Wanderlust

Literary journeys for the discerning traveler

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The Ultimate Road Trip: Traveling in Pakistan

By Bill Jones | 3/5/18

The new road through the Khunjerab Pass in Hunza Valley, Pakistan.

When I was asked to lead GeoEx’s 2017 trip to Pakistan’s Hunza Valley last year, I was thrilled (to put it mildly). The opportunity to travel Pakistan and share its wonders brought instant feelings of nostalgia.

Although I have been a regular visitor to the Silk Road, and especially to Kashgar, it had been almost 10 years since I had set foot on the Karakoram Highway traveling towards Pakistan. Still, that region conjures for me many wonderful memories of travel at its most adventurous and most majestic, with the stunning backdrop of towering Himalayan peaks.

In 1986, the Khunjerab Highway opened—or should I say, “began construction”—and in that year I crossed it no less than four times. My body still aches thinking of the bone-shattering ride from Kashgar to the Khunjerab Pass and into Pakistan. Back then it took two full days to reach the border, with the journey to Tashgorkan alone taking a minimum of 12 hours—if you were lucky enough to avoid the blasting at the construction sites!

Hiking through the Khunjerab mountain in Pakistan.

So when our GeoEx group set out last June on a Hunza Valley tour, I was as excited as everyone else. And with a mostly paved road, I could appreciate the looming Himalayan landscapes even more.

Our Breathtaking Hunza Valley Tour

The breathtaking views disappeared as we crossed into Pakistan in a snowstorm, but that didn’t dull the excitement for one minute as we descended into the renowned Hunza Valley, a region known to many as heaven on earth.

In Hunza Valley Pakistan with GeoEx

For the next two weeks, we lived in a time warp, enchanted by the simple, peaceful lifestyle of the Hunzakuts, a people who can possibly trace their ancestry as far back as Alexander the Great. Aided by our Pakistani guides Didar, Shifar, and Forqan, we learned their ways, history, and Ismaili traditions, and how the region has developed and thrived—in complete contrast to how Pakistan is perceived in the West—under the tutelage of His Highness the Aga Khan.

A group of Hunzakut girls in school in Pakistan with GeoEx.

It’s impossible to put into words exactly what we experienced; adjectives like “extraordinary” or “awesome” hardly capture the grandeur or majesty of the mountains. We were held absolutely spellbound by the scenery where three mighty mountain ranges meet, the Karakoram, Hindu Kush, and Himalaya along the Indus River, gazing upon mountains that seemed so close you could almost touch them.

The Karakoram, Hindu-Kush and Himalayas mountain range.

Among the varied accommodations on our journey, one favorite was a 19th-century restored Raja’s palace, where we joined the current Raja and witnessed a polo match in the time-honored tradition still practiced today.

Polo match in Pakistan with GeoEx.

Experiencing the Silk Road Firsthand

Another aspect of our trip was the road journey itself: to be on the ancient Silk Road, to follow in the footsteps of adventurers and explorers, to wonder at the modern “Jingle trucks” with their wheels, roofs, chassis, and bodies covered with mysterious patterns. It was an unforgettable experience to see and hear them and to ponder what individual stories they told. One of our drivers explained that the decorative function and bells helped the drivers concentrate on their work and warded off evil spirits.

Traditional truck along the Silk Route in Pakistan.

When we headed back toward China, it was as though we were leaving a lost world behind, some magical kingdom hidden among the mountains, perhaps a Shangri-La.

View of China from Pakistan.

My colleague Sara Barbieri calls this journey the “ultimate road trip” and one of our previous guests called it “the best trip EVER.”

I’m so excited to be returning in 2018 and 2019 with new groups of adventurers prepared to expand our horizons—and our sense of wonder—in Pakistan’s Hunza Valley.

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A popular GeoEx guide, Bill Jones has been traveling throughout Southeast Asia and the Himalayas since the 1980’s, pioneering expeditions in the years when some of the countries were just beginning to develop their infrastructures. His knowledge of local history and firsthand experience of the contrasts between the tribulations of some countries and the prosperity of others gives him a unique understanding of the region. He has led special interest groups from the California Academy of Sciences, the Metropolitan Museum of New York, the Royal Academy of London, and the World Presidents Organization. Bill’s commentaries during visits to monuments and his pre-dinner talks are entertaining and informative and have been greatly appreciated by GeoEx travelers.

 

To find out more about GeoEx adventures in Pakistan and beyond, call our travel experts at 888-570-7108.

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