An average Pakistani is reminded a million times a day of everything that is wrong with the country. But there are times when that takes a backseat. It may happen while you witness an unusual act of kindness by someone or walk along unexplored trails that remind you of just how beautiful this land is.
This is why we have decided to take you on a journey through some magical destinations across Pakistan, which are easy on the pocket but will reignite your love for the country.
Ansoo Lake and Batakundi
If you get tired of the crowds that throng to Naran who send tourism prices through the room, then take a trip to Batakundi, a small town 16 kilometers (km) from Naran and an alternate base to explore the Kaghan Valley.
You can stay at the Batakundi Hotel, which is located on a hilltop and offers a view of the meandering snake-like Kunhar River along with lush green mountains and wheat fields. Furthermore, the Lalazar meadows are a one-hour trek across the hill.
Among the many day-trips it has to offer, the best one is a trek to the teardrop-shaped, Ansoo Lake. At a height of 13,550 feet above sea level, it is covered with snow almost throughout the year. A person of average physical fitness but a tough attitude can easily attempt the five- to six-hour trek from Saiful Maluk Lake.
The climate is cold and unpredictable so loads of warm clothes, a raincoat and a local guide (which can be arranged from Naran or Saiful Maluk) are recommended. There are no restaurants on the way so don’t forget to carry your own supplies of food and water for the day.
Passu, Upper Hunza
Located at 150 km from Gilgit and 40 km ahead of Karimabad, Passu is not a spot to be missed. To reach Passu, one has to pass across the 20kmlong Ataabad Lake, but the contrast between the gleaming turquoise blue water and flat rigid mountains in various shades of brown on both sides of the lake, make the boat ride extremely enjoyable.
For a nature lover, Passu is a dream come true as it offers everything from the glorious mountains of the Karakoram Range to a variety of serene lakes contrasted by roaring rivers, some of the largest glaciers in the world and a cultural cocktail of China, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
While you are in the area, a day trip to Khunjerab top and the China border is a worthwhile investment. The journey through the Karakoram highway is one of its kind in the world but is not recommended for the faint-hearted. Those who prefer to play it safe can instead take a dip in the lukewarm water of the Borith Lake, located on the way to the Chinese border.
A walk across the Passu bridge and a visit to the glaciers is also a must as the grandeur of the golden brown Passu cones at sunset can even put the famous Italian Dolomites to shame.
Banjosa Lake, Azad Jammu and Kashmir
Banjosa Lake is located in Tehsil Hajira, Poonch district, Azad Kashmir, at a distance of 19 km from the city of Rawalakot.
The four hour drive from Islamabad to Rawalakot, also known as the ‘Pearl Valley’of Kashmir relaxes you instantly as you pass by lush green hills, small towns, fruit orchards and cattle grazing on green pastures. Once you reach the lake, the view of its frozen surface reflecting the early morning golden sunlight is bound to take your breath away. The whole area is covered with pine forests which offer a thick green shade over the lake. Commonly considered a summer destination, the place is a must-visit for those who love snow, even during the winter.
Garam Chashma, Chitral
Located at a two-hour drive, north-west of Chitral, Garam Chashma is a town named after its hot water spring. The water from the spring, which comes from several sources, is so hot that it is impossible to dip your finger in it for more than five seconds. But if you really want to turn up the heat, go to Hotel Innjigan, for a swim in the pool with fresh hot water straight from the spring.
The water is also said to cure a lot of skin diseases and people from different parts of the country flock to the area to bathe in it. The trend is at its peak around March and lasts for two months every year.But the spring is not the town’s only claim to fame. It is also famous for the woolen cloth (locally known as patti) that is used to make Chitrali topis, shawls and jackets which are sent all over the country.
Bahawalpur , the Royal range
For those travelling from Karachi to Lahore by road, Bahawalpur is often treated as a mere stopover. But with its rich history, architecture and royal heritage, the city is a treat on its own.
The state of Bahawalpur, governed by the Abbasi nawabs acceded to Pakistan in 1947 but continued as an independent state, with their own prime minister, until 1955. The royal heritage of the region is visible in its architecture and prestigious institutions such as the central library built in 1927 and Sadiq Public School.
The palaces of the nawabs, such as the Noor Mahal, Sadiqgarh Palace, Gulzar Mahal and Durbar Mahal are also a must-see. Although access to interiors of palaces other than the Noor Mahal might be restricted, a drive through the city is a treat for every architecture and history enthusiast.
For the more adventurous souls, a desert safari to Derawar fort is a must.
The fort is still the private property of the nawabs and requires permission, which is usually granted easily. A visit to Bahawalpur would not be complete without a stay at Lal Suhanra National Park that is home to a healthy population of Black Bucks, Chinkaras and Neel Gai (Blue Bulls).
The park has acres of forests, sand dunes and wetlands and must feature on every nature-lover’s bucket list.
Hanna Lake, Quetta
Hanna Lake, the water reservoir built by the British during the late 19th century and located 15km from Quetta is the most visited tourist destination for people living in the area but unknown to the rest of Pakistan.
The irrigation dam rises majestically out of the water on one end while the eastern side is dominated by the Hayat Durrani Water Sports Academy, which is the only rowing, canoeing, kayaking and sailing training center in the province.
The greenish-blue waters of the lake with goldfish swimming up to the shore make an excellent backdrop for photography or just walking around. You can also enjoy the boat ride that gives you a tour around the lake and the artificial island in the center. The lakeside restaurant also offers a meal with a fantastic view under the shade of pine trees.
Gorakh Hill Station, Dadu, Sindh
Situated at a distance of roughly 450 km from Karachi in Dadu district, Sindh and riding high upon the Kirthar range, the Gorakh hill station is approximately 5,600 feet above sea level.
Driving from Dadu, up to the Wahi Pandi village, only 50 km away from Gorakh, one cannot imagine the presence of a such a high spot nearby, but then the Kirthar range gains altitude abruptly, creating some spectacular mountain passes.
Visiting Gorakh remains a proposition for the adventurous only, as the road is difficult to drive on and facilities at the top are less than luxurious. Until recently, tourists had to get their own water supplies from Wah Pindi but the arrival of electricity recently has improved the water availability.
A two-room rest house is the only accommodation option available but the drive through the mountain passes, a bonfire under the twinkling stars and the early morning view from the cliff is enough of a reason to embark on this trip.
Due to the logistical difficulties and the law and order situation in Dadu, it is recommended to plan your trip with some local support.
The cult of foreigners that flocks to Pakistan every year despite all the negative attention is a testimony to what all the country has to offer. For the people at home, it should be a reason to brush off that cynicism, pack up their bags, set aside a small budget and get ready to fall in love with Pakistan all over again.
Photos by: Adil Mulki, Danial Shah and Sharjeel Ahmad.
Adil Mulki works for a private bank and is interested in the outdoors, wildlife and science. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Danial Shah is travel writer and photographer who is always on the lookout for positive stories. He tweets @DanialShah_
Sharjeel Ahmad is a freelance consultant and budding entrepreneur. He tweets @thisissharjeel
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, January 5th, 2015.