Written By: Will Hatton

We returned to Ghulkin yet again and I met once more with Rehman and my Pakistani family. Visiting them again felt strangely like coming home. I’ve been travelling for nearly ten years now and don’t feel as though I belong to any one country but, in Pakistan, I feel at home. I have many friends here and, in fact, most of my best friends are Pakistani.

Iarrived in Pakistan totally unsure of what to expect.


I have been travelling around the world for a long time now, funding my adventures at first through odd jobs I would pick up on the road and, now, through my blog. To travel has always been my passion, it’s the thing that excites me, that makes me get out of bed in the morning; to experience new sights, new smells, new sounds, to make new friends and to do things which people tell me are impossible – this is why I exist.

 

backpackingthro.jpgWhen I first started travelling, I had no money for many years. I hitchhiked, slept rough, was reliant on the kindness of strangers for food and worked odd jobs whenever I could find them. My first adventure, at the age of nineteen, was fourteen months of travelling in India where, of course, I heard many things about Pakistan. Everything I heard made me simply want to travel to Pakistan more than ever, to find out the truth about the people and the place.


I had been backpacking in Iran for a couple of months and the closer I got to Pakistan, the more people warned me that it was simply not safe to visit. Determined to find out the truth for myself, I crossed from Iran and journeyed deep into the mountains. It was an adventure which was to change my life forever.


I started my adventure trip from Lahore, the Paris of Pakistan, where I met members of the Karakoram Club, a homegrown group of Pakistani adventurers, photographers and trekkers who made me feel at home and took me out for a crazy whirlwind tour of the city by motorbike.


I danced with Sufis, visited Lahore’s Eiffel Tower (seriously!? In Lahore? This blew my mind…), attended a university lecture with my friend Masoud, got a chance to play with my first AK-47 and haggled for bargains in the markets.


A week passed in a haze of exploring and partying, my friends took me to an underground rave – something that I had no idea existed in Pakistan – and to explore the truly incredible Badshahi Mosque. I feasted on Pakistani cuisine, enjoyed a cheeky smoke looking over the magnificent Lahore Fort and made many friends throughout the city.


After a week in Lahore, I headed north, keen to check out the mountains of which I had heard so much. The journey to Gilgit was long and uncomfortable but the beautiful scenic views made it so worthwhile.
Snow-capped peaks marching into the distance, as far as the eye could see, stunning glacial valleys and turquoise ribbons of water, weird rock formations and, ahead of me, the most impressive road I have ever seen; the Karakoram Highway.


Finally, I reached Gilgit and then travelled onwards to Karimabad where I met with a local man, Rehman, who contacted me over Facebook to invite me to his home and show me the mountains.
Rehman lives in the small village of Ghulkin and might just be the most hospitable person I have ever met. I spent an incredible week with him, his lovely wife Sitara and their four kids. We went for some incredible adventures.

 

backpackingthro1.jpgI crossed the mighty white glacier, spent an unforgettable evening camping out under a million stars, braved Passu Bridge and journeyed to the highest border crossing in the world at the Pakistan-China border.


Every day I would see something new that totally blew my mind; fantastical trucks with psychedelic patterns, fresh snow upon the Lady Finger peak, forts and orchards of apricot trees. Everywhere I turned, I was greeted with incredible enthusiasm and hospitality; Pakistan, it turned out, was not a dangerous country at all. The only danger seemed to be not wanting to leave and face death by chai (tea); I must have been offered thirty cups of chai a day!


One evening, I sat with Rehman and he showed me faded photographs of his father, Baig Khan, a famous guide in the Hunza region and his many German friends. Once upon a time, Rehman told me, Pakistan had been one of the world’s most popular climbing and trekking destinations. Almost overnight the industry collapsed following few unfortunate events and bad press in the media, the tourism industry in Pakistan had never fully recovered… Until now.

 

To the people of Pakistan, and especially to Pakistan Army: thank you for making my visit so incredible – travelling to Pakistan has been a highlight of my adventures all across the world.

I travelled to the Fairy Meadows, making fast friends with my police escort, Baba, a man with a mighty beard and impressive levels of energy. Although it was February, and damn cold, Baba made sure I made it to the Fairy Meadows, trekking with me through waist-deep snow despite his age – he must have been at least sixty and yet he was one of the strongest people I have ever met.


I camped in the shadow of Nanga Parbat, the world’s ninth highest mountain and one of the most beautiful sites I have seen in over nine years of travelling around the world.


I spent a wonderful few days in the Fairy Meadows, chatting with Baba and Gul Mohammad; a legend of Hunza and the proud operator of the Greenland Hotel; a series of gorgeous wooden cabins with some of the best views of the forest, the river, the glacier and, of course, Nanga Parbat.


Eventually, the time came to leave and I travelled to India, crossing the famous Wagah Border, and bought myself a rickshaw which I drove 2500 km across the country. My girlfriend, who I had met in Iran, came to meet me in India and I raved about Pakistan to her. Eventually, she agreed – we had to go back. We abandoned our plans in India and instead travelled to Iran where we got married and I converted to Islam, taking the name Reza. Following our wedding, we went on our honeymoon…to Pakistan, of course!


We returned to Pakistan in August and travelled deep into Swat, discovering huge Buddhist statues and incredible treks. Once again, I was simply blown away by the hospitality I received and the army soldiers were particularly kind and helpful whilst I was travelling in Swat.


We headed up to Skardu and then to Deosai and camped under a thousand perfect stars. In the night, four bears came to within two meters of my tent and a brave army officer ran to our aid, a burning branch in one hand to scare them off.


We returned to Ghulkin yet again and I met once more with Rehman and my Pakistani family. Visiting them again felt strangely like coming home. I’ve been travelling for nearly ten years now and don’t feel as though I belong to any one country but, in Pakistan, I feel at home. I have many friends here and, in fact, most of my best friends are Pakistani.

 

We headed up to Skardu and then to Deosai and camped under a thousand perfect stars. In the night, four bears came to within two meters of my tent and a brave army officer ran to our aid, a burning branch in one hand to scare them off.

I took to Instagram, sharing my stories with the world and was flooded with hundreds of emails from foreigners who wanted to know more about Pakistan, to explore this country on their own.


Slowly but surely, an idea began to form. Speaking to my friend Rehman, we made plans to open a guesthouse in Hunza in the future if we could find the money together.


Next year, I am returning to Pakistan again and, this time, I am bringing a group of twelve foreigners on an adventure backpacking tour deep into the mountains. It is a trip which I hope will help open up Pakistan to more tourists, to show people that it is a safe, welcoming and a truly beautiful country – this is my objective. Slowly but surely backpackers and climbers are starting to return to this amazing country and I hope that my writing will encourage more people to visit and to experience Pakistani hospitality themselves.


To the people of Pakistan, and especially to Pakistan Army: thank you for making my visit so incredible – travelling to Pakistan has been a highlight of my adventures all across the world.


To my friends, my hosts, the people who gave me a ride, a place to sleep, a meal, a smile, a handshake; you made my journey truly incredible, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

 

The writer is an adventurer and freelance journalist.

E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

He blogs at www.thebrokebackpacker.com

 
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