Our Introduction to Pakistan

Trip Start May 14, 2009
Trip End Jun 15, 2009

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Flag of Pakistan  , Northern Areas,
Saturday, June 6, 2009

Introducing North Pakistan

We believe it is important at this stage of our travelogue to include an introduction to the political and economic situation of Pakistan at the time of our travels. As mentioned earlier on this travelogue, it was not without some concerns and a degree of trepidation that we decided on travelling to a country that is little known by most of our Australian friends and colleagues but so widely and negatively reported on by world media.

Our final decision to pursue what most, if not all of our friends and colleagues thought was sheer foolhardiness in travelling to Pakistan, was our improbable faith in Ishaq Ali, Managing Director of North Pakistan Treks, Tours and Expeditions who performed a miraculous and tedious task over a year of writing many emails convincing us that the Northern Areas were quite safe for our travel.

Thanks to this remarkable agent and his colleagues we spent “the time of our lives” in this beautiful country. Contact details for this company: email: ishaq_jan@yahoo.com

This is Pakistan through our eyes:

Unsurpassed rugged scenery nurturing some of the highest and youngest mountain peaks in the world, a unique and unspoilt environment for touring and trekking, fabulous food, clean townships and a melting pot of cultures with friendly and hospitable people should make this geologically and ethnically fascinating country rival any top tourist destination.

But like the restless tectonic plates that underpin this country, Pakistan continues to be a politically volatile nation precariously subject to the pressures of complex internal conflict and a long history of external discord with its neighbours. The resurgence of the Taliban (once supported by the USA), ongoing pressure from world powerbrokers following 9/11 to eradicate terrorists, a broken economy and a struggling infrastructure together with an ineffectual, corrupt government, a headstrong military and an all powerful, shadowy and uncontrolled Inter-Service Intelligence Agency makes for almost insurmountable problems for this potentially wonderful nation.

Ask anyone about travel to Pakistan and you soon realise that it is definitely not on the tourist agenda as a must see destination. And no wonder. International commentators, particularly the media paint this country as a seething hot bed of terrorists with random killings, bombings and general mayhem occurring almost on a daily basis throughout the whole country.

From our travel experiences in the Northern Areas of Pakistan, nothing could be further from the truth. And nothing could be more devastating for the people of this region. Their once thriving tourism, a key to their emancipation from subsistence agriculture has been decimated. Hundreds of highly experienced tour guides, trekking/climbing guides, porters and drivers are unemployed in towns and villages where there are limited alternative employment opportunities. Many of these highly qualified people are now reduced to demeaning work breaking rocks on road works sites.

In virtually all hotels we stayed in, we were the only guests. In a country that rations electricity from power grids to every second day, this catch 22 situation means that tourists are often subject to no electricity at all, which of course means no lighting, heating, hot water and so on. Understandably, the hotel owners are reluctant to use precious diesel to turn on their generators for just two people.

This country obviously faces some seemingly insurmountable difficulties but all that said, we loved Pakistan and would not have missed our travels to the this fascinating country for the world.

Soaring snow capped mountains, plunging river valleys, rapidly flowing snow fed rivers and precipitous gorges, together with verdant cropping areas, farmed mainly by potatoes and orchards irrigated by melting massive glaciers provided some of the most spectacular scenery we have ever seen. Intensive agriculture these days is the main source of income in the Northern Areas and every available piece of arable land is farmed in this arid and rugged environment.

The local northern Pakistani people were wonderfully outgoing, friendly and generous. Whether it was walking down a quiet village back lane, visiting a local shop or being invited into village houses, the local people were very keen to talk with us, most of them being multi-lingual in at least three languages. English fortunately for us was widely spoken. Most were very forthright about the country's economic and political situation, expressing their absolute frustration and despair about the Taliban and the devastating damage this group has done to their country. Interestingly, all we spoke with were highly supportive of the government's latest attempt to rid the North West Frontier and Swat Valley of Taliban insurgents. Conversely, they were doubtful about their government’s ability to do so and they were all scathing about USA intervention.

We continue to watch with interest to see how the political situation unfolds in Pakistan. One thing is certain for us. We will be back.

Photos for this section courtesy of Mr Ishaq Ali, Managing Director, North Pakistan, Tours, Treks and Expeditions

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