Naveed Khan is a man on a mission -- a mission to make Pakistan look great again. Khan, who now runs PakistanOnFoot, is about to embark on what can only be termed an epic journey for three months from Khunjerab Pass to Karachi – on foot.
Khan had just resigned from the BBC when he decided to pack his bags, his dog and quite literally head for the mountains. "I had just resigned from the BBC World News as their High Risk Adviser. I was tired of being part of the worst kind of people, places and incidents," Khan told The Express Tribune.
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Home to some of the world’s most stunning landscapes, Khan would soon find no reason to leave Pakistan's magical north. After months of exploring, Khan had what some call an epiphany.
"I saw there was a huge void with reliable and up to date information missing. Most people (that I knew at least) had no idea how beautiful this part of the world is. I decided to fill that void and HunzaOnFoot was born."
With much of the north still largely untouched, Khan revealed how travelling within Pakistan was unlike travelling anywhere else in the world. "There is something magical about being completely remote in a region that is still largely untouched.
You may find yourself hiking close to the Wakhan Corridor with nothing but nature around, and all of a sudden an old man will invite you to his home for a hot meal and fascinating stories from the past. I absolutely love it."
But the most beautiful thing about Pakistan’s north isn’t the mountains or glaciers. It’s the people. "One question I always ask my participants towards the end of their tour is 'what was your favourite part of the tour?’” Almost every time the answer is the people, he reveals.
As preparations for the 2,300 kilometre journey (starting on October 1) get underway, we were intrigued to know how one goes about preparing for such a mammoth journey. "My work as a newfound travel guide has been training enough. While groups come and go, I mostly stay put in Hunza and receive them here so my work never stops," Khan explained.
"Either it's day hikes through small remote towns or trekking across the Batura Glacier so I've been training on the job. I did however start hiking 25 kilometres every off day with a full pack that weighs about 15 kilogrammes, to get used to the long walk across Pakistan."
Funds raised from the walk are all set to go to a good cause – a project that would enable underpriviledged and remote communities to fend for themselves during times of natural disasters.
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"I had been trying to get funding from donors for over three years to fund a pilot Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) project which enables underprivileged and remote communities to take care of themselves during large disasters, such as earthquakes, landslides and floods," Khan said, adding how it takes days, at times weeks for larger national and international emergency response agencies to reach affected areas.
The initial days following a natural disaster are crucial, he added. If small parts of these communities could be taught critical life-saving skills such as infant and adult CPR, first aid, light search and rescue, hundreds of lives could potentially be saved.
"I plan to set a pilot project with money I hope to raise through my cross-country walk. I just hope others see it as something they'd like to be a part of, even if that means creating awareness," he said.
All the footage collated during the three-month journey will be turned into a travel documentary portraying a positive image of Pakistan, providing glimpses of the stunning landscapes and colourful stories of Pakistanis through art, culture, history, music and dance.
Other than the documentary, photo exhibitions and a coffee table book are also ideas Khan may bring to fruition to help fund his ambitious CERT project. “While we are open to donations from anywhere in the world, I would love to see Pakistanis helping Pakistanis!"
For anyone wanting to make a similar journey or travel up north, Khan advised mental and physical preparation. "A lot of people show up unprepared. They don't bring the right gear and clothing and suffer later when they want to join for hikes and treks," Khan said.
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Gilgit-Baltistan welcomed a huge influx of tourists this year which saw an unprecedented amount of littering, graffiti, obnoxious and at times even obscene behaviour in larger towns. "I'd like people to respect nature. Go to the mountains with an open mind. Go for the peace and let nature breathe some life back into you. And as they say, 'leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but memories!'"
You can follow Khan's journey through his Facebook and Instagram pages.
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