Northern Areas of Pakistan
The North county of Pakistan consists of upper KPK, the entire province of Gilgit-Baltistan, along with some areas of AJK. It is situated between the western Himalayas on the southern side, while, the Karakoram and Hindu Kush Mountain Range on the northern side. This region shares the border with the Wakhan corridor in Afghanistan, Xinjiang territory of China as well as the occupied Kashmir in India.
Besides their socio-political significance, the Northern areas are brimming with the travel opportunities for the tourists. As they offer tremendously picturesque scenery, the bonafide nature, breathtaking landscapes, magnificent peaks, pristine water bodies, dazzling historical sites, rich culture and the extremely hospitable people which cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
Best Destinations In The Northern Areas
The most popular travel destinations in North Pakistan are;
1. Azad Kashmir
Arang Kel, Baboon Valley, Banjosa Lake, Jhelum Valley, Leepa Valley, Neelum Valley, Pir Chinasi, Rawalakot, besides Toli Pir.
Astore, Chillas, Concordia, Diamer, Deosai, Gilgit, Ghanche District, Ghizer, Gojal Valley, Hunza, Kharmang, Naltar valley, Nagar, Shigar, and Skardu.
3. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
Abbottabad, Ayubia, Chitral, Kalam Valley, Kaghan Valley, Kalash Valley, Madyan, Malam Jabba, Mardan, Malakand, Mansehra, Mushkpuri, Nathiagali, Naran, Shangla, Shogran, Swat, along with Thandiani.
Why Northern Areas of Pakistan Are Famous?
The Northern areas of Pakistan are well-known all because of the striking natural beauty, rich history, religious/cultural/ethnic diversity, astonishing cold deserts, lush meadows, mighty mountains, bewildering glaciers, scenic trekking trails, astounding plateaus, massive national parks, mesmerizing lakes and rivers, enchanting waterfalls, thick pine forests, glorious ancient sites, intriguing monasteries and temples, incredible traditional food, thriving bazaars, entrancing music, colorful clothes, fascinating flora, marvelous wildlife and most importantly the indispensably beautiful people.
Weather of Northern Areas of Pakistan
The climate varies from area to area. Actually, the mountains surrounding this region create sharp variations in weather. Precisely the eastern zones that lie close to Western Himalayas are relatively moist but moving further towards the Hindu Kush and Karakoram Mountains, the weather becomes significantly dry.
In summers, the temperatures are really high in certain towns during the daytime. Although, it drops down during the night. But in the areas like Hunza, Astore and Nagar etcetera even the summers are cold.
The weather is really frigid in winter. The majority of the Northern region is covered in heavy snow during this period.
Best Time To Visit The Northern Areas
The best time to visit North Pakistan is during spring or summer. It is because this region is situated above sea level. Hence, during winters the temperature drops down below the freezing point at the majority of the areas. Nevertheless, throughout the spring as well as the summers the weather is quite pleasant, also, the tourists can approach these areas easily.
This region comprises of a prodigious ethnic and lingual diversity. Urdu is the lingua franca as well as the official language of the region, whereas, Arabic is used for religious purposes by the Muslims. English is the co-official language used in education.
The residents of Northern areas preferably speak local languages like Badeshi, Balti, Burushaski, Chilisso, Domaaki, Dameli, Gawarbati, Gawri, Gojri, Hindko, Kalasha, Kamviri, Kativiri, Khowar, Madaghlashti, Mankiyali, Wakhi, Palula, Pashto, Shina, Torwali, Ushojo and Yidgha, for communication among themselves.
Art And Music
The local people highly appreciate art and music. They prefer to sing classical songs or the local folklores while playing musical instruments such as; dhol, chang, karnai and surnai, during festive events or weddings.
The natives of Northern areas perform the classical dance, sword dance, Broqchhos, Yakkha, Chhogho Prasul, Gasho-Pa or Sneopa depending upon the event.
This entire North region is the center of extreme sports like polo, mountaineering, paragliding and skiing. Locals also enjoy playing football, cricket and volleyball.
Yet, the most popular sport in the region is Polo. Almost every valley has a polo ground. The native people belonging to different age groups play this sport earnestly. Therefore, the region’s elite host many polo tournaments annually.
The lifestyle of people is pretty simple. They live in small homes equipped with only basic facilities. Natives have a deep respect for their cultural values. The majority of people prefer to live in a joint family system. Arranged marriage is an integral part of the culture in many areas.
