Written By: Sheeza Asim Mirza
Moving ahead from Islamabad – the Capital, looking beyond the bending roads, one can dance with snow, play with the sunshine, scatter the rainbow and flow with the freezing turquoise water. This is what one experiences in the North of Pakistan, a land truly blessed with unsurpassed beauty and striking tourist destinations. A land of towering mountains, valleys, beautiful lakes and rivers, amazing wildlife with exotic culture. The alpine beauty of this region with three of the mightiest ranges in the world i.e., Karakoram Range, Himalayas and Hindukush is definitely a delicious feast for the eyes.
Karakoram mountains are the most condensed clusters of high peaks found in the world. This range contains the world’s largest glacier fields outside the polar regions. The second longest glacier, Siachen is located in these ranges. Another attraction of these ranges is the world’s second highest peak, K-2. This pyramid of a mountain is right in the heart of the Karakoram Range. It is a jewel in the crown of mystical Karakoram mountains and the snowy peaks are kind of a magnet for the mountaineers and tourists from all over the globe.
The 1300 km long KKH route moves through these ranges. Karakoram Highway connects Islamabad with Kashgar (China) via Abbottabad, Mansehra, Thakot, Besham, Pattan, Chilas, Gilgit and Hunza across the 4733 meters high Khunjerab Pass. The Highway, built by the Pakistani and Chinese engineers, has been described as a marvel of civil engineering and even as ‘The Eighth Wonder of the World’. Karakoram highway snakes through the superb landscape that stands matchless on earth. A fantastic and unforgettable spectacle is the passage of the highway along the Batura Glacier, rated as the world’s seventh largest glacier, The Khunjerab Pass which the highway crosses, and the nearby Mintaka Pass, lie astride the fabulous ancient Silk Route that extended from Europe to Asia and over which history’s most famous tourists once traveled.
Since 1954, when the Karakoram Range of Pakistan was opened for climbing and trekking expeditions the mountains and glaciers of the north have become an international playground-cum-travel destinations.
Hindukush Ranges are considered dangerous due to the passes, and difficult stretches between the peaks. It is home to Tirich Mir, the world’s highest mountain peak outside the Himalayan-Karakoram range.
The Himalayas are the highest mountain range in the world. The highest peak of this mountain ranges is Nanga Parbat. In this mountain range are present the most beautiful valleys including the valley of Kashmir. Himalayas are not simply the peaks, it offers the best opportunity for all adventure sports. From trekking to mountain climbing and cycling to hiking, the range offers variety of options to the travelers. The climate, rainfall, soil conditions, and altitude of this range are quite diversified, generating a vast variety of plant and animal species.
The spectacular region of Gilgit-Baltistan is famous for its scenic beauty. Baltistan is situated amid the great Himalayas and Karakoram ranges on either side of the mighty Indus River and its tributaries, surrounded by Gilgit and Hunza Valleys in the west. It is also known as “Little Tibet” because of its proximity as well as ethnic, cultural and linguistic bonds with Ladakh and Tibet in the east. The whole of Gilgit-Baltistan is like a paradise for mountaineers, trekkers and anglers. The region has a rich cultural heritage and variety of rare flora and fauna.
One of the sightseeing destinations of this region is Skardu, the gateway to an endless high alpine adventure. Skardu has various lakes which invite visitors to see their beauty and fall in love with them. The most famous lake is Shangrila Lake (Lower Kachura) in Kachura region. Shangrila, also known as “heaven on earth”, is nestled amongst some of the world’s highest peaks. It encircles the heart-shaped “Kachura Lake” and is surrounded by fruit-laden orchards and flower-filled gardens. Some sites have become synonymous with beauty and with amazing scenery and Shangrila is one such site. Just a few minutes walk from Shangrila Resort can take you towards green lake of Upper Kachura which is a natural lake and its warm waters welcome swimmers to enjoy there. The area of the lakes is such that it is covered with snow in the winter but during the summer season this area is full of vegetation. There are many trees that bloom only in the summer months and almost all of the local flowers bloom in the summer. The trees which are common to the area are the Subalpine Conifer trees which include many species of hardwood and are prized all over the world. One of the most unique trees in the area is of the wild apricot. This is one of the most beautiful trees in the area and many birds such as Blue Jays, Warbles and Blue Tits come to nest in these trees. With all these marvels of nature, this lake remains to be on top of the list for many who want to explore the nature reserves found all over Pakistan.
