Cricket, Cherry Blossoms And A Chance To Connect
Here BECKY KENT-PERCHALLA, Manager, Perchalla & Turner Travel Associates, reviews a recent famil to Pakistan with Crooked Compass.
PAKISTAN WAS amazing! As an emerging destination, I wasn’t sure what to expect but it challenged my preconceptions and surpassed my expectations.
Sometimes famils can feel like you’re not getting the “usual” experience but this felt very authentic to the Crooked Compass style.
The scenery was memorable – a land of contrast. The Gilgit-Baltistan region is nicknamed the “Switzerland of Pakistan” and the views were incredible.
Further up north near the China border, the scenery is so stark and almost angry looking, yet so beautiful in its own way.
As we trekked to Fairy Meadows there was still snow on the ground but I’d love to go back in summer to see all the roses in the valley bloom. We also saw cherry blossoms in Hunza – who would have thought?
The locals were very welcoming and friendly. The way they engaged with us was a highlight of the trip for me, right from the warm welcome from our wonderful guide and bus driver.
We learned that in the 1990s, Australians were big travellers to Pakistan but 9/11 had dramatically changed that. Locals were genuinely happy to be welcoming us back.
We weren’t there for the Shandur Festival (the world’s highest polo match) but in Gilgit we watched a polo game between two local teams and this was the highlight for a few in our group.
Cricket was popular too and we drew a crowd playing with the local teenagers – watching us Aussie ladies batting was a fun spectacle for everyone!
We got to experience the full spectrum of accommodation styles. While in bigger cities we stayed in leading four- to five-star hotels, in more remote areas like Fairy Meadows it was “best available”, which meant we stayed in basic wooden huts with impressive mountain views.
A highlight for me was staying in a tiny village with 300 Kalash people. We watched local town life from our guesthouse that had a stream running through the middle and we sat around the fire to eat dinner. We couldn’t have been more locally immersed.
It was interesting to travel during Ramadan and while locals fasted during the day, we were still provided with a diverse range of food.
In Islamabad, meals generally consisted of soup, rice, veggie and meat dishes. Trekking to Fairy Meadows, food was a simpler bread and meat.
In Hunza Valley the food was fabulous – we had an incredible soup at an organic restaurant, tried local trout and ate a lamb curry out of 200-year-old clay pots under cherry blossoms.
The famil provided us with all the adventure of an emerging destination and we were a well-travelled group that had fun with it.
Driving up to the Himalayas, it was comforting that we were in a convoy of vehicles so should there be any challenges, like a puncture on the rough unsealed roads, we had other vehicles as back-ups to avoid disruption to the group. I never felt unsafe, particularly as a female traveller.
Pakistan is a great pick for people who like to see things before they get too mainstream, for soft-adventurers, walker and hikers, and even for sports travel.
It definitely appeals to a wider demographic than I originally gave it credit for.