Generally, women wear long hand-woven frocks or Kameez with Shalwar, Dupatta and a cap. Men wear traditional Shalwar Kameez paired with local hats. During winters, people keep themselves warm by wearing traditional Shawls, Waistcoats, Sweaters and Jackets.
In certain places such as; Kalash Valley, the dress code is considerably different than the other areas of the region.
Different Festivals in Northern areas of Pakistan
1) Shandur Polo Festival
Polo is a famous regional sport of Gilgit-Baltistan. Hence, a polo festival is hosted at Shandur (Chitral) each year. Shandur is the second-highest polo ground in the world located at the altitude of 3,734m. The event starts in July and commemorates the fierce rivalry between the epic contenders of Chitral and Gilgit. A massive crowd including tourists and locals from surrounding districts attend this festival with great zeal.
2) Silk Route Festival
Silk route is one of the oldest trade routes between East and West that connects China, Rome, Persia and India. It dates back to 200 BC. Due to its immense importance in the region’s economy, the locals of Gilgit- Baltistan celebrate the silk route festival in September every year. They honor the past conquerors by cultural music, folk dance, local food, craft bazaar and an ethnic fashion show.
3) Chilham Joshi Festival
It is a spring festival celebrated from 11th May to 14th May in the Kalash Valley. At this event, the local people wear new clothes, women decorate their houses and the culturally dressed Kalash boys and girls gather at the hillside for singing and dancing. The pastoral God called Goshidai is thanked at Joshi for protecting herds. The Kalash people aim to find their spouse during Chillam Joshi.
4) Gianni Festival
This is the most anticipated festival in Hunza Valley. Its celebrations start on 21st June and end till 25th June. During Gianni, the people gather in Aliabad or Altit villages where they perform religious rituals and traditional dances. A local dish called Dirum Pitti is specifically prepared to commemorate this festival.
5) Navroz Festival
Navroz Festival is an annual event of Chitral, Hunza, Gilgit and Skardu. It is locally known as “New Day”. The festival begins on 21st March to mark the first day of the Spring season. Traditionally, the festival is celebrated for physical rejuvenation, spiritual renewal and to pay gratitude to God Almighty for timeless blessings.
Activities that you can enjoy in Northern areas of Pakistan
i) Hiking and Mountaineering
Northern Pakistan is home to five of the world’s highest mountains including Godwin Austin (K2), Nanga Parbat, Gasherbrum-I, BroadPeak and Gasherbrum-II. Furthermore, there are more than 160 peaks above 7000m in addition to 700 summits above 6000m located in the same region that serves as a tourist’s reverie. Gilgit and Skardu are the main hubs of mountaineering expeditions.
In the serene rivers of North, tourists must try boating or rafting as it’s a once in a lifetime experience.
This region has some of the world’s most fascinating water bodies where you can try your luck at fishing. Trout fishing is a renowned hobby of the local people.
Many paragliding associations are operating in North Pakistan that provide ample facilities for this sport intended for the visitors.
Northern areas are considered as the heaven for trekkers as it offers a wide range of trekking opportunities varying from facile, technical to strenuous treks.
Several ski resorts have been opened in the region. These include resorts of Astore, Deosai (Skardu), Fairy Meadows (Chilas), Malam Jabba, Naltar valley, Nathiagali and Shimsal (Hunza Valley). All of these ski destinations have ample facilities. Also, you can play plenty of alternative sports there. Out of all these spots, Malam Jabba offers ideal skiing opportunities.
Travel Guide To The Northern Areas Of Pakistan
ROUTES to reach Northern areas
PIA operates daily flights from Islamabad International Airport to Gilgit-Baltistan, KPK and Azad Kashmir. From there, tourists can travel to their desired locations via road trip.
Local transport companies like Northern Areas Transport Corporation (NATCO), Masherbrum Transport Pvt and Silk Route Transport Pvt operate buses from Islamabad to the Northern areas and vice versa. Tourists can also rent the 4×4 vehicles to travel solo to this region.
The main travel route to this region via road is Islamabad-Taxila-Fairy Meadows-Deosai-Skardu-Gilgit-Karimabad- Hunza- Duiker- Khunjerab Pass- Gulmit- Phander- Chitral- Kalash Valley- Lawari Pass- Swat – Takht-e-Bhai- Peshawar – Islamabad.
