WF MD and Founder Jonny has visited Pakistan well over twenty times, including a stint living there in the 1990s. Below Jonny talks about to me about just why he loves Pakistan so much and why it’s time everyone reassessed any preconceptions they may have about this beautiful country.
What makes you keep going back to Pakistan?
For me the key factors are the combination of the friendships I have made there and how amazing the travel experience is for the few tourists who travel there. As it’s not set up specifically for tourists, travel to Pakistan is both genuine and authentic. This means you get to experience the region exactly as it is, which is increasingly rare for travellers nowadays. But that said my primary reason for visiting revolves around the friendships I have built up with so many people in Northern Pakistan over the many years I’ve been travelling there. These relationships also give me a sense of responsibility towards promoting the region when nobody else will.
Where is your favourite place in Pakistan?
That’s a difficult question as I love different places for different reasons. The Kalash Valley is where I have my house, feel most at home and have established many of my friendships. However, visually, the wide open space and freedom I feel on the Shandur Pass, where the mountains of the Hindu Kush transform into the steppes of Central Asia, is like nowhere else. In addition the magical landscapes in and around the Hunza Valley and the magnificent peaks in front of your hotel or restaurant make it a hard to beat location anywhere in the world. Last, but by no means least, I love visiting our WF Foundation sponsored school in Baleygon and seeing how the children are getting on.
What is the current situation with regard to security?
I believe the security situation is much improved. As my recent blog alluded to, since the Peshawar school attack in late 2014 there has been a fundamental shift in the attitudes and opinions of the government, army and people in Pakistan and there now seems to be a concerted effort by everyone to rid the country of the militant scourge. When I took my last group out there in May, the group never felt in any danger at any point in the tour. Everyone we met was fantastically friendly and hospitable.
What would you say to anyone who is considering a visit to Pakistan, but doesn’t know what to expect?
Expect to be surprised! In particular, the following factors are likely to challenge any preconceptions:
- The extraordinary mountain scenery and landscapes in the north.
- The plethora of cultures.
- The surprisingly good food.
- The wealth of quality accommodation on offer, particularly in Chitral, Skardu, Khaplu, Gilgit and Hunza, which all offer exceptional hotels with great charm and character, sometimes converted from historic palaces and forts.
- The quality of the transport, in particular the jeeps, which are comfortable and offer a great way to explore the country by getting you to places difficult to reach in conventional vehicles.
Above all, the extraordinary friendship and hospitality of the Pakistani people will stay with you for a very long time after your visit.
What makes WF such a market leader for Pakistan tours?
Wild Frontiers is just about the only company to have continued running tours to Pakistan since the mid 1990s. Twenty years ago most travel companies operated tours in the country, but slowly they have all pulled out, leaving us as the only tour operator offering a comprehensive list of tours covering everywhere in Northern Pakistan. The experience we have garnered over twenty years of running trips and the contacts we have built relationships with have put us in a unique position to be able to promote this wonderful part of the world.