Monday, August 15, 1988

North is Calling

Travel Month:

June 1988




NWFP, Gilgit, Skardu, Hunza, Khunjerab etc.



Total Distance Covered:


Total Days



This travel has been written 20 years after the actual travel took place. I'm gifted with a wonderful memory of my travels and I hardly miss any details. I cannot answer why I'm writing this now. This was my first ever camping trip and should provide an insight to people on how the preparations were done despite having low budget and resources. I was appearing in my 12th grade exams and the excitement of having vacations was totally different as compared to other people of my age. I was getting ready for adventure of my life and it was all the more exciting and important to me as I was going to do that with my own collected pocket money. The preparations were done in a very crude way. We didn't have much money and resource to really buy some nice equipment primarily and secondary there was not much equipment available in Pakistan at that time or at least I didn't know where to find the required things. We were staying in Lahore the heart of Pakistan at that time, having a big used cloths market called Lunda Bazaar that eventually became a finding resource for us. It was summer and we were in the hottest months of the year in the plains of Pakistan. We needed to arrange camp, sleeping bags, cooking utensils, rain coats etc. etc. for our trip with in our limited budget. We went through the big stores for such items and found only one store had a tent but we were not convinced to buy such an ordinary tent for such a high price. Therefore we put our attention towards Lunda for finding things for our trip. We had to make several trips to Lunda close to the Lahore railway station and an hour away from our home, to find things. First few trips were spent to ask around without any success, but we didn’t give up and kept going there. We were able to convince a couple of vendors to let us go through their warehouses to find things of our choice that made our lives even difficult. Because we had to move several loads from one side to the other, open some and pack them back in the same manner. It was a nightmare and now when I look back at it gives me sweats because we did all that in 45 degrees heat with no fans in the warehouses. The passion remained there and the spirits remained high.

Let me introduce you with the participants of the journey. Myself, my cousin and one of my best friends Adel, one of my best friends Wasim and our neighbor and friend Late Qaiser. Adel was living in Gujranwala while Wasim was living in Gujrat. Therefore we had extended stay guests during the preparations. We all used to catch a van to go to the railway station to walk to Lunda  Bazar and then start our hunt. Those were very interesting and exciting times. Days were passing by very slowly though and we waited anxiously for the travel dates. Young boys bought used Army bags for their stuff; these bags are called PITHU an interesting word in local language. We bought some more used Army stuff for the journey including their canvas covered water bottles etc. One day, after our several tries and much time spent in despair, we hit a big bag in the Lunda Bazaar from which we were able to extract a smaller bag, which looked like a tent to us. And yes it was a camp though we did not know a thing about the dome type tents, we only knew about the V shaped tents but had seen pictures of Dome type. We bought this one for a few hundred rupees without even knowing how to erect it as the rods were missing from the bag and it was just a piece of parachute cloth. We came back excited and now the tough part started as no one was able to help us as how to fix it or from where to arrange some sort of poles to go through it.

I never gave up so what I did was, bought 5 bamboo sticks, thin and long enough to go through the small openings and we did our first prototype of a ten in our garden by tying up the sticks from the top. It was looking weird, by what the heck it was looking like a shelter at the least, more of a Teepees used by the Red Indians than a tent of the modern time. We were so happy to see some progress as we were approaching the travel dates fast. Then we bought some sleeping bags (new ones) and some other equipment and the preparations took positive turn, and we were ready to go. The tent was tried once more although we were sure it would not handle bad weather, however we were ready to take on the weather now.

Let me say that these were the times when hardly people did camping back in Pakistan and there was very little information available about this kind of stuff. We got to know later that the foreigners have been doing such activities in Pakistan but the Pakistanis themselves.


We were excited and ready to take on the adventure. Wasim and Adel had come back to our place after visiting their families. My father always supported me with my adventures as he traveled extensively himself and has always provided advice and tips about the different areas. This time he had provided us with his golden tips and advice that we were going to take advantage from during our month long journey. We had to fit this journey with in our limited budget of about 1000 rupees not a big amount of money but big enough for enthusiasts like us.

We were supposed to go on the 8'o clock train and my elder brother Nabeel and his friend Saqib were going to drop us off at the station. We left after receiving prayers and blessings from my mother and grandmother in our car filled with our stuff. Not knowing much about the importance of weight in our bags, our bags were weighing like this, myself - 24 kg, Wasim- 26 kg, Adel - 15 kg and Qaiser - 14kg. Later we got to know the less the weight the better it would have been.

Our adventure started right in Lahore when on the way to the station our car got puncture and the spare wheel came out flat from the trunk. We were definitely going to miss our train. Myself and Saqib took the tire and took a mini van (Mazda as they call it) to the next petrol pump where we got that fixed before making it back to the car 1.5 hour later. The train had long gone when we reached the station. Then we changed our plan on the fly and went to the bus station to catch the GTS (government transport service) bus. We got tickets for us on student discount and put our stuff on top of the bus. The bus started at about 10 pm going through the towns of Mureedke, Gujranwala, Gujrat, Lalamusa, Khariyaan etc and we were in one-hour proximity of Rawalpindi that was our first stop when we had a traffic jam on the main GT road, a very unusual thing for a highway of that sort. There was some protest by the truckers and they had blocked the main highway to bring the traffic to a stand still. There was nothing much one could do in the summer heat but to wait and see. It took more that 3 hours for the traffice to start functioning, but there were more problems bound to happen. The bus broke down as soon as the traffic started and it refused to go any further right in the middle of the road. We had to unload our luggage and to stand on the side of the road for a lift or if some other bus would pick us up if there was room. We were extremely sleepy due to whole night's adventure and we were getting into the early hours of next day.

Then a bus stopped after the day light broke out and gave us a ride. We had to hurry up with the loading up our luggage and they let us stand in the middle open area for the rest of our journey of about 1.5 hours. After we made it to Rawalpindi we headed to Qaiser's uncle's place where we were to stay for a couple of days. They were a very nice family and a very hospitable one. We were given our room and we had a lot of fun together with them.

After having some sleep we went out for roaming around. We went through the bazaars and the afghani markets. We visited the bus stop for our tickets to Gilgit on student pass but they didnt have 4 seats available for the next day so we booked for the day after as it was a must to save every single penny for our long trip. Now we had an other day to explore Pindi (as they call Rawalpindi in short) before we headed out into the mountains.


This day was also spent in Pindi with all sorts of visits here and there and we also visited Qaiser's Uncle's office and factory in which the first ever split air conditioners were manufactured in Pakistan. It was a good visit and a very informative one for us. The facility was very nicely equipped with modern machinery. This was the highlight of the day.

We were very excited as we were taking the bus next early morning.

DAY 3 & 4

We reached the bus station with our luggage and helped the guy (conductor) to tie our luggage on top of the bus securely. We took the front two seats and the two behind it. The front seats in the bus are meant for people who will not sleep as it is thought to be encouraging the driver to dose off. So Wasim and myself were suppose to be up the whole way and give good company to our bus driver, ideally for 18 hours of the journey. We would be passing through the historic city of Texila turning off here from the GT Road and then head towards Abbotabad, which I always consider the gateway to the mountains. The main route travels on the Karakorum Highway that starts from Hawailiyan just before Abbotabad and then enters into China at Khunjerab Pass the highest border crossing in the world sitting at 16002 feet above the sea level. This highway was built on the ancient Silk Route used for trading between China, Central Asian countries and the Sub Continent. Therefore it is also called as the Silk Road that travels along the Great Indus River  most of the journey.

