This Girl's Magical Experience Of Traveling To Northern Pakistan Will Make You Pack Your Bags Right Away!

This Girl’s Magical Experience Of Traveling To Northern Pakistan Will Make You Pack Your Bags Right Away!

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Ever thought someone would take a look at the picture of Minar-e-Pakistan and say it’s Eiffel Tower? Crazy, right? But turns out this is a real story of a Pakistani child, recently told to me by someone. I can’t say for all, but there’s a certain part of the population in our country that grew up and is growing up, only learning to aspire and enjoy a foreign vacation. Yes, it’s lovely exploring places around the world (who doesn’t want that?) but this mindset, unfortunately, has led to domestic tourism exploration untampered.

Ye Hamara Pakistan hai!

We Pakistanis have little or no experience exploring the beauty of the places we can own up to and have a sense of belonging so that we can say this is ours. We don’t know our home well. Perhaps, that’s the reason why we stand at cross-roads as a nation, because how can we fall in love infinitely without knowing and seeing the beauty of our motherland within. It’s time to cross-over and get to know our literal ‘roots’ of the land we call home.

With that thought, we always wanted to change that about our travels. Thanks to both our families, a 10 Day trip to the North was in order for this June. Going beyond the much-ventured Murree, Bhurban & Ayubia terrains. A trip all the way from Lahore to the Khunjerab Pass.

Sounds exciting, right? But you can’t leave it just on the sound of it. It ain’t exciting until you embark on the journey and experience it.

Mapping out the road route and planning

The 10 Day Trip had to be planned in such a way that it takes into account all the age groups traveling so that it doesn’t become hectic and tiring for anyone. Besides, a vacation’s point is to relax and not to stress out. That’s something to be taken care of. Would love to mention the ages, but ‘humari amiyan bura na manalein’, so not taking a risk.

We started from Lahore afternoon. It was a 6 hours’ drive to Abbottabad, with one stop at Behra in between. Abbottabad to Naran was approximately a 6 to 7 hours’ drive, depending on the traffic. From Naran, we made our way to the Babusar Pass, which is a 2 to 3-hour drive. We crossed Chillas and Gilgit to Hunza, which took another 8 hours. So, from Naran to Hunza, it’s about an 11-hour drive, depending upon the traffic. For those planning on doing the same should know that the Babusar Pass has to be crossed in daylight, so ideally make all your travel plans to cross the pass by 5 / 6 pm.

Our itinerary was as follows: 1 night in Abbottabad, 2 nights in Naran, 4 nights in Hunza, 1 night back to Naran, 1 night in Islamabad and then back to Lahore the next day. The hotel reservations were all searched through Booking.com and boy, was the website useful! Extremely grateful that its service is being well endorsed in our country.

Every person in the group should be assigned tasks and things to take care of. Driving and bookings are the main tasks but other areas also need attention while traveling. Spanning from accounts to navigation to photography to who’d manage the music and games, to the MOST important, counting people and bags alike, so that you don’t miss out anything or leave anyone behind!

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Essentials to take care of!

No matter what anyone says, whether it’s cold or not cold. Whether you hear people saying ‘Yar Hunza mein tou garmi thi’ or ‘Yar June hai, it’s summer time’ or anything else for that matter; don’t EVER forget to take your winter wear with you.

Thermals, leg warmers/tights/leggings, gloves, socks, closed shoes/ joggers, sweaters, coats/windbreakers/jackets, caps, shawls/scarfs, and umbrellas are a must. Don’t travel without them and have backups for each. The weather in these areas is absolutely unpredictable! Blame Global warming because it even snowed in June in Naran.

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With rain, it becomes chilly and the wind blowing adds a constant chill factor. So, beware and keep comfortable because you want to be able to enjoy every bit of your trip properly, without catching a cold. Other essentials include taking a torch with you. The main roads/highway routes at night aren’t exactly lit up so in case you get late, be well equipped to help yourselves.

Similarly, electricity shutdowns or call it load shedding happens frequently up in the north, so the torches will go a long way. Another essential is the electric rod heater, used to warm water. Though it requires electricity to work, hot water to bathe sometimes becomes only a luxury to have, especially if all the hot water gets used up by others using the same living floor. At least, this way, you’ll have a way to warm water in the bathroom.

The wind blowing and the constant chill factor in the air makes lips and skin very dry. Hence, it’s a must to have a lip balm, moisturizers or lotions with you.  Despite the cold, the sun still shines at you and it can lead to sunburns, so don’t forget to apply sunscreens to avoid sunlight reactions. And hopefully, you’ve already got sunglasses on your list!

