When the British Backpacker Society published its list of 20 adventure travelers for 2018, the first place was taken in a rather surprising voice: Pakistan
Mountain land scape beyond the wildest imagination and the hospitality of the locals, the south Asian country will change each bias that anyone at any point held about this region of the world.
In spite of the fact that the counrty was a tourism hotspot in the 1970s, recent past has produced a lot of fears about travelling to Pakistan, attributable to political shakiness and militant assaults.
Even if threats persist and there are places travelers should avoid and the US government still recommends its citizens to reevaluate going there but enhanced security and backed by government that promotes tourism implies guest numbers are on the ascent.
In 2017, about 1.7 million foreigners visited Pakistan, 200,000 more than the year before. In January 2018, it was announced that the country would offer a 30 day multiple on arrival visa to tourists from 24 countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom.
Bookings have risen 100% this year for Wild Frontiers, a tour operator based in US and UK, the company has been arranging tours to Pakistan for 20 years. For founder Jonny Bealby, it’s not hard to perceive why the country once again attracts travelers. “I call it adventure travel’s best-kept secret,” he says. “For the adventurous traveler it offers so much. More epic accessible landscapes than you will find anywhere else, meaning landscapes you drive to rather than trek for days to”.
“In Hunza (a mountainous valley in the Gilgit-Baltistan) for example, you can sit on the rooftop at your hotel having breakfast and you’ve got seven 7,000-meter peaks all around you, which is pretty incredible.”
Bealby also points out the country’s fascinating social and cultural charms, both in terms of architecture and people. “The cuisine is of course great and the hotel accommodation is actually a lot better than most people think,” he adds.
“Combine all these things together and you have the perfect adventure destination”.
According to Bealby, tourism in the northern part of the country has not yet been restored as it was in 1990s, when hotels should have been booked at least a year in advance, but certainly has has noticed a change in attitudes in recent years.
“I would say that the security situation in Pakistan has improved considerably in the last three years and now it becomes a real opportunity for people who have been too cautious to go to a place they think is dangerous”.
For US born travel blogger Alex Reynolds of lostwithpurpose.com, who visited the country twice, the things she read were not enough to put her off.
“From poisoning to kidnapping to bombing, everything I found online warned me that I would surely die a horrible death if I traveled to Pakistan.” But coming from the United States, I’m used to such warnings. “I figured no nation is 100% evil, and I should go and perceive how risky or safe it was for myself.”
Going with a companion, she spent two six week spells in 2016 and 2017, traveling across the country and in spite of her loved ones’ worries. “For the entirety of my time in Pakistan, my parents messaged me in a panic, begging me to leave the country as soon as possible”. Reynolds was surprised by the generosity of the Pakistani people. “My perceptions about hospitality have been completely redefined by what I experienced in Pakistan,” she says.
“People invited me to stay at homes and they slept on the floor so I could sleep in their bed”.” The hosts organized everything from daily excursions and took free days to work to show me around. “Walkers on the street invite me to have tea or a meal without any hesitation, I have never seen anything like it and I have not experienced hospitality at this level elsewhere in the world.”
Reynolds adds that the locals were happy to see a stranger, especially an American, taking time to travel across the country”. They always did everything they could to make me as comfortable, safe and welcome as possible, she says.
One of her favorite memories took place during the holy month of Ramadan when Muslims refrain from eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset.
Standing on a train platform in the middle of summer, Reynolds was thirsty and starving. A local boy helped her get a train ticket and then promptly disappeared. A couple of hours later, he reappeared clutching a bag with containers of food and bottles of water.
“He figured we were hungry and thirsty since it was Ramadan, and went home and had his mother prepare something just for us. And with that, he handed the bag to us, said goodbye, and walked away. We devoured the food behind a curtain on the train, and oh, was it delicious.”
From urban culture and contagious energy to its beautiful mountains and valleys, Pakistan is the perfect destination for anyone who wants to think out of the box, she says.
From the culture and infectious energy of the cities to its breathtaking mountains and valleys, Pakistan is the perfect destination for anyone looking to venture off the beaten track, she says. In fact, she’s hoping to return for another trip soon.