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Venturing along the southern arm of the Old Silk Road through China, Pakistan and India, this fascinating journey starts in the merchant city of Kashgar.
Experience the buzz of the Yakshmbe Bazaar as you jostle with the locals before winding your way through the stunning mountains of northern Pakistan and into the serene foothills of the Indian Himalayas.
Drive the famous Karakoram Highway, the eight wonder of the world – a route taken by many traders, merchants and pilgrims over centuries gone by. Discover the beautiful Fairy Meadows before arriving into Lahore. Cross into the Sikh’s holy city of Amritsar, famed for its Golden Temple, before reaching the fabled land of Kashmir where you will be swept up in natural beauty.
Welcome to China! Upon arrival into Kashgar, you will be met and transferred to your hotel. Kashgar is an important trading town in the far west of China, close to the borders with Pakistan and Kirgistan. It has been the epicentre of regional trade and cultural exchange for more than two millennia.
The remoteness has helped to preserve the unique character of the city. Explore the streets of the old city centre, which is unfortunately becoming smaller and smaller with the development of new housing. This small section of the ‘real’ Old Town is unlikely to survive for much longer.
Despite these changes, the spirit of Kashgar lives on. Uighur craftsmen and artisans still hammer and chisel away as they have done for centuries, traders haggle over deals in the boisterous bazaars and donkey carts still trundle their way through the narrow alleyways. Enjoy dinner tonight at a local restaurant. (D)
2 nights in Qinibagh hotel VIP Building or similar
Note: For those who wish to arrive a day early, we recommend a day trip out to Shipton’s Arch (2.5hrs each way).
This morning you will have the opportunity to visit the local Bazaar, the Id Kah Mosque and Abakh Hoja Tomb. Kashgar’s bazaar is famous all over China, as many nomads of the region venture here to sell their animals and buy the necessities of daily life.
Built in 1442, Id Mosque is the largest Mosque in China. Located in the centre of Kashgar, the complex now occupies nearly 17,000 square metres, surrounded with handicraft streets.
Visit Abakh Hoja Tomb of Xiangfei, an Uygur woman who was married as a concubine to one of the emperors of the Qing Dynasty. After she died her body was transferred back to Kashgar and buried in the family tomb, built in 1640 with very deep affection of Islam architecture.
In the afternoon, explore a nearby village on foot for a chance to mingle with the locals before assisting with the preparation of a traditional Uighur dinner. (B,L,D)
Today you will transfer approx. 200km to Karakuli Lake, the biggest alpine lake in the world. Karakul means ‘black lake’, in referance to the dark colour reflected on the lakes surface when he sun is hidden by cloud. At an altitude of 3,600m, it is the highest lake of the Pamir Plateau, near the junction of the Pamir, Tianshan and Kunlun mountain ranges. The lake has two basins separated by a peninsula from the south and an island in the north. The three highest peaks visible from the lake are the Muztagh Ata (7,546m), Kongur Tagh (7,649m) and Kongur Tiube (7,530m) which remain snow-capped throughout the year. You will also have the opportunity to walk to one of the settlements on the shore of the lake and visit the Kerkezi stone houses and the people who live in these remote areas.
After lunch, drive to Tashkurgan, meaning ‘Stone Fortress’ or ‘Stone Tower’ in the Turkic language, the official spelling of the town is Taxkorgan. The stone city is located in the north–east of Taxkorgan, a significant castle ruin on the ancient Silk Road. The old fortress was built on a precipitous hillock. Outside the castle are broken city walls, built with huge rocks stretching for 1300m around the city. The walls once stood 6m high and between 1-3m wide, and the remains of the four watchtowers are now crumbled on the earth. On the southeast of the city, discover the ruins of a temple where pottery, Tang coins and silk weaving’s have been excavated. (B,L,D)
Overnight in Ghogori inn Hotel or similar
Today transfer by private vehicle to SOST, Pakistan. (Driving time about 7-8 hours.) On arrival into Pakistan, you will be met and transferred to Passu, with several photo stops enroute. One of the oldest settlements in Hunza-Gojal, Passu is said to suffer a kind of geographical curse preventing it from growing into a town. At one time Passu had extensive orchards, a polo field and nearly five times its present population. But as glaciers periodically dammed the Shimshal River, which then broke, causing floods that have gradually torn away Passu’s riverfront land. A mudslide in 1974 at Shishkut Nala created a lake that submerged parts of the village and choked the valley with sand and gravel. The region today is still beautiful offering spectacular, breathtaking scenery. (B)
2 nights in Passu
On arrival into Pakistan, in the high mountainous areas, if you need to change money, the Pakistani’s will only accept USD and the notes need to be $50 or $100. The $100 must be brand new USD notes with the silver metallic stripe or they will not be accepted. For notes smaller than $50, these can still be used, however the exchange rate will not be favourable.