The Satpara Lake is one other lake in heart of Skardu City. This blue color lake is the biggest lake in Skardu region with big stock of clean water. The lake is fed by Satpara stream. It works as a key water supply source for the Skardu Town. Satpara Lake with its marvelous and breathtaking beauty is considered one of the most charming lakes among tourists. The lake’s crystal-clear waters present a marvelous view to visitors by mirroring the icy mountains encircled around the lake. One can do fishing, motor boating and rowing at the lake.
While moving ahead come the Deosai Plains, which is a high-altitude grass plateau. ‘Deosai’ means ‘the land of giants’. Deosai has the country’s second largest National Park. There is a significant brown bear population within its boundaries, the endangered snow leopard and Indian wolf. The Plains are also home to the Himalayan ibex, red fox, golden marmot locally called Phia, and over 124 resident and migratory birds. The most enchanting feature of Deosai is its huge field of alpine flowers, the scale which is largest in the Karakoram and Western Himalayas. In spring, it is covered by sweeps of wildflowers and a wide variety of butterflies. One can see full bloom of purple, yellow, red and mauve sheet of flowers covering the entire slope. The colorful plateau changes into a burning yellow carpet in autumn under a clear sky. It is a perfect site for summer camping. The park has many vast meadows and the Sheosar Lake is located near flat surfaces of Deosai plateau. Sheosar Lake gains attention as being one of the highest lakes in the world. The place around the lake offers striking views of far-flung peaks and an amazing view of the plains. When the weather is clear, Nanga Parbat’s snow-covered peak can also be seen from here. For tourists who love adventure, this place in the Northern Areas of Pakistan has unadulterated natural beauty. The mountains, crystal clear streams of water, glaciers and flower filled meadows offer a great place to spend quality time.
Hunza, known as “heaven on earth”, is the northernmost part of the Northern Areas of Pakistan. It is a beautiful mountainous valley located in the Gilgit-Baltistan region. Situated in the north-west of the Hunza River, it is surrounded by several high peaks including Rakaposhi, Hunza Peak, Ghenta Sar, Ultar Sar and Ladyfinger Peak.
The valley offers different beautiful natural sights for tourists. Among these attractions, the Baltit and Altit Forts are most famous. The Baltit Fort, after renovation, has recently been turned into a heritage museum. It has won numerous awards including Tourism of Tomorrow Award, Asia-Pacific Heritage for Cultural Conservation-Award of Excellence (UNESCO). The Time Magazine-Asia Edition awarded Best of Asia Award in 2005.
In Hunza, the bazaar of Karimabad is famous for its local handicrafts, handmade rugs, traditional embroidered caps, shawls, hand woven cloth (paffu) and its gemstones which are famous all over the world, particularly Ruby. The Ruby mines are famous tourist attraction. The local specialty dish of Hunza is ‘fittis’ which is very delicious and worth tasting. These are basically cakes made up of wheat flour, milk, butter and salt, baked on a hot stone. Apricots, apples, plums, peaches, cherries and grapes are various fresh fruits grown in this region. When talking about foreign visitors, grape extract known as ‘Hunza water’ is very popular among them.
The Khunjerab Pass is the highest paved international border of Pakistan with China, and the highest point on the Karakoram Highway. Its name is derived from Wakhi 'Khun' meaning ‘home’ and 'Jerav' meaning ‘spring water/water falling’. For those who love the high mountainous regions, snow and cold weather, this place is a must go. The nearest town from Khunjerab is Sust which is also home to the immigration and custom post.
