Often reported negatively by international media sources, Pakistan has been off the tourist radar for decades. Thanks to its notorious history and the country’s war against terror, tourism was entirely off limits until a few years back when Pakistan’s shift in political leadership brought about a much-anticipated tourism revival in Pakistan, including what I like to call the “Petra of Pakistan.”

Now that the country is heading in a new direction, with many bold revitalization programs, tourist hotspots are booming all across the country. One of these locations, more recently opened to tourists, lies deep in the mountains outside of Lakki Marwat. Situated near the north border of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Kaotarwal Ghar hides within a towering mountain range. Kaotarwal Ghar is a mysterious and unique place resembling the historic city of Petra in Jordan.

Interested in visiting Jordan? Plan a trip with this guide, learn about Jordan’s coffee culture here, or experience Jordan’s Fine and Contemporary Art with this guide

green fields with mountainous background

Not in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine getting to see a glimpse of Petra — or anything similar to it — in the mountains of Pakistan, but my spontaneous venture from Lakki Marwat to the formation at Kaotarwal Ghar provided exactly that. It all happened as a result of some newly formed acquaintances at Coyote Trails Pakistan, an adventure travel company that guides tourists through Pakistan’s lesser-known wonders. After spending some time enjoying the scenery around Lakki Marwat, I intended to travel straight to Islamabad. After dozing off for some time on the way out of town, however, I woke up to find myself in the middle of lush green fields surrounded by mountains. A little walk, some snacks, and quite a lot of pictures later, my local friend Sanaullah offered to take the wheel of our expedition and make a promising detour, telling me of a remote place with a “Martian” landscape (in his words) and a curious name.

Kaotarwal Ghar, which translates to ‘Pigeon Mountains,’ is an outcropping of remote mountainous terrain in an area called Qabul Khel. The towering mountains and narrow passage going through them looked like something out of Indiana Jones. The mountains are not rock, but sand formed by erosion. The place was named on account of hundreds of pigeon holes located high up the mountain. The terrain is uneven, slippery, and extremely narrow at places. The exact length of the “trail” through this pass is still unknown but the locals suggest it takes a total of 8 to 12 hours to complete.

At Kaotarwal Ghar, we find ourselves along the border of Waziristan, the epicenter of terrorist activities in this part of Pakistan a decade ago. Trek long enough through this place and you’ll reach Abbasi, a historic fugitive hideout. Starting in 2014, however, the QabulKhel Uranium Plant Project ensured more constant presence of security forces in this area, helping disperse insurgents. The Uranium Plant is still operative, meaning that Kaotarwal Ghar and the places surrounding it are regularly patrolled and monitored by the security forces.

sandy walls beside trailBeginning to enter the narrow track, I felt like I was teleported to Petra. There was a deafening silence all around; very little breeze makes its way through the hugging mountains and there is barely any sign of life — with the exception of occasional pigeons flying high above our heads. It’s no wonder that this place once provided hidden mountain refuge.

As we made our way through the tangling track, all alone in the remote reaches of an already rural area, and without any certain destination to reach in mind, I couldn’t help but wonder how anyone would have ever stumbled across this spot. You wouldn’t have known it on the day of our excursion, but it turns out that Kaotarwal Ghar is quite a picnic spot for the locals of the nearby small settlements and villages who go there very often for pigeon hunting and to cool off from the summer sun in the mountain shade.
As the sun set on us, we ended what seemed like an otherwise endless trek. Experiencing solitude in an otherworldly place, that few people knew about, was bliss. Kaotarwal Ghar has potential to become a major tourist magnet, provided the authorities develop the adventure tourism business with activities like abseiling, rock climbing, and trekking in the area.

pigeon holes

The revival of tourism was one of the prominent goals of Pakistan’s current Prime Minister, Imran Khan’s, election campaign. Local tourism has seen a significant upsurge since Khan came to power in 2018, and international tourism is gradually following the same course (aside from the shock of the pandemic). Being at the center of an economic transition, Pakistan’s tourism industry is prepared for growth.

Interested in learning about more unique places in Pakistan? Check out my Pakistan Destination Guide.