Today is yours at leisure to explore the quaint village of Passu and the surrounding region rich with stunning hiking trails. We would suggest a visit to the Passu Glacier, also known as Glacier Breeze. Upon arrival at the Glacier Breeze, you will see stairs stretching up hill that will lead you to the Glacier Breeze Restaurant, famed for serving delicious apricot cakes. It is also a great spot to see the Passu Cones, and the cool breeze from the water of the Passu Glacier is definitely refreshing.
If you really want to get your adrenaline rushing, we also suggest that you head to the rope bridge near the town of Husseini, only 10km away. The local people of Hussaini village, especially the women, often use this dangerous bridge to cross the river to Zarabad, which in itself is another gem for trekking lovers. Known as the most perilous bridge in the world, the Hussaini Suspension Bridge may look dangerous, however, it is a comparatively benign bridge and attracts hikers challenging their nerves as they prudently work their way across. (B)
Following breakfast, continue your journey toward the Hunza Valley, crossing the newly formed Attabad Lake. This 30km long lake was only formed in 2010 after a massive landslide dammed the Hunza River completely, its fresh, crystal clear water is mesmerizing.
From here continue onto the Hunza valley. Often referred to as heaven on earth, this jaw dropping region is enveloped in the grand Himalayas and the Karakoram mountain ranges. (B)
Overnight at Eagles Nest or similar
Note: This hotel is very basic which is more than made up for by the view.
You have two full days in Hunza, with opportunities to explore local life in the valley. You can visit the ancient forts of Baltit and Altit, the traditional residences of the Mirs of Hunza. In morning, you will do Khusk trek to 3100m offering tremendous panoramic views and an insight into how the people of Hunza created their Shangri-La. (B)
Overnight at Darbar Hotel or similar
Trekking: Easy, 2-3hrs in duration
The hopper Valley is a scenic portion of the Nagar Valley in Gilgit-Baltistan. It is about 10 km away from Nagar Khas, the principal city of the Nagar Valley. Hopper Valley is home of the Spantik and Hopper glaciers. The valley has a number of natural formations, including glaciers, lakes, and high mountains There are three glaciers in the valley: Hoper glacier, Barpu glacier and Mier glacier. Trek to Mier Glacier for some of the countries most incredible scenery. (B,L,D)
Overnight Hopper Inn Hotel or similar
**Note accommodation here is very basic with no hot water
Trekking: Easy – moderate. 3-4hrs uphill, 2 hrs downhill.
Hunza to Gilgit can be done in two hours, but with such spectacular scenery there will be plenty of stops along the way, including the viewpoint at the bottom of Rakaposhi which sees the mountain hanging 6000 metres above the road. The road from Gilgit to Fairy Meadows will take you through the point were the three great mountain ranges of Karakorum, the Hindu Kush and the Himalayas meet. Cutting deep through the valleys, the Karakoram Highway crosses the Raikot Bridge, and from there it is a hair-raising one hour jeep drive and a two hour trek to Fairy Meadows – one of the most beautiful places in northern Pakistan. At 3300m, Fairy Meadow offers a breath taking view of Majestic Nanga Parbat (The Killer Mountain). These lush, green meadows and forests lie at the base of Nanga Parbat, at the western edge of the Himalayan range in Pakistan. Named in 1953 by Austrian climber Hermann Bhul due to its mesmerising beauty, many have called this region ‘Heaven on Earth’. (B)
Overnight in wooden log huts or similar
Note: Fairy Meadows Trek
You can opt to leave luggage with the main driver or take it all with you via donkey when you hike. The cost is approx $1 per kg payable locally.
Whilst beautiful, Fairy Meadows is becoming more and more popular with tourists which has lead to a rubbish problem. Please ensure you do your part and dispose of rubbish correctly.
