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  • Wolfgang Fobo

Karakorum Highway

Visiting Pakistan takes preparations. You cannot just arrive and travel as you like. No, you need a visa. And one precondition for obtaining a visa is an official invitation by a local tour operator. This local tour operator will be responsible for your total stay in Pakistan. Insofar it seems to me you cannot travel on your own. Having traveled Pakistan the standard way, that is with a local tour operator, I feel this is the better - if not the only - option, because they are the trail blazer that you need. I faced numerous police checks, where our documents were checked. On certain areas you even have to be escorted by police - not that I felt any danger, but apparently the Pakistani officials want to avoid at an costs that something may happen to you.

Our tour, starting in Islamabad, then clockwise. The Karakorum Highway is the leg at the right side, leading upward, direction China

So once you have the flight data and the invitation in your hands, the visa application process is relatively simple and straightforward - you will do that online.

Kalasha women taking a rest from field work

Already the girls wear their fanciful robes

And then you have arrived and will be rewarded by super friendly people, and a great nature. Our local and super competent guide always selected the best guest houses and tourist spots on the way, and, not to forget, we had a professional driver who safely drove us the some 2,000 km in Northern Pakistan, lots of time along the abyss, because you are in a mountainous area, where sometimes you have to pass around land slides or fallen rocks that partially block the road. A road which has no defined edge, and it is always the driver’s choice how close he may drive towards the abyss. Great experience anyhow, this curving around in the mountains, on unpaved roads, holding your breath how your driver masters the next challenge.

Dancing Kalasha girls. By the way, if you do not see men, it is because they wear nothing special, just the ordinary Pakistani men's wear

Our tour went clockwise, starting in Islamabad, first to the Kalasha Valley, on to Chitral, next to Gilgit, crossing the Shandur pass, and finally towards the Hunza Valley, and this on the famous Karakorum Highway.  Which would lead into China, over the Khunjerab Pass, but we did not drive that far, our northernmost location was Passu. The Karakorum Highway is fully asphalted, and in good condition, so the hair-raising drive along the abyss could be avoided (this you have rather towards to Kalasha Valley or between Chitral and Gilgit).  Instead you are now fully fascinated by the countless peaks of an altitude of more than 7,000m, which surround you.

Road maintenance occurred several times. Then you have to wait.

If the road is blocked, often by a landslide, you have to wait until the path is cleared for you. And should this occur after 6pm, you have to wait until next morning, when the maintenance team resumes work. Luckily, "our" landslides occurred in time, that is, before 6 pm.

Lots of opportunity to wonder how these trucks manage to pass by

Taking lunch at Shandur Pass, at an altitude of 3,740m.

Landscape around Shandur Pass

Looking down to Phander Valley


Concerning the friendship between Pakistan and China, I have doubts whether this friendship really goes so deep. Of course the Chinese built the Karakorum Highway, which is totally asphalted, and surely a masterpiece of engineering. However, you will not see Chinese tourists in Pakistan. Our guide told me that it is almost impossible to guide Chinese tourists, because they have to be at all times escorted by security personnel. He told me a story that once a Chinese tourist was prevented to leave his hotel in Lahore for sightseeing, because no security personnel was available. If the friendship between the people of China an Pakistan should really run so deep. I wonder why so much of protection is required. In terms of security, we also had an escort for perhaps 100km, when we drove close to the border of Afghanistan, near the Swat valley. But the police who escorted us was very friendly, and I never felt a precarious situation, nowhere. I call it over-protection.

Another "must" is crossing the Hussaini suspension bridge. I did it.

The Hunza valley near Passu. In the lower left edge the Passu glacier

The Baltit fort reminded me a bit the Potala Palace in Lhasa

The guardian of Baltit fort

View from our guest house in Passu

Passu and its peaks

View Point of the Nanga Parbat. 5 of the 14 mountains over 8,000m are located in Pakistan. And in one location we were surrounded by 11 peaks all over 7,000m

Curious girls

All in all, 16 great adventourous days, well guided, no incindence, all good. Thanks, Raji, and thanks, Zafar.

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