Texila is a paradise for people who love archeology as it has extensive archeological sites dating back to 600 BC. There are budhist monasteries, museums and lost cities  . Then the road travels towards Haripur Hazara in the Hazara region followed by Havailiyan the last train station in this region before entering into the beautiful and large city of Abbotabad. This is a garrison city and has a huge Army cadet training facility. It is surrounded by mountains full of Pine trees providing excellent views. One could spend a number of days exploring around Abbotabad by making it the central hub. On the northeast side the road joins this city with famous hill station of Muree and other Galli's. The major route coming out from here is the Karakorum Highway towards the up north of Pakistan.

Our bus started the journey with a little delay and soon we were on the Grand Trunk Road heading towards Texila, Wah Cant. and Abbotabad. We were anxiously waiting for the mountains to start. It took about two hours and we finally entered the mountains. First it looked like a rugged terrain but then it became green as we reached near Abbotabad. After Abbotabad we passed through rice paddies, corn and vegetable fields. There were a number of fruit orchards in the area. The road snaked through pine forests and we crossed Mansehra from where there is another route that leads to the Kaghan Valley and finally joining the KKH after the Babusur Pass. Its a difficult dirt track that goes through very high mountains  and pass through very beautiful valleys of Kaghan, and Naran.

The road remained in the green mountains until we reached the town of Batagram and then the landscape started changing into more drier and rugged surroundings. Soon KKH met the mighty Indus that we were dying to see. The Indus is the longest and the mightiest rivers in the region and it has a different feeling that cant be explained in words. I traveled along this river several times and it puts me in a trans always. Many years later I traveled the whole of KKH on the top of the bus and I cannot forget that. I would have missed the actual pleasure and thrill had I not done that.

At Thakot KKH entered into Swat Region and left the Hazara behind. The main Swat valley is attached with the KKH at Besham Qila. A road joins Swat valley to these areas at Besham town. The progress was bit slow on the bus and the weather was terrible and touching a whopping 45 degress centigrades and offcourse the bus was not air conditioned. There were a number of stops on the way. We tried to cool us down on each stop by washing our heads with cold water from streams. The heat was killing us but we were determined. Still we had to spend a number of hours in the bus as it had become our mini home. We were friends with the bus driver as we were sitting next to him. The day was almost over and the night was falling in, but the journey was far from over. Night drive becomes very tricky in the mountains. Extreme concentration is required for such driving and we being the co-drivers would be awake to give our driver a company. Soon Wasim was snoring and my shoulder could feel his weight and I was left alone to keep driver a company. We had a couple of rest stops during the night on truck hotels. Time was passing very slow and was really testing us. 18 hours passed but we didn't reach Gilgit and were told it is still 6 hours away.

After we passed Besham we entered into Kohistan Region at Pattan. We crossed a number of suspenssion bridges built by Chinese and Pakistan Army engineers . It took several years to build the KKH and many people lost their lives while constructing this engineering marvel through the rugged mountains of Karakorum. There are about 90 odd suspension bridges build on this highway. No wonder KKH is called the 9th wonder of the world. During the course we drove on either side of the river Indus. KKH was officially opened for travel in 1978 for residents and in 1981 for the foreigners. About 8000 tons of dynamite was used to remove 30 million cubic yards of earth and rock to build this road.

I was up the whole way and did not miss a single turn of the drive. The day was breaking out while we were doing the final stretch of the journey to Gilgit. We had passed Chilas where a track from the mountains joined the road. It descended from the Babusur Pass and it is the same track that left us to go through the Kaghan valley at Mansehra. The valley was widening up now. Chilas is very hot during the day and very cold during the night. Soon after chilas we reached the Raikot bridge, from where a track goes through a very hot stretch towards the base camp of the great Nanga Parbat (9th highest in the world and also called as The Killer Mountain) considered to be one of the most difficult mountains for climb. The famous fairy meadows also falls on the way after a days hike. A number of climbers have lost their lives while climbing it. Nanga Parbat rises up to 26650 feet above sea level and has the second largest vertical drop in the world. The first largest gorge is in Nepal. Soon after we crossed Raikot we started getting a view of snow capped mountains.

We crossed Jaglot and the Gilgit River joined the Indus here. The road to Skardu had passed already, all the climbing expeditions to the K2, Masherbrum, Gasherbrum, Teram Kangri, and The Broad Peak etc take this road to reach Skardu and then continue further. We were out of NWFP and were already in the Northern Areas. Pakistan is gifted with several mountains in this region, 5 out of them are above 8000 feet above sea level and three out of them fall in the top ten on earth and one out of these is the second highest in the world – The Mount K2 also called as Godwin Austin or as the locals call it The Chogori. We would be going to Skardu on the second leg of our journey. We looked towards it and left a message that we will be coming to explore the beauty of Indus in further detail, in a few days time.

It was later in the morning when we made it to the Natco bus stop in Gilgit. Our bags were unloaded and we headed towards the Chinar Bagh located at the banks of Gilgit River for our first camp. It was fairly long walk and we were carrying our rucksacks with the entire load for the first time. Day was warm and we were very tired because of the 24-hour bus journey in a very hot and humid weather. We thought to pitch the tent and take some rest, but our first blunder proved to be forgetting the famous bamboo sticks at the bus stop. These were the same sticks we brought to erect the tent. Two of us had to walk all the way back to see if those were still there, and we got lucky enough to find them safe at the same spot we left them. Once we were back we erected our little tent and felt really good. As the camping started we were bugged by a million flies and bugs as the afternoon approached. We tried to sleep in the tent but it was too hot in it leaving us no option but to take shelter under the tree from the blazing sun. It was hard to believe that we were in the mountains and were facing such weather. Somehow we survived and the evening fell. We brought some Chappal Kebab and Naan for the dinner. Dinner was served and as the weather changed in the evening that made it possible for us to get into our tent.

It was an amazing evening at the roaring river bank. We were the only camp erected there. In the afternoon we had an interesting dip in the water. Because of the heat and the long journey when we were done setting up our tent, we changed into our swimming costumes and ran to the river to have a dip. Everyone was running back as soon as they touched the water, the water was very cold and it was almost impossible to even touch it. Finally we gathered courage and washed ourselves and freshened up. Now we were sitting on the side about 1000 kilometers away from our home in Lahore, and were enjoying the fast flow of the water producing a continuous and loud thundering sound. The evening had clear skies. Weather in the mountains change rapidly and that’s exactly what happened as soon as the darkness of the night fell in. We heard the thunders and the wind really picked up. That was the last thing on our cards due to our lousy tent that was not capable of holding against the winds or the rain. We all gathered in the tent and were really praying for the best. This was our first ever night in a tent and our first ever independent trip far from home and our first bad weather while camping. The winds were really picking up and we were hoping that the wind might take the clouds away. We could see the lightening and hear the thunders as if those were right over our tent. Our tent was shaking and was sitting just because of the weight of four people sitting in with their luggage. It was quite terrifying for some of the folks. The end result was according to our wishes and the wind really took the clouds and their thunders away after roaring at us for 2-3 hours. We were fast asleep as soon as the skies cleared.

DAY 5,6 & 7

We could hardly get any sleep due to various reasons but anyhow were brushing our teeth at the river early in the morning. It was bit chilly but not cold and was looking like a bright and a hot day ahead. We had a walk across the river through the hanging bridge and visited a FWO Frontier Corps installation where we met a Col. who was from Lahore and was very warm. After we told him our plans of visiting Naltar and our intention to camp up there, he suggested to book the FWO rest house located in Naltar in a Picture perfect setting and not to camp up there as it was a cold place. He gave us his reference and sent us to another office responsible for the bookings of rest houses. It was in the main Gilgit town. We took the small Suzuki vans used as public transport and found the place soon. We got the booking without any problem.

