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.