/ Pakistan

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Alan Breck on 30 Dec 2011
I'm only really being nosey as my chances of getting out to Pakistan next year are a bit never know so I'll ask anyway.

Not really climbing but interested in trekking beyond Hunza.

So I'd have to ask if anyone has been recently & if so with what result?
What would be the best way of getting there & what are the specific pitfalls & problems of flying to say Islamabad & getting out safely. I assume that sitting around in Islamabad isn't a good idea but what do I know ??
john arran - on 30 Dec 2011
In reply to Alan Breck:

Islamabad is very heavily policed and generally safer than almost everywhere in Pakistan except the mountainous Northern Areas, so spending a few days there shouldn't be cause for particular concern. There's potential for trouble on the drive north, so some people prefer to fly (if you can get a flight - they're very sporadic) but I'm not aware of any actual recorded security incidents and the biggest risk is that most of the drive is on the KKH.
radson - on 30 Dec 2011
This is written by my friend stuart Remensnyder from

. I think there are a lot of misconceptions about the risks of trekking & climbing in the Karakoram and hope we can dispel them.

A trek to K2 BC or an attempt on one of the high peaks in Pakistan is one of the great adventures possible to have in life. The culture, challenge and beauty combine in ways that they rarely do anywhere. In the Karakoram the peaks rise up all about you in an awesome and intimate way and by the time you have passed by Paiju Peak, the Masherbrums, the Trangos, the Muztag Tower and stood in the awesome presence of Chogalisa, Gasherbrum IV and K2 you will know you have made a worthwhile journey. The people you will meet in Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Chilas, Skardu, Askole, Hushe and on will all make you feel at home and you will have new friends for life. In short, go!

Another thing to note is that like nearly anywhere in the world there are some real risks to travel that need to be considered and attended to. The include local political situations, physical conditions of roads, flights etc, weather considerations (monsoon, winter etc) and so on. They also include looking at the real data and not just the media sensationalism of the situations and events.

Something hard to do but important is to put into proper perspective the real risks of the travel vs the risks of the climb or trek. We have been running trips since 1994 in Pakistan and have yet to see anyone in town or en route have any immediate concern for their personal safety due to the political situation. For someone headed to 8000m peak the objective hazards are considerable and significantly out weight any concerns of security in the country. Even for a trekker looking at driving the wild Karakoram Highway, crossing the mighty Braldu (on a log or in a jeep with water up to the door), or hiking to high altitude on a moving glacier, their objective risks significantly outweigh the risks due to political or security situations.

I know of only a few cases of trekkers or climbers harmed in the last 15 years including a climber killed a few years back on the Karakoram Highway (when a falling rock came through his window of his 4x4 jeep) and a climber killed in 1998 in a remote BC (during a botched robbery ). If there are others i don't know of they are very few. Given the many thousands of visitors during this time it is clear that the real risks are quite low and yet the media portrayal would have you believe otherwise. If you are a thoughtful and respectful traveler you can enjoy a great trek or climb and accept the same risks you would traveling to many of the great mountain ranges. Just be sure to follow the real situation and avoid truly active areas.

We are headed to K2 BC, Spantik, Gasherbrum 2, Broad Peak and more this summer and hope you'll join Muhammad or us for a trip!

ps wrote a great summary:

"You don't go to the Karakoram if you are looking for another Nepal – tea houses, yaks, numerous small villages, forests and fellow tourists. An arid grandeur puts the Karakoram in clear contrast. The range receives little rain and, as many of the valleys are virtually high altitude deserts, remains largely uninhabited. It is also the most heavily glaciated part of the world outside of the Polar Regions, with five of its glaciers over 60km in length. The range is bound on the northeast by the Tibetan Plateau, and the north by the Wakhan Corridor (Afghanistan). Just to the west of the western end lies the Hindu Raj range, beyond this, the Hindu Kush of Eric Newby and Alexander the Great fame. The southern boundary is formed by the massive Indus Rivers, which separate the Karakoram from the north-western end of the Himalaya range proper. There is a spot on the Karakoram Highway thats the junction of the Karakoram, Himalaya and Hindu Kush Ranges the three highest mountain ranges in the world! The overall impression is one of colossal scale."
Alan Breck on 30 Dec 2011
In reply to radson: Thanks for that. I'd be interested to know when it was written. As I've been in Mustang & driven the friendship highway neither the Karakorum Highway nor any high desert really presents any particular problem. It's what's going on now & where it might lead that interests me.
Particularly with sitting around Islamabad & environs. Away from there I agree that the politics of the region aren't of such great importance.