The camp was already packed and the luggage was transported to the bus stop. There is a local bus that goes to the last village before the dirt track snakes up the mountains to go the Chotta (Small) Naltar and then five kilometers beyond to the Naltar Bala (Upper). From the last bus stop at Nomal the total distance to Naltar Bala (upper) is about 17 kilometers while Nomal is 25 kilometers from Gilgit sitting on the west bank of Hunza River. The bus route enters into a dirt track soon after leaving Gilgit. People also travel on jeeps to Naltar that takes 2 hours.

Our plan was to start the trekking after leaving the bus at Nomal. We reached Nomal in the early afternoon and were already walking on the rough and dusty trek to Naltar. Being our first hiking and not knowing how much weight was ideal to carry, we were going to learn everything the hard way. After a couple of kms our bodies started wearing out due to the weight especially on Wasim’s and my backs. The track was extremely rough and dusty and was ascending rapidly. It was going alongside a small river/stream gushing down through the rocks and boulders producing a huge roar. The track was disappearing into the mountains when we looked up and the steepness was increasing. It didn’t take long for us to get dead tired, although we were young but other than the regular sports we played we didn’t prepare ourselves especially for any sort of hike, considering it as a regular walk. Now we were feeling that we should have trained ourselves for the trip in a better manner. Our water bottles were over as it was quite hot on the track and the river was quite down and unreachable. We were slow and so were the kilometers. Then the track descended across the ridge and it went close to the river giving us an opportunity to fill our bottles and drink as much we wanted.

By now the track had taken the maximum toll on Wasim’s and Qaiser’s stamina and as the evening was falling even earlier due to walking in the mountains and gorges, everyone was just dragging the bodies. It was an unforgiving late afternoon. Everyone thought that we would not be able to make it, especially Wasim and Qaiser. We gave them the sticks for support from the tent but didn’t help much. Then Adel and myself took much of the load and carried on top of the luggage we had. This gave them a little strength to continue but their condition was getting worst and we were nowhere closer to the rest house or any spot to camp. The track kept climbing up without giving us any sign of habitation even it made us think that we were on a wrong track but we continued with all the hiccups’. The journey was far from over and was bringing despair for us in our very first trekking of our lives. We were desperate to see a human as the evening was falling in. We were simply walking through the gorges and boulders; we would enter from one end into walls of rocks around us and then would continue to find another opening on the other end to enter another capsule like place. Wasim and Qaiser started to deteriorate fast and were adding to my worry as the group leader. We were literally pulling them with the sticks and that was making us even weaker with extra loads from their bags on the steep surface.

It was dark when we started to see some traces of life far up but it took us ages to cover that distance as the track was climbing to the sky to reach there. Some locals including children gave us a warm welcome. A young man was on his vacations, he was studying in Punjab University Lahore, and his vacation turned out to be a blessing for us. We requested him to get us some shelter so that we could spend the night there. He told us this was Lower Naltar and there were no rest houses or anything but comfort was the last thing on our minds. What we needed was a shelter to crash in. He understood our dead tired condition and asked around to open the small school building for us. It was a small school with a couple of rooms with broken windows. He warned us about the cold night. We had no other choice but to take the offer happily. We laid down our sleeping bags on the cold-cemented floor without any mats because we didn’t have any to take some well-deserved rest. The same fellow arranged some Chappati for us with some honey as a dinner. I would always be thankful to this man, he was very understanding, hospitable and kind-hearted.

We were trying to sleep in the cold room with open windows and were trying to give comfort to exhausted bodies, which they were not used to in such conditions. That was a long and tough day and we learned some very important lessons from it. First and the foremost to carry as little weight as possible when hiking in the mountains and secondly prepare yourself according to the terrain. We felt it all the more because it was our first trip.

Somehow we survived the cold night and already knew that our tent and sleeping bags were not good enough to camp on the higher mountains and we would be facing similar challenges later in our camping. The morning brought life to our bodies and we were fit and fresh again. There was a fresh water stream coming from a spring just behind the school building and then there was a big slope into the valley, from where one could see the small village down. We enjoyed the scenery around the village and eased ourselves in the below zero temperature. The dew had become ice but the stream was flowing fast however the water was extremely cold. My face got frozen as soon as I washed it but gave me such a fresh feeling. I felt that I was never tired and I never had the yesterday’s hike. Now we were fresh and happy enjoying the moments. We were six kilometers from Naltar Bala that was supposed to be our final destination for yesterday, but we were not ready to take a chance of hiking again because of our two tired team members. Therefore we rented a jeep to complete the journey. Our local friend came along to drop us at the rest house. The track was curving through the gorges and still going high. Soon the area opened up with terraced fields and pine trees all over. We entered a very small village, that was our destination but the rest house was on the other side of the deep canyon. Our friends dropped us with the guard at the rest house and went back. I had never seen any place more beautiful than this one before. The rest house was at the best possible location looking over to the other side of canyon where there were a couple of shops for groceries at the bottom of a rising mountain, on once side. It seemed that the place was just tucked in on a slide of a high mountain. And overlooking the ski area on the other end. The remaining two sides were pine forest. The building was an old colonial style rest house with only a couple of spacious rooms furnished ordinarily but equipped with fire wood place to keep the rooms warm in the very cold weather at this altitude.

Naltar is an Air Force training area with nice slopes for skiing and a few flying chairs those only operate in the winters. It is absolute green pasture surrounded by high peaks. There are some nice hiking trails around here and two spectacular lakes further up in the mountains. One could easily spend a few days to explore the area.

We enjoyed the day and relaxed ourselves in the rest house. The sun room had such a nice view and was furnished with nice sofas. We could also see the Naltar village on the other side of the canyon that had only one small hotel or teashop if we call it. We hiked around, walked through the village, and met some local people through whom we listened to the history of the place. As two of our mates were still not very functional physically, so we wanted to take it easy that day and to acclimatize ourselves. We trekked to the other side of the canyon to bring some food. We could have ordered it through the person in charge of the rest house but was much more expensive, though we ordered the dinner through him to have nice meal at night. The lunch was simple Chappati (bread) and some Daal. The dinner was fried potatoes and Chappati. We were unable to raise our friends’ energy level and Wasim was not feeling all right. The night was spent on comfortable beds for a change. We had put a lot of wood in the heater to keep us warm through the night. The heater was a big cylinder kind with a metal pipe going straight up through the roof as chimney. It kept going until we were dead asleep.

I was up very early and had another exploratory round in the area. I always find the morning very fascinating and full of freshness. And the morning colors of nature have no match at any other time of the day. Early morning walk gave me extra freshness and energy and I was ready for more adventure but not my other two friends. Adel was doing all right and he accompanied me for the walk as well. Breakfast was tea, boiled eggs and some bread that we enjoyed in the sunroom. We had planned to go to the Upper Naltar lake today, originally the idea was to hike up there but we had to rent a jeep due to the condition of our friends. The jeep took us through the lush valley into the pine forest. We also passed a massive area of pines those were all broken into halves. It was a very painful sight, and we were told that the storm last year brought so much of landslides that this whole area was destroyed. It looked like that someone had really crushed the humongous trees into smaller pieces. The track full of boulders and rocks continued until we reached a dead end for the jeep track. There was dense pine forest ahead. The guys told us that we would have to walk for about 30 minutes to reach the lake and that would become a challenge for the two out of four in our group. We consulted Wasim and Qaiser and they showed us better spirits and wanted to come along to the lake. And this decision was so important as if they had missed it, they would have missed a lifetime opportunity. The track went through nice pine trees and as there had not been many visitors in this area, everything seemed to be in a natural setting. What could be more beautiful than this and when we reached the lake we got to know what could be more beautiful. We could see the wild trout running around in the green lake of crystal clear waters that was not much visited area. The lake was untouched and was such a place where one would want to spend the life. There were some trees even in the extended parts of lake producing extra ordinary views. We spent a couple of hours exploring the area; there was no one else there except our group and one guide. We loved each and every moment of this time and left the place sad because we dreamed of spending the rest of our lives there. The track back was again through the jungle and we reached our jeep after some time. Jeep started traveling back to the rest house. The rest of the day was spent exploring again. We were in love with the place and the scenery. We had some tea and boiled eggs for more energy but Wasim didn’t feel much better and another small hike to the lake made him worst. The night fell and we hit our cozy beds, it was decided that we’ll go to Gilgit and will see of Wasim so that he could go back and see a doctor.


