Helen Chorlton

Helen Chorlton

Head of Communications, British High Commission in Islamabad

Part of UK in Pakistan

9th August 2012 Islamabad, Pakistan

Summer Holidays in northern Pakistan; a far-flung cry from my childhood holidays in North Wales …

When visiting my regular family summer holiday spot in North Wales each year as a child, it was unimaginable that one day I would be taking my first (and hopefully not my last) summer holiday in the Baltistan region of Pakistan.

Since arriving on my diplomatic posting to Pakistan earlier this year at the British High Commission, Islamabad, I had been very keen to set out and explore the exciting and exhilarating country that would become my home for the next few years, and I hoped that my planned trek to the basecamp of K2 and hiking the famous Gondogoro La pass would be a great way to begin this love affair with Pakistan.

Pakistan, for too many years now, has been overshadowed by far too many negative stories in the media and has been characterized all too often as a country torn apart by war. This is extremely sad as this negative coverage takes away from the huge amount that Pakistan has to offer both in terms of it’s people, culture and outstanding national heritage, history and natural beauty.

Baltistan, is arguably, the most spectacular region of Pakistan in terms of its geography and scenic beauty. It is here that the world’s three highest mountain ranges: the Karakorum, the Hindu Kush and the Himalayas, meet. Five out of fourteen mountain peaks in Baltistan reach over 8000 metres, including K2, the world’s second highest mountain. Some of the largest glaciers outside of the polar regions are also located here. Beginning the trek, I was very quickly mesmerised by the sheer beauty and subliminal nature of the landscape, which only became more spectacular as our journey continued.

As the days wore on and we increased in altitude, the camps, which in most cases consisted of land, rocks, ice and a water source, became increasingly Spartan. Showers and functioning bathrooms became a distant dream. The altitude sickness also kicked in for many of us and we became a mere shadow of our porters who strode on carrying huge weights on their backs and wearing plastic flip flops and socks in the ice and snow. Despite this though, we were all spurred on through our child-like amazement at the surrounding landscape and warm conversations.

Although the entire two-week trek was the most amazing and memorable experience, the key things that stand out include:

  • learning more about the links between Balitistan and the UK;
  • discussing the longstanding British climbing interest in the region (Martin Conway) which continues to this day;
  • conversations with our guides about local politics and culture;
  • discussions that increased my understanding of Islam, perceptions of the West and Pakistani perceptions of the UK;
  • my many translated conversations with the porters about their life, families and how their land compares to Britain.

In some ways, this trek comes back full circle to my childhood as the huge amount of glacial moraine often reminded me of the slate in northern Wales. The friendly chatter of the people and proudness of their homeland was not so different either. However, despite fluctuations in tourism over the years, Wales is a much more accessible tourist destination.  To generate greater tourism in Pakistan, perceptions about safety and security in the country will need to be changed and a growing number of people (Pakistani citizens, diaspora and visitors alike) will need to communicate an accurate picture of life here and what Pakistan has to offer.

By developing a positive interest in Pakistan as a country with many assets, this could, in turn, generate widespread benefits. For example, an increase in tourism, will not only generate financial and employment opportunities but could also help strengthen Pakistan’s ties with other nations as tourists become the non-official ambassadors of a country.

I hope that this blog, others like it, and positive reporting on Pakistan’s assets will help encourage people of all nationalities and ages to come and visit this unspoilt and wonderful region.

I look forward to my next holiday in Pakistan… Suggestions welcome.

For the latest travel advice in Pakistan, please see the FCO website.

30 comments on “Summer Holidays in northern Pakistan; a far-flung cry from my childhood holidays in North Wales …

  1. Helen, its great to know that you enjoyed the 15 days or so trekking through the grandeur and beauty of Northern Pakistan. With a landscape that is unique and awe-inspiring amalgamated with the beauty of the culture and the very caring and amicable people, no doubt Pakistan and its people have so much to offer to the world, as you experienced first-hand.
    I wish you all the best and hope you get more chances to visit this part of the World. And be the ambassador and beacon to all your contacts in the West.

    Usman

  2. Great of you Helen. Positive stories on Pakistan are in rare available or revealed these days nd incident like recent killing of mounteeners in Chillas is dark side of ours, not as nation but due to few block heads.