Walking sticks are a must for the old and people who have back or joint problems because trekking will be easier that way. Don’t know much about car maintenance but putting it in a nutshell, get your car checked before you leave. Make sure the tyres are doing well and the car’s good to go. Let’s just let whoever’s driving take care of that.

Hunza

The Undiscovered Foodies Hub – 5 cafes that are a MUST to visit in Hunza

Glacier Breeze Restaurant – The House of the Best Apricot cake & the view

This café is about 30 mins from Attatabad Lake, situated on the main road KKH, in Passu village of the Hunza district. You can ideally visit there on your way back from Khunjerab Pass. It’s famous for its Apricot cake but there’s more to the place than just treating your taste buds. There are 72 steps that one has to climb to get there from the main road, which is a thrill or call it an experience itself. Good work is done to go get that Apricot cake. Lose some calories to go gain some calories.

Source: Shahmeer and Mahnoor Mohydin

Don’t worry, there’s one back route where you can take your car up and get that cake. But the real fun is climbing those stairs because that’s something you’ll always remember. The view is breathtaking around the café. You can view the Passu Cones very closely since you’ll be in Passu village. We were there at around sunset and the way sunlight falls on the Passu Cones – it truly makes for a moment of awe.

The photography at the café is every girl’s fantasy materializing. Perfect view of the Passu Cones in the background for your pictures. Also, posing in front of their traditional door and on the 72 steps staircase are other score backdrops.

The Apricot cake has a home-baked freshness to it along with a hot cup of tea makes the perfect combination hence fulfilling every chai & cake lover’s dream!

Source: Shahmeer and Mahnoor Mohydin

Café De Hunza – Did someone say walnut? Shhh. There’s more.

This café is family run and has gotten a lot of social media attention. Their Walnut Cake is on everyone’s to-do list in Hunza!

Source: Shahmeer and Mahnoor Mohydin

However, true foodies know that it’s more of a pie than a cake. The actual richness of this walnut dessert is in the walnuts-fresh and tasteful. The honey coating the walnuts brings out a flavor of its kind and that is a must to try!

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The other must-haves here include their pancakes which have a special touch. You’ll find spinach and cheese pancakes which are actually very good as well as their Nutella Pancake if you’re short on your chocolate dose.

You might be hungry for real food, that’s where their very delicious Mushroom, Chicken & Cheese Sandwich comes in. Prett sure it’s what you need for your hunger pangs. There’s no apricot cake here but there’s Apricot juice for fresh juice lovers!

Luckily, there are some nice take away treats you can purchase from here, apricot oil, honey and fruit jams, to mention a few. In addition, the balcony of the café gives a good overlook of all the activities of the bazaar and also a great view to see the sunset in the mountains.

Hidden Paradise – don’t let it play hide, go seek!

The name fits perfectly to this place – the exotic environment combined with traditional food makes it an ideal spot to dine, especially for those looking to taste the local foods of the area.

Recommended at this place are the following:

Chicken Dowdo Soup – The area’s local noodle soap. Mint is one of the ingredients which makes it very refreshing. It’s served with wooden spoons, making sipping soap a whole new exotic.

Supra – Hunza’s mutton steak. A must-try for meat lovers.

Chapshuru – The local sandwich. There’s chicken/beef/mutton stuffing and vegetables in a chapati like bread with apricot oil.

Burus Barikutz – Our personal favorite is the traditional pizza. It comes as a rectangle cut, two-bite pieces, filled with goat cheese, spring onions, mint and apricot oil wrapped in chapati like bread.

Don’t forget to take a picture outside the café. It’s got very good lighting at night!

Khabashi Café – Girl Powered and organic

This café is one of its kind. Located in the serene garden of the Altit Fort.  You can enjoy your meal with the sight of nature, green lush trees and rams roaming around.

Inside on the fireplace are signatures of Prince Charles and Camilla from 2006 framed, suggesting that they must have visited this place.

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It’s a project of the AKU Trust and it’s run by women residents of Hunza. You can even purchase cookbooks featuring how to cook traditional Hunza foods from here. The money goes towards fundraising for uplifting the women of the area.

This place is known for its Cherry Juice and its traditional organic food. Hence, the place doesn’t serve any fizzy drinks. Nonetheless, the menu is similar to that of the Hidden Paradise as they serve local dishes as well.