The next morning started as usual with a morning hike and sightseeing. The jeep came right after that, we hopped on and started our journey back to Gilgit some 40 odd kilometers away. It took us about 2-3 hours to reach Gilgit and to face the heat again. We went straight to the bus station and bought a ticket for Wasim on a coach going to Rawalpindi a few hours later. We spent the time roaming around in the bazaars of Gilgit. Wasim picked up a couple of things, as he had to cut his journey short, we were very sad because of this development. Qaiser wanted to stay though he was not in the best of shape either. He was given the option but he stuck around. Then it was time to say goodbye, Wasim left us and headed home without completing the journey.

We moved on to camp somewhere and ended up in a hotels small lawn for a small payment. We camped under an apricot tree. The hotel manager allowed us to use his kitchen therefore we thought of having our first stint of cooking ourselves. None of us had ever cooked before and had no idea what we were getting into. We bought some rice and some lentils, we were not aware of the quantity required. Utensils from the hotel kitchen were used to cook, and we ended up putting so much of rice in the pot that was good for 10 people and we were just three of us. Same mistake was made for the lentils. At the end we were unable to cook a good meal and had to distribute it to other people staying there due to the enormous quantity of food, despite the awful taste and poorly cooked, people ate it.

It was late afternoon and we spent some time on the river and strolled alongside it. We had a chat with few people there. The day was hot but the evening became pleasant. We were bugged by flies and other insects during the later afternoon but ended up with a comfortable evening. A group gathered in the verandas of the hotel for nice discussion and notes were exchanged. We met an interesting person from Karachi who was a chemical engineer who loved mountains but his visits included an excursion to some areas where he used to extract gold out of the river sand. He showed us his equipment and told us the procedure to find and extract gold. It was a revelation for us and we listened to him with interest. There were few other tourists staying in the hotel who shared their experiences and we shared ours. The night was uneventful. The next day we would be heading to Skardu – the head quarter for all the hiking expeditions to one of the highest cluster of mountains in the world. All the hiking expeditions to Mount K2 and other peaks must stop in this town to load up their supplies, and to hire porters for their expeditions. You could stumble across a famous climber in this town.


We packed our bags and were lighter than when we came to Gilgit the first time. We sent all extra stuff back with Wasim due to the experience we gained on our first hike. But this way we were short of some supplies as well. Though the spirits were high and we were looking forward to see Skardu and surroundings. This was another long journey through rugged mountains and the road travels next to the Indus mighty. We were traveling on NATCO (Northern Areas Transport Company) bus, which were the most popular in the area. The journey was long and tiring and took about 8 hours to Skardu. The distance was not huge but the mountain terrain and the road conditions were challenging. The bus had some stops and we cooled ourselves at each break and had some lunch at one break also . The journey continued through canyons or gorges on the rough track. The road had vanished at many places due to landslides and bad weather, and the work was in progress to restore the patches. The bus was just gliding at many portions. The river along the road was roaring through the gorges and due to the slops the water traveled at enormous speeds. We could see the water flying high after hitting the rocks. We kept making progress slowly and finally was dropped at the main bazaar of Skardu.

Just before our visit there had been some unrest in the whole of Northern Areas and some religious factions fought each other and many people lost their lives. This was the first ever event in the area when such an event happened. One could sense the tension in the air. Some people suggested us not to camp but we stuck to our plan. We visited the Police Station and they took our details and the place where we intended to camp. However they also suggested avoiding the camping if we could, but we didn’t have a choice due to our small budget and a long journey still ahead of Skardu. We walked down to the Polo ground, our intended place of camp and looked around and marked the area where we would come back in the evening. We came back to the main street and had some food. While there we found some of our friends from school who were also visiting Skardu and were staying in a hotel just next door. We had a good chat with them there and spent time with them until the evening. During our diner we met another gentleman named Aziz who was from Karachi and was visiting North with his father. He was a real good man, I chatted with him on the restaurant balcony and it was already nighttime when our friends along with our new friend walked us to the Polo ground to camp.

We had fears at the back of our minds due to the current situation but erected the tent in the dark, as there was no moon light that day. We were very tired so we just jumped into our sleeping bags and went to sleep. The polo ground was a bed of rocks and dirt and the surroundings were also rugged without a green patch in sight. It seemed to be a dried waterbed to us. I suddenly got up with some unusual sound around the camp as if someone was walking around the camp. All those people who suggested not to camp just ran through my mind. Creepy feeling bothered me and I slowly woke up my cousine Adel as I didn’t want to wake Qaiser up as he was already scarred when we came to this sport last night. We both accessed the situation but the sound kept coming very close to the tent and was not going away. We prayed for our safety and obviously were scared. Eventually our fear changed into bravery and we planned that Adel would open the tent zipper and I would run out with the only weapon in custody our camping knife while Adel will follow me. Our hearts were pounding.

Finally we came out yelling as if we were in the war field about to have a hand to hand fight. I came out and then Adel with our knives and flashlights in our hands to finally take care of the situation. To our astonishment we were unable to find anyone out there. We camped very near to the slope from where one could go out of the ground therefore we ran up to see someone might ran away from there but to no avail. With the noise we made Qaiser inquired and we told him what happened in the last hour or so. He got scarred and refused to sleep at this place, and insisted that we remove our tent and go somewhere else. It was 1:30am and police knew our whereabouts; therefore leaving this place was not feasible. And all the more to find a place to stay at this time was almost impossible. We tried to reason with him but he was so scared that he was not ready to listen to us. We spent 30 minutes to argue with each other, when we saw someone walking towards our tent from the far end of polo ground. It was quite cold at that time. We got prepared for the good or the bad. When he came to us and asked if everything was all right, he sounded friendly and that brought some relief for us. We investigated that who he was and why he came here in these late hours. In small towns you hardly see people late at night and that’s why we talked to him for sometime for our assessment of the situation. Finally we assessed that he was clean, he told us that he worked in the cinema house on the other side of the ground and was going back to his place after finishing the work. Once we were friendly and our confidence in him was increased, we told him our situation and the development in the last hour or so. He suggested we could take our stuff and he could hook us up with some driver hotel not too far from there. Qaiser joined him right away and refused to spend any more time where we were.

