Lonely Planet Writer

Traveller tips: Pakistan

fairy_meadowsPakistan presents a conundrum for travellers: it offers a dazzling array of options, particularly for adventurers, but travellers need to stay on top of the rapidly changing safety situation in the country. The Swat Valley, one of Lonely Planet’s top scenic destinations picks in Pakistan, has been the site of recent fighting between the Pakistani military and Taliban militants, rendering the region unsafe for travel and forcing an exodus of thousands of residents.

[Photo: Nanga Parbat from Fairy Meadows - by Imran Schah]

To get a better picture of what this means for the traveller, we asked Peshawar resident Imran Schah, an adventurer/photographer/journalist from Chitral who regularly posts as chitralguy on the Thorn Tree forum, to give us his impression of the current situation and to let us in on his personal tips for travelers. Here's what he had to say:

Safety and travel in Pakistan

The deteriorating safety situation in Pakistan, which has moved from tribal areas to settled areas like Swat and Buner of the North-West Frontier Province, is posing greater threats to tourism in Pakistan, therefore travelers should avoid the areas that are located close to tribal areas and the Swat Valley. On the other hand, tourist destinations like Chitral, Gilgit, Hunza, and Skardu are safe and have been away from these troubles so far.

General tips for first time visitors to Pakistan

As a traveller one should follow the dress code, shalwar (trousers), kamees (long shirt) for males and dupatta (shawl) for female travelers. In summers, south Pakistan is very hot, but in mountainous regions the weather conditions are very unpredictable; if it is rainy the weather is chilly, so it’s best to be prepared for that.

Suggested treks for first time travellers to Pakistan

terichmirIn Chitral:
1. Kalash valleys, maximum altitude 3000 m
2. Terichmir base camp, maximum altitude 3700 m

In Gilgit-Baltistan:
1. Nanga Parbat base camp, maximum altitude 3900 m, from Fairy Meadows.
2. Rakaposhi base camp, maximum altitude 3300 m, from Minapin.

[Photo: Terichmir, "The Castle of Fairies," Hindukush Mountains - by Imran Schah]

Watching wildlife in the mountains of Pakistan

Pakistan’s mountainous regions are the habitat of some endangered and rare species like the snow leopard (Uncia uncia) and markhor (Capra falconeri) and offer a unique fauna & flora. It is very difficult to get a glimpse of a snow leopard but markhor can be seen in the afternoon at Tooshi Game Reserve, some 20 minutes drive out of Chitral on Garam Chashma Road year-round. For the snow leopard, the best time is November and December when the markhor mating season starts, the herds descend to the valley of Chitral Gol National Park and the snow leopard can be seen hunting the markhor.

Watching cricket or polo matches

For cricket, there are stadiums and playgrounds in Lahore, Rawalpindi and Peshawar where you can watch the cricket matches, like Qadafi Stadium Lahore and Arbab Niaz Stadium Peshawar.

Every afternoon there are polo practice matches in polo grounds of Chitral and Gilgit. In July there is the annual Shandur Cup Polo Tournament near Shandur pass (the highest polo grounds in the world at ~3800 m), where the traditional rivals Chitral and Gilgit polo teams enchant the audience with their wild and free style polo.

Top off the beaten path tips

1. Ravalik, a beautiful hamlet, located on top of a thick forested hillock, an hour walk from Romboor Valley of Chitral, towards the west. It is located on the left side of the river Romboor and camping on top offers excellent views of the valley.

2. Garam Chashma, the Valley of Hot Springs: a beautiful valley in Chitral with white waters for fishing and hot springs for bathing, and it also offers vertical granite cliffs for rock climbers and the river to the adventurers for river rafting.

kalash_girl3. River rafting in the river Kunhar of Balakot and the Kaghan Valley is also another opportunity for adventurers to play with the currents of the angry river, which is located some 4–5 hrs drive from Islamabad.

[Photo: Kalash Girl, Hindukush, Chitral - by Imran Schah]

See more of Imran’s photography from North Pakistan on his Flickr page.

Keep up to date on the current safety situation on the Thorn Tree forum and BBC’s Pakistan page.

We'd like to hear about your own Pakistan experiences. Have you been to the country recently?