A journey to the remote reaches of Pakistan’s Karakoram Mountains.
This 17-day expedition is a brand-new trip through an ancient land. Beginning in Pakistan’s capital of Islamabad, the expedition takes travellers north to the stunning and rarely touristed Hunza Valley region. Here you’ll find nature unleashed: imagine imposing jagged peaks, alpine lakes and glaciers creeping into the valleys. Explore the ancient fortifications scattered among rural villages and learn about the modern innovations that help the local people prosper. Finish in Lahore, a city that’s not only stood strong through the rise and fall of empires, but also preserved the culture that makes Pakistan such a mesmerising, all-consuming country.
- Learn about Pakistan – its turbulent past, fascinating present and hopeful future – from a local leader who knows and loves the country best.
- Homestays are unforgettable opportunities to share stories with the lovely locals and learn how they manage to thrive in such a beautiful yet hostile environment.
- Travel on the famous Karakoram Highway past glaciers, alpine lakes and mountains as far as the eye can see.
- Visit the point where the Himalaya, Karakoram and Hindu Kush – three of the world’s largest mountain ranges – all meet each other.
- Take a 4WD to Khunjerab National Park in search of snow leopards, bears, wolves and rare Marco Polo sheep.
Day 1: Islamabad
Welcome to Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital city. Translating as ‘City of Islam’, Islamabad was built in the 1960s to replace Karachi as the nation’s capital, though there’s evidence that humans have lived in the area for many thousands of years.
Day 2: Islamabad
Visit Faisal Mosque, which was the largest mosque in the world upon its completion in 1986 and is said to hold 10,000 worshippers, then head to the ancient site of Taxila. These World Heritage-listed ruins are evidence of over 500 years of cultural evolution influenced by Persia, Greece and the spread of Buddhism. Enjoy a group meal in the evening at Monal, perhaps Islamabad’s most famous restaurant, which is nestled in the hills and has stunning views of the city below. (B, D)
Day 3: Gulmit
Fly this morning from Islamabad to Gilgit, then travel north to Gulmit, a small town surrounded by mountains and glaciers. It sits by the famous Karakoram Highway, which is also known as the China-Pakistan Friendship Highway as it connects the two countries. This is an achingly beautiful part of the world and there’ll be several opportunities to stop and take in views of Nanga Parbat and Rakaposhi, as well as the point where the Karakoram, Hindu Kush and Himalaya mountain ranges all meet. Nanga Parbat is a particularly impressive peak and is sometimes called the ‘killer mountain’ thanks to the high number of casualties from attempting its summit. You’ll also have time to visit the markets in Karimabad, the commercial hub and capital of the Hunza region, before arriving in Gulmit. (B, D)
Day 4: Gulmit
Spend the day soaking up the atmosphere in Gulmit. Take a walk around the remote village and visit a carpet-weaving centre run by the local women, which operates in one of the oldest traditional houses. You’ll also trek out to the ruins of Ondra Fort, which sits atop a rocky outcrop above Gulmit and would’ve commanded views of several strategically important passes in the area. (B, D)
Day 5: Ghulkin
Travel today to the village of Passu, located on the banks of the Hunza River. Take tea at a local house, sample the town’s famous apricot cake and view the Hussaini Hanging Bridge, described by some as the most dangerous bridge in the world. Though the bridge’s condition is questionable its location is enviable, suspended above Borith Lake and surrounded by jagged mountains. Spend the afternoon walking to the lake, which sits at an elevation of approximately 2600 metres, and out to the impressive Passu Glacier. There’ll be plenty of time to relax and you’ll also see Passu Sar mountain (7470 metres) as well as the photogenic Tupopdan (6106 metres), the latter of which is known as Passu Cones or Passu Cathedral. (B, L, D)
Day 6: Ghulkin
Take a drive out to Khunjerab National Park, established in 1975 to protect the region’s wildlife. Animals in the park include snow leopards, blue sheep, the Tibetan wolf, Marco Polo sheep, Himalayan ibex and the Eurasian lynx, to name but a few. The park sits at an altitude of approximately 5200 metres and is close to the Khunjerab Pass – the border crossing from Pakistan to China. This Is the highest paved border crossing in the world (approximately 4700 metres) and marks the end of the Karakoram Highway and the start of China’s 314 National Road. (B, L, D) Dinner
Day 7: Shimshal
Travel by 4WD to the remote town of Shimshal, which was inaccessible by road up until 2003. Shimshal is so remote that state prisoners from Hunza were once exiled here as punishment. The locals are resilient and extremely hardworking people. The Shimshali are to Pakistan what the Sherpa are to Nepal, and perhaps the most famous Shimshali are Samina and Mirza Ali Baig, a brother-sister climbing duo. Samina is the first and only Pakistani woman to climb Everest (at the age of 21) and the Seven Summits. (B, L, D)
Day 8: Shimshal
Spend the day exploring Shimshal and learn about the challenges that come with living in such an inhospitable environment. Meet the local families and hear their stories and struggles and take a hike for expansive views of the surrounding area. Almost every house in Shimshal is powered by solar electricity, as is the local school, which produces enough electricity to both run an IT lab and supply electricity to 18 classrooms. Enjoy the mountainous surrounds, take some time to relax and acclimatise to the altitude and know that you’re experiencing a destination that few will ever get a chance to visit. (B, L, D)
Day 9: Shimshal