We were left with no option but to remove our tent, repack everything at this hour and move on. That good man waited for us while we finished packing. This was our first such encounter in life. We walked slowly towards the bazaar with the heavy loads on our backs. We reached an old couple of rooms shop or hut whatever we call it. There was a small entrance door with a small window on the side. We knocked at the door but no one opened it. It was after few times that we heard someone saying something in the Balti language. Our host told them something about our situation and us. He told him that we were travelers and needed some space to spend the night. The person inside told him that there was no space available and it was full with the jeep and bus drivers and he couldn’t even walk inside. We were refused entry there. I suggested my friend to tell him to let us to the open roof and we would go early in the morning, so he offered him the same with small payment as a rent as well. The door was opened and the strange kind of smell hit our nostrils. The small place was loaded with human bodies sleeping everywhere on the floor in the dirty beddings. Some more negotiation was done before he let us to the roof. It was a mud house and the roof was clay finished. We thanked the person and went to the roof. It was very cold at this time. We spread our tent and slide into our sleeping bags. We even put the extra lining (a Loeee a local made blanket that we carried as our sleeping bags were not very warm and they could not resist to cold temperature) in the sleeping bags to give us some warmth but it was not working at 3 ‘o clock early in the morning. We were shivering with cold and were waiting for the night to get over as soon as possible. Terribly cold night at a terrible hotel.

DAY 10

The night was finally over and I watched the sky the remaining night. I was assessing the situation, I was enjoying a different experience, I was hoping to get more and more travels in my life, I was recalling all the moments of this trip and I was impressed with the nature. Travel is a big teacher and one learns practical from traveling and meeting people of different walks of life. I was happy to be away from the city and was enjoying every moment despite the challenges and the hardships faced. Before the sunrise I had promised with my own self that I am going to continue this interest.

We were up anyhow when the day broke out. We packed up and moved out of that place. After having light breakfast we gained some energy and our bodies came back to normal temperature. Sunny day helped us too. We had a plan to visit Shangrila that we had only seen in some calendars’. Shangrila is a resort situated on Kachura Lake, it all started when an old plane that belly landed in the Indus many years ago was bought by a business man and was pulled to this lake to make it part of his resort. The popularity of this place kept increasing since then. There are few other resorts and hotels on the lake as well. The plantation on the lake and the surroundings are amazing. We took a jeep and we were on the way to Shangrila. We enjoyed the whole way as the mountain terrain hypnotizes me always. We were stunned as soon as we had the first glimpse of the lake and the surroundings. It was a picturesque setting, a crystal clear lake dotted with beautifully built cottages around it. We had coffee and snack at one of the restaurants there and enjoyed the place. We hiked around the lake to discover further beauty. Orchards of fruits were loaded with apricots, walnuts, apples and other fruits. The Shangrila resort was very well maintained but pricey at the same time. There was another cheaper choice on the lake in addition to a few rest houses owned by different government departments.

Skardu is the capital of Baltistan and when summer arrives this place becomes home for climbing and trekking expeditions. There are several glaciers in the region, Baifo, Battura, Hispar, Siachin to name a few. Siachin is the largest glacier on earth outside the arctic region. Baltistan is blessed with several mountains and is a paradise for mountain climbers and rock climbers. Baltistan is sandwiched between China and Indian held Kashmir. It is extremely mountainous region having average altitude of 11000 feet above sea level. The people of Tibet descend and the area is also referred as Little Tibet.

We were traveling back to Skardu after a short stay at Shangrila. After coming back to the town we stayed at our friends hotel to take some rest. During the dinner at the restaurant we met a gentleman name Wajid Shah who worked for a bank in Skardu. He was a very friendly and nice guy. He offered to show us around the next day and told us not to book any jeep for that day. Both our new friends were educated people and had very positive views about life. We all planned together to go to Satpara Lake the next morning. The nights in Skardu are magical nights, during the dinner you meet different people and then the groups chat either on the balcony or in the lounge. Aziz and myself came out on the balcony and chatted very late into the night after dinner. It was an awesome feeling and a wonderful company. We discussed life in general, our trip in detail, our ambitions, sports, mountains, our experiences and what not. I loved his company while the others enjoyed in the lounge in a larger gathering. I was very late when our friends walked us to the camping place and we spent the night in cold weather under our teepee kind of tent. There were only a few hours left to spend the night therefore an uneventful night just passed quickly.

DAY 11

We were packing again to go to our friend’s hotel to execute the day’s plan. We brushed our teeth and got ready in their bathroom. Mr. Wajid came at the promised time in his Land Cruiser and we already knew the day is going to be a luxurious one that we were not used to during the current trip. We were driven out of the town on a rough unpaved track towards Satpara Lake. Satpara Lake was a valley filled with water and had a small island in the middle. It was a spectacular sight. Any lake that we were visiting had its own value in terms of the scenery and surroundings. None of the lakes were identical and all provided unique landscape and beauty. There was no monotonous feeling but only freshness at each new lake or site. We took a boat ride in the lake to enjoy it more closely. Then we tried our lucks at a hanging basket used for crossing onto the island. It was a different thing for us; a metal string attached on either side and then a wooden basket called doli was just hanging onto it. One had to pull the other rope to pull towards the other end. This doli was too old and when you reached in the middle it touched the water giving a creepy feeling. I made my clothes wet and then hurriedly pulled myself back to the starting side.

We all sat in the cafeteria and had nice tea and snacks. The company was great and the discussions were interesting. Mr. Wajid told us many stories about the area and the people. Then we went to the opposite side of the lake and saw the source of the lake, the rivers serving the lake had a big delta while providing the water source for the late. It was a nice sight to watch water coming into a reservoir and creating a sizable lake. The water was gathering in a spectacular valley and the surrounding mountains were adding to the glory of the lake. We clicked one of the best pictures at this location.

The return journey was equally interesting in the same company. Everyone shared their experience of travels. But they seemed to be quite impressed with our quest. They were appreciative towards our will to complete our journey despite not having the proper equipment and resource. They wanted us to tell them stories about our journey so far, which we happily shared with them. We told them about our nights in Naltar and our journey starting from Lahore. All days we spent in this journey so far were full of adventure and we loved the whole experience so far.

We spent the rest of the day roaming around in the Skardu and its little bazaar. We met many people and had nice chat with them; we felt a part of this place as we made many friends during our trip on Skardu. Tomorrow we would be saying good-bye to all of them and moving on with our journey.

DAY 12

The Natco bus was traveling towards Gilgit through the Rocky Mountains and the Indus was running parallel on one side. Everyone was yawning due to the very early morning bus.

It was still dark when Aziz Sb. came to say Bye to us. We had a few foreigners in our bus and we were the only Pakistani tourists in the whole bus. The remaining people were all locals from the Northern Areas. Everyone just stayed in their own groups and we didn’t have any interaction with any one else except the three of us. Breaks on the way were usual for water and food. There was a white couple sitting on our left side and we felt that they wanted to talk to us but they could not gather enough courage to do that on the way. There were few other foreigners scattered in the bus. The road was quite dangerous at certain areas due to the landslides, the bus was screaming at the steep locations, the road was not wide enough and our bus was hardly fitting on it. At many places the oncoming traffic or our bus had to stop at one side to make room for the other vehicles to pass through, though at other places it was a good tarmac road of single lane going on each side.

We reached Gilgit in the afternoon and it was quite hot in Gilgit at that time. We collected our luggage and were about to move on when the Swiss lady from our bus came to us and asked for help finding them a hotel and if possible to let them join us for the remaining excursions while we were there. We happily agreed to help them. They were happy that their language barrier with the locals was over. We found a nice hotel for them and then walked to the Chinar Bagh to setup our tent.

