The highest point in the Vale of Kaghan, Babusar pass is more like a meadow of bright flowers; of all colors, shades and patterns. Situated at a distance of 75 km from Naran, and an altitude of 4146 m (14,000 ft), the fabulous Pass looks more like a huge panoramic spreadsheet. On a clear day you can also see from here, the majestic Nanga Parbat (26,660 ft).
The valley itself is at its best during summer (months ranging from May to September). In May the maximum temperature is 11o C (52 F) and the minimum temperature is 3o C (37 F). From the middle of July up to the end of September the road beyond Naran is open right up to the Pass.
THE UNSEEN PARADISE
by Rome Jorge
Filipinos, we know how wrong international perception can be. The western media just doesn’t get it right. Trouble in far-off Basilan is no excuse to miss all the beauty of Mindanao, a big place with misty virgin forests, rich indigenous culture and the friendliest of people. Or to avoid the entire Philippines for that matter—7,100 islands of the most spectacular beaches with talcum powder fine white sand, breathtaking dive sites of iridescent coral gardens, cuddly dugongs, majestic humpback whales and whale sharks, not to mention hundreds of colorful fiestas in which to revel and indulge.
There is another place in this world much like our own country with a noble people, a rich history and a diverse culture—the often-unseen paradise that is Pakistan.
Pakistan is home to the most ancient Asian civilization in Harrapa, Balochistan, as well as where the Greeks, the Mughals, the British and several other great civilizations have all left their indelible imprint. Go to where the descendants of Alexander the Great’s army of Macedonians, Greeks and Persians still run through the blood of the Kalash tribe in the Chitral region. The ancient ruins of Taxila bear the traces of stupas devoted to the Venus of the Bactrian Greeks as well as those of Buddha. Even the sculptures of Buddha in the Museum of Taxila bear unmistakably Grecian beauty. In modern Pakistan, locals can possess blond hair, oriental eyes or dark olive skin. The diversity of cultures is intrinsic in every stage of this country’s proud history.
A Kalasha [Kafir] beauty lightly smiles as she is snapped by an eager photographer. The Kalasha are by temperament a very polite and cooperative folk. They are the indigenous people of Chitral. Their ancestors migrated to Chitral from Afghanistan in the 2nd century BC. Though pagans or kafirs by belief Kalasha have been enjoying a cordial relationship with the major ethnic group of Chitral, the Kho who are Sunni and Ismaili Muslims.
For those wishing to go back in time to the colonial era, take a romantic steam train through the Khyber Pass where the armies of Aryans, Persians, Arabs, Huns, Afghans, Macedonians and British have all passed, and where the treasures of the Silk Road flowed from Europe and China. Enjoy the service of bow-tied waiters as you chug along the countryside. Marvel at army bagpipe bands and the flag ceremonies that combine all the fierce regality of British pomp and pageantry with Mughal regality.
The towering onion domes of the grand Badshahi Mosque of the Emperor Aurangzeb in Lahore Fort incorporate the gilded spires of Sikh temples and the inverted lotus flower of Buddhist shrines to reflect the cultural diversity of the Mughal Empire. The stupendous yet sublime beauty of the mosque as well as the entire Lahore Fort with its intricate red sandstone walls, honeycomb marble lattices and glazed tile mosaics, speaks eloquently of the sophistication and enlightenment that the Mughal dynasty cultivated. The mosque itself sits beside the Dera Sahib, a most exquisite creation of florid curves in white and gold and one of the most important pilgrimage sites for Sikhs. At the Lahore Museum, explore pavilions devoted to wonderful artworks and relics of Jainism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam. Its most arresting treasure piece by far is “the Starving Buddha,” a skeletal portrayal that dares to break symmetry by having the figure lean to one side.
Depiction of Buddha, the great enlightened soul transferred into remarkable pieces of Gandhara art are showcased in the famed Taxila Museum of Pakistan. In the pre-Christian era, the interaction of Greek and Buddhist culture of ancient India, flourished in the area called Gandhara, in today’s Pakistan. It later spread further into India, influencing the art of Mathura, and then the Hindu art of the Gupta empire, which was to extend to the rest of south-East Asia.
For Muslim travelers, Pakistan is an eye opener with its rich history of Sufi mysticism. Multan, dubbed “the city of saints,” exposes travelers to a rich local culture that tempers the faith.
Pakistan has long been on the map of mountaineers and extreme sports enthusiasts. It has the best mountains in the world including the K2, which is supposed to be the second highest mountain of the world. The country has 14 highest peaks of the world and boasts to have the largest number of glaciers in Pakistan outside the polar region. Therefore this makes an ideal venue for tracking and rock climbing.” And former prime minister Shaukat Aziz asserts: Swiss mountaineers, revered throughout the world, refer to their own peaks as “baby mountains.” “This is where there are real mountains,” he quotes them.
A quiet interlude between prayers is the best time to savor the majesty of the Badshahi Mosque. Its marble domes and graceful minarets rise above Lahore’s Old City, evoking the glories of Punjab’s imperial past.