A miracle of stillness, epitome of perfect shades of blue, a beauty in tragedy, Attabad Lake is Pakistan's largest artificial lake created by a severe landslide in Attabad village, Gojal Valley back in 2010. Bluest of all, this lake connects the glorious Hunza Valley to the Serene Passu in Gojal Valley. The 45 minutes boat ride in the lake to the nirvana on the other end is an unforgettable experience. As the boat meanders through the turquoise colored lake lapped by high rugged colossal mountains, the journey seems to imprint in your mind and heart forever where every scene tends to have multiple makeovers. During the summer, the warm climate soothes the soul and the glistening sunshine onto the sparkling still water where the only ripples created are because of the boat. In winters, one can even walk over frozen 10 km pathway of Attabad Lake.
While approaching the town of Gilgit or on way back to Naran, comes the famous Babusar Top, a junction that connects Chilas (Karakoram Highway), Naran and later on leads to other destinations including Gilgit and Skardu. It is not merely a simple top, rather it is one of the most amazing spots of Kaghan Valley. If you are lucky enough to have good weather then it will seem like a heavenly piece of earth with beautiful views in every direction. Standing on the top you might get lucky and get a panoramic view of Malika-e-Parbat on a clear day. There is also astonishing view of snow covered peaks of Kashmir. You can see green plateaus, winding roads; small streams and mountains as far as the sight goes. The area near the top is full of great species of birds, animals, flowers and bushes. The forests near the top are of hardwood trees. Snowcock and snow pigeons are the birds most likely to be seen near the pass and hawks and eagles are seen in the area as well. Mammals such as small marmots and wild sheep can also be seen.
If any tourist treks the amazing lakes of Pakistan, one of the very first items on their itinerary is the heavenly Lulusar Lake located in the national park called Dudipatsar, Lulusar National Park in Kaghan. The name of the lake derives from the word “sar” which means either “lake” or “high mountain”. In case of Lulusar, the word is used to denote the high mountains with perennial snow-covered peaks that are around the lake, creating a magnificent valley. The snow of the mountains has been the reason that the lake has never dried up as in summer season the snow melts and fills the lake. The lake is surrounded by snowcapped hills whose purple and white forms are reflected in the green-blue waters of the silent lake, making it one of the most beautiful spots in the valley. Lulusar’s enchanting beauty and its view remains in the mind of a tourist for a long time.
Then comes Naran, Pakistan’s favorite holiday destination. Tourists from across the world come to Naran to see its undulating terrains that are dotted with crags and massifs as well as pristine lakes. Here you’ll depart from the River Kunhar and on both sides of road there are vast fields. The place is taken as the base station or the principle entryway to goals like Lake Saif-ul-Malook, Lalazar, Babusar, Noori Valley and Purbi Valley.
A dusty, meandering track connects Naran Valley to the strikingly beautiful Lake Saif-ul-Malook. Once you’re here, you wouldn’t want to leave because the place is like a magic spell. After 11 km trail distance from Lake Saif-ul-Malook comes the Ansoo Lake, a tear shaped lake adjacent to Malika-e-Parbat. If you’re more of an adventure-seeker, you can walk your way from Malika-e-Parbat to reach the lake. Trekking takes about 4-5 hours.
The Kaghan Valley attracts many tourists from not only Pakistan but also from the whole world. Laying in lower Himalayan mountain ranges, the Kaghan Valley is famous for its bewitching splendor and natural beauty. The valley has everything you can think of when planning a great vacation. It has glaciers, mountains, dales, streams, lakes, waterfalls, ideal villages, forests and more. The spring season in Kaghan Valley witnesses the most admirable natural beauty. After the extreme cold weather which often restricts people to their houses, the spring season seems like giving new life to the nomads.
In a nutshell the whole region is a trekker’s paradise. With breathtaking views, these areas have ideal environment for trekking and hiking.
No doubt that the Northern Areas of Pakistan are heaven on earth with breathtaking views and beauty that captures the hearts of tourists. Journey to these areas becomes a soulful adventure, as sometimes human spirit needs places where nature has not been rearranged by the hands of men, so when you stop and look around you feel that life is amazing!