Mr. Wajid gave us his friend’s number in Gilgit and prompted us to call him to meet. We made a call and found him very soft-spoken and kind hearted guy who invited us to his place right away. His driver picked us up from Chinar Bagh and drove us to his beautiful house in the suburbs of Gilgit. His house was hidden in several fruit trees. He greeted us in his lawn where there was arrangement for sitting already. We sat in the garden and talked about different things for an hour. We found this gentleman a very honorable and hospitable man; he was very well respected in the political and social circles of the Northern Areas. It was an honor meeting him, he told us about the area and the people, history and the culture. The meeting was very informative and interesting. We were treated with tea and some bakery along with fruits from the trees in their yard. The apricots were the most delicious I ever had. We said good-bye to the gentleman and were dropped back at the camp with a promise of being picked up the next day for excursion around Gilgit.


The warm night was over and we were getting ready after brushing our teeth and washing our cloths at the river. We had some company from yesterday as another group of boys were camping at Chinar Bagh and were heading to K2 base camp. Last night was a group discussion and everyone shared their experiences and their trips. A good and informative session, but I think they were just making up things about their trips overall to impress us.

Today we had a leisure day as we were going out on our friend’s jeep to explore more areas around Gilgit. Our Swiss friends were also going with us.
The driver was very knowledgeable and proved to be a good guide. He showed us around Gilgit the places which were about not more than 1.5 hours away. He took us to budhist carving on the mountains, and a few other interesting places. It was a very nice day out.


Hunza is the most visited valley by foreigners due to its beauty and hospitality of the local people (towards the white skin customers - atleast that is my experience). Hunza is located on Karakoram highway and is the second last town before the highway enters into Sinkiang Province of China. It is famous for its greenery, fruit orchards, hiking trails, Hunza water, history and long life of its natives. This is a small town situated just off of the famous highway and a must to visit for anyone going to the Northern Areas of Pakistan. Due to a number of attractions it is a busy place and the people in the main street, where most of the hotels are located, are quite rude towards Pakistani visitors. I understood only one reason that we were not carrying $$$s but rupees so the people have changed their priorities or at least we did not get the best of our experience in our trip as we had at all other places during our trip.

We had a wonderful trip the previous day on our friend’s jeep. It was a fun filled day. But our adventure started again in the morning, as we could not get accustomed with the luxury and wanted to rough out even more.

Natco bus was cruising along the road to cover the ten odd kilometers from Gilgit to join Karakoram Highway. As usual it was early morning and most of the bus was empty. Our friends the Swiss couple tagged along and they wanted to travel with us due to the language benefit and the good company. We were also enjoying their company; both of them were doctors and were on a few months excursion tour of South East Asia. They loved their trip through Pakistan so far. There was another white guy named Neil from Canada and he was going to Hunza as well. That was pretty much it in the bus. We all became a good group and friends very soon and planned our next few days together. This was our first encounter traveling with foreigners and it was a great experience. Our English was poor but it was still better than the Swiss doctors. Communicating in English for the first time was fun and a learning experience for us. From here onwards we did all local communication on our friends behalf.

Karakoram is amazing in this leg of the trip. It soon joined the Hunza River that joins into Gilgit River, which merges into the Great Indus. Rakaposhi a very pretty mountain comes on the right hand side of the road almost half way to Hunza. The total journey is about 2 hours from Gilgit. The spectacular view of the snow-covered mountain touched our hearts; it is definitely a glorious peak standing tall at about 7778 meters from sea level. We were lucky to have a glimpse of it as usually it is covered with clouds.

Our bus stopped and we saw a big landslide had blocked the road. The workers were trying to clear the road at the fastest pace. Traffic on either side stopped and we took a stroll in the road. When you are in the North, the smell is different, the environment is different and ones behavior becomes different as you spend more time there. I was falling in love with the mountains and the rivers, as I felt very close to The Almighty; and I got such a sense of belonging to this place and that will have to be proven in the coming years. Nature always impresses me and I could never forget this first trip of mine. Adel and myself made an excellent team though we had some issues with Qaiser due to his incompliance to team work. It took a few hours to clear the road and the journey started again. The bus negotiated with steeps and turns well and the bus driver’s skills were commendable. Finally we were dropped off at the bus stop, from where we couldn’t see any town or hotels. Later we were told that the village is couple of kilometers higher than the road on the dirt road and we’ll have to take the jeep taxi to reach our final destination for that day.

We made it to Hunza safe and started to find a hotel as the whole group decided to stay together and we also felt that our tent may not be able to resist the cold at this altitude as it happened before. A few hotels were visited and one was selected at a good location with marvelous views towards Rakaposhi. The room was a big one with separate single beds for all of us, though it was little over our daily budget. This day was spent exploring the small town. We had a nice walk up and down the small bazaar and browsed the shops filled with handy crafts and other items to attract the visitors especially the westerners. The price tags were accordingly put on. Few shopkeepers did not welcome us, as we were Pakistani travelers, so we moved on. However the other people (not doing business) were very welcoming and hospitable. We saw the Baltit fort, which was under renovations at the time of the visit and we met local people to have chat with them.

It is believed that Hunza Water (water from Hunza River and Streams) is the source of local people’s long life. We saw his amazing phenomenon, if you put this water in a glass, it will look as if the water is dirty due to it grey color. But amazingly if you leave it like that the dust of the shiny stuff doesn’t settle down and the water remains grey. It is full of minerals and people drink this water to stay healthy and to gain long life. The other thing that keeps these people extremely healthy is their life style as they work very hard in the fields for irrigation. These fields are small patches of land at different levers and if seen from far it looks like staircase of green vegetation. And last but not the least their healthy eating habits, as they eat a lot of fruits. We met a number of very old guys who were still working in the fields with the youngsters.

The evening was also very interesting as all the visitors gather in the dining rooms of the hotels or cafes to enjoy the evenings and late into the night. It was a fun filled evening; we enjoyed different discussions and groups. There was a Dutch couple staying at Hunza for the last several days as an unusual stop in their journey. Both of them were traveling on Bicycles and the man was hit by dehydration when they reached Hunza so they stayed over until he would recover from his illness. There were some Americans, French, Swiss, Belgians, Canadians, Spanish, British and from people from all over the world and from all walks of life. This was a real exposure for us. The evening turned into night and night turned into late night when we returned to our room to have some rest to make our bodies for the hike in the morning.


It was still dark when I woke up everyone. Neil and we planned to leave early for Ultar Glacier and the Swiss would follow later. We got ready and started our trek through the Hunza village on a small trek diminishing into the mountains. The trek was beautiful and ok in the beginning but after some time it started to get harder and harder. We walked on the thin trek for about an hour and it steadily kept going up. But then it divided into two treks and we picked the one going to the right by our intuition. The trek only continued for some time and then it became a proper hike on rocky slopes. We were ill equipped and even our shoes were simple running shoes. There were no ropes or any support required for such hike. Neil was leading the way and he encouraged us to follow him. Soon it became proper rock climbing and we were stuck with the wall of rock going up at 90 degrees. It was becoming difficult and difficult for us to continue. I was sure that we had lost the track and were going in the wrong direction. But challenges make one perfect so we took this challenge and continued behind Neil who was wearing proper hiking shoes and was a veteran in the mountains and hiking. Qaiser was having a real hard time and I had to help him in his climb and had to be careful myself as well. This hike continued for a couple of hours and then we reached a bit of a flat surface where we could at least stand up. Its very hard for me to explain the view we saw when we turned around and looked at our backs. We were at the top of the world and every single detail was visible from this top. It was worth a hike. The easy part was up and now the tough part was to get down through the steep surface by just holding the rocks edges.

