We have spent a tremendous amount of time locked indoors with our social lives, work, school and daily rituals being reduced to the digitalized space. While we experienced that the severity of the pandemic and circumstances kept changing from mild to severe and then worsened in just a few months, today, we are slowly returning to a state of normalcy and things are changing for the better. With care and caution, we are stepping out of our homes and are reintroducing ourselves to our cities, workplaces, schools, grocery stores and leisure spots.
As we slowly and steadily disentangle and revisit a world we once knew, it is also time to anticipate the summer break and plan our getaway from the busy city life and the scorching heat. With an improved state of affairs as we check off the vaccination routine on our to-do lists, it is perhaps time to take out our carry-ons from the storage and reacquaint ourselves with the joy and pleasant frustrations of travel.
With that in mind, here is a friendly reminder of some local destinations that offer that sweet vacation vibe for those hoping to chase some crisp, fresh air this post-quarantine summer.
Rebuilding from its war-torn past, the valley of Swat is the foremost tourist destination in Pakistan. Located in KP, the valley is something out of a fairy tale with its matchless beauty, hosting deep running rivers, scenic villages and vivid flora. Swat offers a variety of options to travellers, with the town of Kalam serving as the base to explore the true beauty of the valley.
Boyun, also known as Green Top is an easy day trip from Kalam. Boyun rewards the trekkers with one of the most vast and beautiful villages, along with sweeping views of the valley below. You can choose to get there by an 8 km drive or you can hike up for 2 hours.
Travelling from Kalam to Mahodand Lake leads you through Ushu (Usho) Forest — a well-preserved display of magnificent deodars. The cold, vivacious lake itself is home to abundant trout for fishing and is bordered with alpine trees, twisting, and winding streams and tall rising mountains. The beauty of the lake is only enhanced by the wildflowers that dot the curves of the body.
Another main attraction in Swat is Malam Jaba that offers itself as a ski resort in the winter but has plenty of adventure activities like zip lining and chair lift rides for the summer tourist as well. It also boasts of an adventure park that offers sports and adventure activities including croquet, mini golf, jumping castle, trampoline, ring pot game, smash the mug, archery, summer tubbing, boating, ball throwing on target, ice hockey, curling and grass skiing. You can also avail excellent camping facilities there.
Located near the Line of Control in Azad Kashmir, the magnificent Neelum Valley stretches from north of Muzaffarabad for 240 breathtaking kilometers, hosting several creeks, freshwater streams, lush forests and spectacular waterfalls. For the energetic ones, the hike to Arang Kel or Kiran is worth it. The hike is certainly not for the fainthearted! As one passes by streams and ancient trees, the experiences are bound to leave you breathless and in awe. The lack of connectivity in these parts might seem like an inconvenience but with the amount of time we have spent locking our eyes with the screens, it sounds more like a secluded retreat we can all use as a means to truly disconnect.
Deosai National Park
The word ‘Deosai’ is an amalgamation of two words: deo (gaints) and sai (shadow). For ages, these uninhabited and far off plains were considered to be haunted by giants, with the name reflecting the fear of the unknown that the locals harboured. One of the highest plateaus in the world at nearly 4000 meters, it is often referred to as the ‘roof of the world’ and sits at the boundary of Himalayas and the Karakoram encompassing 3,000 square kilometers. Covered with snow for most of the year, the plains are only really accessible during the summers. Renowned for rich biodiversity, the national park was formed to ensure the survival of many local and endangered species and offers expansive meadows, glittering lakes, and views of distant mountains such as Nanga Parbat to those willing to journey the distance from Skardu.
Located just a few miles from Skardu, the village located on the banks of a local river was once the seat for a wealthy and famous kingdom. Today, its hosts a plethora of scenic terraced fields growing a variety of harvests. The town has mostly remained the same over the last century, apart from major renovations in the hospitality sector that make it an ideal destination for those weary of urban life. Serving as the doorway to the Masherbrum mountains, the town offers some exceptional hikes leading to some lesser known gems of Himalayas like Gondogoro Pass, K7, and Saltoro Kangri 1 and 2. Alternatively, the town offers many historical attractions like the Khaplu Palace, and the amazingly restored Khanqah-i-Chaqchan, touted to be the oldest mosque in Pakistan.
Seemingly lost in time, and obscured due to lengthy travel times, up until recent times, Kalash valley hosts a plethora of natural and cultural majesties, rivaling the likes of those offered in Gilgit Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir. Nested in the oft forgotten Hindu Kush range, the valley is home to the Kalash people, an ethnic minority in Pakistan with their own ethos, religion, and language. Located only a couple of hours away from Chitral City, the valley is quite easy to trek to these days. The main pull here is not the views and vistas but the Kalash people themselves — claiming to be Greek descendants, the polytheist Kalash are famous for their vibrant religious festivities, their wooden houses that are scattered along the high hills, and their rich culture and heritage that differs from everything else in Pakistan. With their voluminous black dresses and flamboyant woollen headdresses, Kalash is a treat for the eyes.
As it happens, our selections are the kind that are not foreign to tourists and seasonal visitors. The local economy of these regions relies greatly on the tourist influx they see during the summer and so they are equipped to host families, friends, solo travellers, and even female groups. There are swathes of promising experiences detailed on social media by female traveller groups as well as those who made solo journeys that speak to the conduciveness of these regions towards women that might want to make a girls’ trip.
With regards to getting to these more distant locations, not only are there guided tours organized for these regions but there are several convenient options for someone who intends to travel alone. These destinations offer accommodation ranging from budget-friendly, relatively humble hotels to boutique facilities as well as camping sites for some under-the-night-sky lodging. And whilst the escape from the hassles of the city and the sceneries that deserve elaborate descripts for their otherworldly beauty and serenity is enough to sell these destinations, these destinations have something to offer for all, especially those who wish to indulge in an adventure.
Chitral, Swat, and Neelam rivers have become popular sites for white water rafting arranged by specialized enterprises with trained guides and top of the line equipment. Additionally, if you have that daredevil spirit in you and want to master your fears, you can try the newly inaugurated zip line in Cherat — the longest in South Asia lasting a little over 2 and a half minutes, stretching 1.6 kilometers. Whilst this might be the longest in the region, the Malam Jabba ski resort features the country’s highest zip line at an elevation of about 9,200 feet. With advocacy through government policies, these regions are expected to see further development in terms of adventurous entertainment for travellers. The facilities available so far for our thrill-seeking wanderers seem affordable and accessible but if all else fails, the mountains inherently offer a tremendous landscape for trekking with gems scattered high and low.
As you romanticize the details of these landscapes with us, we hope it inspires all our fellow travel enthusiasts to come out of hibernation and revel in the possibilities of a well-planned summertime escape. However, travel responsibly! The key ingredients for the perfect summer getaway are the will to have the time of your life, sanitizers, masks and family or friends that share your eagerness. HH
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