Pakistan’s North: Mountains, lakes and breathtaking views to quench any tourist’s wanderlust

The Karakoram Highway offers a breathtaking panorama.
Updated 26 March 2018

Pakistan’s North: Mountains, lakes and breathtaking views to quench any tourist’s wanderlust

The British Backpacker Society recently identified Pakistan as its top travel destination, calling it “one of the friendliest countries on Earth, with mountain scenery that is beyond anyone’s wildest imagination.”
On a social media blog, the backpackers, who explored more than 101 countries, declared Pakistan the clear winner of the “British Backpacker Society’s top 20 adventure travel destinations 2018,” encouraging keen travelers to book a trip to Pakistan immediately.
Such descriptions of Pakistan as a tourist-friendly country may come as a surprise to many. Yet Pakistan, in addition to several ancient historical landmarks, is blessed with one of the most amazing landscapes, mountain ranges and valleys in the world.
Northern Pakistan is home to the world’s three famous mountain ranges — the Himalayas, the Karakorams and the Hindukush.
The area, blessed with high mountains, landscapes, lakes, glaciers and valleys with breathtaking views, coupled with the warm hospitality of the local people, is a dream for any tourist.
With more than 20 peaks of over 20,000 feet (6,100 meters) and four over 8,000 meters (out of 14 in the world), the area is a paradise for mountaineers, climbers, trekkers and hikers. The shapes, forms, sizes and colors of these peaks provide tremendous contrasts that defy description. Some of these peaks include: K-2 (8,611 meters, world’s second highest) — the undisputed monarch of the sky; Nanga Parbat (8126 meters) — once feared as the “killer mountain”; and Broad Peak (8,047 meters) — massive and ugly.
There are several other peaks over 7,000 meters in these mountain ranges that are still to be explored.
For many centuries caravans braved these treacherous mountains, treading precariously along paths providing shortcuts between Central Asia and the rich markets of South Asia.
In 1967, Pakistan and China joined hands to construct the 900-kilometer “Karakoram Highway” (also known as the “Eighth Wonder of the World”) on the alignment of the ancient Silk Route.
For its sheer mountain grandeur and breathtaking panorama, few places on earth can match the superb landscape through which the Karakoram Highway snakes.
The northern areas of Pakistan also host some of the longest glaciers (outside the polar region), especially in the Karakorams. The Siachin glacier is 75 kilometers long. The Hispar, (52 kilometers) joins the Biafo at the Hispar La (5,154 meters) to form a 116-kilometer ice corridor. The Batura is 58 kilometers, but the most outstanding of all is the Baltoro (62 kilometers).
Several high-altitude lakes such as Sheosar (in the Deosai Plains), Naltar (in the Naltar Valley), Satpara Tso (in Skardu), Katzura Tso (in Skardu) and Tso (in the Shigar) give a grandeur to the whole area.
The most famous and magnificent of these is lake “Saif-ul-Malook,” which has rich eco-diversity and species of blue-green algae that give an eye-catching contrast to its crystal-clear water.
The presence of several high peaks, lakes and glaciers means that the whole area is home to a number of adventure sports — enjoyed by locals and foreign tourists alike.
Since 1954, when the Karakoram Range was opened to expeditions for climbing and trekking, the mountains and glaciers of the north have become an international playground.
There are hundreds of peaks lying unclimbed and posing a challenge to mountaineers and climbers from all over the world.
Similarly, those who dare to take up the challenge of the roaring mountain rivers in northern Pakistan know the excitement and thrill that such sports offer.
Tourists undertake white-water sports such as rafting, canoeing and kayaking in the rivers Indus, Gilgit, Hunza, Swat, Shigar, Shayok and Kunhar. Similarly, the rivers and lakes of northern Pakistan are filled with trout, which is very popular with anglers.
Ski facilities are also available at Malam Jabba (Swat Valley), Naltar (near Gilgit) and Kalabagh (Nathiagali). An annual ski tournament is organized by the Pakistan Ski Federation at Malam Jabba and Naltar in February.
The most popular sport in the area is polo, which originated here. The polo played in this area is a rugged and freestyle version of the more sedate variety known on the plains.
Passion for polo remains the greatest on the world’s highest polo ground. Every year, Shandur (3,700 meters above sea level) invites visitors to experience a traditional polo tournament between the Chitral and Gilgit teams.
The festival also includes folk music, folk dance, traditional sports and a camping village set up on the pass.
The magnificent northern areas of Pakistan have everything — from magnificent and sky-kissing peaks to mesmerizing lakes. This, together with the affordable cost and warm hospitality, makes Pakistan a top destination for tourists to explore.

