It was April 2014. I was hiking along the treacherous route to Fairy Meadows, near Nanga Parbat, along with friends. As we switched from jeep to horse to foot, all the while staring into the deepening abyss below and the rising cliff above, feeling the temperate breeze and stealing glances at the magnificent beauty of Nanga Parbat, I asked myself: How come this place isn’t thronged with climbers?
Providence heard. We chanced upon a group of not one, two or three, but 28 Thai women hikers chatting, smiling and skipping on the narrow path as if gravity or injury didn’t exist. Further ahead, we saw three dead serious Englishmen making their way ponderously up the slope. I walked up to them and donning my best impression of a hint of a semblance of a tinge of a British accent, asked them, what had made them come all the way here.
“The reason is right beneath your feet!” they replied.
“Don’t you have the Alps in Europe?”
“Where our Alps end, this place begins!”
Apparently, the world has woken up. Conde Nast Traveller, a US based lifestyle publication, recently published its list of “The Best Holiday Destinations for 2020”. It kicks off with Japan, meanders through Croatia, Panama, Morocco, Europe, China, the Middle East, USA, finally arriving in our own country, Pakistan, as the numero uno destination.
The magazine writes: “Thwarted by tales of terrorism and Taliban rule, Pakistan’s tourism industry has been stymied for the past two decades. But ancient valleys, relaxed visa restrictions and a high-profile royal visit from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at the end of 2019 mean that at a start of a new decade, this remarkable country is also entering a new era.”
Apparently, it takes a Royal visit to validate Pakistan as a travel destination! Sadly the intro draws on lazy tropes about Pakistan’s perception (when and where was Taliban rule EVER in Pakistan?). The write up also focuses solely on Pakistan’s magnificent mountain ranges, which, in sheer scope, beauty and concentration of high peaks, are unmatched by anywhere else in the world. However, there is much more to Pakistan.
“Thwarted by tales of terrorism and Taliban rule, Pakistan’s tourism industry has been stymied for the past two decades. But ancient valleys, relaxed visa restrictions and a high-profile royal visit from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at the end of 2019 mean that at a start of a new decade, this remarkable country is also entering a new era.”
In my hometown of Quetta, you can experience ice-capped peaks in the distance, blooming spring in the city, and almost tropical heat as you travel towards the Bolan Pass, a mere dozen kilometres away, all coexisting simultaneously. In Sukkur, you can witness the barrage, a two kilometre long structure of magnificent arches, engulfed (these days) in a quasi mystical fog atop the Indus. In Lahore, you can experience some of the most advanced urban infrastructure in Asia as well as some of the most ancient. Balochistan is a study in arabesque desert vistas, dotted by oases, orchards, rivulets and vegetation, starting from the highlands in the north to the pristine coast in the south. In KP, you can travel along the Karakoram Highway and witness one lush green valley after another, your jaw progressively travelling floorward as the road rises more steeply arriving in Kohistan and crossing over to Gilgit Baltistan and beyond. You can visit Kashmir for picture book green panoramas and winding rivers. You can travel the Motorway between Lahore and Peshawar and feel compelled to wander off into the wilderness such is the uninterrupted beauty of the landscape over a thousand kilometres.
Whether you crave the snow capped Swiss Alps, the medieval beauty of Britain’s Lake District, the wildlife of the African Savannahs, the deserts of the Middle East, the blue and white beaches of the Caribbean, the icy wastelands of Antarctica, the rainforests of South America – Pakistan has you covered – and there are reasonable travel facilities on the road and rail networks across a huge portion of the country.
And I haven’t even started on the food yet.
Pakistan is an unmatched melting pot. Consequently, our cuisine draws from Moghul, as well as Indian, Far Eastern, Middle Eastern, and Central Asian cuisines. We do western fast food chains better than the West itself – don’t take my word for it, see a host of Western food bloggers on the internet.
Everything I said is not a patriotic pipe dream or flight of fantasy. Believe me, in my 42 years of existence, I have travelled only occasionally, and all of the above is based on my meagre personal travels. I have witnessed, experienced, tasted, smelled and touched everything that I have mentioned!
It is telling that while Conde Nast finally recognises Pakistan as the Number One travel destination in the world for 2020, it doesn’t begin to do justice to our country.
Talha bin Hamid is an accountant by day and an opinionated observer of pop culture, an avid reader, a gamer and an all-around nerd by night. firstname.lastname@example.org