From sunny and sandy beaches to misty and stunning peaks, seasonal winter wonderland makeovers to seemingly perpetual balmy breezes, and the flattest of plains to the most challenging of mountainous terrains, the Land of the Pure is gifted beyond belief. Pakistan would be the perfect poster child for the global tourism industry’s catalog if one were to exist; though from the present state of affairs, the country may not even make it to the back, filler pages. The radars of international tourists currently fail to register this land of aesthetics not for a seeming lack of attractions but because of a need for the awareness of their existence. And this post aims to remedy just that. Below is a list of places of abundant natural beauty that one ought to visit at least once in a lifetime before earning the right to claim to be well-traveled. Because if you haven’t seen these, you have missed out on the best that Mother Nature has to offer.
The Beaches of Karachi
These are the pride and joy of all those who reside in the hub of bustling commercial activity that is the capital of Sindh. The beaches appear to have almost been created for the sole purpose of promenades. The strips provide you with the perfect opportunity to burrow your toes in the warm sand during a leisurely mid-day stroll; but they also allow you to feel a pleasant cool ocean breeze on your face during nightly long walks along the shore.
Of course, the best part of a beach is not the shore but the water. And Karachi does not disappoint on that front; with its perfect shade of blue, the cool water is nothing short of inviting. Dipping your feet or diving in to swim against the waves, it’s your choice to make. And if you want something that does not involve getting wet, then you can hop
onto any of the ships making regular trips for tourists for a closer look nevertheless.
The beaches also have an abundance of seafood caught right there and then and served fresh and piping hot! Horses and camels are also around and available for a ride, for those so inclined and looking to get more out of the visit than just a typical beach going experience.
Clifton beach, Hawkes Bay, Cape Mount, Paradise Point and the Manora Islands are some particular places of beauty not to be missed out on.
This village located in the Naran Valley will make you rethink your entire concept of colors as all the shades of the rainbow seem to pop when you set eyes upon the beauty that is its landscape.
Home to the greenest of greens and the brightest of blues, the view seems to have been photoshopped to perfection in real life and time. The grassy green gives way to the most delicious looking dense clutters of pine trees, which happen to be set against an absolutely breathtaking backdrop of gray steely mountains topped by the whitest fluffs of clouds floating around in the nicest hues of the skies. The air is dense with the sweetest scents of flowers and the view is to die for.
Horse rides and hiking are some of the most pleasant ways to spend a day here. Rest houses, hotels and huts are also available for those in need of a more extended excursion trip.
This green bow-shaped valley is located in Azad Kashmir, near Muzaffarabad, and bordered by majestic snowcapped mountains that separate it from the neighboring valley of Kaghan. The hills seem to be practically carpeted with the lush grass that is characteristic of this valley, while the gushing white waterfalls and miniature flowing springs are also common to the picturesque landscape.
The Neelam River flowing through this scenic area is the main attraction, and the sounds of the flow of the torrential cold waters dominate the natural symphony of this remarkable vista.
There are also a number of makeshift rope crossings crafted by the locals for travel and transport of goods across the surging river. Though seemingly ingenious, they are about as sturdy as they look: that is, not at all! It is therefore advisable to steer clear of these shortcuts as far as possible.
Pine, Fir and Deodar are some of the trees that can be found in abundance here, along with a multitude of other types of flora, such as wild walnut and strawberry cultivation. These add to the enchanting beauty of the valley, while also providing a healthy stream of income for the locals.
This valley is home to glaciers and waterfalls, the smaller of which are so commonplace that you can spot them dotting the sides of the road. You will feel a chill from simply standing next to a glacier, while white cold streams seem to erupt and gush out of the mountains’ sides with great ferocity.
Angling is a favorite activity here for tourists and locals alike as the Kunhar River is home to the best variety of brown and rainbow trout. After getting yourself a fishing permit from the local Fisheries Department, you can rent some fishing equipment if you haven’t brought along your own. Extensive fishing or the use of dynamite or nets is however strictly prohibited and illegal due to the detrimental effects it can have on the fragile ecosystem and sustainability of the operation and the trout population.
River rafting and kayaking are also increasing popular with those venturing into adventure tourism, and the white water waves provide opportunities for both beginners and seasoned paddlers. The Adventure Foundation of Pakistan arranges training courses to teach the basics for those looking to learn the sports, while there are also more advanced classes available for those already acquainted with the activities.
This small resort town is located on a green plateau known for the firs, pines and wild flowers found in abundance in this lush valley. It is overlooked by the Malika Parbat Mountain and has a stunning view in store for those willing to make the jeep ride or hike up to the spot.
