of the most photogenic of the entire drive. From here to Tashkurgan in China the people speak Wakhi.

Gulmit

Eight kms past the bridge, is a fertile plateau 2,500 meter (8,200 feet) high, with irrigated fields on either side of the road. This is a good place to spend a night or two, marking the halfway point between Gilgit and the Khunjerab Pass. The small museum here belongs to the prince, Raja Bahadur Khan, and is full of interesting ethnic artifacts. And two of the hotels here belong to Mirzada Shah Khan, hero of the 1947 mutiny.

The rock and gravel covered Ghilkin Glacier comes right down to the road about one kilometer (just over half a mile) past Gulmit. The road crosses the snout of the glacier at the very edge of the river, then climbs up on to the lateral moraine – a great, gray slagheap. About five kilometres further on, you round a corner to find Passu Glacier straight ahead. Above the glacier to the left is the jagged line of the Passu and Batua peaks, seven of which are over 7,500 meters (25,000 feet). On the opposite side of the river, which you can cross over a terrifying footbridge, the valley is hemmed in by a half-circle of saw-toothed summits, down the flanks of which slide grey alluvial fans. Passu is a village of farmers and mountain guides 15 kilometres beyond Gulmit. This is the setting-off point for climbing expeditions up the Batura, Passu, Kurk and Lupgar groups of peaks, and for trekking trips up the Shimshal Valley and Batura Glacier. The Passu Inn, right beside the road, is the meeting place for mountaineers and guides.

The KKH passes through four more villages before reaching the immigration and customs post at Sost, 33 kilometres from Passu. Outgoing traffic must pass through Sost before 11 am. It is a four or five hour drive from here to Tashkurgan, and you must allow time for clearing Chinese customs and immigration two kilometres before Tashkurgan (moved down from Pirali). The time difference between China and Pakistan is three hours, so it will be around 7 to 8 pm Chinese time before you arrive in Tashkurgan. Incoming traffic is processed until 4 pm Pakistani time, 7 pm Chinese time.

From Sost to Tashkurgan

PTDC and NATCO run daily buses from Sost to Tashkurgan. For the first 30 kilometres from Sost, the valley is narrow and barren, the cliff-face shattered into huge cubes and slabs that peel off and tumble down to the road, where they lie like forgotten building blocks belonging to giant children. The road leaves Hunza for the Khunjerab River, and there is more of the same, with alluvial fans flowing down every gully, frequently blocking the way. Khunjerab National Park begins 30 kilometres from Sost. The hills move back from the road, the valley opens out and the Khunjerab River dwindles to a tiny mountain stream with the odd tuft of grass, willow or birch along its banks.

The check-post at Dih consists of six lonely stone houses. The last 30 kilometres to the top of the pass are easier driving, as there is less mountain above and the slopes are gentler. The road follows the banks of the stream before winding up round 12 wide, well-engineered hairpin bends to the top.

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The Khunjerab Pass, at 4,733 meters (15,528 feet), is reputedly the highest metalled border crossing in the world. A red sign announces ‘China drive right’, and a rival green sign says ‘Pakistan drive left’. A monument declares that the highway was opened in 1982 and indulges in a bit of hyperbole by saying that the pass is at 16,000 feet (4,875 meters). The Khunjerab is on a continental watershed. All water on the Pakistani side flows down to the Indian Ocean, while that on the Chinese side is swallowed by the Taklamakan Desert, the name of which means, if you go in, you don’t come out.

The abandoned Chinese border post at Pirali is about 32 kilometres from the top of the pass. The scenery is remarkably different on the two sides of the pass. The Pakistani side is a vertical world of desert gorges devoid of any sign of human life for the last 30 kilometres except for the road itself. The Chinese side is wide, open and grassy high-altitude plateau with grazing herds of yaks, sheep and goats tended by Tajik herders. Children and dogs romp among round felt tents called yurts. The Tajiks are a smiling and friendly lot, and the women are as happy to be photographed as the men. Even the camels are altogether different animals. Pakistani camels are tall, short-haired, one-humped Bactrains that appear to wear hairy, knee-length shorts.

