Pakistan – The Land of Mountains
Pakistan’s North is the most spectacular and fascinating region. Here, world's three famous mountain ranges meet - the Himalayas, the Karakorams and the Hindukush. The whole Northern Pakistan is like a paradise for mountaineers, climbers, trekkers, hikers and anglers.
The historic Karakoram Pass (5,575 m), an ancient trading route between the Gilgit-Baltistan and Xinjiang (China), gives its name to the range west of it that forms the watershed between the Indus and the Central Asian deserts. The eastern boundary of the Karakorams is the upper Shyok River from where it extends over 322 km westwards to the Karumbar river and the Hindukush range, to the north the Shaksgam tributary of the Yarkand River and to the south, the Indus bounds the Karakorams. Here, the Nanga Parbat (8,126 metres) massif is the western anchor of the great Himalayan range which stretches in an arc 24,124 km east to Burma, a boundary and barrier, "the razor's edge" which for centuries has determined the destiny of South Asia. Such is the setting of the Karakoram Range, this remnant of a primeval ice age, "the third pole," with extensive glacier systems and the greatest concentration of lofty mountains in the world.
Of the fourteen over 8,000 m peaks on earth, four occupy an amphitheatre at the head of Baltoro. Their shapes, forms, sizes and colours provide tremendous contrast, which defy description. These are; K-2 (8,611 m – world’s 2nd highest) - the undisputed monarch of the sky, Broad Peak (8,047 m) - massive and ugly; Gasherbrum-I (8,068 m) and Gasherbrum-II (8,035 m) - the "Pakistani Pyramids" that even Cheops would have preferred for a tomb; Muztagh Tower - deceptively sheer; Chogolisa - the "Bride Peak", in whose eternal embrace lies Hermann Buhl, the first man to climb Nanga Parbat; the Cathedrals of Baltoro with their great knife-edge ridges; the sky cleaving monoliths of Trango Towers and the most beautiful of all - the Peak of Perfection - Paiyu, (6,600 m) first climbed by a Pakistani expedition in 1977. There are scores of over 7,000 m high peaks in the Karakoram Range and hundreds of nameless summits below 6,000 metres, mere points on the map. In the Lesser Karakorams there are equally great peaks such as Rakaposhi (7,788 m), the dominant giant in Hunza Valley. Its north face is fantastic precipice - 5,791 metres of plunging snow and ice.
The Hindukush in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province is also a mountain vastness containing hundreds of peaks, many above 7,000 metres including Trichmir (7,705 m) that is the highest point of the range. The western bastion of the Himalayas is Nanga Parbat (8126 m), once dreaded as the "Killer Mountain", but climbed many times by various expeditions since the first disasters.
Some of the longest glaciers outside polar region flow in the Karakorams. The Siachin glacier is 75 km long. The Hispar, (52 km) joins the Biafo at the Hispar La (5,154 m) to form a 116 km long ice corridor. The Batura is 58 km in length. But the most outstanding of these rivers of ice is the Baltoro (62 km). This mighty glacier, fed by some 30 tributaries, constitutes a surface area of 1,219 sq. km. Seen from a distance, Baltoro appears smooth and beautiful but in fact it is a chaotic tumbling mass of rock and ice, troughs and hillocks and the debris of centuries. It is a unique, remote corner of earth. For here, in a frozen wilderness of crags, cornices and crevasses, rise towering spires of granite, great snowy peaks with fluted icy ridges and pinnacles that pierce the sky.
The Silk Route
For many centuries, caravans have braved these tortuous mountains treading precariously along paths providing shortcuts between the great towns of Central Asia and the rich markets of South Asia. However, the trails were hazardous, angry rivers horrifying to contemplate, and the Nature’s storms caused even the most intrepid to quail on the high passes and in the desolate gorges. In 1947, travel in and out of the Gilgit-Baltistan could have been described almost as it had been 15 centuries earlier by the Chinese pilgrim Fa Hien in 400 AD; “The way is difficult and rugged, running along a bank exceedingly precipitous. When one approaches the edge of it, his eyes become unsteady, and if wishes to go forward in the same direction, there is no place on which he can place his foot, and beneath are the waters of the river called the Indus.” Thus, the traders of yore had travelled over this route for centuries and carried silk, tea and porcelain from China to be bartered for gold, ivory, jewels and spices from South Asia.