    While in Army I happen to see almost all of Northern areas and Kashmir. With experience of working in diplomatic security for 4 years I recommend that you must plan to see Lipa, Nelum and Banjosa in Kashmir, these are safe, secure and very economical in term of tourism

    If you require details or assistance contact me at jurratjurrat@yahoo.com

  3. I leave a comment when I especially enjoy a article on a website or I have something to valuable to contribute to the discussion.
    Usually it is triggered by the fire communicated in the post
    I browsed. And on this post Summer Holidays in northern Pakistan;
    a far-flung cry from my childhood holidays in North Wales … – UK in Pakistan.
    I was actually excited enough to post a thought 😉 I do have 2
    questions for you if it’s okay. Is it just me or does it give the impression like some of these responses appear like they are written by brain dead folks? 😛 And, if you are posting at other social sites, I’d like to keep up with everything fresh you have to
    post. Could you list all of your communal sites like your twitter feed, Facebook page or linkedin profile?

    1. Thank you for your comments and for liking my blog post. I hope to do more soon!
      We do have a facebook page and a twitter account. You can also check our latest photographs on our Flickr page.

  4. Hi Helen, Thanks for sharing hidden and real stories about Pakistan. It was our pleasure take you to K2 and ghondogoro La trek in July 2012. I also have a priviledge to guide and arrange the BHC K2 and Ghondogoro la trek in August 2011 with 19+ participants. Please do keep in touch and yes we are looking forward to take you to Hunza valley, they next time you plan!!! We suggest you the spring season for blossom!!!! All the best wishes and warm regards.

  5. Thanks for the wonderful comments about my country. It is a rare treat these days.

    Next time in the region do try jeep ride/trek across Deosai plains, start from Astore and end up in Sakardu. And on the same road that takes you K2 base camp is a small town named Shigar. Stay the night there in old restored fort. wonderful experience. Try to stay in the winter/summer suites of the prince. You can still smell the old fire wood in the vicinity. You would love it.

    Secondly, if u can visit the Shundur Polo Festival. historically played between Chitral and Gilgit tribes. It is played w/o any rules on a ground which is around 4200 meters high. Amazing vibes during the tournament. A Bucket list agenda item.

  6. Thanks Helen. While your gesture and disposition towards Pakistan to highlight its other facets is highly appreciated, it would be great if your story is picked up the correspondents of the British dailies based in Pakistan.

    We need more Peter O’ Borne to reflect on Pakistan’s positive aspects

  7. Well said Helen!
    We met and chatted at Max and Rebecca’s place on my first night in Islamabad before I headed to Trango Tower the next day to work on a documentary climbing film. Great to have met you. I hope everything is going well there. Stay in touch if you like, peacocka@rocketmail.com
    Andrew Peacock

  8. You have described pakistan in real way. Hats off for u. i agreed that this is media who portrayed pak in wrong way. I spent 20 days in pakistan and i did not c anything wrong which creats any problem for me. I was travelling through out the country without any fear. If u c news channels u cant go out side.

  9. if you get the chance go to see the school we helped to rebiuldin the Kagan Valley, Bhunja following on from the earthquake in 2005, I was there at the official openinging, you may wish to contact Dr Ayaz Khan who lives in Islamabad and with whom we worked with on this project, together with a lot of fundraising from the people of Wales, both North where I live and South were we had a lot of help from.
    should you wish to contact me please do so and I can pass you contact details of people out there in Pakistan who may be able to help you with your travells.

    1. Thank you very much for the information. I’m no longer in the region but will certainly get in touch if I plan to visit again. The school opening sounds very interesting and it’s really great to hear good news stories such as this.

  10. hey Helen… once i got a chance to visit Biltistan via pictographs….it was basically a lecture from an artist who is in love with Kalash valley, on the beauty of that area in Pakistan.
    now after reading review about a tour by you, made me more fresh me with the feeling to b there in terms of words.
    i regards you as well on focusing the beauty in Pakistan… i must say your effort and suggestion of improvement is worthy to take action on..

  11. Most Pakistanis will neither be able to access your words, nor to say THANKS—-it takes a good human being like yourself—-to praise a country that is under severe duress for other reasons . If there is peace in our little world, then perhaps , more visitors can travel to these regions that you have enjoyed visiting.

  12. Positive approach brought good results. People like you, Helen, are welcome. But run of the mill tourists are not welcome. They will spoil the area. Let Baltistan remain as it is to be enjoyed by like minded people.

  13. Thank you so much for sharing such a beautiful experience. Even being a Pakistani, I haven’t been to these places and you motivated me enough to pay these areas a visit at least once in my lifetime. I am just 25 so hopefully I will get a chance sooner or later. Above all, considering whats going in my country and all the negativity being spread by the media, its surely a change to read something positive about it. The best part is that it is coming from someone who is not even a local citizen so thats a fresh perspective and a reasonable idea to other foreigners about our country. Thank you once again and good luck!