Northern areas of Pakistan are considered as paradise on earth among regular travellers. These areas are beyond the grip of ongoing terrorism. Terrorism in Pakistan is only on those areas where Pushtuns population lives or controls the areas. The situation is the same as it was in Sri Lanka where civil war or terrorism was confined to Tamil community areas or big cities where Tamils were visiting or living. The same situation is in Pakistan where terrorism is mostly in big cities and in Pushtun community areas. In this travel guide, tourists are informed about only those areas where no law and order situation has been indicated and these area are known as very friendly and peaceful areas.

Baltistan

Baltistan, 26,000 square kilometres in area is right below the serrated, jagged and glaciated ramparts of the Karakorams. Once part of Ladkah, it was known as Tibet-i-Khurd – Little Tibet.

Archaeological exploration has proven that it was encompassed by the Silk Trade Route. Rock carvings have been discovered along the road between Gol and Khapulu, and Skardu and Satpara Lake. The trade routes here split at Skardu with one leading to Satpara over the Deosai and Burzil Pass (5000 meters high) into Kashmir and another leading to Gol. At Gol it forks again with one trail leading to Khapulu, the other to Kharmang into Leh.

Skardu

Amidst a landscape of towering mountains, deep gorges, crashing waterfalls and quiet lakes, Skardu, the district headquarters of Baltistan, is situated on the banks of the mighty river Indus, just 8 km above its confluence with the river Shigar. Perched at a height of 2286 meters (7,500 ft), Skardu offers a cool and bracing climate. On the eastern boundary of the district lies Ladakh, in the west Gilgit, in the south Indian-held Kashmir and to the north is the Chinese province of Sinkiang.

During summer, Skardu attracts a large number of trekkers and mountaineers from all parts of the world. In fact, the entire region is known as a mountaineers’ paradise. Nowhere in the world does one find such a large collection of lofty peaks, including K-2 the world’s second highest peak. Huge glaciers like Baltoro, Biafo and Siachen abound, some of the largest in the world outside the Polar region, in this 16,283 square km (10,118 square miles) of wonderland.

There are five main valleys in the district Skardu, Shigar, Khaplu, Rondu and Kharmang. All of them produce apricots, peaches, pears and apples in such profusion that this region is known as the land of apricots and apples.

Kharfocho Fort

The construction of Kharfocho fort or the King of forts at Skardu has been attributed to the famous ruler of Skardu – Maqpon Bugha (1490 – 1515 AD), the great grand father of Ali Sher Khan Anchan (1560 – 1625 AD) by Hishatullah. But Mughal historians are of the view that the great fort was built by Ali Sher Khan Anchan himself.

Mindoq Khar

This palace was built by Gul Khatoon or Mindoq Gialmo on the hill where now stands the Kharfocho fort only. The palace was named after the queen as ‘Mindoq Khar’ meaning the ‘Flower Palace’. The Palace was destroyed by the troops of the Sikh ruler of Kashmir, Maharaja Gulab Singh, when he invaded Skardu in 1840 AD.

Hilal Bagh and Chahar Bagh

Just below the Mindoq Khar or Flower Palace, there was a terraced garden with fountains built in marble. This royal garden covered the areas from Mindoq Khan to the present bazaar at Skardu where the newly constructed road crosses the channel. A palace built in marble with towers also stood in the middle of the garden, above the Polo Ground which is called Ghudi Changra. The palace was destroyed during the great floods in the area after the death of Ali Sher Khan Anchan and a marble Baradari was later constructed at this palace. This royal garden was named Hilal Bagh (Crescent Garden). Another garden was also laid which was named Chhar Bagh on the site where a Girls College stands now. The said garden was laid on the orders of the Queen while her husband was away to Gilgit and then to Chitral. As the mother tongue of the Queen was Persian, she gave Persian name to these gardens.

Buddhist Rock

There is only one surviving Buddhist Rock with carvings in the Skardu Valley located on Satpara road. Probably the rock carvings and images of Buddha date back to the period of Great Tibetan Empire. When the Buddhist people of Gandhara migrated and passed through the present northern areas of Pakistan, they settled at some places temporarily and carved drawings of Stupas, scenes of their experiences and images of Buddha with texts in Kharoshti language. There were a number of such Buddhist rock carvings in the Skardu Valley. Probably those rocks were used either by Ali Sher Khan Anchan as building material or submerged in the Satpara lake.

Satpara Lake

8 Kms south of Skardu, 20 minutes by jeep, lies the Satpara Lake. Surrounded by high glacial mountains, this lake has an island in the middle of its clear waters, which can be reached by boat. The lake is considered ideal for trout fishing.

