Pakistan was ranked the number one travel destination in 2018 by the British Backpackers Society, a rarity that garnered much media attention from giants like Lonely Planet and Gulf News. The ranking highlighted how Pakistan was the ultimate destination for adventure tours and had the most majestic sights and the friendliest people. It is indeed about time that the outer world sees the country for what it really is: a wondrous mesh of spellbinding landscapes, unique and rich cultures and ridiculously friendly people. Let us share with you the best spots for backpacking in Pakistan for a great budget adventure.
Gilgit city region
Gilgit is the main city you can arrive in from any international airport, whether it’s Lahore or Islamabad. You can take buses like NATCO or Daewoo or you could fly there, although flights are only scheduled once or twice a week because of high altitude weather. The city of Gilgit itself is not a place where you will stay for long, but rather, pass through to explore the region.
Guest houses with WiFi can be booked for a 1000 rupees (US $9) but if you fly in, you will be energetic enough to see the city by night after a day of exploring. The bus ride from Islamabad, however, is tiring and long. Gilgit is the main hub of the region with a visa extending office. Spots to see in Gilgit include the Gilgit River and the rock carving of Kargah Buddha. Couchsurfing is another option.
Fairy Meadows is an incredible spot to see. The lush green meadows with sky scraping peaks make an exemplary spot to camp. Reaching Fairy Meadows from Gilgit requires taking a two and a half hour public bus ride to Ranikot Bridge for about 200 rupees (US $1.8) and from there, a private four-wheel drive needs to hired, which costs 7000 rupees (US $70). To bear this cost, it’s best to have six friends with you to share. Sometimes, you can share with locals who may offer to join you or even take you for free if you are solo.
The jeep only goes to a trail ahead from where there is a hike of two to three hours, depending on your speed. While the hike is simple for most people, a horse can also be hired. Upon reaching Fairy Meadows, you can camp, but make sure bring along your own tent or rent a room. The beautiful site of Nanga Parbat is surely worth the while and the meadows themselves are magical enough to house legendary fairy people. From here, you can hike to Nanga Parbat’s (the ninth highest mountain) base camp and engage in exhilarating glacier treks to other camps higher up.
Hunza Valley’s Karimabad
Hunza’s glorious capital, Karimabad, is perfect for backpacking with many incredible treks nearby and plenty of places to rent budget rooms or camp. Located a two and a half hour drive away from Gilgit, it’s easy to reach and there is much to see. The surrounding views are stunning and must-visit spots include Altit and Baltit Forts, which are both ancient palaces of Royal princes, restored beautifully by the Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme. Many villages in Hunza are predominantly Aga Khani or Ismaili, a sect of Shia Islam and belong to a more liberal and spiritual implementation of the religion. Many other spots in Gilgit Baltistan have also been restored to the original glory by the AKDN.
The pretty streets of Karimabad are enchanting enough to leave you mesmerized for a few days. Eagle’s Nest is another must-see spot nearby where you can camp in your own tent or rent one. You can easily reach the highest spot, which delivers a 360-degree view of the valley via a 30-minute taxi ride for about US $14 both ways.
Gojal Valley is another amazing place to explore and it is home to Attabad Lake, a deep blue lake formed in 2010 by a landslide. Gojal borders China, near the Khunjerab Pass on Karakoram Highway (KKH) and also borders Afghanistan at Chipurson Valley. The Batura Glacier, the world’s longest outside of the polar regions, is also in Gojal, along with a host of charming villages.
The regions here are very diverse in landscape with icy peaks, ferocious rivers, green pastures and huge glaciers. Having your own tent is a huge advantage as you can camp at any spot of your choice. Many different cultures and people inhabit its villages, which include Gulmit, Gulkin, Hussaini at Attabad Lake, Shimshal and Misgar.
Khunjerab Pass is the highest border in the world at a stupefying 8,000 plus feet and is an incredible achievement of engineering. The route is lined with incredible views but must be taken via a private car hire for about 8000 rupees (US $80), as public transport isn’t available. Enroute to the pass, travellers will enjoy seeing the Hussaini Bridge, the Passu Bridge and the spectacular Passu Glacier.
Skardu town is already a famous backpacking spot and rightly so, as it’s located in a strategic region with many fantastic places to explore. Skardu is a five-hour drive from Gilgit through an early morning bus ride costing about US $5. There are many budget to luxurious room rentals available for different kinds of views and comfort levels. The Shangrila Resort is one of the most popular hotels and its name has even brushed off on Lower Kachura Lake, also popularly known as Shangrila Lake, which is also swim-friendly.
Other must-visit spots, if time isn’t an issue, include Khaplu Fort, Skardu Cold desert, Mathal’s Buddhist carvings as well as Deosai and Satpara Lake. Deosai is especially great but requires a long ride and some hiking. In summer, the valley is full of wildflowers and the plains are an unrivalled spot for camping.