Iran is hands down one of the most incredible countries I have ever visited. I fell in love with this Middle-Eastern gem, and have been raving about it to anybody (and everybody) who will listen ever since I left! However, I must admit that a trip to Iran isn’t always as straightforward as a trip […]
Following are the daily dispatches that Mr. Yasir Ahmed sent to Mr. Hasan Malhi while traveling in Gilgit Baltistan in May 2017.
Travel Update 1: Italian wants to go to Gilgit Hunza before going to Skardu so he joined a group (Falcon club) for Rs 25,000 for 8 days…I am leaving 10:00pm tomorrow for Gilgit via NATCO special costing 2200. Regular was 1900. Seat is number 31 which is not great. Its the last seat but the guy said that there would be more leg space. Gilgit to Skardu on Monday in daylight so I can see everything. Over and Out.
Travel Update 2: Took 10:30am Gilgit to Skardu NATCO, costing PKR 550. Lunch stop at 1:30pm. Reached PTDC at 5:00pm. Pretty nice place…beautiful view of the Skardu Valley. Manager first said PKR 3200 for standard room. But then I introduced myself and I was upgraded to the room where Imran and Jemimah used to stay (at less than the rate for standard). By the way road is decent but very narrow. Over and Out.
Travel Update 3: After checking out from PTDC Skardu and buying my PIA ticket for Islamabad left for Khaplu at 12:30pm. Got a front seat in Hiace for Rs.250. The road to Khaplu is quite decent, carpeted about 70% of the way. Definitely doable in a car. PTDC Khaplu is bit of a disappointment. Not that the building is not great or staff and service is not good. There is just no hustle bustle that a typical tourist spot would have. Maybe I am here too early in the season. And that was kind of the plan. Out to Shigar tomorrow. Over and Out.
Travel Update 4: After visiting Khaplu fort and Khaplu mosque took a free ride back to Skardu, some very kind Sindhi folks. Did not stop at Skardu and took the first available van to Shigar. Was informed about a certain Space Hotel by manager PTDC Khaplu. Quite a nice place and reasonable rent (PKR 1500/night). Next two days here. Just relaxing for a while. Over and Out.
Travel Update 5: The day was dedicated to testing my physical capabilities, first a 5 km trip to Shigar fort and back and then another 5 km trip towards the desert, on the other side of Shigar river. Feeling good. Plenty of tea and some Mohsin Hamid stories. Tomorrow is at least two of the following three: Kharpoocho Fort, Nansuk Village, Lower Kachura. Over and Out.
Travel Update 6: Hired a cabby to take me from Shigar to Lower Kachura (Shangrilla) and Kharpocho Fort. The trek to the fort was way tougher than I expected. Gave up about 50-100 ft before the destination, combination of fear and tiredness. Tonight in Skardu. Over and Out.
Travel Update 7: As expected PIA flight got canceled. Discussed with two friends who are staying at the same hotel and who were to fly the same PIA flight and it was decided to give it another chance on Sunday. The backup plan is to rent a car all the way to Isb (costs PKR 15,000 to 18,000 depending on the vehicle). All this fiasco resulted in the three of us going to Nansuk Village, a great trek and an interesting place. We have been told that we are about 15 day early as the Cherry (and other fruits) season would start in June. Over and Out.
Travel Update 8: As luck would have it, PIA flight was on time and we left for Islamabad around 10:15am. The 40 minute flight was really a documentary on the northern areas of Pakistan, provided you got a left side window seat. On display was Satpara Lake, Deosai Plains, Nanga Parbat, Babusar Top, Saif-ul-Malook and Neelum Valley. Touched down at 11:00am, happy and relieved that everything went to plan. Over and Out.
PS: I have made several contacts in Gilgit and Skardu and if somebody wants some help please do message me here.
Having spent most of my official leaves earlier I was left with no other option but to travel to China Border within 3 days (2 days of weekend + 1 official leave). Here are the details of how I managed to do it.
Left for Gilgit at 10pm from Islamabad. Got a front seat in Toyota GLI for Rs.4000. Reached at about 5am in Naran, continued onward to Gilgit via Babusar Top. Road was in decent condition but this changed after joining KKH at Chilas. There were major land slides to contend with. The last leg of this journey from Raikot Bridge to Gilgit was quite comfortable as the road condition was quite good. Reached Gilgit at 11am.