Kachura Lake

About 32 kms from Skardu, 2 hours by jeep, lie the shimmering waters of the Kachura Lake. In the springtime its banks are adorned by a multitude of colourful flowers, while the trees are laden with peach, apricot and apple blossoms. The lake offers great opportunities for trout fishing.

Shigar Valley

The Shigar Valley, 32 kms from Skardu and 2 hours by jeep, is watered by the Shigar River. It forms the gateway to the great mountain peaks of the Karakoram, including Mount K-2. The valley has an extremely picturesque landscape, and abounds in fruit such as grapes, peaches, pears, walnuts and apricots.

Khaplu Valley

This beautiful valley of the Shyok River is 103 kms from Skardu and 6 hours by jeep. There is a sprawling village perched on the slopes of the steep mountains that hem in the river. Many famous mountains, such as Masherbrum, K-6, K-7, Sherpi Kangh, Sia Kangri, Saltoro Kangri etc. are located here.

Kaghan Valley

The 161 kms long landscape of the Kaghan Valley with its towering Himalayan peaks, peaceful lakes, majestic glaciers and splashing waterfalls is a scenic wonderland, ending northwards in the 4148 metres (13,600 ft) high Babusar Pass, jeep service is available in the valley during summer, while motels and rest-houses offer comfortable accommodation. .The adventure begins in Bellyached, a charming mountain village, from where a road climbs 34 kms up to Shogran. At a height of 2,362 metres, Shogran has thickly forested slopes and grassy meadows, which present an ideal setting for your first stopover.

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The raging Kunhar River accompanies the steep winding road which leads to the Kaghan village. This little village, after which the valley has been named, is only 61 kms from Bellyached. Between Kaghan and Naran there is a distance of 25 kms. Naran serves as the base-camp for excursions to other valleys, lakes and peaks.

Lake Saif-ul-Muluk

10 kms from Naran, this lake is 3200 metres high, providing an awe-inspiring view of Malika Parbat (Queen of the Mountains) 5,260 metres high. You can go boating on the lake and hear the local legend about Prince Saif-ul-Muluk who fell in love with fairy.

One treks from Saiful Maluk goes to Lalazar. This track is 9 miles long.

Shogran

About 24 kilometre away from Balakot on Balakot-Kaghan Road is Kaiwai from where one can go up on right side of the road to Shogran. Shogran is 8 kilometre from Kaiwai and a pleasant place at an elevation of 7750 feet above sea level. It is a small meadow where one can stay for a night.

Sharan

Sharan is 12 kilometre away from Paras which is situated on Balakot-Kanghan Road about 28 kilometre up to Balakot. Paras is only 4 kilometre away from Kaiwai—the base camp of Shogran. Sharan come left across the river Kunar from Paras bazzar. It is about 9200 feet above sea level and a thick forest of pine welcomes tourist. This land is still virgin and there is only two rest houses not a single hotel.

Babusar Pass

4146 metres high, this is the gateway to the Gilgit valley. On a clear day, you can catch a glimpse of the towering Nanga Parbat, 8126 metres high. This is the highest point, and marks the end of the Kaghan expedition. On the way to the Pass there are many quaint villages, such as Battakundi, Burawai, Besal and Gittidas, where you can rest. If you have the time, the enchanting Lalazar plateau near Batakundi and Lulusar Lake near the Babusar Pass are worth visiting.

Chitral

The Chitral valley at an elevation of 1127.76 metres (3,700 feet) is favourite with mountaineers, anglers, hunters, hikers, naturalists and anthropologists. The 7787.64 metres (25,550 feet) Trichmir, the highest peak of the Hindu Kush Mountain dominates this 321.87 kms (200 miles) long exotic valley.

Chitral district has Afghanistan on its north, south and west. A narrow strip of Afghan territory, Wakhan separates it from the Soviet Union. The tourist season in Chitral is from June to September.

Kafir-Kalash Tribe

One of the major attractions of Chitral are the Kalash valleys – the home of the Kafir-Kalash or ‘Wearers of the Black Robe’, a primitive pagan tribe. Their ancestry is shrouded in mystery. A legend has it that some soldiers of the legions of Alexander of Macedonia settled down in Chitral and the present Kafir-Kalash are their off springs.

