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Backpacking Tips for Pakistan by Qail Stevens

General Experience
Hi all, I recently finished my first (of many) trips to Pakistan for 3 weeks. Most of the people visiting Pakistan seem to be medium to expert travelers, but I don’t think novices should miss out on the country’s incredible beauty. So I thought i’d compile a list of observations and tips from my experience over the 3 weeks I was there (October 16 – November 7, 2019) aimed at novice travellers. These are purely my observations and I encourage anyone and everyone to make corrections or add more information below and I apologize if these are all wrong or ignorant. Also I am Australian so the tips below can be adapted to your home countries!
The Asian elephant in the room:
1) Pakistani people are super lovely. Don’t believe the fears of terrorism, etc. Well at least not in the areas I visited. My mum was freaking out about me visiting, but she is now visiting next year. The only time I felt afraid was driving the death road to Fairy Meadows. Bring a spare change of underpants.
Be prepared way in advance:
2) Print like 10-15 copies of your passport and visa and carry with you everywhere. There are checkpoints all the time that need to check your details or make a copy, so speed up your journey and make a copy for them!
3) The Indian evisa will not work for crossing the Wagah land border between Lahore and Amritsar. I got the 12 month Indian visa BEFORE leaving Australia. I think you can get Indian visas in Lahore or Islamabad but its a massive pain.
4) Lodge and re-lodge your travel plans with your bank. My card froze every time i tried to buy something (eg PIA airline tickets) because they thought I’d been hacked.
5) Australian phone sim cards won’t work in Pakistan AT ALL. So if you’ve got banking services or outlook etc that require SMS authentication it wont work for your entire stay in Pakistan. Put enough money on your bank card before arriving or turn off SMS authentication.
6) Check the altitude of all your destinations before arriving, don’t just jog up the stairs in Karimabad. Anything above 2500m can really mess you up for the first few hours of the day, depending on your fitness level. Take altitude seriously, we met a Malaysian guy in Fairy Meadows whose palms were sweaty, his knees were weak and his arms were heavy. But seriously he was so fucked up he was lying in bed and non responsive with a fever of 39 degrees. Consider getting altitude tablets before leaving home, or I believe you can buy a drug called Camphor in Pakistani pharmacies? As a rule of thumb I would hike extra slowly in the morning and take lots of photo breaks. By the afternoon I could hike comfortably.
7) Don’t be too ambitious with your itinerary. Travel times can be massive. Islamabad to Gilgit is like 11 – 12 Hrs via the Babusar pass (only during summer months) and more like 17-18 hrs via the Karakorum highway. Gilgit to Karimabad, Karimabad to Passu, Passu to Sost are each more like 2 hrs. Also allow a rest day here or there to allow for acclimatizing to altitude. You can fly between Islamabad and Gilgit but it is not uncommon for flights to be cancelled.
8) Transport anywhere along the Karakorum highway is very easy (hitchhiking, public buses, private taxis). Taking detours off the highway is a bit more elaborate. The road to Skardu was under construction with huge travel times when I was there. Gilgit to Karimabad minibus was 270 Pkr.
9) Thoroughly check your travel insurance PDS before visiting. Covermore, itrek, and Allianz said they cover Pakistan (when I called them on the phone) but in the PDS fine print they exclude all events that arise in orange or red regions (on the smart traveler website) which is literally the entire country. NIB, world nomads cover orange but not red I think. You’d be hard pressed to find red coverage.
10) Many places on the Australian smart traveler map that are red require a “letter of no objection” to visit. Sometimes an armed escort. I don’t really know much about this process but there should be some other posts on here about it. Peshawar is red but apparently safe. Every Pakistani I met warned me to steer clear of Baluchistan.
11) Driving the Karakorum highway at night is OK. But try to avoid driving on any rough roads like fairy Meadows, Naltar valley, Chapursan valley, etc at night.
12) 3 weeks is around the minimum you need to see the Karakorum sights (fairy meadows, Gilgit, Karimabad, Gulmit, Sost) plus Islamabad and Lahore.
13) The power points are the same as Europe (2 circular points). Many places also have points for the US plugs and sometimes the UK power point.
14) Be prepared to go 2-3 days without hot water, electricity or internet (eg fairy Meadows). Bring power banks, spare batteries, sanitary wipes, extra SD cards. Seriously you’ll be taking so many photos, Pakistan is the most photogenic country ive ever visited. Consider bringing 2 power banks, charge when you can – there are frequent blackouts in the north, like 3-4 per day and they can last for hours.
15) Dress for all seasons. Islamabad was 30 degrees, and the Babusar pass was -3 degrees on the same day. I highly recommend buying merino wool socks and thermals, and a Scarf. There is a very lightweight way to add lots of warmth and they don’t get wet from sweat. My ankle high boots were good for most snow walks.
