Pakistan’s Most Wild and Beautiful Places

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MAKRAN COAST

The Makran Coastal Highway is a scenic drive along Pakistan’s Arabian Sea coast. The route starts in Karachi and runs through Gwadar to the Iran border, and is considered a major infrastructural achievement. Unique, lunar rock formations line a section of the highway known as the Buzi Pass in Hingol National Park. Natural rock sculptures, like the sphinx-shaped “Lion of Balochistan,” can be found along the highway.

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HUNZA

In the northern territory of Gilgit-Baltistan, icy peaks stretch above the Hunza River. Situated on the riverbank and surrounded by glaciers and gorges, the town of Hunza traditionally served as a resting place for travelers descending the Hindu Kush mountains into the Vale of Kashmir. The valley is home to snow leopards, markhors, ibexes, and red-striped foxes.

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HINGOL NATIONAL PARK

Pakistan’s largest national park extends hundreds of miles along the Makran Coast. While Hingol National Park is renowned for its diverse wildlife—Sindh leopards, chinkaras, honey badgers, and Indian pangolins–it is perhaps best known for its cluster of active mud volcanoes. A mix of hot spring activity, gas, and water react chemically with the surrounding rocks to form a boiling mud. When the mud is expelled, it continuously rebuilds the cones, which are easily eroded. One of the most famous mud volcanoes is Chandragup, a sacred annual pilgrimage site for thousands of Hindus, along with the nearby Hinglaj temple.

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BALTORO GLACIER

In Pakistan’s eastern Karakoram, Baltoro Glacier is one of the world’s largest valley glaciers. Though difficult to access, it is one of the most highly trafficked regions in Pakistan because of mountaineering destinations like K2, Broad Peak, and the Gasherbrum peaks at its head. The area is not only known for its stunning scenery, but as a life source–a large portion northern Pakistan’s population depends on meltwater from the Karakoram glaciers.

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ATTABAD LAKE

Nestled in the Hunza Valley, Attabad Lake’s vibrant turquoise waters cut through the rocky terrain. Though beautiful, the serene landscape has a violent origin story. The lake was formed in January 2010, when a massive landslide at Attabad Village flooded nearby towns, blocked the flow of the Hunza River, and displaced thousands of people. Today, it’s a popular stop for tourists who can take boats out on the water.

 

Mount Everest, the high-altitude rubbish dump

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Decades of commercial mountaineering have turned Mount Everest into the world’s highest rubbish dump as an increasing number of big-spending climbers pay little attention to the ugly footprint they leave behind.

Fluorescent tents, discarded climbing equipment, empty gas canisters and even human excrement litter the well-trodden route to the summit of the 8,848-metre peak.

“It is disgusting, an eyesore,” Pemba Dorje Sherpa, who has summited Everest 18 times, told AFP. “The mountain is carrying tonnes of waste.” As the number of climbers on the mountain has soared — at least 600 people have scaled the world’s highest peak so far this year alone — the problem has worsened.

Meanwhile, melting glaciers caused by global warming are exposing trash that has accumulated on the mountain since Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay made the first successful summit 65 years ago.

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Efforts have been made. Five years ago Nepal implemented a $4,000 rubbish deposit per team that would be refunded if each climber brought down at least eight kilogrammes (18 pounds) of waste.

On the Tibet side of the Himalayan mountain, they are required to bring down the same amount and are fined $100 per kilogramme if they don’t.

In 2017 climbers in Nepal brought down nearly 25 tonnes of trash and 15 tonnes of human waste — the equivalent of three double-decker buses — according to the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee (SPCC).

This season even more was carried down but this is just a fraction of the rubbish dumped each year, with only half of the climbers lugging down the required amounts, the SPCC says.

Instead, many climbers opt to forfeit the deposit, a drop in the ocean compared to the $20,000-$100,000 they will have forked out for the experience.

Pemba shrugs that many just don’t care. Compounding the problem, some officials accept small bribes to turn a blind eye, he said.

“There is just not enough monitoring at the high camps to ensure the mountain stays clean,” he said.