A soft trek of two to three hours, walking through the dense pine forest and later through birch trees and along shallow streams, takes you to Beyal, a summer settlement of shepherds with stunning views of Nanga Parbat – 8125m. Hike to base camp crossing tails of glaciers with well identified tracks. Enjoy nature at its best before returning to your hut. (B)
Overnight in wooden log huts or similar
Trekking: Moderate to tough. 3-4hrs one way. 2hrs return.
This morning, trek back to the jeep and head back to the Karakoram Highway and onto Chilas. Here you will drive over the Babasur Pass and into the scenic Kagan Valley, a jewel among the many beautiful valleys in the Mansehra District of Hazara. Lofty peaks crown the mountain ranges on either side like turrets, ranging in height from 12,000 to 17,000 feet. Encounter the Gujar nomads of the Kaghan Valley. You will find them camped along the road in their traditional tents and moving up and down the valley with their herds of sheep and goats as they take them to higher pastures of the upper Kaghan Valley in spring and bring them down again in autumn. (B)
Overnight in Northern Retreat Naran or similar
This morning, you will visit the legendary lake, Saif-ul-Muluk at 3200m via local jeeps. Where Malika Parbat (5271m), the highest peak of the valley, towers over the lake and offers incredible photography opportunities.
Lalazar is at an elevation of 3.123m (10,246 ft) above the sea level, located in upper Kaghan Valley in Mansehra District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of the Pakistan. It can be found to the south-west of Batakundi. The track is 4.2 km long with incredible landscapes, pine forests, scenic views and charming weather. It’s a typical Pakistani mountain road, with hills on one side and the Kunhar River on the other side. (B)
Overnight at Hotel Northern Retreat or similar
Todays drive will continue through the Kagan valley and onto the Karakorum Highway, arriving at the capital of Pakistan – Islamabad. A late 20th century capital city, Islamabad is laid out in straight lines and right angles: a proud metric showcase of government and administration. (B)
2 nights Serena Islamabad or similar
Today enjoy a day trip to one of South Asia’s richest archaeological sites, Taxila. A fascinating place for those who have an interest in Buddhism and the art of Gandhara. The city excavations, most of which are found around the museum, are open to the public, along with dozens of smaller sites over a 25-sq-km area.
Gandhara is the historical name for the Peshawar Plain, and Taxila has always been one of Gandhara’s more important cities. In the 6th century BC, the Achaemenians made Takshasila (Taxila) the Gandharan capital, at a site now called Bhir Mound. In 326 BC Alexander the Great paused here en route to India. The Mauryan emperor Ashoka, a patron of Buddhism, built a university here, to which pilgrims and scholars came from all over Asia. In about 180 BC, Bactrian Greeks developed a ‘new’ Taxila, at the site called Sirkap.
In the 1st century AD came the Kushans, building their own city at the Sirsukh site. Until the 3rd century Taxila was the cultured capital of an empire stretching across the subcontinent and into Central Asia. It was the birthplace of a striking fusion of Greek and Indian art, and also the place from which Buddhism spread into China. The city fell into obscurity after it was destroyed by White Huns in the 5th century. The modern-era excavation of the site was led by Sir John Marshall between the years of 1913 and 1934.
Upon return to Islamabad, you will have time to visit the Faisal Mosque. (B)
Note: Taxila is a vast site requiring extensive context behind it – we encourage guests interested in this site to do their own personal research before visiting.
The drive from Islamabad to Lahore will take approx. 4-6 hours, including a visit to the UNESCO world heritage site of Rohtas Fort.
Lahore may not be Pakistan’s capital city, but it is considered the cultural, intellectual and artistic hub of the country. If history and architecture are your passion, there is an interesting mix of formidable Mughal monuments to faded legacies of the British Raj. Even a ramble around the Old City can unfold into a mini-adventure. Lahore also has qawwali (Islamic devotional singing) and Sufism (Islamic mysticism) for those in search of spiritual sustenance. 3 nights Lahore. (B)
3 nights Luxus Grand Hotel or similar
With two full days in Lahore and the nearby Punjabi countryside, you will be able to spend time in the narrow alleyways of the old city including the largest medieval mosque in the world – the awesome Badshahi mosque. You will also have the option to visit the fort, Shalimar Gardens and the Lahore museum.
