Pakistan – when you hear this name, what comes to your mind? For me, I am reminded of breath-taking nature, hospitable people, and a country in which I spent six months traveling solo at age 21. I arrived in Pakistan for the first time in my life in Autumn 2019, and embarked on a one and a half month long cycling journey through the northern mountainous region of Pakistan — in the province of Gilgit-Baltistan.
Want to explore more of Pakistan? Check out this hidden gem known by locals as the “Petra of Pakistan” as a tongue-in-cheek reference to the landmark in Jordan.
Gilgit-Baltistan is one of the most picturesque provinces in Pakistan. I decided to cycle along the Karakoram highway, from Sost in the North to Gilgit in the South, a route that traces one of the many paths of the ancient Silk Road. After that, I took a detour along a treacherous road to reach Skardu in the East. At an elevation of almost 2500m asl., Skardu valley is where the Karakoram range meets the Himalayas.
Visiting Pakistan was highly recommended to me by a few travellers I had crossed paths with in various parts of the world. I hadn’t been able to get my mind off this country since. Many travelers have ascertained that Pakistan is abundantly overflowing with the most hospitable and kindest people they had ever met. Backed by the anecdotes of some travel bloggers, I was both excited and terrified to begin my journey. I am Asian, unlike the Caucasian travellers who shared their experiences with me. I was also completely alone. On top of that, instead of staying in guest houses like most travelers do, I completely avoided them. Instead, I camped or stayed in people’s homes when invited.
Luckily, I had nothing much to fear (aside from the usual dangers of being a woman in this world). On the first day of riding, I was already dumbfounded by the level of friendliness and generosity from the locals. Kindness was written across everyone’s faces.
A policeman gave me his phone number in case I needed help. He then proceeded to recommend and let me drive one of the extravagant trucks Pakistan is famous for.
It was an absolute pleasure to share the road with those giant beauties. Truck drivers spend up to thousands of dollars each for highly customised decorations and paint work. Not only is it for personal expression, the decorations often feature elements that represent a reminder of the driver’s home.
Every person I paddled passed waved ecstatically and screamed their welcomes. Old and young hopped with joy. People ran out of their houses to yell “HELLO!”. While searching for a spot to camp, a family spotted me and immediately “kidnapped” and “adopted” me. This was all on the first day of my ride!
One of the greatest dangers of cycle touring across the Karakoram is constantly being invited for a meal! Luckily, I can handle spicy food.
Everywhere you look along the Karakoram highway is a beautiful view. Rivers running with glacial water are always an eternal blue.
Blue and turquoise lakes are abundant. This lake for example, is right off the road. What a great stop for lunch!
Hike a little, and you are rewarded with the epic view of a glacier. This in particular, is the Passu Glacier. One of the many residing in Northern Pakistan.
Hunza is one of the main towns along the Karakoram. The enchanting view of the valley and the many easily accessible hikes make it a wonderful spot to rest up.
This is perhaps the world’s scariest suspension bridge. With large gaps between each step, it seems daunting to most. However, locals trotted across with ease. One lady held a baby goat with both arms and hopped across the bridge as if gravity did not exist.
Cycle touring alone across Northern Pakistan was one of the most delightful trips I have ever taken in my life. The people and sceneries went above and beyond my expectations. Everywhere I went people were caring and generous. The scenery blew my mind every day. In my opinion, the combination of hospitality and natural beauty makes Gilgit-Baltistan one of the world’s best places to travel to.
I had initially planned to stay only 45 days in Pakistan, but one visa extension after the other, I ended up staying for six months. Pakistan had everything I could dream of – adventure, beautiful nature, delicious food, cultural diversity. Most importantly, it’s the wonderful people that made me stay.