Saturday, August 31

North Pakistan, Day Four: The Two Forts

We left Gilgit at a leisurely 10am under a surprisingly strong sun. Most of our driving time would be through the Nagar Valley, the start of which was marked by a visit to a woodcrafter in Jaglot (confusingly not the Jaglot we offered Jummah in yesterday).

After lunch we continued on to Hunza Valley, passing though Allahabad on the way. It was en route that we finally got to see our first glimpse of the 7.8km tall Rakaposhi.

Our first real sight was in Altit for its fort. This building was impressive enough, but it was also our first contact with local ethnic people who weren't your typical Punjabi that one would typically find in this region. Their Sheena language was almost musical.

Interestingly this was the first time we had encountered white tourists. Thinking about it I don't think I've ever met a white person in Pakistan, but its a testament to both how accessible the area has become, and how exotically it's now viewed, that Western tourism is now becoming visibly commonplace here.

We then headed to Karimabad for the Baltit Fort, and if I thought I had already witnessed the peak of the tourism in this area, Baltit proved me wrong. The fort itself was okay; larger than Altit but the latter was nicer in multiple way. Sunset was spent at Duiker, otherwise known as the Eagle's Nest, and we treated ourselves to some local walnut cake after dinner.

Friday, August 30

North Pakistan, Day Three: Passing The Heights

So much for sleeping well. Full body aches ensured a rough night. So an update to yesterday's conclusion then: both Siri Paye and Saif-ul-Mulk were ones to skip.

Given the above context, it wasn't a surprise that we needed an early start today, the day of Jummah. We made Batakundi by 8am, Lulusar Lake by 9.15am and made it over Babusar Top by 10am. This hit an altitude of 4km which we all felt after climbing even the most simple of stairs.

As we descended back to 2km the heat was also rising. From 14c at the top to 36c at the bottom it was fascinating to watch how the climate changed.

We were now following the River Indus, driving along the Karakoram Highway to just touch the edge of Chilas. We stopped to see some Bhuddist carvings at around 11.40am, and made it to Jaglot for Jummah at around 1pm.

We also stopped to see the confluence of the Rivers Indus and Gilgit, which is also where one can see the three mountain ranges of Hindu Kush, Karakoram and Himilaya. It was a significant stop, in weight if not physicality.

Our final stop was Gilgit proper, where we treated ourselves to Kashgari Pulao. On the way to our hotel we stopped for a quick look at the Kargah Buddha and Gilgit Bazaar.

Thursday, August 29

North Pakistan, Day Two: Jeeping Along The Mountain Roads

For our first real excursion we left the Prado behind and took a bumpy Jeep ride up to an altitude of 3km to visit Siri Paye. It was nice once we got up there, but debatable if the journey was worth it overall, especially since we had to make the same journey back down to Shogran at the end.

We then hit the road to Naran, stopping in Kaghan for another food highlight, this time some chapli kebabs. We generally avoid street food in Karachi, so this was truly us embracing the tourist trail.

A surprise awaited us at Naran: another Jeep ride up to Saif-ul-Mulk, for the mountain lake there. Although a highlight in many itineraries before ours, for us the visit was merely "okay". I tried to compensate by going off on my own hike but slightly over did it (let's just say a horse might have been sent for me), so all in all today was a bit of a bust.

On the other hand I will sleep well tonight.

Wednesday, August 28

North Pakistan, Day One: Hitting The Road, Running

Ah, Islamabad. The last time I visited this city was way back in 1990 - although contrasting then and now in my mind didn't really highlight any difference. It was the first time that I discovered that Pakistan was more than Karachi, and it was possible to have clean streets and low(ish) crime in this subcontinent country. A naive view would be to say that people actually gave a poo here, but dig a little deeper and there are real reasons for the contrast.

Not that we had much time to do a more through analysis; from the airport we made a beeline to Shogran, where we were going to spend our first night.

We stopped in Abbotobad for lunch. This town was still clean, and perhaps even more affluent than Karachi, although in many ways that just emphasised the rich-poor divide up and down the country. Oddly I saw no women anywhere and was surprised when we were asked to use the family room for our mixed group of 4 people, where we had quite possibly the richest dhal I've ever tasted (I could feel a heart attack coming on as we ate - not a good sign for day one of the trip).

Our journey took us through Mansehra, Bisian and Balakot. I've mentioned before how as I get on it becomes more difficult for travel to impress me. But this drive alone had enough continuous views and panoramas that never got old. I was in awe.

We entered the Kaghan Valley, stopping off at the Makayla viewpoint on the way to our final destination via a mountain road to Shogran, the cliffs so sheer and the valleys so vast that it became difficult to make sense of the perspectives and scales of what we were seeing.

And so we found ourselves in a little mountain resort, settling in for what we expected to be a rewarding slog for the remainder of the trip.

Tuesday, August 27

North Pakistan, Day Zero: Strangers at Home

Even though I average about one trip a year to Pakistan, two trips in six months is pretty unprecedented for me. But this wasn't a usual trip "back home" to Karachi, but an exclusive tour of the north of the country where we will pretty much stay as tourists for the whole duration we're there.

My preference would have been for an internal trip as a part of a normally scheduled Karachi visit, but that idea was vetoed. As such I am once again stuck in travel hell, and Gatwick will be my new home for the next month or so.

And let us not forget the recent change in the geopolitics of the area. A part of our trip has already been changed to allow for any sparking of violence; it remains to be seen if there is any further disruption to our itinerary.

Friday, August 23


It's actually a struggle to recognise the decade and an half that this blog has existed. I've managed to say something somewhat apt to mark the occasion so far, but it's actually taken me two days to write this back-dated post, mainly because there's not really much more to say. And yet my OCD-completionist side compels me to write something, even if it's anything. And so here I am, playing the stream of consciousness word-vomit game that seems to work so well on Instagram. Maybe it'll even work without the photo.

Fifteen is an odd number. It's certainly a lot, but it's also just within grasping distance of my ability to measure the years, not that I have much else to use as a yardstick. Cliched as it sounds it does feel like yesterday that this blog would see weekly long form "opinion" posts which would regularly spill into real life. Ironically though as the content of the blog forever distills into a diary like journal, so does its value change for me. I do use it to look up dates that I travelled or watched a film, and maybe that's always been the point of it. Either way I've grown comfortable with its current form, even if ticking off the list of due posts makes it all fell like a chore sometimes/always.

Anyway, I think I've hit the minimum word count. Heaven knows what I'll write about next year.

Tuesday, August 20

Film: Good Boys Click for more info

I'm not sure if Good Boys was supposed to be a Home Alone for the current age or just another attempt to juxtapose kids with swearing, but something didn't quite work for me. It could have been another Sausage Party but bad producing and flat acting (they are kids after all) was enough to neutralise any novelty or gimmick the film might have had to offer.

There were some standalone laughs, but no where near enough to warrant a recommendation. Pass.

Wednesday, August 7

Film: Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw Click for more info

As much a fan of the Fast & Furious franchise I am, I was prepared to enjoy Hobbs & Shaw as much as I did. Especially for the reasons why - for me H&S is one of the most laugh out loud funny films this year. In fact I'd even say it was produced much more as a police comedy than the ridiculous crime action of before - a Rush Hour for current times perhaps.

The cast was as good as you could hope for, with some straightforward, if a bit hammy, acting, and the plot and action all supported the chemistry of the main protagonists. It was all very reassuring and a great way to spend the two hours or so it ran for. Recommended.