Sohail Azhar—a Pakistani-born and English raised mountaineer, runs his own UK-based company that facilitates tours of his motherland of other Pakistani expatriates—notes that there is excellent alpine climbing but a few hour’s drive from the capital Islamabad and that Pakistan is where four great valleys converge.
Pakistan offers an alpine experience with crystal-clear mountain lakes, ski slopes and mountain lodges. Azhar recommends going beyond the popular Murree resort town and exploring the quieter lakesides in the mountains.
And oh, the shopping and the street life! A tour of Lok Virsa, Pakistan’s National Museum of Ethnology in Islamabad whets one’s appetite for all things Pakistani and surprisingly provides a great guide on what handicrafts to buy in the different regions of Pakistan. However, the true bargains are to be found in the ancient cities such as Lahore.
The Fasting Buddha is one of the unique collections of Lahore Museum, the oldest one in the country. Established in 1864, the museum has a special attraction – its Gandhara gallery which showcases the Mahayana Buddhist religious sculptures. The pieces here present the life story of Buddha in frieze panels and statues from his pervious incarnations, his birth, youth, enlightenment preaching of the law and death. Gandhara art is important for introducing the image of Buddha and the iconography which influenced the Buddhist religious art everywhere.
By far, the most authentic Pakistani experience is taking a rikshaw—a three-wheeled contrivance much like our very own four-wheeled jeepney—and weaves in and out of the old city’s narrow crowded streets, hunting for bargain spots such as Liberty (Ladies’) Market in Lahore. Go crazy buying the Pashmina shawls and scarves of the finest wool and the most intricate designs. There are also intricate glass-beaded leather-soled slippers and dainty handbags for ladies, and finely made leather jackets and suits for men. Pakistani women, the epitome of elegance and beauty, have elevated the shalwar kameez, the national dress for both men and women, into a most feminine ensemble.
Woolen carpets, lattice brass lamps, silver jewelry boxes, and if you care to have it shipped—the most intricate door frames and most colorful chairs on Earth—all tempt the traveler.
As you go through bustling avenues, note not only the fusion of British colonial architecture with Mughal motifs but also of the Pakistani penchant for elaborating everything from rickshaws to buses, to trucks, to even tractors. Such folkloric art brims to the surface even in the busiest city streets.
A fine thing to tote back home is a hookah water pipe. One puff of apple-flavored shisha on a hookah pipe inside a cozy café such as the Hangout Bar in Islamabad and you will find cigarettes to be absolutely barbaric; hookah is the proper way to smoke.
Dudipatsar Lake is another popular spot in the Kaghan Valley. Travelers here come to unwind their mind from the humdrum of the city life and spend some calm moments in the serene surroundings of Dudiptsar. Encircled by snow clad peaks in Lulusar-Dudipatsar National Park, the lake lies in the extreme north of the Naran Valley. The word “dudi” means white and “sar” means lake. This name has been given to the lake because of the white color of snow at surrounding peaks. In summer the water of the lake shines like a mirror.
Those wanting to retreat to the gracious accommodations of world-class luxury hotel will have plenty to choose from in Pakistan. The Marriott, Holiday Inn and many other hotels offer globe trotting travelers luxuries such as spas and even alcoholic beverages (only for non-Muslim guests). Besides biryani rice, masala and other local fare elevated to haute cuisine, these fine hotels also offer continental and oriental dishes.
Although Pakistan offers a great tourist experience, it is still not too touristy. No overly aggressive hawkers and hustlers yet. Pakistani merchants have their own selling strategy: hospitality. How can you refuse when they offer tea and biscuits? And if you think Pakistan offers the same wares as India, think again. To quote once again the former prime minister: Shaukat Aziz recalls that during the friendship cricket matches between the two countries, Indian visitors “cleaned out Lahore’s shops.” Pakistan and all its marvels are unique and even their neighbors know it.
Lake Saiful Muluk is located at the northern end of the Kaghan Valley near Naran. At an altitude of 3,224 m (10,578 feet) above sea level, its amongst one of the highest lakes in Pakistan. The Guardian ranked Lake Saiful Muluk as one of the top 5 tourist destinations in Pakistan. The beauty of the lake lies in particular to the reflection of many colors, in minutes.
Pakistan has so far escaped the radar of most travelers whereas Pakistan is the ideal destination for tourism. Unfortunately, it is the best-kept secret of Pakistan. The country has made great strides to improve the country’s tourism infrastructure with numerous additional roads and hotels under construction. Those traveling Pakistan will feel secure with the very visible and constant presence of military and police. The common folk in urban areas speak English and are quite helpful.
This year, see the unseen. Explore Pakistan and discover a totally different country from the one you thought you knew.
The writer Rome Jorge, is the Lifestyle Editor of The Manila Times. He can be reached at email@example.com
1. My beautiful Pakistan: Gilgit-Baltistan, 2. The Wonders of Deosai Plains 3. My beautiful Pakistan, the land of Balochistan, 4. Traveling through Pakistan – The Katas Raj Temple, 5. Pakistan, A Treasure Trove of Wonders. But do we care! 6. Do We Understand Tourism? Asks the Industry Guru, 7. Tourism: A Vista of Opportunities for Our Ailing Economy
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