A pakistani acquaintance paints a slightly different view but always good to know the "on the ground" picture.
Alan Breck on 30 Dec 2011
In reply to john arran: Thanks for the comments.
john arran - on 30 Dec 2011
In reply to Alan Breck:

If you do end up having time free in Islamabad this might be of interest to you:
Damo on 30 Dec 2011
In reply to radson:
> We have been running trips since 1994 in Pakistan and have yet to see anyone in town or en route have any immediate concern for their personal safety due to the political situation.

I'd agree with pretty much everything SR wrote, but this line above needs a caveat. If you go on guided group trips with agents to popular mountains, particularly in/around the Baltoro, or Spantik, as FT have done, then there is negligible security risk. But if you go off on your own or with a partner into less frequented areas, north, south or west of Hunza etc, then it's a little different. It's still mostly safe - and great - but it's a lot easier for things to turn bad quickly. Like everywhere, you need to be careful, and have some street sense (KKH sense?) but things can happen.

I was threatened by a radical Imam along the KKH one night in 1996 ("Death to America!") and had to hole up in Gilgit for two days in July 2001 while local Sunnis and Shia rioted, burnt tyres on the roads and threw rocks at buses. In 2001 a Japanese trekker was murdered and another trekker was murdered in Chitral. The latter incident caused the govt to put a police post on the pass leading from Chapursan into Afghanistan - up until then there was nothing and you could just walk over - as they thought the perpetrators escaped this way. The botched robbery SR refers to was the murder of Ned Gillette, a very well known climber, shot in his tent with his partner - she was seriously wounded - on the Chogolumgma glacier not far from Spantik. In more recent years a jeep of Dutch travellers on the KKH was stopped and threatened at gunpoint, before locals intervened to stop them being taken away.

Stuff happens, you just don't hear about it. Trekkers in Nepal, particularly the Khumbu, and particularly single women, have been harrassed, assaulted and (very occasionally) killed with some regularity but it doesn't make the press and is kept quiet internally. I'd agree Islamabad is mostly fine, but there is always the chance of something, more so than years ago. I regularly ate at the Marriot there in 2001 and of course that was destroyed by a truck bomber a few years ago. My first day in Rawalpindi in 1995 a guy in a traffic altercation pulled out a big .45 automatic and started waving it around threatening the other guy. But it's still easier to get into personal trouble in downtown LA, Manchester, London, Rio, Karachi, Bangkok or Sydney. The people of the Karakoram are nowhere near as dangerous as their mountains ;-)
ice.solo - on 30 Dec 2011
In reply to Alan Breck:

ive been to pakistan a dozen times and its varied. if its hunza you want to go to then the option of coming from china is a good one.

these days the kkh is a mess. maintenance is long forgotten, with only the very northern part (above passu) in good condition.
theres a huge lake formed above karimabad that is negotiable, but stops a lot of the construction materials getting south with the chinese road gangs who do most of the work.

between abbotabad and raikhot (near the turn off to skardu) is under minimal control these days. you need to go thru with an escort as its the back door to swat.
gilgit has closed most of its traveller friendly hotels - even the medina which is a truely truely sad thing indeed.

islamabad and rawalpindi are still friendly, chaotic places. the chance of getting into trouble is low. foreigners are warmly greeted and the traffic is the main threat.
islamabad gets boring fast, but rawalpindi is cool. lahore is only 4hrs away and has intaernational connections so is another option to base from. much nicer city. peshawar is also 4hrs the other way, but it actually can be a bit dodgy.
the issue with ibad/pindi is getting to hunza: you either fly to gilgit whch isnt too hard, drive to gilgit which is sketchy on failing roads and thru loosley controlled territory, or fly to skardu which can involve long and random waits.
be aware that pakistan has been flooded with private security guys in the last few years, so especially along the lower kkh where they access the areas the work is in, it pays to be seen to be obviously a trekker/climber.