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Inexperience

The Everest industry has boomed in the last two decades.

This has sparked concerns of overcrowding as well as fears that ever more inexperienced mountaineers are being drawn by low-cost expedition operators desperate for customers.

This inexperience is exacerbating the rubbish problem, warns Damian Benegas, who has been climbing Everest for over two decades with twin brother Willie.

Sherpas, high altitude guides and workers drawn from the indigenous local ethnic group, carry heavier items including tents, extra oxygen cylinders and ropes up the mountain — and then down again.

Previously most climbers would take their own personal kit like extra clothes, food, a sleeping bag as well as supplemental oxygen.

But now, many climbers can’t manage, leaving the Sherpas to carry everything.

“They have to carry the client’s gear so they are unable to carry down rubbish,” Benegas said.

He added that operators need to employ more high-altitude workers to ensure all clients, their kit and rubbish get safely up and down the mountain.

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Raw sewage

Environmentalists are concerned that the pollution on Everest is also affecting water sources down in the valley.

At the moment the raw sewage from base camp is carried to the next village — a one-hour walk — and dumped into trenches.

This then “gets flushed downhill during the monsoon into the river”, said Garry Porter, a US engineer who together with his team might have the answer.

They are considering installing a biogas plant near Everest base camp that would turn climber poo into a useful fertiliser.

Another solution, believes Ang Tsering Sherpa, former president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association, would be a dedicated rubbish collection team.

His expedition operator Asian Trekking, which has been running “Eco Everest Expeditions” for the last decade, has brought down over 18 tonnes of trash during that time in addition to the eight-kilo climber quota.

And last month a 30-strong cleanup team retrieved 8.5 tonnes of waste from the northern slopes, China’s state-run Global Times reported.

“It is not an easy job. The government needs to motivate groups to clean up and enforce rules more strictly,” Ang said.

These 4 accessories top our lists of travel must-haves in 2018

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There are a ton of accessories that we’ve tried and tested over the years on our travels and held mixed opinions about.

We’re finally documenting few travel essentials that are very important for the Travel

Top Picks

1. 3-in-1 Neck Pillow

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We think a neck pillow is absolutely essential for long haul flights where there’s no way we’re skipping some sleep.This blue neck pillow that basically lets you change its shape in accordance with your needs.

The pillow has a little zipper that allows to slit the u-shape and push all of its flesh into a circle or a small square pillow.

2. Luxury Travel Blanket

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This one  is super soft (almost furry) and comes with straps that make it absolutely portable and easy to stow away into a hand carry or luggage bag.

3. Victorinox Packable Tote Bag

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We’ve got to admit we love totes! Whether it is about going to work or traveling between cities, totes are perfectly handy and let us dump all our shizz in one big place.

The Victorinox tote is deceptively roomy, takes practically zero space if you want to pack it up into your suitcase/bag and is a safe bet for all types of airport drama.

4. Cross wallets

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We don’t really fancy branded wallets because functionality and affordability is all that matters to us in this department.

But we’ve got to admit these wallets were eyeing the mad shoppers in us and we couldn’t help but get a closer look at them. The Cross wallets, considering the brand and quality, are an absolute steal for the prices they’re available at.

Also, for those who like to make a one-time investment in chic branded stuff, this doesn’t look like it’d disappoint.

 

 

TRAVEL: BETWEEN THE ROCKS, AN ART PLACE

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It was nearing the end of March, when a group of eight Girls, took a hike in Swat’s Kandak Valley. Four of Them were young women belonging to the Uddiyana Trekkers, exclusively a girls’ group.

A striking landscape, prehistoric sites and the inclusion of four local women made the hike memorable. Men go on hikes and camping trips, but these women have hiked only twice — once last year, and again this March.

Kandak Valley’s rock paintings approximately date back to 3,000 years and reflect humankind’s innate desire to leave behind traces of the past. In my past visits, I had asked my friend Fazal Khaliq about visiting the rock painting sites. He promotes trekking and writes about the valley’s archaeological treasures.

