Come August and it rekindles our spirit of patriotism. Every year we celebrate 14th August, our Independence Day, with much fervour and zeal. And what better way to revive your streak of nationalism than by travelling. By travelling around in your own country, you can get closer to its history, folklore and culture; it also gives you a sense of place and belonging.
Vacation time or a getaway is recommended for revitalising your life. Since Covid-19 our family vacation time came to a halt. After more than 3 years of no vacation, an opportunity came along and a quick short trip was planned, to explore our own country: Pakistan. Our adventurous group (four mothers and 7 children ranging 10 to 21 years) were ready to see the amazing places of Pakistan. Our trip was to start via a road from Karachi to Islamabad but due to our country’s sensitive political situation it was thought best to fly to Islamabad and start our official 7-day guided tour from there.
Day 1: Hazara Express, Balakot, Kiwai waterfall
We landed in Islamabad at 9 am and straight away got in our grand cabin with all our extra goodies. Thank God, we took them as our kids nonstop demanded snacks throughout the trip – as they say food and relaxing time go hand in hand. We started our journey by heading to Shogran which was a 5 to 6 hours travel time. It seems a lot but once you are on the go and there’s excitement in the air. After crossing Hazara Express, we took a quick ice cream/ tea/ bathroom break at Balakot, then reached Kiwai waterfall where we were transferred into local, old, off-road jeeps. While the things were being transferred into the jeeps, we all made a bee-line for the waterfall and what a blessing it was - to dip our feet in freezing flowing water, sitting on the charpais, eating French fries and drinking soda. It was a rough, squeezed one-hour drive (which seemed like 2 hours) to Shogran. However, we forgot all about our aching bones when we reached our hotel. The rooms were comfy. We had a hot shower followed by an early dinner and then a little unwinding by playing ludo and cards in the lush green garden of the hotel before bed.
Day 2: Siri Paye
All rested, our next destination was Siri Paye. We were warned by our guide that it was going to be a long and rough ride, well; the kids thought how rough could the drive possibly be? Little did they know that the ride was actually very rough and dangerous. It was thrilling and exciting for the kids but for us, grownups, we were physically and mentally on the edge of our seats. Reaching the first stop of our trip (Siri) we took a quick bathroom break and took a few selfies and then carried on with our trip heading towards Paye. Upon reaching the tourists area of Paye,(with covered seating area) we took refreshments like pakoras, fries, tea, etc. But the height of delight was the top of the mountain (in order to reach the mountain top you have to either ride on horseback or do a 30 min trek). At the top of the mountain the view was simply spectacular with majestic snow-clad mountains, greenery, clear skyline, fresh air and cold wind. There we enjoyed the view while relishing our own home-made hunter beef sandwiches – what more could one ask for. We took a lot of pictures along with a hawk as well (for 150 rupees). Then it was time to head back before the sun set.
While going back on the bumpy roads, I asked one of the drivers why the tourist department doesn’t improve the roads as this is a popular tourist spot. And I was amazed by his reply. According to him, the local drivers are on these paths 4-5 times daily. If the roads are good, then no one would hire them or their jeeps as people could travel in their own transportation (point to ponder). We reached our hotel safe and sound just in time as it started raining, with very loud lightning and thunder. We oldies were in bed by 10pm but the kids were up till 3 am.
Up early, ready to go to Naran, which was a 2-3 hours’ drive. Jeep ride back to Kiwai waterfall to change our transportation back to the coaster. On reaching Naran, took half an hour to unload, and readied to get into our jeeps to reach the famous Saif-ul-Maluk
Lake. In half an hour we reached the tourist area, where all jeeps were parked, and you had to walk down to the lake; climbing down the stairs you get the view of the majestic lake. And what a magnificent view it was and on top of that the cold wind and the warm sun made it a great combination. To slide down a glacier, we had to pay Rs.100. When we reached back to the hotel in the pouring rain, it was almost dark. We had the local sajji followed by waffles and brownies for dessert… east meet west.
Day 4: Batalundi, Jhalkhand, Lulusar Lake, Babusar Pass
Next morning on our 3-hour drive way to Babusar, we stopped for rafting, at Lulusar Lake. The thrill of doing rafting was unexpected, especially in Pakistan, you always thought that rafting was a western thing .The locals were well equipped with life jackets, helmets and rafts. There was an option to take a longer or shorter route. All geared up, ready to take on the longer route, with only one guide. We got into our two rafts, and started paddling. The task of racing with the other raft, taking selfies, turned out to be difficult, especially when you were continuously hit by the icy, cold lake water. By the time we reached the end, we were soaking wet. Now the challenge was where do we change our wet clothes? Our guide was a resourceful one, he found us a paid container where the girls could change their clothes, but the boys had to change in the coaster. While waiting we enjoyed a mini bonfire and a cup of hot chocolate.
Our next adventure was to do zipline, but due to rain we had to skip it. On reaching Babusar we experienced an unexpected pleasure; it was snowing and our excitement knew no bounds. We stayed there for like an hour and enjoyed pakora, French fries and snowflakes. However, we had to return early due to the bad weather.
Ready for another 5-6 hours long drive to the Neelum Valley. We stopped at Muzzafarabad River View Point where we saw the bridge that joins India and Pakistan. And you can actually see across the river into people’s homes. To reach our destination we had to drive a very curvy up hill road in complete darkness. It was raining cats and dogs, but reached safe and sound to our hotel.
The early morning breakfast, cold breeze, warm sun and the view at Keran was very refreshing. Then we left for Dhani Waterfall. On reaching, we had to use a large tree trunk as a bridge to reach the waterfall, where the children enjoyed to their heart’s content.
Travelling to Sharda was short and sweet but we had to get back into jeeps to cross a wooden bridge in order to get to our hotel. Sharda Peeth, ruins of an ancient University of Buddhist era and a non-functional Hindu temple, is a tourist attraction in Sharda and one has to climb a steep sixty-nine steps to reach there.
We had breakfast in a small local dhaaba. The place was clean, and the omelette, paratha was filling. While walking back to the jeeps, I came across a school in session. Curiosity took me in, and in one dark room found about 30 students of grade 3 and 4 sitting on benches, studying English, amazingly both the female teachers were M.Ed. I felt proud, as I am also an educationist.
At Kutton Waterfall a special bridge is dedicated to a small local boy who lost his life trying to save lives of college girls, who fell in the river, after the bridge collapsed.
We reached Islamabad after a 9-hour long drive. Next morning, we visited the Khewra mines, the famous salt mines of Asia. It was worth the visit. The same day we flew back to Karachi.
In a nutshell, this guided tour was amazing, keeping in mind that this was a mothers and children group. Despite having limited budget, and facing a few troubles, it was a one happy trip. Pakistan Zindabad!
The writer is an educationist. She can be reached at