Here are some foods you HAVE to try from here!

Giyaling – The local pancake served with honey. Our favorite at this place!

Chapchurro – The local sandwich. It has a different taste from the one served at Hidden Paradise

Brus Shapik – The local pizza

Source: Shahmeer and Mahnoor Mohydin

Dowdo Soup – The local noodle soup. Here, it’s served with mutton, the broth of which is creamy.

Hoi Garma – The local spinach pasta

Diram Phitti – This is the local halwa made of wheat. Try at your own risk. Joking! But realistically speaking, not everyone will have the taste-buds to like it. It’s not the typical sweet halwa, it has a different flavor to it since it gets its sweetness from wheat roots.

Tamora Tea – The local green tea. It comes from Tamora leaves of a plant found in the mountains. That’s what gives this tea its characteristic smell and essence. It’s also an ingredient to cure a sore throat. So, if you’ve fallen ill, sip up!

Cherry Juice – The fresh, Hunza cherries have certain juiciness to them so it’s a must-have

Since the food wait is a lot because of the rush at this place and since everything is prepared fresh, the best thing to do is that before you head to the Altit Fort Tour, you place your order at the café. So that once you come back, the food is ready for you. Trust me, the Altit Fort tour – the up and down walk will really get you hungry and you’d definitely want to devour food after that.

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Silk Route Café – the Bold one

Solely for coffee and desserts. This place is a must-visit for its bold statements outside the café. To find such statements in a place like Hunza makes it so exciting.

Check out its June statement in the picture we’ve shared. Some strong and thought-provoking words there!

Source: Shahmeer and Mahnoor Mohydin

Café de Hunza, Hidden Paradise and Silk Route Café are all located on the main Karimabad Bazar road, near each other, on  the same side of the road, as you walk uphill starting a little further from Zero Point ( This point is the landmark at which Serena Hotel’s turning sign is marked. Make sure not to turn for the hotel – its downhill.)

The Forts of Hunza – Altit, and Baltit

There are two forts in Hunza of historical importance – the Altit and the Baltit which take their name from Alta and Balta peaks. They have been listed by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. The reason why these forts are a great tourist attraction is that building forts, all these years ago in such a terrain and weather conditions, must be one heck of a deal and the fact that they are still preserved says a lot about them.

The forts are located in Karimabad. The Altit Fort is about 2.4 km from Zero Point, near Eagles Nest. While Baltit fort is located around the Baltit village, about 650m from Zero Point and its approach to the fort is from the Mian Karimabad Bazar road, heading up. There’s a good parking space around both the forts where vehicles can be parked with ease. The Altit Fort is the older one of the two and about 800 years old while the Baltit has survived for 700 years.

Here’s a picture with the Baltit Fort!

Source: Shahmeer and Mahnoor Mohydin

Nonetheless, they’ve been beautifully restored and maintained. Both these forts, have been constructed on the top of the hills, above the village settlements as a tactic for the rulers to easily deal with matters of governance so they can address the people’s concerns.

The forts have small doors. This is because it was a war strategy, that when under attack, the enemy can be targeted upon their entrance to the fort and their head could be chopped off. Also, because of the cold weather. Our personal opinion – they were probably short as well since there were inter-racial marriages from people of Hunza with people from China as also recorded in the history of how a Chinese princess got married to the Prince of Hunza. Another fact is that the first recorded settlement of Hunza were Mongols, that’s how Hunza even gets its name from Mongolian local language, where ‘hun’ means white.

The throne room, the small courts, living room, bedrooms and kitchen areas have been preserved in both the forts. Russian guns, Kashmiri and Chinese artifacts, cooking utensils of that time, currencies, carpets, clothing of rulers and historical photographs are placed in both the fort as museum galleries.

In the Baltit Fort, the currency is worth taking a close look at. It’s from the time of the old silk route, inscribed with both Chinese and Persian, in order to make trade easier between two places as the currency could be used in both places. In Altit Fort, two rooms are very interestingly placed together – ‘saath saath.‘  The Room of Death, where people were killed is right next to the Room of Life as in the Labour Room. Quite philosophically fascinating, isn’t it?

Here’s a mesmerizing view of a sunset witnessed from the Altit Fort!

Source: Shahmeer and Mahnoor Mohydin

Both forts have excellent views of all the mountains. Rakaposhi, Diran, Golden peak, Ladyfinger, Alta, and Balta – all can be seen. Altit Fort also has the view of River Indus, up close as it runs right near it and one can also see the Baltit Fort clearly from there.