hunza these days is a pale shadow of what it was 15 years ago - shops have shut, hotels are empty, the travellers scene is nearly gone.
its still beautiful and more like when it wasnt on the lonely planet path, so still good to go.

access from china - if it interests you - is simple. fly or train to kashgar then a regular bus over the pass and a series of mini-buses and a boat ride to hunza.
Alan Breck on 31 Dec 2011
Thanks both. The less I can do with China the better but from what you say it seems a good option.
seankenny - on 31 Dec 2011
In reply to Damo:
> > I... had to hole up in Gilgit for two days in July 2001 while local Sunnis and Shia rioted, burnt tyres on the roads and threw rocks at buses.

Whilst I totally agree with Damo's post on taking care in northern Pakistan, I was in and out of Gilgit in July 2001 and had no problems whatsoever with sectarian riots. I was in there during a Shia Ashura ceremony in 1998 which closed the town down, there weren't any problems but I suspect there could easily have been. I guess what I'm trying to say is that trouble can come and go very quickly, but it's also a big and varied place.

I was in Islamabad the summer before last and it was fine. Very boring tho.

>>hunza these days is a pale shadow of what it was 15 years ago - shops have shut, hotels are empty, the travellers scene is nearly gone.
its still beautiful and more like when it wasnt on the lonely planet path, so still good to go.

This is sad to hear. I'm sure it's still lovely, but it does rather sound like it's being forgotten by the world...

chopin-smith - on 09 Jan 2012
In reply to Alan Breck:

Travel to the northern areas is not a trivial undertaking. You have to go through the capital city of a failed state, and if you're lucky you can get a flight straight away to Gilgit. Otherwise you have to take a bus a bit along the GT road (probably the biggest Islamist militant training centre in the world), and then swing a right up past bin Laden's old house and through a variety of shitholes like Besham, Pathan and Chilas where you could end up randomly murdered, but probably not. If however all goes well on the road, and assuming the driver isn;t stoned and finishes in a ravine, and assuming there isn't a landslide, and assuming the Shiites and Sunnis of Gilgit ain't killing each other that week, then you're good to go to Hunza area. Just make sure that the Nagar folk across the valley aren't shooting at the Hunzakuts that week either. Steer clear of Chitral and Swat.

As with places like these, people make a big thing about Islamic terrorsm and al-Qaeda and all that, which is fair enough. But the more serious danger is just general lawlessness -- some random joker with a gun (everyone there has got one) decides to rob you or worse just because he *can*. Most people won't, but the situation there leaves plenty of space for common bandits to ply their trade. The thing is that Pakistan is a failed state held together only by a collective hatred of India and a collective love of Bollywood and cricket. It's a country where the government and army couldn't decide whether to support the Taliban or the Americans. So they decided to support both.

Damo also made a very sensible comment: stuff happens, you just don't get to hear about it. So for all the expedition companies selling "safe" tours and claiming they know of just a few or no security incidents, they are at best horrendously misinformed and irresponsible.

Beautiful place though, well worth a visit. I would follow ice solo's excellent advice: travel in via China.
AndyC - on 09 Jan 2012
In reply to Anwar Syed:
> Hello Alan,
> Salam and greetings Pakistan!!
> Nice to know about your plan to visit Pakistan. I would like to know that in which part area beyond Hunza you are looking to trek?
> Regards!!
> Anwar Syed

If you want to go anywhere in Baltistan, Anwar's your man. Feel free to mail me if you want references.


Alan Breck on 09 Jan 2012
In reply to AndyC: At the moment I'm trying to persuade:

1) The wife &
2) A few other comics &
3) Their wives

That it's a good idea. So far not so good.
john arran - on 09 Jan 2012
In reply to Alan Breck:

If it helps at all I wouldn't have any qualms at all about heading up that way. In fact I'd very much like to, although it's unlikely to happen this year it could well be a goer for next summer.

There's only so much credence you can give to the doom and gloom camp before you have to accept that life goes on, generally without incident, and it really isn't like touring in Balochistan or Yemen.

Good luck trying to persuade others though - the UK press won't be any help at all!

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