The 3,000 strong Kafir-Kalash live in the valleys of Birir, Bumburet and Rambur in the south. Bumburet, the largest and the most picturesque valley of the Kafir-Kalash, is 40 kms (25 miles) from Chitral and is connected by a jeepable road. Birir, 34 kms (21 miles) away, is accessible by a jeepable road. Rambur is 32 kms (20 miles) from Chitral. The road is jeepable upto Ayun and the remaining 16 kms (10 miles) have to be travelled on foot.

The Kalash women wear black gowns of coarse cloth in summer and hand-spun wool dyed in black in winter. Their picturesque headgear is made of woollen black material studded with cowrie shells, buttons and crowned with a large coloured feather. The Kalash are gay people and love music and dancing particularly on occasions of their religious festivals like Joshi Chilimjusht (14th & 15th May – Spring), Phool (20th-25th September) and Chowas (18th to 21st December). Foreign tourists require special permits to visit the Kalash valleys. Permits are issued free of cost by the Deputy Commissioner, Chitral.

Garam Chashma (Hot Springs)

Elevation: 1859 metres (6,100 feet). Distance: 45 km (28 miles) Northwest of Chitral. By jeep 3 hours. This unspoiled enchanting valley of orchards, verdant fields and snow-clad peaks is renowned for its boiling sulphur springs which are famous for healing effect on skin diseases, gout, rheumatism and chronic headaches. For the convenience of tourists “humams” (baths) have been constructed near the springs.

Birmoghalasht

Worth visiting is the fairy-tale summer palace of the ex-ruler perched at a height of 2743 metres (9,000 feet). It offers awe-inspiring views of Trichmir and panoramic vistas of valleys below. The fort is approachable on foot only.

History of Polo

Polo is an equestrian sport with its origin embedded in Central Asia dating as far back as sixth century BC. At first it was training game for Cavalry Units for the King’s guards or other elite troops. To the warlike tribesmen who played polo with as many as 100 players to a side it was a miniature battle. Polo became a Persian national sport played extensively by men as well as women in the sixth century AD. Usually played in front of royal palaces, marble goal posts still stand in front of the palace in Tehran.

Shandur Polo Tournament

The most exciting polo tournament of the entire Northern Areas is played on top of the Shandur Pass, almost 4000 metres above sea level, a place unique and exotic in itself surrounded by some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in the world. The event marks the annual rivalry between the polo teams of Gilgit and Chitral. The Shandur Polo Tournament also has some added attractions for the visitors. These include a Golf tournament at the Shandur Golf ground, also reputedly the highest golf ground in the world; a trout fishing competition as the neighbouring streams and takes abound with trout; other equestrian events and a festival of folk dances of the Northern Areas. The Shandur Polo Tournament offers much more than an ordinary festival stretching over five days and four nights. The highlight of all festivals of course remains the final match between the Gilgit and Chitral polo teams. Polo is played here in its original state with a minimum of rules and provides a most colourful spectacle. Supporters of both sides travel long distances from the remote parts of Chitral and Gilgit areas in order to be present at the thrilling Shandur Polo Tournament. The event, as such, provides a fascinating insight into the lifestyle of the ordinary people of these regions. Their culture and indigenous customs are a delight to behold for the visitors.

Shandur offers crystal clear lakes, snow covered mountains and alpine flowers amidst vast stretches of green grass. A tourist village comprising tents and restaurant springs up during the tournament. Merchants from Chitral and Gilgit set up Souvenir and Folkcraft shops. The tournament offers visitors an opportunity to mix with the locals of these areas.

How to reach Shandur Polo

The Shandur Top lies mid-way between Chitral and Gilgit on an unmetalled road travelling on which a adventurous, to say the least. The distance from either side, Chitral or Gilgit, to the Shandur Pass is approximately 168 km (105 miles).

Getting to Chitral or Gilgit is possible by air on PIA Foker operated flights from Peshawar and Islamabad. There are daily flights but are subject to weather and tourists planning to go by air must make allowance of at least a couple of days in their itineraries just in case the weather does not permit flights to operate.

Road Access to Chitral

Go through Gilgit, you will encounter superb mountain scenery complete with crystal clear waters of Northern Area Rivers. From the Chitral side it is certainly worthwhile for travellers to stop at Mastuj for the night. From Gilgit side travellers can stop for the right at Gupis.

Photo – Lake Saif ul Malook

For more information visit Ecotourism Society Pakistan website to click this link

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