In the afternoon, venture out of Lahore to the Indian border at Wagah to witness the Indian and Pakistani border guards lower their flags in the daily flag ceremony. (B)
This morning after a leisurely breakfast, you will have one last chance to explore Lahore before transferring to the Wagah border and crossing to India. From here you will be transferred to your hotel. (B,D)
Overnight Ranjits Svaasa or similar
Note: Wagh Border (Pakistan/India)
On the Pakistani side, you can pay approx. 100rps for a porter to carry your luggage to the start of ‘no-mans land’. You must then carry your own luggage through ‘no-mans land’ and join a bus to reach the Indian side where you then walk a little further until you clear security and immigration.
Founded in 1577 by the fourth Sikh guru, Ram Das, Amritsar is home to Sikhism’s holiest shrine, the spectacular Golden Temple. You will also visit Jalliawalla Bagh, reached through a gatehouse on the road to the Golden Temple. This poignant park commemorates the 1500 Indians who were killed or wounded when a British officer ordered his soldiers to shoot on unarmed protesters in 1919. Some of the bullet holes are still visible in the walls, as is the well into which hundreds desperately leapt to avoid the bullets. There is an eternal flame of remembrance, an exhibition telling the stories of victims, and a Matryrs’ Gallery, with portraits of Independence heroes.
This evening, return to visit the Golden Temple. Floating at the end of a long causeway, the Golden Temple itself is a mesmerizing blend of Hindu and Islamic architectural styles, with an elegant marble lower level adorned with flower and animal motifs in pietra dura work (as seen on the Taj Mahal). Above this rises a shimmering second level, encased with intricately engraved gold panels, and topped by a dome gilded with 750kg of gold. In the gleaming inner sanctum (photography prohibited), priests and musicians keep up a continuous chant from the Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikh holy book), adding to the already intense atmosphere. After paying their respects, pilgrims retreat to the intricately painted gallery on the second level to contemplate. (B,D)
Overnight Ranjits Svaasa or similar
Following breakfast this morning, you will be transferred to the airport for your flight to Srinagar, Kashmir. Rimmed by layers of alpine peaks, the 140km long Kashmir Valley opens up as a giant, flat upland bowl of lakes and orchards. Tin-roofed villages guard terraced paddy fields, apple groves and pin-straight poplars. Proudly independent-minded Kashmiris mostly follow a Sufi-based Islamic faith, worshiping in distinctive box-shaped mosques with central spires. Some Kashmiris have startlingly green eyes and in winter, Kashmiri men traditionally keep warm by clutching a kangri (wicker fire-pot holder) beneath their flowing grey-brown pheran (woolen capes).
Upon arrival, you will be met and transferred to your house boat on Dal Lake, the city’s greatest drawcard. A bright array of houseboats form a particularly colourful scene. The famous Mughal gardens are strung out over several kilometres around the lake. (B,D)
Overnight Bostan Gulistan Houseboat or similar
This morning explore Srinagar’s stunning gardens. Dating back to the Mughal era, most share a similar design with terraced lawns, fountain pools and carefully manicured flowerbeds interspersed with chinar trees, pavilions and mock fortress facades. The most famous garden is Shalimar Bagh, built for Nur Jahan by her husband Jehangir, it lies 10km beyond Nehru Park. With steeper terracing and a lake-facing panorama, Nishat Bagh is also very impressive.
From here, continue on to the Hari Parbat Fort. This prominent hilltop fort was briefly fortified in the 6th century and once again by Emperor Akbar in 1590, but most of what you see today dates from the 1808 constructions of Pathan governor Atta Mohammad Khan.
This evening, enjoy a sunset shikara ride on the lake. Dal Lake is famous not only for its beauty, but for a lifestyle which is unique to anywhere else in the world. The houseboat and shikara communities have lived for centuries on Dal Lake – some of the locals have never stepped foot on land! Doctors, tailors, and bakers – you’ll see them all in tiny wooden shops on the lake, near picturesque vegetable gardens and acres of lotus gardens.
A shikara ride is one of the most soothing, relaxing activities in Kashmir. A shikara is a Gondola type light rowing boat, and the two hour boat ride takes you on a relaxing sightseeing tour of interior parts of the calm and placid waters of Dal Lake.