Saudi tourism sector in the spotlight at Arabian Travel Market

Updated 22 April 2018

Saudi tourism sector in the spotlight at Arabian Travel Market

  • Kingdom developing tourism sector as part of economic diversification strategy
  • Vision 2030 foresees 1.2 million new tourist jobs by 2030

It is the leading global event for Middle Eastern tourism and it opens on Sunday in Dubai. The Arabian Travel Market attracts the big players of the industry and the wannabes. It showcases 2,800 products to more than 28,000 potential buyers and generates deals worth more than $2.5 billion.

No wonder the world wants to be there, from spas to safaris, from Armenia to Zanzibar and all points between in both the globe and the alphabet.

But this year, one destination is set to attract more attention than any other: Saudi Arabia.

The Kingdom’s tourism industry has hitherto centered primarily on the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah; last year’s Hajj attracted around 2.35 million pilgrims, with about 1.75 million of those coming from abroad.

When it comes to non-religious tourism however, it is in the unique position of creating that industry more or less from scratch, which is an enviable place to be.

“It means we are able to learn from the mistakes of others and we can take the best from everywhere,” said Amr Al-Madani, CEO of the Royal Commission for Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia’s archaeological treasure house and home to the Unesco-listed Madain Saleh.

“And we are determined to offer the best in every way,” he added.

Al-Madani recently returned from presenting the plans for Al-Ula at a high-profile gala at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris, an occasion that coincided with the visit of Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, the driving force behind Vision2030, the ambitious program designed to revamp not only the national economy but Saudi society as a whole.

Once regarded as practically off-limits to visitors and particularly Westerners (although that was never true), Saudi Arabia is throwing open the gates, as part of plans to diversify its economy and create jobs for its citizens.

The Kingdom’s Vision 2030 economic development plan, designed to create new revenue streams to lower its reliance on oil, envisages the creation of 1.2 million new jobs in the tourism sector by 2030.

Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority in February said it planned to invest $64 billion in its entertainment sector in the coming 10 years. This investment will include the development of a countrywide network of cinemas, following the lifting of a ban last year.

As well as opening up the 5,000-year-old wonders of Al-Ula, there are plans to develop 34,000 square kilometers of Red Sea coastline and 50 outlying islands into luxury beach resorts.

The scheme has already attracted Sir Richard Branson, founder and boss of the Virgin Group, as its first international investor. He is involved in developing the islands — which he described as “breathtakingly beautiful” — as luxury destinations, and has also visited Madain Saleh.

“This is an incredibly exciting time in the country’s history and I’ve always felt that there is inothing like getting a first-hand impression,” he said after his visit.

He praised the Crown Prince for his vision, telling Arab News, “If you want to succeed you should have an idea and a plan to implement it and just do it. He is doing that and his heart is in the right place.”

Though he is overseeing the development of the Al-Ula sites, Amr Al-Madani said one plan was to offer two-center holidays: “Some days exploring the archaeology and the nature in Al-Ula and then a few days relaxing at the beach,” he said.

As well as unspoilt beaches, the Red Sea coast also enjoys the best climate in Saudi Arabia with pleasant sea breezes offsetting the heat.

The Red Sea project is expected to generate 35,000 jobs.

The Royal Commission has already recruited the first 200 future employees who will work in Al-Ula. The group — half boys, half girls — are all high school-leavers or university students from the region. They have already begun three months of training in Riyadh, learning languages and undergoing assessment by psychologists and careers advisers and will later be dispatched to several locations in Britain and the US to continue learning.

Al-Madani said Al-Ula should be ready to receive its first tourists in three to five years, eventually accommodating a million to 1.5 million a year.