16) Bring hand sanitizer, moisturizer and lip balm! Vicks eucalyptus oil was a life saver too.
17) Jazz, Zong sim cards are good for the south. I got 12gb for a month for like 1800pkr. But you really don’t need that much if going north of Gilgit, because internet doesnt work. E worked (slower than 2G)- ok for WhatsApp messages but not photos. Facebook messenger was very slow/non existent.
18) SCOM is a sim card for the northern regions. You can get 4G in areas where other sim cards get nothing. It can be bought in Giglit but takes 24 hrs to activate. 200 Pkr for the sim card, plus 100 PKR for maybe 200 MB?
19) Download the apps maps.me, WhatsApp and google translate. Save the Urdu language offline in google translate. Install an Urdu keyboard.
20) Bring a spare $200 or €200 in case you cant access any ATM’s in the north.
Extras!
21) everyone is obsessed with cricket. do a quick Wikipedia search of the Australian cricket team (if you’re athletically illiterate like me) so you can make conversation. bring photos of your family also a great conversation starter
22) Always ask permission before taking photos of locals (duh!). Ask a parent if you’re taking any photos with kids in them..
23) No duty free alcohol allowed (will be confiscated). You can buy beers at high end hotels for like 1000 /0.5 L.
24) from my experience many women in the south wont shake your hand. put your right hand over your heart and bow a little bit as a greeting instead. women in the north love a good hand shake, fist bump, high five.
25) if youre a vegan, ask for green tea. regular tea usually comes with milk
26) if someone offers you yak meat. say no. Despite the fact that it is delicious and tastes like slow cooked lamb soaked in spices and gravy, it is a one way ticket to diorhea town. When you ultimately become sick eat nothing but bananas for 3 days. bananas for breakfast, bananas with a side of chopped banana for lunch, banana split minus the ice cream for dessert.
27) sometimes people offer you goods for free. dont be a dickhead pay for your meal please.
28) carry toilet paper at all times. you dont know when that yak meat is going to hit.
29) bring some lightweight pants and a headscarf for visiting mosques in the south. no shorts inside
30) Eat dried apricots and mulberries in Gilgit. Try as hard as you can to find Sanddor berry jam. No exceptions. Your tastebuds will send me a thank you postcard from flavour town.
31) download “Dila Teer Bija” by Bilawal and “Rangeen” by Ali Zafar on Spotify. Turn car stereo volume to 11. Blast at all occasions.
32) I repeat and I cant stress this enough. do not eat yak meat.
Common Urdu phrases:
Hello – salam alaikum (south sunni regions)/ yali mahdat (north Ismaili regions)
Thank you – shukria
how are you – Kia alle
goodbye – Hoda Hafez
water please – banni chai ear
tea please – chai chai ear
your name? – aap ka kaya naam hai
delicious – mah ze dar
toilet – toilet
bill please – bill chai ear
pardon me – mafi channah
no yak meat please- yak ka gosht nahi chaheay
Money money money (numbers represent pkr – note this was in autumn so may be different in different seasons)
• 2wd driver per day approx 3000-4000 plus fuel (120 per litre)
• 4wd jeep per day 8000 fuel included
• food less than 1000 day
• dorm bed 1000-1500/ night, a private room 2000-3000 /night
• water approx 60 for 1.5 litres
• milk tea 50 per cup
• milk coffee 150 per cup
• bananas are 5 or 10 each!
• budget around 5,000 a day to COMFORTABLY cover everything (elaborate adventures in jeeps included!)
• Dont rely on ATMs north of Gilgit. Many dont take MasterCard, and there are frequent blackouts that can occur for hours at a time. Many are not 24/7.
• Bring a spare $200USD or €200 in case you cant access any ATMs in the north.
• MCB bank in Gilgit took MasterCard.
• Allied bank in Gilgit took Visa
My itinerary:
1 Islamabad (landed, rest and preparation)
2 Overnight taxi through Babusar pass
3 Fairy Meadows
4 fairy Meadows
5 Gilgit/ Naltar valley
6 Gilgit town and buddha
7 Gilgit (rest day, take out money, say goodbye to the internet)
8 Karimabad (lots of photos on the way)
9 Karimabad (hopar valley)
10 Gulmit (altit fort, baltit fort, eagles nest in morning)
11 Gulmit (ghulkin glacier, passu glacier, borith lake, Husseini bridge)
12 Sost
13 Sost (khunjerab during morning, rest at night
14 Gilgit (saw chapursan valley in morning)
15 bus from Gilgit to Islamabad
16 Islamabad (rest day)
17 islamabad (faisal mosque, sandpur village, Pakistan monument)
18 islamabad (khewra salt mines, katas raj temples)
19 islamabad (muree, ayubia)
20 lahore (masjid wazir khan, hammam, lahore fort)
21 lahore (jahangir tomb, wagah ceremony
22 lahore (grand jamia, Eiffel Tower)
23 Cross wagah border into Amritsar (India)
TLDR: Pakistan is great. Don’t eat the yak meat.

Please enjoy my honky AF dance moves in Fairy Meadows and my interview on Pakistani TV after eating puree’d goat testicles. If you’d like to see more Pakistani pictures I suggest google or I also intermittently post shamelessly egotistical things on my Instagram (qail stevens). Love -Qail

Dancing

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