    Regards

  14. A really delightful account of your two weeks. Wish I were young again. However, I have spent time in Pakistan and echo your praise of its beauty and its hospitality. A wonderful country to visit and one I hope I will always be able to return to.

  15. If you have liked Baltistan so much you will like Chitral even more. Here the British have left behind an endearing legacy and you can see it the moment you drive over the suspensiom bridge. At Chakdara just below the visible Churchills picket. A variety of treks over picturesque passes lead. Into Gilgit and upper Hunza. Pakistan no doubt is a trekkers paradise. Some day we will get the right people in our government who will use this treasure for the benefit of our visitors and our hospitable people.

  16. Thank you Helen for your article promoting tourism in Pakistan. As you say Pakistan has a lot to offer to tourists both foreign and local.

    Travel from Gilgit (Pakistan) to the Chinese border town Kashgar by the Karakoram Highway (KKH) takes you through the awesome junction of the three great mountain ranges, the Hindukush, the Himalaya and the Karakoram. The site and experience cannot be described by words.

    Just the flight from Islamabad to Skardu is another treat and worth much more than the airfare to Skardu.

  17. Helen have a Done a great Job and focused on the reality what is Pakistan interms of Beauty .

    I hope that her Suggestion for improvement is vital.

  18. Amazing experience to see how much my country has to offer and we Pakistanis even dont know much… Fantastic Helen and keep it up.

  19. the natural beauty sure is amazing in pakistan. i’m glad you had the chance to experience it first hand. thank you for portraying pakistan as it really is and not as what the media shows it to be.

  20. I am very happy keep it up lot of travellers all over the world visit me and in hospitality club and couchsurfing club members come and stay with me so its very good to discuss issuses and clear your views

  21. It is so kind of you that you wrote about your experience of my beloved country. though our country is going through a rough patch presently but hopefully it will revive its image.
    At this specific time, we need support of people like you, who can present an image of the country which international media has totally forgotten and is only presenting some minor negative sides.
    Your idea of tourism promotion is really great but then we have biggest problem of governance here, else Pakistan is full of such places.
    Our team did this very trek in 2010 july. It is indeed a life changing experience. Immense strength is required to cross Gondogoro LA. I would suggest that you go to Darkot Pass in the next summers. it is in Chitral area of Pakistan and crosses to Gilgit.
    there you will see hindu kush and pamirs meeting and a splendid lake, Karomber, lying majestically at about 14000 feet height along the wakhan corridor.
    You can contact me about the details or any other tour suggestions in Pakistan. I am not a travel advisor but I love to travel.

    1. your description awoke in me memories of a trek with Panjab University Geographic society under Prof Khalil and Dr Mariam in 1957. We crossed over from the Babu Sar Pass wearing no goggles and poor clothing and flimsy shoes—–and into Neelam Valley. Have you been there?

  22. Brave girl.
    And your writing, stupid and a Kid.
    I want to go back to being stupid and a Kid.I miss.

  23. Brave girl.
    And your writing, when I was stupid and a Kid.
    I want to back to being stupid and a Kid.I miss.

Comments are closed.

About Helen Chorlton

I have been Head of Communications at the British High Commission in Islamabad since May 2012. This is my second posting to South Asia. Before coming to Pakistan, I spent…

I have been Head of Communications at the British High Commission in Islamabad since May 2012.

This is my second posting to South Asia. Before coming to Pakistan, I spent two years working on Security Sector and Human Rights issues at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London, and before that I served as a Programme Manager, managing theUK’s support to Afghanistan at the British Embassy in Kabul. I have also worked on human rights issues from London and prior to this spent time living and working at the UK Representation to the EU in Brussels. My main professional interests include security sector reform, communications and international organisations, as well as the counties and regions where I have either lived and worked or covered from London.

I grew up in the North West of England near Manchester, home to a very large Pakistani community, South Asian food (Curry Mile) and to two premier league football teams, Manchester United and Manchester City. Cricket is also very popular in Manchester and the Pakistani National Cricket team have played international matches at the Old Trafford Cricket Ground in Manchester.

Educated at the University of Warwick (near Birmingham) and the University of London, my passions as a student included Philosophy, Psychology and International Development. I still very much carry my passion for these subjects today as well as a love of art and photography which I have had since I was a child. I am also very interested in travelling, learning about other cultures and in particular, enjoying the outdoors. I love hiking and cycling and feel privileged to have enjoyed the beauty of Pakistan’s hills and mountains already. I am also a huge animal lover and although I don’t have any pets of my own right now, I am always on the look out.

I’ll be blogging about similarities and differences between Pakistan and the UK and my general experiences here.

Thank you to so many of you that have already made me feel at home here. I look forward to writing my next blog soon.