Pakistan’s North is one of the most beautiful places you can be in the world. Mountains that talk to the sky. Stars that shine so bright and snow that gleams so bright you cannot tell them apart at night. Rivers and lakes with flora and fauna such that it humbles you with its beauty. There are some places in the North of Pakistan that are absolutely a must-visit!
Places to Visit
Attabad Lake is a picturesque lake in the Hunza Valley in Gilgit-Baltistan. This lake, with its bright turquoise waters, is not only extremely beautiful but a very popular tourist destination, where it offers a lot of water sports and boat tours as well. The lake measures about 21 kilometres in length and about 109 metres in depth. This lake did not exist prior to January 4, 2010, and only came about as a result of an earthquake leading to a major mudslide. The landslide affected the village of Attabad, which is situated 14 kilometres east (upstream) of Karimabad, which is the capital of the Hunza district. About twenty people lost their lives in the disaster. The Hunza river was blocked for five months, and the lake started to flood quickly. It submerged 19 kilometres of the local highway, the Karakoram Highway. As a result of that, traffic had to move on barges until a new highway was opened up in 2015.
The Eagles’ Nest is a 30 minute drive from the town of Kariambad. It is located at a height of 2850 metres above sea level. Its name derives from a nearby hotel called the Eagles’ Nest, although there are a few that have surmised that it gets its name from the many caved-out rocks dotting this hilltop. It is possible that eagles used to build their nests in the small cave-like hollows in the rocks atop the hill. This spot has mountains on all sides except one, where you see the valley stretching far into the distance. This is a very popular spot to visit, especially around sunset! The kaleidoscope of colors and shades, rocks and foliage, light and shadow take your breath away!
Altit Fort is located in the Hunza Valley, and dates back to around 1100. It has a watch tower called the “Shikari” tower. This fort used to be home to the rulers in the Hunza valley at the time, the Mirs. The word “Altit” translates to “this side down”. The inhabitants around are called the Burusho people, speakers of the Barushaski language. Especially for linguist anthropologists, but also for anyone remotely interested in languages and their morphisms, it will be fascinating to know that Barushaski is the only language in our world today that seems to have no link to any of the languages around. All the other languages seem to share root words or language rules, except for this one. Legend has it that the White Huns came and settled here in 47 A.D. and the place has been shaping and re-shaping since then.
Baltit Fort is located near Karimabad in the Gilgit-Baltistan region. The fort was founded in the 8th CE, and helped the rulers of Hunza maintain their power from this strength. So the story goes that in the 16th century, the prince married a princess from Baltistan, and that she brought along Balti craftsmen, who helped renovate the fort – hence the name. In 1945, the fort was abandoned by the Mirs of Hunza, who moved to reside a bit downhill. The fort is currently a museum, and houses local antiques. It has stained glass windows, and a beautiful walkway balcony carved out of wood, and overlooking the breath-taking Karakoram mountains. Some Ibex skulls hang in the fort, which signified it to be the political seat at the time.
Karimabad is the capital of the Hunza district in the Gilgit-Baltistan region in Pakistan. The older name of the city is Baltit, but it was changed to Karimabad to honor Prince Karim Aga Khan, the spiritual head of the Ismaili Nizari community that resides there. It is located at 2,500 metres above sea level, and consists of huge stone wall-terraced slopes. When the Mirs of Hunza shifted downhill – and the capital with them – from the Baltit Fort, where they resided earlier, new buildings were built in the area. The city has unparalleled vistas, sandwiched between the picturesque Rakaposhi mountain, glaciers such as the Ulter Nala, and gorges. After the construction of the Karakoram highway, Karimabad became a popular tourist destination. It is also a popular stop-by town when going to the surrounding tourist attractions or higher up into the North of Pakistan. The city is dotted with countless cosy and tiny restaurants and shops selling handicrafts, dried fruits, jams, and nuts.
Fairy Meadows is a national park, named as such by German mountaineers, at the foot of the Nanga Parbat mountain in Gilgit-Baltistan. This meadow is where mountain climbers usually set up their base camp before embarking upon the climb atop the Nanga Parbat. It is located 3,000 metres above sea level. It is a huge grassland with coniferous trees and mountains around. At one end, it has the Rakhiot glacier, which melts some water into a stream that then connects with the Indus river.
“Ansoo” is a Sanskrit word which means “teardrop”. The Ansoo Lake gets its name from the fact that it is tear-shaped. A bird’s eye view of this blue-watered lake reveals what looks like a freshly-cried out teardrop. The lake is located in the Kaghan Valley, at a height of 4,245 metres above sea level.
Batura glacier, one of the largest as well as one of the longest glaciers outside the polar regions, is located in the Hunza region, at a height of 7,500 metres. It flows from the west to the east. A few villages, with herds of cows, yaks, goats, and sheep dot the area surrounding this glacier. Also, juniper trees and roses are commonly found in this area.
Shangril Lake, also known as the Lower Kachura lake, is located in the Skardu Valley, at a height of 2,500 metres above sea level. The lake gets its name from the Shangrila Resort built on its bank in the year 1983. The resort has a famous restaurant which was built in the main body of an aeroplane that had apparently crashed nearby. The Shangril Resort gets its name from a novel called The Last Horizon by James Hilton. In the book, some monks spill out of a plane that crashed near a river bed in the 1920s. They then stumble into a nearby temple where they are treated to fruits and flowers to their heart’s desire. This place is called “Shangi-la”, a Tibetan word which can be translated to “Heaven on Earth”.
