Off the radar from the World Travel Guidebooks, Pakistan is still fighting its own battles to revive the tourism industry in the country. Home to some of the highest mountain peaks in the world, a thriving cultural and second to none hospitality, Pakistan has everything to offer to the travelers. However, one baby step at a time, the country has reached a certain small level of success to boost up local as well as international tourism in the last couple of years.
I am Pakistani by nationality but I have barely spent any time of my life in the country. Earlier this year, I packed my bags to venture out on a solo adventure to the picturesque fairytale-like Hunza Valley in Northern Pakistan. I was aware of the fact that traveling solo in Pakistan is not very straightforward just like anywhere else in the world. The only advantage I had on my hands was a little bit more familiarity with the local language as compared to other foreign tourists.
Hunza Valley in Pakistan is situated in the independently administrative state of Gilgit Baltistan. I started off my journey from Islamabad Main Bus Terminal towards Gilgit Baltistan, which was a long 19 hours mostly off-road drive towards the town of Chillas. The small town of Chillas lays a few hours’ drive ahead of Hunza valley. It sits in the lap of the Karakorum, Hindukush and Himalayan giants. I visited the ‘Junction Point’, a unique place on earth where three mountain ranges meet and two rivers, River Indus and River Gilgit merge together.
The next morning, I continued my journey towards Hunza with a private driver with a car. There is also an option to use the NATCO bus to reach all the way till Hunza, but it is rather a longer alternative than traveling in a car. The mountains in Gilgit Baltistan are dry and barren, however, as I approached towards Hunza, the entire landscape changed to giant snowcapped peaks with River Gilgit flow at their foothills. I made a pit stop at Mt. Nanga Parbat viewpoint, the 8th highest mountain peak in the world.
Just a few miles away from Hunza comes the Mt. Rakaposhi, which has the Ghulmet glacier, the highest unbroken slope on earth. Also, luckily I happened to visit the Hunza Valley during the cherry blossom season, so things turned out for me more fairytale-like. And yes, you can see some really beautiful cherry blossom in Pakistan without any tourists, unlike everywhere else in the world!
Entering upon Hunza, my first stop was at Altit Fort, a 6th-century fort, which was a winter house for the ruling king. After taking a very informative and well-organized guided tour of the fort, I sipped a local apricot drink with views that will blow off anyone away! The final place to check off the list before I call it a day was to visit Eagles Nest, a mountain top viewpoint best known for some spectacular sunrise and sunset views over the Karakorum Mountains. And definitely, the views didn’t disappoint at all!
Next day, I hopped on again on the road for a three hours’ drive towards the very end of Pakistan, the Khunjerab Pass (Pakistan-China border), which also happens to be the highest land border crossing in the world. It is a true magnificence of engineering expertise by Chinese and Pakistanis to build Khunjerab Pass at such a high altitude and challenging weather conditions.
The final two stops of my Hunza trip comprised of a boat ride in Attabad Lake, a lake which was formed by glacier melting and flooding in 2010. The turquoise water of Attabad Lake reminded me of the beautiful shade of blue I saw in the Maldives; however, the lake drowned more than thirty small villages, which makes it a tragic beauty.
No trip to Hunza Valley is complete without visiting the Hussaini Bridge, termed as the scariest suspension bridge crossing in the world. However, the view it offers makes it completely worth crossing. I managed to reach halfway across the bridge, but extremely cold winds and slight fear of height didn’t make me proceed any further. Nonetheless, the view of the Passu Cathedral or famously known as the Passu Cones of Hunza made my effort absolutely worth every single step on that bridge.
Traveling as a solo female in Pakistan can be challenging at times due to lack of proper tourism infrastructure, but it can never be unsafe. North Pakistan, particularly, Hunza Valley is the booming tourist hotspot in the country with extremely helpful and hospitable locals who will welcome you with open arms. Pakistan is a land of natural beauty and wonders, so add it in your bucket list now to experience the most of this unexplored, untouched gem of Asia.