11th October 2017
It's been excellent weather for the last week in Pakistan, not too hot and not too cold, both in the mountains and the cities.
Almost immediately after crossing from China, we began to see the narrower valleys and rugged peaks which the Karakoram Highway is famous for. We had a short sightseeing boat trip on Lake Attabad, before driving through the new tunnels which have enabled life to return to the area, after over 5 years of limited development. The area had been shut off from vehicle supplies from the south since the landslip dam occurred and the lake was formed.
Karimabad and the Hunza valley were as beautiful as ever and thankfully it was mostly cloudless for much of our time at Fairy Meadows, granting us all stunning views. After two nights under the shadow of Nanga Parbat, the westernmost 8000m peak of the Himalayas, in our log cabins (newly varnished, flushing toilets and even warm water for washing) we began our descent. It was an early start and a long day.
After a heading downhill for about 2 hours on foot with incredible views of the Karakoram Range, we transferred to our jeeps for the famous steep descent along single-track road which traverses high above the Raikot River for most of the 90 minutes’ drive to the main Karakoram highway. Since August it's been shut to through traffic by a landslide. We transfer from one jeep to another by walking along a narrow rock shelf for about 50m above where the landslide has destroyed the road - it's a bit of a hair-raising experience.
There was still plenty of travelling before our overnight in Naran. In previous years we have had to abandon this shorter and more interesting route as the authorities have been forced to shut it due to security concerns. All is now fine and we can head up to 4200m Babusar pass. This route was originally built by the British towards the end of the 19th century to provide an alternative and quicker route up their stronghold in Gilgit as its importance in the 'Great Game' increased.
On descending we see Afghan Kutchi nomads looking for pasture to feed their livestock. Less and less land seems available each time I visit because of the construction of new hotels and guest houses catering for the local tourism which has increased hugely in recent years as residents from the southern cities escape the summer heat. Atta, our excellent local guide, puts it down to the spread of social media, mentioning it can be a real problem in terms of accommodation and traffic in the high season.
The next day we head to Taxila, its Buddhist stupas are beautifully impressive and well-preserved; showing the contrasts of this trip. We try to see as much as possible of this amazing location before heading to the bustling cities of Islamabad and Lahore.