Our Fabulous Guides and Friends

"Hail fellow well met" is a somewhat archaic saying, typically used when referring to a person whose behavior is hearty, friendly, and congenial—and so, though old-fashioned, it is entirely and utterly appropriate in the case of the gentlemen pictured above.  These are our wonderfully warm and wise colleagues/leaders/guides/friends in Pakistan, who left no stone unturned to ensure our well-being, not to mention making every effort to instill a nuanced understanding of their beloved region.  The saying goes that the best souvenirs of a trip are often the relationships we make with our fellow travelers and with the people we encounter along the way. That’s certainly true for this quartet, who bestowed a profound sense of the human richness of Pakistan and who will remain in our group’s collective heart forever. We traveled with them for 14 days and missed them sorely when we bade goodbye. I don’t think I have been in better hands...

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Now That's What We Call Adventure Travel!

Our journey into Pakistan began with a bang. We crossed the official border with China at Sost and were heading to Gulmit to spend the night. The day was gray; the massive canyon was a spectrum of gray and brown hues with drifts of scree on the slopes, occasional oases of green, and in the far, far distance, for the eagle-eyed, a herd of ibex. Even the Hunza River was brown with the silt of snow melt.  In spite of the somber colors, we found ourselves elated by the stark, brooding quality of the scene and the majesty of the landscape. Perhaps, too, the realization that we were insignificant next to an immense cliff face offered an unexpected respite, a reminder to keep perspective and respect proportion. We reached the town of Passu and kept driving until we came to a wide swath of river that, our guides informed us, tends to break free every spring and take out the road. As the photo above indicates, that was definitely the situation when we arrived! 

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A New Lake in an Old World

In 2010, a massive landslide inundated a 12-mile stretch of the Karakoram Highway and created a body of water where none had been before. This was given the name Lake Attabad, and it turned out to be one of the highlights of our journey.   While the road is being rebuilt (and protected with tunnels in the process), travelers must go by boat from one end to the other.  For an idyllic hour and a half, we glided across this surreal lake scene, stark and strikingly beautiful, with the aquamarine-colored water (the same hue as glacial water) seemingly descending from the sky to the lake’s edge.   Our boat also lent charm and eccentricity to the excursion, with its gaily painted trim and its bridge festooned with ribbons, streamers, and bells, not to mention the hand-cranked engines positioned one on either side of the boat. Our Lake  Attabad adventure was an unexpected and delightful treat.

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A Taste of Polo in Pakistan

The small kingdoms of Gilgit and Baltistan have vied for victory in free style polo over many, many years.  We were extremely lucky that at the last minute a match was confirmed during our stay in Shigar. We could hardly contain our excitement as we traipsed across the tamped-down grass to the wall-cum-bleacher that ran the length of the field, climbed up a short flight of steps, then inched along in a line to find our seats.   After the match began, our heads turned right then left, then back again, as if we were watching tennis.  We followed the galloping horses, gleefully alarmed when they veered toward us, and attempted to understand the action.   On either side of us and across the field were men and boys who, our guide said, flocked excitedly and loyally to the match every week, savoring the satisfying thwack of mallet on ball and cheering on their team. When the thrilling competition ended, we were dusty but exhilarated to have...

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Postcard from Pakistan: Along the Karakoram Highway to Hunza

Our 19-day journey along the Karakoram Highway from western China into northern Pakistan offered numerous riches and astonishments. Perhaps most moving of all was the spectacularly scenic Hunza Valley, pictured here. This verdant oasis is especially famous for its apricots, which are purported to bestow longevity, a quality for which the Hunzukuts are famous. The only catch, as one wizened gentleman informed us, is that you must eat as many as they do! Through our guides, we learned how the water channels that crisscross the valley, painstakingly built by hand and maintained over hundreds of years, allow the local inhabitants to eke out a living in this stunning but harsh environment. While the vistas are a highlight of any visit to Hunza, our explorations revealed smaller-scale treasures as well, such as Baltit Fort (shown in the photo above) and Altit Fort, both lovingly restored by the inspiring Aga Khan Trust for Culture. As we wandered through these poignant palaces, which date...

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Don George, Editor

Don George is Editor in Chief of Wanderlust: Literary Journeys for the Discerning Traveler. He has been Travel Editor for the San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle and Salon.com, and Global Travel Editor for Lonely Planet Publications. Don has published eight books, including Travel Writing, A Moveable Feast, The Kindness of Strangers, and Tales from Nowhere. E-mail him at [email protected]

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