From the snow-capped mountains in the north and glistening waters in the south, from the unique wildlife to the mighty River Indus running into the Arabian Sea, Pakistan’s tourism has a lot to offer. World Tourism Day, celebrated each year globally on 27 September, fosters awareness of tourism’s social, cultural, political and economic value and the contribution that the sector can make towards reaching the Sustainable Development Goals.
As the world is starting to restart its tourism, we have been witnessing many people heading on Pakistan tours, especially the northern side. And we know, you must be itching to for a getaway too. So, in light of this, we decided to take a closer look at the local scene and talk to some tourists to learn from their experiences. This week You! has gathered a list of genuine advice and tips, so you can start planning your next adventure…
Plan according to your budget
Alas, to travel you need moolah. When it comes to travelling within the country, it can sometimes be more expensive than you expect it to be. For instance, a trip to Skardu from Islamabad can cost around 70k for one person depending on the hotels and the mode of transport you want to book. Munawar Sultana Siyal is a Lahore-based lawyer and also an avid traveller. Having travelled to most parts of Pakistan, Munawar has gotten the hang of what to expect in terms of budgets. “Since, I travel from Lahore, it costs around 10k for a three-day trip to Kashmir in a group. Skardu and Naltar are expensive tours which costs around 25k to 28k, everything else is less than these two places. The minimum you can pay for a trip is 9000, which is to Swat from Lahore,” informs Munawar. “I feel that people travelling from Karachi have expensive packages. For them, I recommend coming to Lahore by train. Even if you are travelling business class in train, it’ll cost you 5k for one way, which is still pretty less than air travel. You can spend a day in Lahore to rest and then go with a tour group from there, which will save you a lot of money.”
Now that trips are easier to make, you would find a lot of the places to be crowded. Yusra Salim, a Karachi-based journalist, recently travelled to Hunza this summer agrees to that. “The crowd has increased drastically in last two years. We went to Hunza in 2018 and the place was serene and peaceful. This year it was fully crowded. In Naran, as you would leave the hotel, all we saw were heads of people,” she informs.
Hafsah Sarfraz, based in Islamabad, visited Ayun, a small town near Chitral this Summer, but she also raves about Khaplu Palace near Skardu, which is her favourite. In terms of planning your trip, Hafsah has some useful advice. “Travel in off season which is April, May, September October and avoid June, July August. There is less crowd and hotels are able to provide better service. There will be better experience overall,” she tells. “Don’t try to cram too much in your itinerary, like if you are doing a three-day trip to Chitral, don’t hope to see everything there. Just focus on two areas and explore those. If you like a place, you can always visit it later as well.”
Be practical about road trips
Road trips sounds like a lot of fun, but they can be tiring and require some planning before you hop in your wagon. Yusra Tarique Jamall is a Karachi-based clinical psychologist, who recently took a road trip with her husband and one-year-old daughter. They went from Karachi to Multan, Islamabad, Nathiagali, Naran. In Naran, they stayed for two days and went to Lulusar Lake, Batakundi and Lalazar. From there, they continued on to Muzaffarabad, Neelum Valley (Upper Neelum and lower Neelum) and AJK. “I planned my trip through online research and Facebook pages, then drafted my road mapping through the research I did online. It was my third time traveling, so obviously I loved it. North has some beautiful places but the more a spot is visited by tourists, it becomes less attractive due to the pollution,” shares Jamall.
Yusra’s family took their own vehicle and travelled by-road all the way. “I feel it was more economical, because tour guides charge an arm and leg for private cars; double than what only petrol costs you. We took estimates from tour guides and had a rough idea of petrol cost overall. Our trip costed us around 1.25 lac in total for two adults and a toddler including petrol, accommodation and food.”
Women who are looking to explore Pakistan, travel groups are a great option. Not only are they economical, they can also help smooth out the kinks for your trip. “I have travelled personally, with tour groups and customised packages as well,” tells Munawar. “Make sure that you travel with reliable groups. Verify them and look for their ratings and reviews. I feel that tour groups are usually more economical since they know people. If you hire a jeep on your own, it can be pretty expensive. For instance, Skardu costs me around a lac easily just because we have to hire the jeeps unless I’m travelling with tour groups. Overall, my experience travelling Pakistan has been amazing. Most of the North is pretty safe to travel except for Upper Dir and Swat which I feel is a little awkward.”
Yusra Salim feels it’s totally safe for women to travel. “It’s safe to travel in groups. In every trip we’ve gone to, at least one single woman is travelling. Two years ago, my mother-in-law, two sisters-in-law and I went to Hunza with no men. And it was the best trip I have ever had.”
Tour groups also have an edge over managing things. Alefyah Hasnain travelled with her family this summer along with her mom and three-year-old son. “The trip was planned via a tour operator and it did cost a little on the higher side but that was because we couldn’t risk it with my mum and son. We had pretty good hotels and a comfortable van too,” describes Alefyah. “I would suggest to avoid going during the Eid rush because that was terrible. We got caught up in it as our trip got extended because of landslides. My advice is that if you are going in peak season, go with reliable tour operators. We came across a lot of people who booked rooms but didn’t pay in advance, so the hotel gave away their rooms due to whatever reason. And if you’re going via road, carry extra petrol in the car, because that’s what saved us in that terrible rush!”
While we are blessed with scenic views, sadly we don’t have decent facilities. “We mostly struggled with finding clean washrooms. Throughout the Motorway, there are really well-maintained rest areas with bakeries and all but in Sindh, the situation is pathetic. There is no concept of a public restroom unless you get to a petrol station and the situation is really bad. The same is with the North, but a little better, maybe. Also, the roads are better in the North now but it still has a lot room for improvement,” elucidates Jamall.
“We basically lack facilities like clean washrooms and signals. Moreover, there is a need to strengthen the local transporters. Although, this time around the roads have gotten really better,” adds Munawar.
“Some toilets were horrific and some were fair. The petrol stations have some which you can pay to use, they were much better. But you have to keep the bar low otherwise you can’t survive the trip. Though, I would add that we don’t get that level of facilities that we pay for in a hotel. If you’d pay the same amount internationally, you would get way better hotels with facilities,” Alefyah opines.
For people coming from main cities, especially the ones used to spicy food, the food may not be the best. And as you go higher up North, you may not get a lot of variety as well. If you want, you can pack some snacks for a rainy day.
As you go higher up, many hotels don’t have hot running water 24/7, even if you are paying good money for it. There are timings for hot water, so when you are going in for a shower, make sure to call the front desk and confirm.
Pack light. You will be changing a lot of hotels, so carrying a lot of luggage will not be something you want to be doing on a trip where you want to relax. You can wash your clothes on your trip yourself (carry small surf sachets), but drying can be an issue since most days are cloudy.
Farwa Kumail reccomends leaving for your next stop early. She recalls that it saved them from a lot of traffic and their trip was much smother.
If you are travelling with kids, Alefyah recommends to not pack light for the kids, as the weather can be unpredictable. Also, it’s difficult to keep a child engaged for so long on the road, but with older kids, you can play games. So, when planning the trip with toddlers, bear that in mind.
Pakistan is a beautiful country and it is worth seeing in every season. Our respondents were of the view that the sceneries of this country are truly a sight to behold. One cannot compare it to anywhere in the world; and the pictures don’t do justice to them at all. And this gorgeous view is complemented by humble locals, who are very welcoming and helpful to you. It’s an experience worth braving a storm for…