Source: Shahmeer and Mahnoor Mohydin

It also has a beautiful garden area in which other attractions like the Khabashi Café and the Serena Hotel Guest Rooms, are functioning and very active.
The shops outside the streets of both these forts are worth stopping by and taking a look!

The Guard of the Baltit Fort

Source: Shahmeer and Mahnoor Mohydin

There are certain individuals who add some magic due to their presence. This man does that at the Baltit Fort. He’s been serving the fort for the past 25 years and is well versed in history. It’s truly a privilege listening to him tell the stories of the fort. He gave a special tour to us and also gave us a sneak peek into his rare-to-find Boat Shaped Moustache.

The traditional 800-year-old house on Hunza

This is run by a local Ayamullah Baig who’s pretty shy for photographs. He’s an excellent host. He started this endeavor with the concept to give an insight to the tourists to see what living was like in the past. You’ll find this house on your walk up to Baltit Fort. Previously, this house was the lodge of the governor/minister of 800 years ago so that he could live close to the ruler. In addition, this place offers a small story session as you sit in the traditional living room area with all the household collections.
Luckily, it also offers fresh juices and snacks!

Get your Hunza caps!

If you’re in Hunza and don’t roam around in the traditional Hunza cap, are you even a tourist? Well, quite frankly we wore the caps around to keep our head warm but I’ve got to admit, there’s some swag in wearing that cap and you HAVE to experience that. There’s a shop along the way to Baltit Fort, run by two brothers and their mother. Their mother has the typical poster looks of Hunza women, so graceful with her self-made embroidered caps. You can even buy her hand-made caps.
This shop is a great place to get your caps because the man sizes them to suit your head circumference. This way you’ll get your perfect fit.

100-year-old Baltit village resident -a Centurion encounter!

Source: Shahmeer and Mahnoor Mohydin

This was the most unexpected of encounters. On our walk down from the Baltit fort, we met a resident of the Baltit village who recently turned 100 years old. My very first meeting with a centurion. He introduced himself as ‘Ali’ and told us he was part of the army and served the First Punjab Regiment during World War I. He was very sweet to talk to and very enthusiastically posed for pictures with us. His family, especially his granddaughter, were very welcoming. That’s a lovely thing about Hunza people, they are very hospitable.

Karakoram Highway (KKH)

Source: Shahmeer and Mahnoor Mohydin

It is said that for every 1 km of Karakoram Highway (KKH), one life was lost – hats off to those unsung heroes! KKH is certainly a modern-day man-made wonder of the world. The tunnels are no less than the ones you’ll find in any other advanced area in the world. They are properly equipped with helpline phone booths, fire extinguishers, ventilation fans, etc.

Source: Shahmeer and Mahnoor Mohydin

There’s the longest road tunnel, spanning most of the distance between from Attatabad Lake to Karimabad that was formed in collaboration with NHA and the Pak-China initiative, about 10 km long. The tunnel is amazing and it’s quite an exciting drive through it. The drive everywhere along KKH was awe-inspiring and breath-taking. Especially when the music in the car was ‘Every breath you take – by Police.’ The drive was simply amazing. You may see pictures and videos on social media sites but you can’t feel the breeze of the air, the essence of being in that presence – it’s wonderful. Something only you can feel.

Attatabad Lake

Source: Shahmeer and Mahnoor Mohydin

As you drive to Khunjerab Pass, you will be seeing Attatabad lake – a 30 minutes’ drive from Karimabad, Hunza. It’s a grand lake with clear blue water and it looks absolutely beautiful with sunlight pouring down. Nonetheless, it has a lot to offer. The glistening waters of this beauty have a rich history of its formation. Boat tours enable one to experience the lakes captivating geology and all its glory. For all the thrill-seekers out there, this lake has water sports like the jet ski to keep you all entertained!

Passu Cones

As you near Passu Village, you’ll see the Passu Cones. Just to make it clear, it’s a mountain, not an ice-cream cone. You know how, as kids, we drew hills in a pin-point cone-like fashion – ring a bell? These cones are the exact depiction. They really are real. Whoever said we were bad artists, really need to see these!

Luxus Grand Hunza- A new viewing point for Attabad Lake and Passu Cones

If you want to experience luxury high up in the mountains combined with stunning views of Attatabad Lake and the glorious Passu cones then Luxus Hunza is a perfect choice! The beautiful resort is located right in the heart of Attatabad Lake. It’s a real sight to see the gorgeous sunset from this resort which makes for a breath-taking backdrop for pictures.

