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
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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.


Tourists follow ‘Game of Thrones’ trail in Northern Ireland

Updated 20 April 2019
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Tourists follow ‘Game of Thrones’ trail in Northern Ireland

  • Since the series began in 2011, fans have started to flock to the coastal caves and ruined castles of the British province where much of the show was shot
  • Tourism Northern Ireland estimates the magical show drew 120,000 visitors to the province in 2016

BELFAST: Wielding a replica broadsword, Indian tourist Akshay Mannur duels with friends — re-enacting scenes from “Game of Thrones” on the Northern Ireland pilgrimage trail for devotees of the blockbuster fantasy TV show.
Since the blood and guts series began its rise to prominence in 2011, fans have started to flock to the coastal caves and ruined castles of the British province where much of the HBO television production was shot.
“Every new step is like something new, it’s more than my expectations,” 23-year-old student Mannur marvelled.
“It’s a beautiful country — Northern Ireland is just amazing.”

Tourism Northern Ireland estimates the magical show — in its final season — drew 120,000 visitors to the province in 2016, generating £30 million (35 million euros, $39 million).
One in six visitors now comes to Northern Ireland to visit shooting locations, according to their estimates.
Along the largely coastal trail, a short drive outside the capital of Belfast, that popularity is clear to see.
A steady hum of buses and coaches are marshalled in and out of parking lots on strict schedules, and sleepy village shops throng with tourists.
“The last week, I think on Saturday past, we had a bus with 24 nationalities on it,” said tour guide Patrick Rogan at the mouth of the Cushendun Caves, the site of a pivotal plot point in the series.
“We had people from Patagonia, from New Zealand, from Japan, from Russia, from South Korea and Europe, so I think that tells its own story.”
Since 2012 his employer — the “Stones and Thrones” tour — has offered daily outings out of Belfast, manned mainly by guides who have acted as extras on the show.
Today they run at least two full buses a day, he said, competing with at least four other companies offering a similar service.
Other more bespoke tour services offer immersive experiences — axe-throwing, archery, and photo opportunities with a pair of wolves that starred in the epic series.

A popular comparison holds that “Game of Thrones” is to Northern Ireland tourism what “Lord of the Rings” has been to New Zealand.
But Northern Ireland’s very recent bloody past during the so-called ‘Troubles’ — when 3,500 were killed in 30 years of sectarian strife — makes the boom particularly welcome.
“The dark history that was here is coming out,” said Irish actor Liam Cunningham, a stalwart character in the series now feted as the most expensive to ever be filmed for the small screen.
“The place is blooming, and for us to have this show here and be part of that transition is joyful.”

Cunningham was speaking at the opening of a touring exhibition of costume and scenery pieces in Belfast, the same week as the new season of the series premiered.
Ranked displays of dragon skulls, intricately crafted weapons and interactive exhibits are preceded by a gallery of landscape prints, depicting the countryside shooting locations.
A caption on one image reads “Views to die horribly for,” whilst another reads “Sun, sea and savagery,” referring to the show’s reputation for bloodily killing off major characters.
They are testament to the canny local tourist board, making efforts to cement the link between their territory and the series.
“I think our association with such a global success helps to transform the image of Northern Ireland across the globe,” said John McGrillen, chief executive of Tourism Northern Ireland.
“In many ways that gives you PR that you just simply couldn’t buy.”
With the final season of “Game of Thrones” under way, the fever pitch devotion to the series may be about to end.
But with spin-off projects in the pipeline and a studio tour development due to open in Northern Ireland next year, the province still hopes for tourism revenues.
“We think this still has longevity,” said McGrillen.