The first day of journey was spent in Gilgit, mostly relaxing at Madina Hotel, having good food and sleeping. Went for an evening walk along the river to Gilgit Bazaar. Had some Chinese food for dinner, listened to some good old music and went to sleep early.
Headed for China Border at 10:30am (bit late, bad mistake) using public transport. It cost Rs.350 for a ticket to Sost, the last town before the border. Hired a rent-a-car from Sost to the border, costing Rs.4000 for the return trip. The border is about 85km from Sost which is about a 1.5 hour journey.
Returned to Sost at around 7pm had a quick meal and then started back for Gilgit. Since there is no public transport after sunset had to hire a car to Hunza costing Rs.1500. After reaching Hunza was told that there is no public transport in Hunza as well so had to hire a car again for Rs.2000. Reached Madina hotel at 11pm.
Got up at 8am and had a quick breakfast. Was at the Jutial bus stop at 9:30am. Booked a seat on the Islamabad bound coaster costing Rs.1400. Left for Islamabad at around 11am. After meandering along the Babusar Pass reached Naran at around 7pm. Continued on to Islamabad via Balakot, Masehra, Abbotabad and Havelian. Reached Islamabad at around 2:30am. Tired and exhausted but happy to have managed it all I hit the bed at around 3:30am.
Total end to end cost: Rs.22,000 (hotel, transport, meals)
Its 24 April 2016 and the road to Naran is still closed. You can go up to Kaghan but beyond that its still inaccesible. We decided to stay at Khaniyan which is about 50 km from Balakot and 30 km short of Naran. Its quite a picturesque location and the weather here was also quite cool. The rest house we chose to stay was Arcadian, which was open so early in the season, and was also reasonably priced (Rs.6000/night for the deluxe room).
There is no cell phone service in the area but Warid somehow works.
For making a booking at Arcadian please contact Shakir Sahib at 051-8436971 or 051-8436972.
A long weekend is a prized asset for a travel junkie like me. So when the Muharram long weekend came around I packed my bags and got on to the road for Kaghan Naran. Having started at 9 in the morning I arrived in Naran at around 5:30pm. There was one stopover for lunch at Balakot.
After spending the night in the comfortable environment of PTDC Naran I decided to venture onward to Lulusar and possibly further to Babusar Top. But the information collected from the local people suggested that going to Babusar Top would not be possible as it had just snowed a couple of days back and routes to the top would be closed.
To my surprise the road to Lulusar was in pretty good condition and I had no problems getting there on my Suzuki Swift. Once again the information given to me by the Jeep Walas was that there is no way you can go to Babusar Top as you will be stopped by Army Jawans only about 5km further from the lake.
Incidentally I was not stopped at the 5km mark and I actually continued for another 17km beyond Lulusar Lake to arrive at Babusar Top. The road was not in such a great shape as it was partially covered in snow and there were also muddy patches which made driving quite challenging. The total distance from PTDC Naran to Babusar Top was around 65km.
There was even some consideration given to the plan of continuing on to Chillas as it was only 44km from the top. But with the fuel tank going low on fuel and with the weather uncertain I decided to head back. I arrived back at the hotel in around 2.5 hours and headed straight to the fuel station. But I was informed that the station was out on fuel and tanker would arrive late in the night.
So after spending another night at PTDC Naran and replenishing the supplies I headed back to Islamabad.
PS: We ventured out of Naran just in time to avoid the heavy snowfall that left thousands of tourists stranded in the valley. And later in the week the Northern areas were jolted by a 7.7 magnitude earthquake.
The pictures of Mahabaleshwar in Monsoon are quite fascinating and immediately I try to draw comparisons with Margalla Hills National Park in Islamabad. The lush greenery, the water falls and the lakes. There are trails that take you to the heart of the National Park and if you are lucky you might even spot a Leopard. The major difference being that Margalla Hills National Park is located about 15 minutes from the main city and it loses some of its pristine beauty to the pollution created by the metropolis.
Located in the Pir Panjal Range of the Himalayas, Rohtang pass links Kullu to Lahaul and Spiti valleys of Himachal Pradesh.
Humayun is a very interesting character among the big 6 Mughals that ruled the subcontinent. From being chased out of subcontinent by Sher Shah Suri, to taking refuge in Persia and Kabul, to his fight back to take control of Dehli again, to his death in a freak accident (fell of the stairs and died).