Here’s the famous photo frame at Luxus Grand Hunza!

Source: Shahmeer and Mahnoor Mohydin

People like us who share the love of aesthetic photos are in luck here since each and every part of the view to the lake from Luxus Hunza is a photo opportunity. They have a huge frame that offers a view right from the center of the lake. It’s a great place for a classic family photo and where we experimented with poses. Not to mention, there’s a rock right behind the frame which requires some effort to climb on too but once you’re up, the view is spectacular.

Source: Shahmeer and Mahnoor Mohydin

It is a state-of-art facility. The chalets are well equipped with everything you need from forming hot water to comfortable bedding. Each chalet has a personalized terrace where you can sit and enjoy the view. Who knew there could be a ‘beach-resort kind of a place’, up high in the mountains?

Khunjerab Pass – Kahan ja rahe ho?

Wahin jahan mulk khatam ho raha hai… Pak-China Border

Source: Shahmeer and Mahnoor Mohydin

It’s a 3 to 4-hour drive from Hunza to Khunjerab Pass. Access to this pass has made the Pakistani-Chinese bond closer than ever before. We wanted to make a trip to the border since the place has always seemed quite fascinating in pictures and as a token of our play to the very exemplary Pakistani-Chinese friendship.

Pakistanis have always been on good terms with the Chinese and they have always looked well towards the Pakistani’s. Due to CPEC, our trading relationships with China have always been at par and at peak.

China is a younger country than us. The Chinese revere the fact that when it got independence from the British in 1949, Pakistan was the first country to officially recognize it internationally at the United Nations and also establish trade relations with it. Our national carrier, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), took a flight to Beijing to deliver mangoes, becoming the first country to trade with China. Also, as this PIA flight was the first international flight that landed at Beijing Airport, it officially made it ‘Beijing International Airport.’

Being at the Khunjerab Pass has always been at the top of every Pakistani’s and Chinese’s list of things to do. So, of course, we had to go and get a picture taken right at the Pak-China Border and there was an added charm to driving up to 16,000ft which is even higher than the Swiss Alps.

How to prepare yourselves to go up? It’s best to layer up as you make your way to the top since its freezing cold up there.

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Also, according to local wisdom, dried Apricot (khubani) helps stabilize your breathing and enables one to deal with low oxygen content as one moves up towards the pass. We all made use of this tip and it worked really well. Sucking something sweet like a toffee also helps keep your mind off the twisty roads that could otherwise make some people dizzy.

The Pakistani side has the highest ATM machine of the National Bank of Pakistan (NBP). This title was previously held by India but now it is held by Pakistan.

Source: Shahmeer and Mahnoor Mohydin

If you are a big group then you HAVE to get your picture taken in front of the border front.

Ever spotted a Markhor/Ibex? We have!

The Markhor, also known as the Ibex, is the national animal of Pakistan. It is an endangered species which is why hunting it has been banned in Gilgit-Baltistan. They are rare and very difficult to spot as they often roam high up and camouflaged in the mountains. To our delight, we were lucky enough to spot these magnificent creatures on our way back from Khunjerab Pass to Hunza. The grandeur of these species left us startled! So keep your eyes peeled on your way up and down the Khunjerab Pass. Who knows you might spot one or even a trail of these awe-inspiring creatures?

Gem Shopping in Hunza!

The Hunza valley is a shopper’s paradise. The land of beauty is a tax-free zone and is also home to large reserves of Pakistan’s mineral ores and precious stones. The incredibly fascinating Hunza gems are popular due to their fine cuts and high-quality carats. Beautiful necklaces made out of Aquamarine stones caught our eye that compelled us to stop by at a local store in the streets leading up to Altit Fort. We did most of our shopping from these fort shops and from two shops in the main bazaar – ‘Ali Arts and Crafts’, which is situated on the Main Bazaar Road in Karimabad and from ‘Ali Gems and Jewels’, a shop right next to Café de Hunza.

The locals of Hunza consider birthstones to have a huge impact on a person’s personality!

Source: Shahmeer and Mahnoor Mohydin

One of the most exciting and interesting things that we found from the shop specialists was that each of these magnificent gems is associated with birth months. The birthstones depict the unique qualities of an individual.

Since one of us was an October born, we had to find ‘Tourmaline’, which is quite rare and comes in 12 different colors. It represents hope and faith which according to Anoosh, Mahnoor exhibits so much of it in the best possible way by having a positive outlook on everything that comes her way. Interestingly, since tourmaline is considered to be a peaceful stone, it’s also worn by people who have blood pressure problems. It’s thought to cool them down.