While on the shikara, you can often observe white breasted Kingfishers, large striking birds with robust bills perched on the branches of willow trees. These birds concentrate their efforts to hunting on the floating gardens. These man made islands comprise of reeds, willow rods and aquatic vegetation, held together with mud from the lake bottom. (B,D)
This morning following breakfast, it is time to be transferred to the airport for your onward flight. If you would like to stay on and explore deeper into Kashmir and perhaps Ladakh, we can assist you with your onward travel plans. (B)
Download this tour’s PDF brochure and start your planning offline!
**Please note that this tour can be organised on request for private departures.
* Pricing is subject to change at anytime until full payment has been received.
* A minimum of 2 adults is required to guarantee this departure.
A non-refundable deposit of $1000 AUD per person is required to secure your place. Final payment is due no later than 60 days prior to departure. Travel insurance is mandatory for travelling with Crooked Compass. For full terms and conditions, please click here.
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This category of tours involves light trekking, walking, cycling, rafting or kayaking for a few hours each day with a small amount of inclines and declines. You will require a reasonable level of fitness and good health to participate. It is important to note that due to the nature of some of our trips, they may take place in remote areas (with basic facilities) and can involve long travelling days on various modes of transport.
Suggested preparation : At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake aerobic exercise (this may include jogging, cycling or fast walking) for 30 minutes, three times a week. It is also advised to walk on variable terrain and in variable weather conditions. For a cycling adventure, road cycling twice a week is recommended and for adventures which involve paddling and kayaking, it is important to gain confidence and rhythm rather than speed prior to departure.
This category of tours involve trekking, kayaking and cycling for period of 6 to 8 hours a day at a fairly consistent pace. Ideal for people looking to slightly increase the heart rate. For our moderately rated tours, you must have a good level of fitness and also be in good health. It is also important to be prepared for variable weather conditions. Altitude may also come into play. This category of tours may involve visiting remote areas where facilities can be quite basic. Accommodation may also involve camping, homestays or basic accommodation where facilities may not be considered of western standards. To enjoy this style of travel, it is suggested for travellers to have a reasonable level of fitness and health, a positive attitude, as well as a fairly active lifestyle. An open mind is also required.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake 45mins – 1 hour of aerobic exercise, three to four times a week. Some potential exercises that could be beneficial include hill walking with a backpack on over variable terrain and weather conditions, as well as running and cycling dependent on the activity you plan on undertaking.
This category of tours involves trekking, kayaking, cycling or other adventure activities in remote areas for up to 8 to 10 hours a day. It is important to note that with the remoteness of some regions comes a variety of other challenges such as variable weather conditions, accommodation as well as facilities. You must have an excellent level of fitness and good health to be able to partake in this category of tour. You must have confidence in your own ability and be in good physical condition. Includes extended periods of endurance.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 to 4 months of strenuous exercise, four times a week. When preparing for treks it would be beneficial to participate in hill walks with a weighted day pack (approximately 5-8 kg) once a week for aerobic fitness and strengthening of leg muscles. It is also important to do this on variable terrain to prepare for challenging adventures. When preparing for cycling adventures, regular bike riding (at least 4 to 5 times a week for 1-4 hours is essential). It is also important to cycle on uneven surfaces or even participate in other aerobic exercises such as running or swimming to build up strength and stamina. Altitude may also be a factor in these tours.
This category of tour often involves extreme trekking, cycling or other extreme adventure activities. It is important to expect remote and poorly defined tracks and to be prepared for variable weather conditions for 10 to 12 hours per day (may sometimes be more depending on weather and altitude). These adventures are suitable for travellers who have prior experience in strenuous travel and activities, are extremely fit and have excellent health. It is also important to note that some of the terrain on these adventures will involve trekking in snow, at high attitude levels and may require technical equipment.
Suggested preparation: It is important to note that physical fitness should be an ongoing activity, commencing around 5-6 months prior to departure, or even before if you have no prior fitness. Exercise should focus on building maximum endurance and stamina. Four to five hard sessions of 40-60 mins per week should be completed and can include exercises such as going to the gym, running, swimming or cycling to focus on building aerobic stamina. It could also be beneficial to prepare by hiking on rough terrain, in extreme weather conditions or partake in altitude training.