I have found my Shangri La. In the Pakistani mountain village called Aliabad where I stayed for a week to explore the Pakistani Himalayas.
Only goats to see on the trails here
Renting a motorbike to explore, reading books and relaxing was nice, but the real highlight of the journey was trekking to the base camp of the Rakaposhi mountain.
Me and a traveler from Hong Kong who I had met in Islamabad started off leaving with the 7am bus from Aliabad to the village of Minapin where we would start the trek. We had a good breakfast and only packed a small backpack with jackets and water before we sett off towards the mountain.
Some of the trails near the cliffs
Along the way up we only saw two shepherds and two locals working on painting trails, and absolutely no tourists or other trekkers. Probably because the season officially ends in September there. The trek was absolutely stunning from the first hour. We walked past dense forests, open fields with 360° view of the surrounding mountains and narrow trails along sleep cliffs.
At the end, the trails went along snow capped mountain ridge where we had perfect views over the glacier sepparating the Rakaposhi Mountain and the Diran Mountain. And as we reached the top there was a flat field, shielded from the cold winds where there were only two empty huts standing.
The sun was about to set and we had counted on the huts being open, cooking tea, food and renting out camping gear, but noone was there and we had to walk down in the dark, only to reach Aliabad again at 9 in the evening.
The empty Rakaposhi base camp
The trek is usually done in two or three days and I would not reccommend anyone doing it in one unless you are a very fast walker. Walking in the dark, cold and starving it was not a pleasant end of the trip, but when we got back we told ourselves that it was still totally worth it.
Islamabad is a city much different than Karachi and Lahore. The capital is a modern city, well planned and organized. I was staying with a couchsurfer in the district F-11, which much like the other districts is centered around a Markaz, a marking place where me and my host would sit and drink tea together every evening.
ehind my was the Margalla Hills where I went to pray at the Faisal mosque at the bottom, and hitchhiked up to a fancy restaurant called “the Monal” on top, which had the best view of the city.
The view from the Monal
Islamabad has really thought me a lot about the mindset of the people here. At the time I was there, Bibi was released from her death centence for blasphemy, Amanul Huq was assasinated and thousands of people took to the streets to protest. At the same time I was sitting with my new Pakistani friends who were smoking hash, drinking beer and expressing their open minded views. We also went to the McDonals and saw transvestites dance for money by passing cars, prostitutes and the young people who would drink and sometimes fight on the parking lot. Pakistan has the whole spectre of people, and everyone I met, from the strogly devoted muslims, to liberal youngsters, met me with the same respect and the hospitality everywhere.
During my stay I also hung out with Somalis and a converted Scottsman, where I got to learn about Islam and was invited to a Somali wedding. When I sat with them on a hill, drinking beer and talking politics I realized that I was just getting to know the place and am curious to know more. Pakistan has really been one of my favorite countries to travel in and I am looking forward to coming back.
Instead of having regular bars they had “bars” where you could sit and breathe pure oxygen which was an interesting experience
The drive from Islamabad to Hunza Valley went on steep mountain roads where my bus was overtaking other vehichles, being just centimeters from the steep hills on the side of the road.
Although how scary it was, I could not get my eyes off the scenic mountain landscape on the way up, and as I got closer to Hunza Valley, I realized that the scenery would only get better and better.
Together with another traveler from Hong Kong, I decided to rent a 125cc motorbike for 15 US dollar a day and drive up the road all the way to the Chinese border. First stop was Attabad Lake, where there were lots of Pakistani tourists going on boat rides on the lake that was formed by an earth quake and filled with crystal blue colored glacier water.
We continued the drive up to the city called Sost, half way to the China border to have lunch and stopped by small lakes and viewpoints along the way.
During the drive we saw a couple of landslides and at one point the road was full of rocks and people who were working on clearing the road. Except for that the road was in exceptional condition, unlike the narrow gravel roads from Islamabad to Gilgit.
Ive seen some bizarre traditions like the voodoo ceremonies in Burkina Faso, Womens wrestling in Bolivia, a rat worshipping Temple in India and spinning Soufis in Sudan, but the closing ceremony at the Wagah border between India and Pakistan is definitely on among the top of those experiences.
I had cought a six dollar uber from Lahore city center and arrived just minutes before the show was about to start. On the new stadium facing me from the Indian side there were thousands of spectators, and the smaller Pakistani stadium I was walking into was not even nearly half as big, but already shouting phrases like “Allahu akhbar” (also known as takbir) and Pakistan Zindabad (long live Pakistan) while first pumping and waving their white and green flags.
As if I was on a VIP list I was shown to a front row seat with excellent views of the show that was about to happen. While a one legged man was spinning around in circles and an angry looking kid was marching up and down with nazisalutelike gestures, eight to ten uniformed military men marched towards the border gate with straight backs, rifles in their hands and Black mohawk hats on their heads. After the two first ones had opened the gate, the soldiers came two by two in a fast paced march, and turning around at the gate while kicking their legs up high barely missing the heads of the Soldiers mirroring the pakistanis from the other side.
The feeling of sitting right by watching this daily show was almost indescribable. I got chills all over my back as if hell was about to break loose and all the thousands of spectators was going to be unleached to bash the s*** out of each other, but at the end the last guards gave a firm hsndshake to the soldiers of the opponent side, lowered their flags in a cross and closed the gates signalling that the show was over and everyone could leave.
All in all the appearance lasted for less than half an hour, but people come from all over the country to see this and sometimes wait up to 6 hours in line. I am glad to have seen in in person as it was a much stronger experience than I first had imagined and I have decided to come back, but to watch it from the Indian side next.