Anoosh is a May girl. Her birthstone is Emerald, which is known for its vibrancy and is significant towards ‘success in love’. That’s something Anoosh is working on and hopes to achieve it someday.
So, go get yourselves an emerald, even if it’s not your birthstone. Your new crush can certainly be yours. Giggles. 

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The beauty of these treasures pulls locals and tourists alike

Each and every gem is enchanting and soothing to hold and look at. These gems have the ability to give you valuable insight into traits that paint your personality. It’s definitely an experience you wouldn’t want to miss!

Old Hunza Inn – Experience the feel of the first backpacker’s lodge!

The Old Hunza Inn is one of the oldest accommodations in Hunza. It is called ‘The Old Hunza Inn’ precisely for that reason. The very first tourist stayed at the Inn in the 1900s and it’s run by a well-educated family that has been based in Hunza for centuries. The staff is kind, pleasant and hospitable. Nonetheless, they gave us excellent tips to get around Hunza by recommending the top sites to visit and were able to brief us about the historical significance of the region.

It’s owned by Liaqat Hussain, a very impressive mountaineer that has recently taken over the affairs of the hotel from his father, after coming back from China, where he taught English. Once, when we were out too late he, out of concern for our safety, personally called to check up on us. He is truly very talented and is bringing new ideas into this historical place by opening up a Café on one of the terraces at the hotel.  The place is frequented by foreigners and locals alike since it offers great value for money and in addition to that, the staff is multi-lingual. They speak English, Japanese, Chinese, Urdu and the local languages of Hunza fluently which is why it’s a top place for foreigners to choose.

The main lounge has a huge world map and a wall where people have expressed their thoughts about their stay at the Inn. It’s also a great place to meet fellow travelers and share experiences.
A true backpacker’s lodge in that sense.

Source: Shahmeer and Mahnoor Mohydin

The rooms have beds, windows, cupboards, and walls made out of high-quality wood that create a very comfortable environment. From the room’s balcony, the view is spectacular, both in the day and at night. Rakaposhi, Dinar and Golden peaks, are clearly visible.

Source: Shahmeer and Mahnoor Mohydin

Viewing the mesmerizing mountains while enjoying continental breakfast ranging from layered parathas, omelets and the best-mixed tea we have ever had was a real treat for all of us. Another plus of this place is that if you inform them a day in advance, the staff will be more than happy to arrange a bonfire for you on its rooftop accompanied by traditional music and barbeque. The best part of this bonfire is that it’s with the view of the mountains and 100% friends/family personalized.

Overall, the Old Hunza Inn offers a more personalized experience that no other place in Karimabad can offer. It truly is a wonderful place to stay, especially for long visits where you want a touch of home.

Up next, the Naran and Kaghan valley!

Saif-ul-Malook – The Lake of Fairies

We’ve practically grown up hearing about this exquisite lake which is deemed to be the gem of northern Pakistan that enthralls tourists from all over the world. It truly has a magical view. Crystal clear blue water, as if fairies would have glittered shine with their magic wands.

Source: Shahmeer and Mahnoor Mohydin

It’s located at the northern end of the Kaghan Valley, near the town of Naran. As the temperature rises it leads to the melting of glaciers from the surrounding peaks, mainly the Malika Parbat which is the highest peak in the valley. As a result, a depression got created where the water began to collect leading to the natural formation of the lake. The lake is easily accessible from Naran via a steep road that that leads high up into the mountains. The road is quite rocky and has, intentionally, left undeveloped so that local jeep drivers can generate a source of income by taking tourists up to the lake.

There happens to be a folk tale associated with this lake, written by the Sufi poet Mian Muhammad Bakhsh. According to the legend, the Prince of Persia, Saif-ul-Malook fell in love with a Fairy Princess Badri-ul-Jamala at the lake. That’s how the lake gets its name.

The road leading towards the lake was an exciting adventure in itself. The jumps and the twists and turns kept us at the edge of our seats and the only thing that kept us distracted was the cool wind in our hair, funny conversations followed by never-ending laughter and stunning views of the mountains surrounding the Naran and Kaghan valley that left us spellbound as we made our way towards the top.