The prehistoric rock paintings in Kandak Valley, Swat are worth the arduous journey

This year, Fazal organised a hike to three of nearly 55 rock art sites in the valley. Since the excursions in the past involved a short drive and a short hike, I assumed the same for this trip.

Fazal outlined the plan: “We will drive to a village and switch to a four-wheel drive to reach the first sites. From there, we will walk to the other two sites, take a shortcut down to the Balokaley monastery and then return to our cars.” It seemed quite simple.

Our destination lay south of Mingora/Saidu Sharif. We endured the main road choked with dust and exhaust, the clutter of shops, restaurants and plazas, and adjacent fields and orchards turned into concrete. But as we turned into Kandak Valley, the clutter fell away; orchards of fruit trees blooming with pink and white blossoms burst into view.

Rock art at Kakai Kandao, Swat, dating back to 1000 BCE and 1200 BCE and are located in Kandak Valley | Photo by Fazal Khaliq
Rock art at Kakai Kandao, Swat, dating back to 1000 BCE and 1200 BCE and are located in Kandak Valley | Photo by Fazal Khaliq

Two hours later we began the next phase of our journey in a small Toyota pickup, which typically hauls people and goods to remote hamlets.

The paintings didn’t offer themselves easily. I still had to wedge myself between the two rocks to admire a scene of an ancient battle. Fazal pointed out a warrior on a horse, one holding a sword aloft, another preparing to shoot an arrow. Absolutely mesmerising.

The vehicle was basic — a cab for the driver and two passengers, a back open to the elements, two wooden planks for seats with no cushioning.

An elderly lady sat up front with the driver. “Apa, you may sit in the front with the lady,” Fazal suggested. I rejected his offer, opting for the back.

We piled in, sharing floor space with a large sack of gurr (jaggery) and two sacks of flour and rice. Some of us sat scrunched on the planks, others stood. Malang Bacha, our guide and caretaker for the first rock painting site, positioned himself on the back running board.

The road looked like a typical mountain trail, wide enough for one vehicle, rocky and rutted, with switchbacks winding uphill.

The journey went smoothly for 10 minutes. The road became rougher when we began climbing. The pickup lurched from side to side to avoid ruts or rocks. It groaned as it laboured uphill, it strained on steep curves. When it hit a deep rut, it bounced violently. I launched nearly four inches up and landed hard back on the plank. We screamed and laughed — both in fun and fear.

When the pickup failed to negotiate a sharp uphill turn, the driver stopped and began to reverse. I looked down at the edge of the road and a drop of a hundred feet. I heard myself scream loudly, “God help us!” My friends roared. I learned later the manoeuvre was how drivers nudge a vehicle up and around a curve.

The high-spirited members of the Uddiyana Trekkers setting out for the day-long trek
The high-spirited members of the Uddiyana Trekkers setting out for the day-long trek

An hour later, we heaved up one last long incline that ended our journey. From there on we would walk, mostly downhill.

We meandered through fields of wildflowers to a small terraced clearing, near the first rock painting site. Four charpoys, with red gao takias awaited us underneath a large pine tree. Below, the valley spread out toward distant peaks, and terraces of wheat and rice stood out against arid areas of rocks in small assemblages of bright green.

At the first site, we saw the ritual killing of an ibex.

The paintings on all three sites were on an overhanging ledge of a large rock. The spaces were tight. It seems as though the artists must have laboured to recreate their stories. Even after more than 3,000 years the paintings retain their red colour, although faded in a few places.

Most of our knowledge of the rock paintings comes from the work of Italian archaeologist Luca Maria Olivieri. According to him, our ancestors depicted agricultural cycles, including ploughing and sowing, and supernatural beings.

I almost didn’t see the last set of paintings as these were on the bottom of a narrow ledge hovering over a nearly nine-foot high rock and with the most difficult access. It entailed jumping across a two-and-a-half foot gap from a lower rock.

Fazal beckoned me from the rock. “I’ll stay back, I am quite scared,” I admitted to him. He goaded me, “Apa, now I can see women can’t do everything that men can!” That was enough to challenge me, so I allowed myself to be hauled across the gap by Fazal and Malang.