Condition of Roads
In winters, thick snow covers the majority of routes to the Northern areas due to which traffic influx or efflux is almost impossible. Also during monsoon, the heavy rainfall, land sliding or avalanches gridlock the roadway sometimes. Therefore, the best time to visit the region is from May till October as it is easily accessible.
Tour Packages and Expenses
Several local companies offer affordable tour packages for both local and international tourists to travel to the Northern areas of Pakistan. According to the feasibility, you can pick the package of your choice.
Generally, the tour packages propose from 3 to 8 days stay at the desired location. However, if you wish to travel the entire Northern region, the Adventures Tour Pakistan offers a 21 days/20 nights trip to its clients.
The expenses of the trip largely depend on the package of your choice. If you want to travel solo then do not spend lavishly, stay in local hotels or camps, travel on local transport, otherwise rent a 4×4 vehicle, eat traditional foods and most notably try to befriend local people.
Places to Stay
|1.||Azad Kashmir||Hotel Mountain Track Balakot, Mansehra Hotel Royal Samah, Abbottabad Hotel deManchi, Pearl Continental Muzaffarabad|
|2.||Gilgit-Baltistan||PTDC Motel Gilgit, Gilgit Embassy Lodge, Gilgit Serena Hotel, Hindu Kush Heights Chitral|
|3.||Skardu||Serena Shigar Fort Hotel Shigar, Snow Land Palace Skardu, Baltistan Continental Hotel Skardu, Hotel Mashabrum Skardu, Serena Khaplu Palace, Shangri-La Resort Skardu|
|4.||Swat Valley||Golden Star Hotel Kalam, White Palace Swat, Shelton’s Rezidor Hotel Swat, Rock City Resort Swat, Swat Serena Hotel|
|5.||Hunza||Hunza Embassy Hotel, Eagles Nest Hotel Hunza, Hunza Serena Inn|
|6.||Shogran||Grey Walls Mountain Huts & Cottages, Arcadian Riverside Luxury Resort Khanian, Pine Park Hotel Shogran, Lalazar Hotel Shogran, Hotel Hill Top Shogran, Cedarwood Resort Shogran|
|7.||Naran-Kaghan||Royal Hotel Naran, Rose Valley Hotel Naran, Fairy Meadows Hotel Naran, Millennium Inn Hotel Naran, Trout Lodges Naran, Maisonette Hotels & Resorts Naran, Hotel deep Forest|
Mobile Networks / How to connect / use internet in Northern Areas
Depending upon the area you wish to visit, bring a SIM card accordingly. Actually, no mobile network provides complete coverage everywhere in the Northern areas. However in Gilgit/Hunza/Skardu/Neelum Valley, SCO provides the best communication and 3G internet. It is the Pakistan army label that operates in Gilgit-Baltistan as well as Azad Jammu & Kashmir. The SCO SIMs can be purchased from local stores.
Zong offers the best 3G and 4G services in Sost, Khunjerab, Kalam Valley and Swat Valley. While, Telenor is your ideal bet in Chitral district, Kalash Valley, Kaghan Valley and Naran, Telenor also started new campaigns in 2019 on Northern Areas of Pakistan, on instagram the tags are quite famous #TelenorXPakistan & #Telenor4GKaNorth . If you are planning to visit the K2 Base Camp then only a satellite phone can help you.
SIM Cost And Availability
- SCOM cost Rs. 250 for SIM as well as some internet data (3G). But this price rises to Rs.350 if you need 4G coverage.
- Telenor SIM prices are dependent on the plan of your choice i.e. prepaid or postpaid.
- Zong SIM cost also depends upon the plan.
The SIMs of all these networks are available in the local mobile franchises.
Pro Tips For Travelling To The Northern Areas
> Choose Suitable Clothes
In North Pakistan, the weather varies considerably from time to time. Therefore, instead of wearing heavily warm clothes, dress in layers so that you can take them off whenever required. Also take a warm jacket or coat, the woolen cap, a gloves pair, socks, a raincoat and a pair of boots along with some trousers and shirts.
> A Little Extra Of Everything
Not many facilities are available in this region, therefore, tourists must take a first-aid kit, power bank, an extra charger for both mobile/laptop and an additional battery for camera/drone.
> Be Cash Smart
Do not keep a lot of cash with yourself. But make sure you have enough to bear your expenses. Keep cash in different places to avoid losing it. There is an ATM facility available many Northern areas so you can easily avail of it.