Lace up those hiking boots and spend the day exploring Shimshal’s beautiful walking tracks. The exact trek will depend upon the group’s interest and the area’s accessibility, but you can be sure that there’ll be views for days and very few tourists, if any. Expect mountains, valleys, glaciers and some hearty local food to keep you moving up those hills. (B, L, D)
Day 10: Passu
Continue your exploration of the Shimshal area in the morning and enjoy a final lunch in the village. Say farewell to the locals before returning to Passu by 4WD. After arriving at the village, perhaps practice your Wakhi or Urdu language skills, or join in a game of cricket if you can. Pakistan is cricket-mad and legends like Wasim Akram and Shahid Afridi are revered across the country. (B, L, D)
Day 11: Karimabad
There’s a sad story lurking below Lake Attabad’s shimmering surface. The lake was formed in 2010 after a massive landslide that killed 20 people and displaced many thousands. The dam held and the lake is now a popular tourist destination renowned for its insanely blue water. See it for yourself then explore Ganish, an ancient Silk Road settlement that received a cultural conservation award from UNESCO. You’ll also have an opportunity to visit the immense Hopar Valley for views of the Hopar Glacier before continuing to Karimabad for the evening. (B, D)
Day 12: Karimabad
Karimabad is the capital of the Hunza District, a town known for its locally made handicrafts, carpets and, of course, its next-level views of the surrounding mountains. Today you’ll walk to Baltit and Altit forts, which have stood in the region for over 700 years and are a testament to the valley’s past strategic importance. These towns were crucial for controlling the ancient Asia trade routes and Baltit Fort holds a particularly commanding position above the village. These well-maintained forts were restored by the Aga Khan Foundation, which has also been working on several projects to empower local women’s groups. You’ll visit one of these groups, learn about their projects and have lunch at a cafe run by local women. At sunset, walk up to the Eagle’s Nest for a unforgettable view of the surrounding mountains including – on a clear day – Rakaposhi, Ultar, the Bublimotin and Spantik. (B, D)
Day 13: Lahore
Depart Karimabad and drive to Gilgit for a flight back to Islamabad. From here, the group will drive the Grand Trunk Road to Lahore. The Grand Trunk is one of Asia’s longest and oldest major roads, stretching 2700 kilometres from Bangladesh to Afghanistan via India and Pakistan. Stop en route at Rohtas Fort, which was built in the 16th century and is World Heritage-listed as ‘an exceptional example of early Muslim military architecture’. Located near the city of Jhelum in Punjab, the fort borrows architectural designs from Turkey and India and was used by both the Mughals and Sikhs prior to the British takeover. (B, D)
Day 14: Lahore
Lahore is Pakistan’s second-largest city and the capital of the Punjab region. Take your first steps into the city today and visit the Tomb of Jahangir, a 17th-century mausoleum built for the Mughal Emperor Jahangir, who ruled from 1605–27. Your local leader will also take you to Lahore Museum, which was founded in 1865. The museum is considered one of Pakistan’s finest and was featured in Rudyard Kipling’s novel ‘Kim’. Kipling’s father, John, was actually one of the first curators of the museum. From here you’ll have an opportunity to explore the Lawrence Gardens, now known as Bagh-e-Jinnah, which contain a botanical garden, an open-air theatre and a historic cricket ground. These large gardens are a popular relaxation spot, so take some time to chill out and enjoy the peaceful surroundings. (B, D)
Day 15: Lahore
As the cultural capital of Pakistan, Lahore isn’t short on delicious cuisine to try. You’ll have dinner tonight on Lahore’s famous (and mouth-watering) Food Street, but there’s a full day of exploration to be had beforehand. Spend some time visiting the city’s shrines, perhaps including that of Allama Iqbal, a poet and philosopher who is widely regarded as having inspired the Pakistan Movement (he also had a fantastic moustache).
Continue to the splendid Shalimar Gardens, built in the 17th century by the Emperor Shah Jahan and feature waterfalls, ponds and several garden pavilions. Wander through the complex, designed to be a natural utopia on earth, then travel to the Wagah border of Pakistan and India to witness the flag-lowering ceremony. This impressive spectacle attracts both international tourists and locals and features both sets of soldiers performing some seriously macho choreography. The ceremony ends with both flags being lowered simultaneously and a handshake between the soldiers. (B, D)
Day 16: Lahore
Your last full day in Lahore will be spent visiting some of the city’s most famous places. First up is the Walled City of Lahore, which was constructed around the year 1000. Within its walls you’ll find the Delhi Gate, the World Heritage-listed Lahore Fort, the huge Badshahi Mosque and the ridiculously beautiful Wazir Khan Mosque. The interior is decorated with intricate mosaics and frescoes and the mosque houses historic shops, tombs of Sufi saints and the Shahi Hammam baths.
You’ll have time to explore the markets within the Walled City too. Take a walk through the Akbari Mandi, dedicated to grains and spices, or the bustling fish market by Delhi Gate. There is also the Azam Cloth Market, one of Asia’s largest, which houses some 16,000 shops. And if those legs are feeling tired you can jump on a Rangeela rickshaw ride – these noise- and smoke-free rickshaws are unique, environmentally friendly way to explore the city. (B, D)
Day 17: Lahore
Your Pakistan expedition comes to an end today.
- Meals: 15 breakfasts, 6 lunches, 15 dinners
- Transport: Private vehicle, Plane, Jeep
- Accommodation: Guesthouse (9 nights), Homestay (4 nights), Hotel (3 nights)
Images courtesy of IntrepidGroup