The road leading up to Saif-ul-Malook was also covered with glaciers that have been cleared up from the center in order to create a passage for tourists and at times, we just drove over glaciers too. The locals have created steps in the ice and various ice sculptures such as cute rabbits and teddy bears underneath Pakistan’s flag which is attached on the face of the glaciers. These spots turned to be a lot of fun for us as we played with the snow by attacking each other with snowballs, slipping on the snow while climbing the stairs in between at our stops at the glaciers and slipping ice behind each other’s shirts to give them a chill that would make their bodies freeze up.

On our arrival, we decided to have breakfast at one of the many restaurants surrounding the lake. The view of the lake is hindered at certain points due to the existence of shops and restaurants in the area. Our authorities should really work on planning commercial ventures in the area whereby they do not hinder the view of the lake and don’t destroy its natural grandeur.

Boat rides are organized in the lake and tourists can also slide down glaciers which make for a thrilling experience. Every corner of the lake is picturesque which gave us an excellent opportunity for pictures. We created multiple boomerangs of the water, ourselves and the best pose that we did was jumping up in front of the lake in order to create a boomerang that would have us jumping in joy in mid-air.
This lake is a marvel that deserves to be seen and appreciated so don’t miss out on this one!

Lulusar Lake – The lesser-known earlier Heaven

The Lulusar Lake is a less discovered eye-candy. It’s similar to Lake Saif-ul-Malook in having a mirror-like surface that reflects the great mountains of the Kaghan Valley. However, it’s a bit different in size, being larger and having greenish emerald water instead of bluish turquoise, making it a dazzling view.

Source: Shahmeer and Mahnoor Mohydin

It’s a drive of about 1.5 hours from Naran and borders the road that leads right up to Babusar Pass. The name of the lake is derived from the word ‘sar’ which means either ‘lake’ or High Mountain. In the case of Lulusar, the word is used to denote high mountains with snow-covered peaks that surround the lake.

Lulusar Lake, nonetheless, has an undisrupted view of the Kaghan Valley Mountains since the lake isn’t as commercialized as Saif-ul-Malook. This lake only has Demanchi restaurant in its vicinity which is right opposite the lake so it doesn’t block the view as opposed to Saif-ul-Malook which is surrounded by a greater number of shops and restaurants. Hence, Lulusar has been preserved in its natural beauty which makes its stand out stunningly.

Babusar Pass – 13,000 feet ‘Pa tasveer aur baraf ka maza!’

Source: Shahmeer and Mahnoor Mohydin

The Babusar Pass is a snow-capped beauty. At the moment the road path’s clear of snow for the drive but the snow is still on the sides of the road. Our route from Naran to Hunza was via this pass and it was good, ironic ‘winter fun’ in the summers. Some serious camera goals here!

Source: Shahmeer and Mahnoor Mohydin

Water Fall Café

So if there’s one thing that everyone wants to do up north, it’s to try the trout that’s available at the restaurants across Naran and also in small waterfall cafes. We had the same idea but ended up skipping the trout since our hotel manager, who’s a local of the city told us that freshwater river trout is hard to find in the area. Due to the excess demand, a lot of people tend to sell farm trout.

Source: Giphy

On our way back to Islamabad we decided to stop by at one of the many waterfall cafes that sparked our interest. The weather was beautiful and the café was quite unique since the owners had set the café up on a small waterfall and had seating arrangements atop the rocky pavements. We sat on the chairs and dipped our feet in the water which was refreshingly cold, kind of like what we do in a swimming pool or a pond, but imagine dipping your feet and enjoying yourself in the water coming from a fresh waterfall.

Now that’s surely something you want to tick off on your bucket list. We ordered garam pakoras, chai and crispy finger chips which were a real treat as the water splashed from the top, across our feet, and down the rocks.

Abbottabad

Alpha, Bravo, Charlie – A sneak peek into the Pakistan Military Academy (PMA), Kakul

Source: Shahmeer and Mahnoor Mohydin

The city of Abbottabad is named after Major Abbott who is known to have written a poem about the beauty of the city which hangs on the walls of the Baloch Mess and offers scrumptious dinner and extraordinary views of the city. Kind of like Abbottabad’s ‘Monal.’

The thought behind having the Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) in this city, for cadets to be trained, is because if the training center would’ve been at Lahore, I think we can all pretty much imagine what the scorching heat would probably do to the cadets, considering what it already does to us!

The drama series Alpha Bravo Charlie is a Pakistani household favorite. Our parents probably grew up watching this wonderful show and so did our generation after that since we were all intrigued by the lives led by men in the Armed Forces. Visiting this academy surely brought back the memories of this show. On the surface, it may seem as if we already know a lot about the Pakistan Army through conversations, experiences and the media’s portrayal of this institution. However, there’s always more to an institution than what meets the eye.