It is against this backdrop that Pakistan and China joined hands in 1967 to construct a 900 km, “Karakoram Highway” on the alignment of the ancient Silk Route. For its sheer mountain grandeur and breath-taking panorama of beauty, few places on earth can match the superb landscape through which the Karakoram Highway snakes. A fantastic and unforgettable spectacle is the passage of the Highway along the Batura glacier, rated as the world’s seventh largest glacier. The Khunjerab Pass, which the Highway crosses, and the nearby Mintaka Pass, lie astride the fabulous ancient Silk Route that led from Europe to Asia and over which history's most famous tourists once travelled. These include the Venetian trader Marcopolo, after whom has been named the wild Marcopolo sheep, in the 13th century, the Chinese Monk Fa Hien in the 4th century and the Central Asian historian, Abu Rehan Al-Beruni in the 11th century.
Today, the Karakoram Highway connects Islamabad with Kashgar (China), via Abbottabad, Mansehra, Thakot, Besham, Pattan, Chilas, Gilgit and Hunza across the 4,733 metres high Khunjerab Pass. The Highway, built by the Pakistani and the Chinese engineers, has been described as a marvel of civil engineering and even as "The Eighth Wonder of the World". PTDC and Northern Areas Transport Corporation (NATCO) are plying regular bus service between Sost (Pakistan) and Taxkurgan (China) for overland traffic between Pakistan and China, from 1st May till 31st October every year. One-way fare is US$ 23 per person and seats can be booked in advance.
Mountaineering & Climbing
Since 1954, when the Karakoram Range of Pakistan was opened to expeditions for climbing and trekking, the mountains and glaciers of the north have become an international playground. There are hundreds of peaks still lying un-climbed. This is a great challenge for the mountaineers and climbers the world over. Permits: All peaks/routes for mountaineering have been designated as open zone or restricted zone. Permits for climbing peaks in open zone, are issued by the Ministry of Tourism, within 24 hours of the receipt of application. However, for peaks/routes in restricted zone, permits are issued within 14 days from the date of receipt of the application in .Gilgit-Baltistan Council Secretariat, 2nd Floor, “B“ Block, Benevolent Fund Building, Zero Point, Islamabad 44000, Pakistan Tel:+92-51-9253265 Fax:+92-51-9253262).
Most of the trekking routes lie in the northern mountains of the Hindukush, the Karakorams and the Himalayas. Trekking season is between May to October. The Ministry of Tourism, Government of Pakistan, has defined trekking as walking below 6000 m. It has designated three zones for trekking, open, restricted and closed. Foreigners may trek anywhere in open zone without a permit or services of a licensed mountain guide. For trekking in restricted zone, foreigners must deposit a fee of US$ 50 per person per trek to obtain a trekking permit from the Ministry of Tourism. It also requires hiring a licensed mountain guide; buying a personal insurance policy for the guide and the porters and attending briefing and de-briefing a Gilgit-Baltistan Council Secretariat in Islamabad, at the beginning and the end of each trekking trip. No trekking is allowed in closed zones, which are the areas near Pak-Afghan border and near the Line of Control with Indian-held Kashmir. For latest list of treks in open and restricted zones, trekking rules & regulations, please visit wesbsite of the Alpine Club of Pakistan: www.alpineclub.org.pk
White Water Sports
Only those who dare take up the challenge of the frothy white waters of the roaring mountain rivers in Northern Pakistan, know the excitement and thrill that such sports offer. Tourists can now undertake white water sports such as rafting, canoeing and kayaking etc, in the rivers Indus, Gilgit, Hunza, Swat, Shigar, Shayok and Kunhar. White water sports in these rivers of Northern Pakistan hold immense potential for the adventure lovers and sportsmen.
Rivers and lakes of the Northern Pakistan are filled with trout. Popular with the anglers are; Kunhar River, Lake Saiful Maluk, Lake Lulusar and Lake Dodipatsar in Kaghan Valley; Swat River and Mahodand Lake in Swat Valley; Gilgit River, Phandar Lake, Handrab Lake (along the Gilgit-Shandur Road); Chitral River and Shandur Lake; Astor River and Rama Lake in Astor Valley; Sadpara & Kachura Lakes in Skardu Valley etc. The fishing season lasts from April to September, and permits are available from the local Fisheries Department.
Ski facilities are available at Malam Jabba (Swat Valley), Naltar (near Gilgit) and Kalabagh (Nathiagali). Annual ski tournament is organized by Pakistan Ski Federation at Malam Jabba or Naltar in February.
The favourite sport in Gilgit-Baltistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is polo, which originated here. It is more rugged, free-style version than the sedate variety known in the plains. A polo tournament is held in Gilgit from 1-7 November. However, passion for Polo remains the highest on the world’s highest Polo ground. Every year, Shandur (3,700 meters) invites visitors to experience a traditional polo tournament between the teams of Chitral and Gilgit from 7th to 9th July. The festival also includes folk music, folk dance, traditional sports and a camping village is be set up on the Pass.