The Kalash valley is located in the Chitral district in Pakistan, and is encircled by the Hindu Kush mountains. The people who inhabit this valley are called the Kalasha, and have resided there for many decades now. The Kalash valley itself can be said to consist of three valleys: Bumburet, Rumbur, and Biriu. The Kalash have a polytheistic faith, and offer sacrifices to their gods. They have many colorful festivals to mark weddings, harvests, and other occasions. They have a house built separately for women to reside and relax in when they menstruate. They bury their dead on a higher ground than one where they have their own houses built. Their houses are well connected, which reflects their community life as well. The Kalasha wear colorful clothes and the women usually have their hair braided.
Deosai National Park
The Deosai National Park is located in the Astore Valley in Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan. It consists of plains on a plateau, at a height of 4,114 metres, which makes it the second highest plateau in the world. Deosai gets its name from a folk tale which has been written in poem form – the poem being titled “Saif ul Mulook” – by Mian Muhammad Baksh. The Sanskrit word “deo” is from “deva”, which means “giant”, and the Sanskrit word “sai” is from “saya”, which means “shadow”; so the name “Deosai” translates to “the shadow of the giant”. The people of Baltistan refer to this place as “Ghbiarsa”, which translates to “summer place”, because it can be accessed in the summers only.
The Khunjerab Pass is a mountain pass located at height of 4,693 metres above sea level, and is situated between the north of Pakistan and the southwest of China. This pass marks the highest point on the Karakoram Highway. It is 42 kilometres from the Khunjerab National Park. The pass gets its name from the Wakhi language, wherein “khun” means blood and “jerab” refers to a creek stemming from a waterfall or a spring. The road through the pass was completed in 1982.
The Khaplu Palace is located in the city of Khaplu, at a height of 2,600 metres above sea level, in the Gilgit-Baltistan region. Built in 1840, the palace served as the residence of the Yabgo dynasty Raja Daulat Ali Khan of Khaplu. It is said that the particular site of this palace was chosen by rolling a stone from the side of a cliff, which rolled until it stopped at the village of Doqsai. This is where the palace was then built. The rulers of the Yagno dynasty continued to live in the fort even after their rule had come to an end in 1972. Rajah Fatah Ali Khan, the last Khaplu Raja resided in the palace till the day he died in 1983.
The palace has four floors, which have been built using clay, mud bricks, and wood. An intricately carved wooden door from some fort in Skardu was brought here by Raja Hatim Khan of the Yabgo dynasty, and fixated into the facade. The entrance door leads into a passageway – which was a stable in earlier times – which connects with the front garden. This garden was used for festivities and celebrations. The ceiling in the palace is made out of wood, and beautifully adorned with designs chiseled and painted in. The top floor has a hall which overlooks the gardens of the palace and the Karakoram mountains around it.
The three beautiful lakes in the Naltar Valley, often referred to as the Naltar Lakes or the Bashkiri lakes, are located at a height of 3,050 to 3,150 metres above sea level. One lake has green water owing to the shrubbery growing on its floor, another has blue, and the third has water the color of azure. Densely growing pine trees surround the three lakes. The best time to visit these lakes is in the summer, because in the winter the small dusty road leading up to them becomes impossible to travel on.
The Satpara lake is a lake near the city of Skardu in Gilgit-Baltistan. This lake, fed by the Satpara Stream, is the source of the water supply in the Skardu Valley. There is a Satpara dam built downstream. The Satpara lake is located at a height of 2,636 metres above sea level, and measures 3.5 kilometres in length by 1.4 kilometres in width.
Lake Saif-ul-Muluk, one of the highest lakes in Pakistan, is located near the town of Naran in the Kaghan Valley. It is situated at a height of 3,224 metres above sea level. The lake was formed by glaciers and debris blocking the stream and leaving depressions therein, where the melted water from glaciers later filled up. A tour to the lake is usually accompanied by one of the local story tellers recounting a folk love story which features the lake. The story relates how, once upon a time, an Egyptian prince, Saiful Muluk, fell in love with a fairy princess, Badri-ul-Jamala, on a moonlit night by this lake.
The north of Pakistan has scenic views, mountains and valleys, rivers and glaciers, lakes and national parks to hold the lover of nature enchanted. But it also has historic forts, palaces, and city towns that tell stories from a bygone era. To see people living in places that have not only rulers, but also nature, shape and reshape them is truly astounding! The Altit and Baltit forts near the city of Karimabad, tell about the Mir rulers and how they lived. The Satpara, Naltar, and Ansoo lakes are each beautiful for their water’s colors or the foliage around them. Lake Saif ul Muluk also has a folk love story in which it features. The Kalasha live in a unique way, and it is interesting to meet them also because they reside in a place with a very different culture surrounding them. The mountain climbers can rest and relax in the Fairy Meadows. The story of how the Attabad lake was created humbles one to see how nature runs its course. The north of Pakistan offers a little something to everyone! The north, all in all, will lend you a serenity and humility like no other!
2 thoughts on “Travel Guide: Trekking Through Beautiful North Pakistan”
Thank you for sharing an amazing blog, keep sharing
Beautifully explained the northern areas of Pakistan. Almost all the beautiful spots are covered in this blog. Pakistan is like a heaven on earth having such landscapes.