We entered the Pakistan Military Academy (PMA), through the inspiring 4th Battalion entrance. A tour around PMA gave us an insight into the rigorous training that the cadets have to go through to become strong leaders and eventually brave officers. It’s a huge facility that has been developed into an amazing Academy today.

Our guide at PMA’s museum narrated interesting stories about the lives of the cadets which made us realize that being a cadet at the Academy is a bittersweet feeling since it’s one of the best and worst experiences a cadet goes through, especially as they sacrifice the golden, fun years of their youth to come train here.

The museum has many interesting artifacts and historical insights. The walls carry pictures of top cadets receiving the Sword of Honour and of each of PMA Long Course’s passed out batch. The Academy has records of all those individuals who have served at PMA and one can check up on the enrolment dates, which is quite exciting if you know anyone who’s attended the academy.

There were many interesting areas in the Academy that according to our guide tend to evoke mixed emotions for the cadets.

One such place was the long red track which every cadet feared during their time since they’re required to sprint through it in one go in order to clear their physical education course. If they fail to do that, they fail to graduate.

Source: Giphy

Shougrat is an amazing initiative in PMA. Unfortunately, we know little about the lives of the women of these army men. Therefore, this organization gives these women an opportunity to contribute and put their skills to small-scale commercial entrepreneurship. These include designing and making clothes, bags and household goods.
It was quite fascinating to learn about the history of the Academy and explore its beautiful parks.

Nonetheless, we drove down PMA road as well where a cadet in training had to jog at all times and that, in itself, is a test of the cadet’s physical well-being. The Red Steps where the Passing out Parade is carried out is legendary and each and every corner of the Academy has something new to offer. It was like nothing we’d ever seen before.

The Northern Light Infantry (NLI) Centre – Heroes of the North

The Northern Light Infantry (NLI) is located in Bunji, a small town in the Astore District in Gilgit-Baltistan. The NLI was formed through the joining of three scouts and the Markhor/Ibex happens to be its logo.

I guess the best introduction to this place is that Captain Kernal Sher Khan, who is the Nishan-e-Haider of the Kargil War as well as all other brave heroes of Kargil, belong to this infantry.

The Bunji Bridge is a very interesting and beautiful suspension bridge with Pakistani flags attached on both sides of the bridge. The Bridge spans the Indus River and is the entrance to the NLI Centre in Bunji.

Source: Shahmeer and Mahnoor Mohydin

The NLI center is a hidden gem of the Pakistan Army that, unfortunately, not many people know about

The NLI mess is centrally located in such a way that it offers a 360-degree view of the three spectacular mountain ranges of Pakistan namely the Karakoram, the Hindu Kush, and the Himalayas. It’s a beautiful place to stay since the huts are made of high-quality wood and they offer comfortable rooms and our favorite sunrooms in their gardens. Also, it has a huge golf course which is quite exciting since it’s built high up in the mountains.

The NLI center houses a museum that gives an insight into the rich history of the Infantry, their sacrifices, their hopes, and ambitions as well as of Gilgit-Baltistan as a whole. It’s a great place for photography since the building of the center kind of reminds one of the Khaplu Palace in Skardu. Nonetheless, the heroes of the north even wear the traditional Gilgit caps that have a feather of the Markhor on top for their parades.

There are designated viewpoints that provide spell bounding close up views of Rakaposhi and Nanga Parbat and I bet the grandeur of the mountains and the beauty of the center is enough to move your heart to the very core.

Farewell!

This entire road trip was an experience in itself. We got a chance to explore things that we never thought we ever would. Through our travels, we began to reminisce about the time when we were kids and drew mountains with rivers flowing and to actually witness that with our very eyes truly left us spellbound. It was as if taking a paintbrush and coloring the sketches of our imagination.

Not snowman. Stoneman. Courtesy of Mahnoor.

Source: Shahmeer and Mahnoor Mohydin

Our country is blessed with sheer natural beauty that’s beyond compare. Pakistan has and will always have so much to offer. The north is heavenly since it offers spectacular sights and sounds that’ll leave you craving for more. We hope that reading about our experience encourages and compels you to head up to the north and explore your own country. So, get going and pack your bags for this summer because you’re heading north!

Been there and have an unforgettable experience to share? Let us know in the comments section below!

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