Qaiser refused to climb down; he was scared and was having nausea. We had to reason with him before he agreed to give it a shot. The descend was very slow as we had to be very careful, it was for sure a tough day for us and the most exciting one too. Our hearts were pounding as we were making descend through the very tough rocks. We were able to make it to the point where the trek divided into two. As now we were sure where we had gone wrong in choosing the trek. It was contemplated whether to attempt Ultar or hike back to Hunza, as it was quite late to make it to Ultar and then come back. The steel determination made us go towards the Ultar Glacier and we moved fast towards our target. But not for long as the trek started disappearing in to land slides and we were hiking in the very rocky terrain still going up on a reasonable angle. The movement became slow, as we had to negotiate with rocks to make our way. After a very tough couple of hours we could feel the cold under our feet and got to know that we had been walking on the glacier covered by rocks courtesy landslides. This was the start of the glacier but we were still a long way from our target destination. We met many westerners on the way, many of them gave up and turned back to reach Hunza in time. Adel also tagged along a couple of nice Swiss girls and had to call of his hike for the day. The other three continued as my shoe sole started wearing out and that made me slip a lot. We made a terrible mistake when Adel turned back as he took our snack bag and water with him by mistake. Now we had nothing to gain energy from but still continued hiking up and up.

It was getting very later when we crossed a couple from Switzerland who were coming from Ultar and they told us that we were not too far but the time was running out for us. Its very difficult to hike during the night especially when we were not equipped at all. We were not prepared at all but were pulling ourselves with determination. We were tired and hungry but had nothing to eat or drink. Far up in the mountains we were able to spot a few sheep and were sure that we were reaching to shepherds hut on Ultar. I did not take long for us to cover the remaining distance as we crossed the hut and continued further after meeting the shepherd who was staying there in the summer time for the cattle including some sheep, goats and a few yaks. He was a nice man and he offered us to eat with him, we were so low in energy that we could not say no as asked him to get us something to eat. We continued further and promised him that we would eat with him on our descend. When we returned, he had prepared fresh roti (bread for us with Lassi made out of yogurt made in sheepskin. There was some honey as well. It was a booster for the hungry souls, we paid him some money even if he resisted to it. Our journey back to Hunza started just before the sunset. We enjoyed to unforgettable views and scenery before we came back. Words may not be able to do justice to explain.

The way back was even harder as my shoe sole totally gave up and broke into two pieces and I was literally limping because of that. We saw some amazing piece of work by the Hunza people, who made water canals along side the mountains coming from the streams coming from the top to make an excellent irrigation system. It was hard to believe how they managed to go at such a height on the rock surface to make that canal that travels for miles and branches of for irrigation of the small patches of land.

We continued on a very rough surface fast but very careful as the visibility was reducing and we did not have any flashlights. We were the last party returning from the mountain, though we caught up a couple of other groups on the way down and crossed them. It was a lifetime experience and we were getting a full exposure of the North and hiking in our very first such trip. The sense of adventure was inexpressible. We continued in a very low visibility and on a very dangerous track due to several landslides. It was very dark when we made it back to the hotel dead tired. It was the toughest day of the trip but we enjoyed every bit of it.

We changed our hotel that night as we found a hotel just next to the one where we stayed much cheaper. This time we got two rooms for the group and we generously gave a separate room to the Swiss couple. The bathroom was shared though. The rooms were smaller than what we had the day before but we just needed to spend the night. In our room there were two beds and two people had to sleep on the floor. Adel and myself put our sleeping bag on the floor and gave the beds to Neil and Qaiser. After we gathered our energies we headed out for diner and met our friends from Skardu as they had reached Hunza as well. Their hotel was about a kilometer away and they were enjoying the company of several Chinese girls staying in their hotel. We had a round of cards with them too and found them excellent players. All the girls were friends and were traveling across Pakistan. The evening was very interesting and informative as we learned a few new things a few new words in another language and made more friends. Adel and me came back to the café where we spent last evening and joined the rest of the group from yesterday, however Qaiser stayed with the other group and promised to come back to the room in a couple of hours.

After spending some time at the café we called it a day and came back to the room. Neil also retired soon and we kept waiting for Qaiser as he was a childlike and was our responsibility. He did not come until midnight and we had to go search for him and found him coming with the other group who was coming to drop him off in the chilly night. We slept quite late but got up at our usual time to move on with the trip.


Sust is the last town before China on the Pakistan side and it is the custom check post. Due to an agreement between China and Pakistan, Pakistani bus takes passengers from Sust to the first city in China namely Kashghar and come back empty while the Chinese buses bring passengers to Sust and travel back empty. I could not figure out the logic but there must be some reason behind this agreement. There was not much to offer in Sust but it was full of tourist due to it location on the border.

We started the day slow and took shower, washed some cloths before we came down to the Karakorum to catch the bus, which came with in one hour after we reached down. The road continued in the same manner as before offering views and made us reach Sust. There were a few hotels in Sust but we changed our skin back to what we came for and opted for camping. We camped next to a Camp restaurant operated by a nice man; we called him Chacha (uncle). He happily allowed us to camp there. It didn’t take us long to pitch our tent as we had become master of that by now. We had a round of other hotels in the area and found rooms for our Neil and the Swiss docs. We also made to Dutch young men staying in Sust already.

We said good-bye to each other until the evening and planned to have dinner together at Chacha’s restaurant. Neil would continue his travel into China while the Swiss would go back with us to Gilgit where we would split.

The evening approached and so the cool wind. It became quite cold by evening and added to our worries on how to spend the night in the cold weather. Though in the Kitchen tent it was very warm as Chacha was cooking diner for all of us. He was very happy with us as we brought business to his small hut from the hotels, so he wanted to provide us with the best food he could cook. We all assembled and actually were joined by some more foreigners for this wonderful gathering and dinner. We all sat on the mat on either side of a low height table used as the dining table. The environment was charismatic and it seemed like a fairytale to us. Sitting in the middle of nowhere enjoying such a wonderful company. Everyone cracked a joke or two and everyone participated in the discussion. It was full moon that added to the glory of the night. This was a V-shaped tent with cold coming from one side and warmth from the traditional stove (by burning wood) from the other side. Everyone was just tucked into the tent to enjoy the cozy feeling. What a comfort it provided us and we thoroughly enjoyed the simple food cooked by this beautiful person with love and affection. No one wanted to call it a day and continued with this gathering well into the early morning hours, when everyone became so tired that had to go back to their beds in their respective hotels except us. We moved from the warm tent to our cold tent to finish the night awake and shivering.

DAY 17

We could no sleep so there was almost no point of waking up in the morning. We dosed off for some time when the sun came and we warmed up our cold bodies. We got out and got ready for the day. Today we had a plan to visit Khunjerab Pass the highest Pass and the international border at 16002 feet above sea level.

We had to arrange our ride to Khunjerab, last night we met a group who were medical students from Lahore and they wanted to go to the same place in sharing vehicle. Therefore we went to their hotel to ask them the program, they agreed to share the van with us and split the cost. We were only three today and they were about ten people. We came to the bus stop and rented a mini van for the return trip. The road to Khunjerab is beaten up and there are certain points on the way where water rises and the road vanishes into it. So the timing to travel from that area is vital. When it is bit hot the snow melts on the mountains leading to produce more water in those small lakes and flooding the road. No traffic could pass through until the water level goes down. One has to take a calculated chance and the local drivers know the best times to cross these places.