The paintings didn’t offer themselves easily. I still had to wedge myself between the two rocks to admire a scene of an ancient battle. Fazal pointed out a warrior on a horse, one holding a sword aloft, another preparing to shoot an arrow. Absolutely mesmerising.

After the third rock, we started our descent on what looked like goat trails — rocky and steep. Along the way, we witnessed the harsh reality of the hard life the locals lead. I passed a young boy hauling water in two blue plastic cans slung over a donkey. Further along, an older boy sat on a wall with similar cans. I stopped to talk to them.

The boy, Fazal Rahman, was waiting for the spring to fill so he could fill the cans. The younger boy was his brother. Neither attended school. “We have never set foot in a school. We take up water for our family five to six times every day.”

This was climate change sticking out its ugly head. Apparently, it had rained only a few days this winter in Swat so the small steams were dry. Is there a bright future for the children of Swat?

After two hours of walking downhill, we reached the second-century, double-domed Balokaley vihara or monastery. The monastery which was buried for centuries, was unearthed by the Italian archaeological team and is one of the sites that is fairly accessible for the caretakers.

We paused for a short rest at Balokaley before walking through the village to our cars. What an exciting day it was, rich in every way, but sad too, to see the difficult lives of such hospitable people who live in the beautiful Swat valley.

11 Breathtaking Photos Of Lake Saiful Muluk – A Heaven On Earth

Lake Saiful Muluk is a mountainous lake situated in the Mansehra district, about 8 kilometers from the town of Naran, in Kaghan Valley.

The legendary lake has an air of mystery about it. From a spontaneous stopover to a fully planned vacation, Lake Saiful Muluk will never disappoint you.

Check out the amazing facts and most beautiful pictures of this magical lake!

1. Situated at an altitude of 3,224 meters, it is considered as one of the highest lakes in Pakistan.

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2.  The lake is flourishing with several species of blue-green algae which is why the lake has a turquoise color.

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3. The highest peak in the Kaghan Valley, Malika Parbat, is right across the lake.

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4. Saiful Muluk was formed almost 300,000 years ago by glacial rocks that blocked the stream flowing through the valley.

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5. The Kaghan Valley was covered in ice. When the temperature rose, glaciers melted and left a huge depression that is now Saiful Muluk.

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6. In pictures, the lake always look so calm, but there are occasional landslides, thunderstorms and heavy rains too.

6. In pictures, the lake always look so calm, but there are occasional landslides, thunderstorms and heavy rains too.

7. You can try activities such as cycling, camping, horseback riding and boating.

7. You can try activities such as cycling, camping, horseback riding and boating.

8. Boating is a risky business because the depth of the lake hasn’t been measured yet.

8. Boating is a risky business because the depth of the lake hasn't been measured yet.

9. Camping under the starlit skies surrounded by utter tranquility will be the highlight of your stay.

9. Camping under the starlit skies surrounded by utter tranquility will be the highlight of your stay.

10. There are several tiny huts and shops near the lake where you can buy food and other necessary items.

10. There are a few tiny huts and shops near the lake where you can buy food and other items.

11. An aerial view of the lake.

11. An aerial view of the lake

Lake Saiful Muluk is a heavenly place that all Pakistanis should visit at least once in their lifetime.

Gojal Valley

The Gojal Valley borders China and Afghanistan, with its border meeting the Chinese border at Khunjerab — 15,397 feet above sea level — and remains covered with snow all year long.

In the north west, there is Chiporsun, whose border touches the Wakhan region of Afghanistan. Wakhan is about six square miles in area, after which starts Tajikistan. The Karakorum Highway which connects Pakistan to China also passes through Gojal Valley and enters China at Khunjerab.

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Gulmit Village.
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Karakoram Highway in Gojal
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KKH and Passu Cones.
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Gojal, Upper Hunza.
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Hunza River, Gojal.
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Attabad lake
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Gulmit Village and Passu Cones.
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Gulmit Village and Passu Cones.

 

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