This L-shaped lake feeds the Kunhar River and is surrounded by the wildest variety of beautiful flowers and shrubbery, making for a color fest. It is often claimed to be one of the most peaceful spots in the Kaghan Valley, due to its blue-green tinted water that hardly seems to move or ripple, and reflects the snow covered peaks of the mountains the lake is encircled by.
This lake is nestled in between mountains; two of which slope down and meet at the edge to make what seems to be the most fitting portrait for a high definition desktop wallpaper. The sheer beauty of this spot makes one almost want to believe the folktales associated with this lake; ones that speak of the prettiest of fairies coming down to bathe in the clearest of waters, and spied upon by a Persian prince one night who falls in love with her. But this is not a simple tale, and the love ends in tragedy for both, leaving the lake reminiscent of that tragic love lost.
The fact that the depth of this water body has never been accurately measured, and may never will be, further adds to the mysterious aura of the place; and one can almost imagine heavenly creatures coming down to play in what seems to be a little piece of heaven. A boat ride from one extreme of the lake to another can be easily arranged, as well as an actual account of the myths surrounding the area from any of the storytellers who are around and more than happy to talk.
The word “Dudi” translates to “White” and “Sar” means lake. The name is a result of the pure color of the snow that covers the peaks of the mountains enclosing this lake. The snow stays there most of the year, melting only in the months of July to September, which are the months recommended for making the trip to this region. The water is like a reflecting glass, and the harsh trek required to get to this lake is definitely worth the effort.
The lake earns its name from the way it is shaped; Ansoo being the word for teardrop in the National language of Pakistan i.e. Urdu. It has also been likened to an eye, with an inner island bearing resemblance to an iris and a ridge giving the appearance of an eyebrow.
A horse ride or trek up to this location is recommended for the view, but an overnight stay is not. This is because there is no accommodation available, and camping is considered hazardous due to the harsh terrain and cold weather conditions.
The name is derived from the plural of the Urdu word Gali which refers to an alley. This is due to the hill tract being bordered by mountains on both sides. The term refers to the cluster of towns in this region, most of which also have Gali as an appendix to their name.
This hill station is a particular local favorite due to its easy accessibility by virtue of being just a relatively short 30 km drive away from the national capital of Pakistan i.e. Islamabad. Due to the altitude, it also experiences frequent fog and plentiful precipitation, making it a perfect getaway when summers at its peak. It also experiences substantial snowfall in the months of winter.
The area has many rest houses available for rent and a number of excellent hotels to choose from. The marketplace is a shoppers’ paradise with a staggering variety of merchandise available for the most meagre of prices. Through just an hour or two spent on a leisurely stroll on Mall Road, you can purchase a truckload of souvenirs without making even a significant dent in your pocket. This is because you can bring most vendors down to even half the already low price without breaking a sweat if you know what you’re doing; bargaining certainly seems to be half the fun in these situations. And if you have an eye for aesthetics, you can score the most beautiful of hand embroidered clothes or intricately crafted trinkets to take back home and show off to your friends!
While part of the Galiyat range and located at a two hour drive from Islamabad, this hill station has a much cooler climate due to its higher altitude. It offers many tourist amenities and boasts a number of good resorts.
The Rhesus Monkeys are a common sight and can be seen at every turn. Most of these are wild but some of them have been caught by locals and trained to entertain. The wild ones often even venture into yards and gardens and are not shy of stealing food from right under people’s noses!
The forests of oak, cedar and pine are lush, deep and very old. The Church of St. Mathews is located in their vicinity and is remnant of the Colonial era, made entirely out of wood. The Mukshpuri peak affords a beautiful view if you’re up for the hike, while Nanga Parbat can also be seen in the distance.
Horse rides are common and other recreation tools such as pellet shooting guns are also offered to tourists for target practice.
The chairlifts here were one of the first recreation facilities of their kind in the country and are still popular due to the stunning view they provide of the forests and hills and the sheer adrenaline rush granted by a ride through the cold misty air so far above the valley.
A multitude of picnic spots and riding trails exist here. And the 100,000 annual visitors it receives have meant the development of many other amenities for tourists as well as better accommodation and recreation facilities.
The Ayubia National Park is also home to the coniferous forest.
This resort town is named after a nearby forest and houses unique flora and fauna. The distinguishing factor of this small town is the presence of the 5 Star Pearl Continental Hotel that offers quite a luxurious stay to travelers in the midst of the lush mountain ranges.