Our van started on pretty flat surface but soon started the ascend and went through some big glaciers and small lakes. There were walls of snow on either side and there was a small path snaking through it, only one vehicle could pass through it at one time. These places were really tricky as the van was not a four-wheel drive either. But the driver knew what he was doing and we continued our journey. As one goes high in altitude the air becomes thin and sensitive people start getting breathing issues as the altitudes increases. Some of the folks with us complained about such problem or they felt that psychologically. When we reached the top at the China border the van stopped and we enjoyed the expanse of snow that we saw for the first time in our life. The air had really become thin and everyone felt that after a few steps some rest was required. But we wanted to enjoy the place so we made one slide by sliding on a slope and just did sledging on our butts by putting our jackets under. It was very difficult to go up after taking one slide due to the heavy breathing. After a few we were all done and we came back to the van. A couple of people were having more breathing issues therefore it was decided to head back to Sust before we get into any trouble. The journey back to Sust was uneventful except water overflow at one location where the driver drove with his skills as he suggested the water was rising as if we would not pass then it would be after a few hours when we could make another attempt. We made it safely to Sust before the evening.

Today was the feast day, as Neil had to finish the tinned food he brought from Islamabad before entering into China and that was the next day. So all the food he had, to be finished and he bought some extra from there as well. This included good Pakistani delicious dishes. The whole group from yesterday was invited at Chacha’s hotel to enjoy to night out. We assembled earlier than we thought, as everyone wanted to enjoy this wonderful company as yesterday. This would be the last night together as everyone would be going his or her own directions from the next day. It was a good but sad evening as we were not ready to go away from such a company that only lasted for a few days. It seemed that we knew each other for years and as if we were the natives of this land and never would go back. We belonged to this area with in this short time spent there. We loved traveling in the region and had no intention to leave as yet. But our trip was towards its end and the money was running out, leaving us no choice but to go back to our hectic lives, go back to the artificial life of the city, go back to the hustle and bustle of the regular life as it gives you.

The night could not be forgotten due to the amount of joy and happiness it embedded into my life that became a part of me forever. We enjoyed the best diner of our trip and stuffed ourselves with whatever was available. We had the best company in any evening of our trip and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Chacha also added a few dishes into tonight’s menu, which he cooked for us with affection. The environment added to the glorious evening. It was yet another amazing night, we sat and chatted endlessly with all the friends. Everyone sounded bit sad towards the end, but that is how the travel works. Life goes on – the night fell cold as the time passed and we tried to keep ourselves warm in our miserable tent. As the morning approached, that brought us the good news of being survived another night and also it brought some life to the cold bodies.

As we were approaching the last leg of our trip, some kind of depression was attacking our subconscious. We were sad that we were going to leave this wonderful area with in the next couple of days. But one has to get back to reality and we had to get back to it as well. Our studies, our career, our families and all the comforts of the city were waiting for us and no matter how much we would try, we would be getting back to that life which we call normal life in today’s standard.

We would be saying good-bye to all our friends and everyone would continue their journeys in their respective directions. Our next stop was Gilgit yet another time.


We traveled again on a Natco bus that was not so full with plenty of space available. We retraced our journey back to Gilgit with the same amazing road and the scenery. We were saying good-bye to the whole area we traveled until our next venture into this area. We passed through many villages and had numerous stops. We had tea on the way and chatted with the driver and his helper. The weather started to warm up a bit as we approached the city of Gilgit. We reached our familiar bus stop and offloaded our luggage and walked to Chinar Bagh to camp out there. A few people told that there was unrest in the area again since the last couple of days; militants and frontier corps had some fire exchanged as well. They suggested us not to camp out in the wild. We requested a couple of hotels to let us camp in their facility that was turned down and we ended up with no choice but to camp at Chinar Bagh.

We did some shopping during the remaining day as we were left with some extra money after calculating our return tickets. We bought small things for our family members.

The night brought a strange feeling for us due to stories we heard after reaching here. We were not scared, as we were young and stupid not to understand the gravity of the situation. But we got a signal from nature to move our tent as the weather changed and heavy clouds came in. We moved to the other side of the road where there were some government buildings and there was a big green area there. At night there was no one there and we found some shaded area perfect for our camp as well. There was no one to take permission from, therefore we just went ahead and pitched our tent to spend the night. We felt much safer here as we were in some government facility and not in the bush. The thunders hit our ears badly and the lightening didn’t let us sleep but we kept ourselves warm in our tent.


We wrapped our tent and moved back to Chinar Bagh to have a bath at the river and to change. We had plenty of time at hand so we did not rush to get ourselves ready this morning. We took our time and then walked to the Natco bus stop to buy tickets to Rawalpindi our next stop on the way back to Lahore. For some strange reason as we were about to buy the tickets we changed our mind and thought of spending another night in Gilgit to see how the situation would change. A very stupid idea but at that time we were convinced to see some more adventure without having any idea of the repercussions.

We spent the whole day in and around Gilgit and explored every inch of this town. We roamed around all the bazaars and did not miss any shop carrying some outdoor stuff, most of which was used stuff sold by other western travelers. We found some shops interesting, selling herbs and stuff, local embroidery, some handy crafts and cloths. This town is the main source of rations and other stuff; people visit Gilgit to buy all their groceries etc. from far off villages. This has become the hub for purchases from Shandur Pass to Chilas to Khunjerab Pass to Skardu. It could be considered as the most important town in the Northern Areas of Pakistan. Especially since the Silk Road started operating the importance of the town even increased. There are only two airports in the North and one being at Gilgit and the major one. There are daily flights from Rawalpindi to Gilgit but all the flights are subject to weather conditions. Weather in the mountains changes rapidly and the flights have to return back even when they reach very close to the Gilgit Airport. The road is well paved but the landslides often happen and the road gets closed for hours and hours. One could be stranded in such a condition for hours and even for days. We learned a lot about the town and the people during our last two days at Gilgit. It was informative and relaxing at the same time as we didn’t do any hiking rather did miles and miles walk in and around the town which was mostly on a flat surface or at least on the paved or semi paved tracks. We found Lahori Channa and Naan to eat the last evening we were there and enjoyed this Punjabi food thoroughly; this restaurant was on a small cart. We had been on either Chappal Kebabs or Mash Daal most of our trip or else on biscuits and tea. We learned to eat anything or not even eat for extended hours only on this trip, this will help us in our upcoming trips and we would be able to ask anyone joining us in the trips to agree to these anticipated hardships before committing for any trip. When big groups travel together, agreement on such things is vital. The group has to listen to the leader and do what leader suggests or else decide before leaving for any expedition.

One has to change the habits on longer stretch of journeys as the comforts of home would not be available on rough and tough trips, the food may be pathetic but one has to eat it without hesitation to gain required energy to continue. One has to be giving, as travel is teamwork if you are a group. Team discipline and teamwork are the must ingredients for successful trips. We learned that right preparations would add to the pleasure of the trip, the preparations not only include the equipment required but also physical fitness and picking up the right team. Rules must be followed as these are laid down by the team leader and comply with the local traditions in the areas of the visit.

DAY 20 & 2 1

The bus was running at a good pace and was crossing the hot area of Chilas. There were many traders in our bus as the bus was fully loaded to the top with the goods they brought from China. Therefore we were making unscheduled stops due to custom checks and inspections. It was our luck that we picked up this bus. The journey was not ending as the night came and we were going through the area, which was hot and humid. We could not take a sleep at all; wherever the bus stopped we were attacked by flies and other insects. Off course the bus was not air-conditioned and we were facing the hot air coming in and burning our face. It was the most uncomfortable journey of our trip. As it is, we were going back home and return journey is always difficult. The spirits were low, we were sad and the journey was miserable. The bus got inspected at various stops and in the very hot night we were hoping for a quick finish for this leg.
It took us 24 hours instead of 16 to reach Rawalpindi, where we stopped briefly to continue to Lahore – our home.

We were back with loads of memories to cherish and tons of experience that could only be achieved practically and no theory could induct it into one’s mind.