The name simply means “Very Cold” and that should give you a hint to as to why it’s such a popular spot in the summer! Unlike the rest of the hill stations in this area, the mountains of Thandiani are still deeply forested and have yet to fall prey to deforestation. The greenery is therefore vibrant in the warmer months while it snows considerably in the winters. The Flying Squirrel and Pine Marten reside in the lush forests while varieties of pheasants and the leopard also comprise the wildlife here. Deosai Plains These refer to the second highest plateau in the world. Nestled between the Himalayas and the Karakoram Range, the name of this region literally translates to “Land of the Giants”. It also houses a lake and the undulating plains seem to be carpeted by flowers come spring; some of which are of rare species. In some areas, the purple of the alpine varieties can extend as far as the eye can see.
The Deosai National Park has been established to protect the Himalayan Brown Bear that is currently under threat due to poaching. The Himalayan Ibex, the Snow Leopard and the Gray Wolf are also found in this region while the 124 varieties of birds include the Golden Eagle and the Peregrine Falcon. And at the night, the only sounds you will hear are the symphonies of nature in this land tucked away far from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Sometimes the most beautiful of things could arise from the most tragic of events; and the Attabad Lake is a testament to that. One of Pakistan’s largest artificially created lakes, the Attabad Lake in the Hunza Valley was a result of the landslides of 2010, which blocked the flow of the Hunza River. The reflecting waters are hauntingly beautiful, and inspire an awe best felt in secret, reserved for matters that may be sinister in nature but are spectacular nevertheless.
Besides having more than plenty of the mesmerizing natural splendor unique to the Northern areas of Pakistan, Chitral also hosts an annual Festival which attracts throngs of foreign and domestic tourists alike. It is a week-long event that is usually hosted in the month of September each year. Sports such as archery, polo and football are included in the extensive itinerary as the festival provides a closer look into the culture of this area.
However, the flights to Chitral are subject to frequent delays and fluctuations in weather conditions, and the valleys can sometimes be completely inaccessible in the harsh and cold months of winter.
The Kalash Valley
The 6,000 strong Kalash tribe of Chitral are the remnants of an ancient Greek civilization, with a culture unlike any other known to present day Pakistan or the world. The population is not Muslim and the religion of these people is based around the ancient Greek practice of worshipping nature, their own ancestors and the gods. The indigenous tribes are therefore of great interest to anthropologists but also attract many other kinds of tourists to the area by virtue of the colorful and largely quaint way of living.
The local men wear goatskin tunics for the most part while the women wear long black woolen clothes with a personalized touch of intricate embroidery, shells and buttons. The outfits are topped off with embellished headdresses that seem to be something straight out of old classical Macedonian paintings.
Often referred to as the “Roof of the World”, this plateau happens to be the highest Polo ground in the world. A traditional Polo festival is hosted here each year and made even more exhilarating by the folk music and dancing. The game is free-styled and rugged, with absolutely no rules! However, seeing as the game is played in the most untarnished of natural locations, it only seems fair to stick to the origins.
The Valley of Swat is located close to the Pakistan-Afghan border in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Christened the “Switzerland of the East” by Queen Elizabeth II upon her visit, the valley certainly seems to live up to the name. Lush meadows, domineering mountains and crystal waters characterize the backdrop.
The Swat Museum hosts a collection of Gandhara sculptures recovered from Buddhist sites in the valley. Precious stones, terracotta figures and ancient coins are some of the other attractions on display while more recent carvings and jewelry are also around for a look. The Malam Jabba Ski Resort is owned by the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation and the natural slopes make for a great skiing experience for those seeking to get in touch with their more adventurous side.
The Margalla Hills
Located in the heart of the Capital, these make for a quick getaway; both from the sweltering heat and the hustle and bustle of busy life. While perfect for stretching your legs and hiking, having impromptu lazy Sunday picnics and nightly long drives, they also afford a great view of the metropolitan.
Daman-e-Koh and Peer Sohawa are spots on the Margalla hills that have been developed for tourism purposes, with shops and other amenities, while the restaurants there also happen to have the most scrumptious food. If you’re not up for a hike on one of the various trails lain down for the purpose, a sturdy car and experienced driver is highly recommended on the slopes. If you don’t have your own transport, renting a vehicle at the base is a smart decision is as it gets more difficult to find conveyance the higher you go.
The night view is especially awe striking as the lights of the city resemble a swarm of live, flickering fireflies; and the cool breeze at the altitude has a feel like no other. If you want to know what a grand time it is to be alive, just pack a sweater and hit the hills!