Venture beyond the infamous Karakoram Highway (KKH) into the Hunza Valley and Fairy Meadow’s natural magnificence. Tucked between the soaring peaks of Pakistan in a strategic location nestled along the ancient Silk Road, merchants and traders have traversed through these humble villages for centuries.
Only in recent years, has there been the infrastructure to access these ancient villages by road, revealing a time frozen wonderland of rich culture, glistening glaciers, fertile apricot farms and turquoise alpine lakes. Experience the incredible Shandur Polo Festival which has taken place at the Shandur Pass sitting at 3700m (the world’s highest polo match) between the tribes of Gilgit and Chitral people. The polo match whilst traditional, is also a unique blend of ‘wild’ polo.
Oozing with cultural heritage, this journey takes in the best of what Pakistan has to offer whilst exploring hidden mountain paradises and villages from another world.
**Note departure dates may change by up to 5 days due to the Shandur Festival falling in the first Islamic month of the new of lunar calendar. Please check with our team before finalising your flights**
Welcome to Pakistan! Upon arrival into Lahore, you will be met and transferred to your hotel.
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.
Later this afternoon, you will visit the old city or walled of Lahore. This is known as the city’s historical and cultural core. Dating back over 1000 years, the western part of the wall was originally mud during the medieval era. The Walled City was bestowed with numerous monuments during the Mughal era, with some of Lahore’s most iconic structures being located in the Walled City, such as the lavishly decorated Wazir Khan Mosque which you will also visit today, the massive Badshahi Mosque, and the Shahi Hammam.
In the evening, explore the Fortress market area of town (dinner not included). A bustling area with many eateries, cafes and entertainment areas. Take in an evening view of the Royal Mosque.
2 nights Nishat Hotel or similar
The City of Gardens and Centre of art & culture, Lahore is the second largest populated city in Pakistan. Depart your hotel this morning for a visit to the Lahore Museum before continuing on to the Royal Fort. Explore the grounds of the Royal Mosque and then break for lunch before you continue to the Shalimar Garden and to the Indian border at Wagah to witness the Indian and Pakistani border guards lower their flags in the daily flag ceremony. (B)
Departing at 8am this morning, you farewell Lahore and travel to Islamabad (430km) along the motorway.
On this journey, you will experience a glimpse of the rural plains of Punjab and the Salt range. This was the first salt range discovered by the horses of Alexander’s troops in 320 BC but trade didn’t commence here until the Mughal era and there is said to be an estimated reserve of over 82 million to 600 million tons of salt.
You will visit Raj Katas temple, a complex surrounding a pound named Katas, which is regarded as sacred by Hindus and is located along the motorway near Kallar Kahar. The pound is said to have been created from tear drops of Shiva after he wandered the earth inconsolable following the death of his wife Sati.
Enjoy a break for lunch before reaching Islamabad in the early afternoon.
This afternoon, enjoy exploring the local bazaar before dining at Monal for dinner (not included). This restaurant is said to have the best views of the city. (B)
Overnight Islamabad Serena Hotel or similar
Enjoy breakfast at your hotel and drive to Chitral via the motorway to Chakdara where you will travel through the Lowari tunnel and onto Ayun. Ayun is a dreamy little village surrounded by towering mountains on all sides – some would compare this region with quaint hamlet villages of Switzerland! It is a naturally beautiful village with a sense of calm about it. Your accommodation here, Ayun Fort is a gorgeous guesthouse which is actually home to one of the princes of the region. (B,L,D)
Overnight Ayun Fort or similar
Today is all about exploring the Kalash Valley. Starting off with a drive of approx. 1hr to the village of Rumbar. Rumbar is one of three valleys in the Kalash or Kalasha region and is by far the least visited and most authentic. The local people are a pagan minority which used to be as large as 20,000 people but is now only 3000-4000 with many converting to Islam. As such, this minority group is now hardly given any rights and is no longer recognised as a separate entity. There are small handful of NGO’s working in this area to preserve this tribe and our travels here also assist in helping keep this diminishing culture alive. The Kalash people are white skinned with golden brown hair and blue eyes and also are polytheistic believing in 12 Gods and Goddesses. Crows are considered to be the ancestors of gods, are frequently fed with their left hand at a number of places including tombs.
After checking in at your guesthouse, explore the village with your guide where you experience a true insight into this fascinating and very proud culture. Spending time with a local kalash family in their village home where we have a cultural exchange – your guide will act as a translator and you are welcome to ask any questions you like about the culture, religion and lifestyle and vice versa – the local tribes people may do the same. (B,L,D)
Overnight at Local Guesthouse or similar
Enjoy breakfast before you visit the Bamburait village, another of the Kalash villages, where you will visit the Kalash Museum. There are about 1300 objects exhibited here which are of Ethnological interest from the Kalasha Tradition and from the traditions of the wider Hindu Kush area. Continue on to Karakal Villge, a small village which is a scattering of wooden houses and rich in Kalash tradition. (B,L,D)
Overnight at Local Guesthouse or similar
Following breakfast, drive to the town of Chitral an unspoilt paradise of lush green valleys, snowy peaks and glacial rivers. Until 1947, Chitral used to be an independent princely state. It formally became part of Pakistan in 1969. Nestled in the foothills of the country’s Hindu Kush mountain range, tucked in the remote and mountainous north-west region, Chitral is close to the Afghanistan border. Explore the Royal Mosque Fort or Shahi Mosque before later driving to Mastuj Village where you will overnight. (B,L,D)
Overnight Hindkush Heights Hotel or similar
Today you will drive to the Shandur Pass to experience the Shandur Festival. The tournament takes place on the Shandur Pass in the Himalayas, the highest polo ground in the world at 3738 metres above sea level. The festival also includes folk music and dancing, and trout fishing at the nearby streams and lakes. The first time a polo tournament took place at the Shandur Pass was in 1936. This exotic location surrounded by some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in the world, the event marks the annual rivalry between the polo teams of Gilgit and Chitral provinces in Pakistan. Supporters of both sides travel long distances from remote areas of the provinces, to watch the thrilling game and cheer on their team. Experiencing the pride and passion of the locals at this festival offers a fascinating insight into the lifestyle of the people of this region. The roads to reach this pass are challenging, but all form part of the adventure of travelling through the mountains of Pakistan! (B,L,D)
Today will be the final match between Chitral and Gilgit team which will simply spectacular to witness. After the victory of the winning team has been celebrated, you will drive to Phander Village, approx. 3hrs drive, where you will overnight. Phander is often referred to as the most beautiful valley in Pakistan or the “Land of Beauty”. In summer, cherries, apricots, and mulberries are in season, and the fishing season will be in full swing making the region the most beautiful at this time of year. Enjoy exploring at leisure on arrival. (B,L,D)
Overnight PTDC Hotel or similar
Today you will travel towards Gilgit along the Indus river. It was an important stop on the ancient silk road and today serves as a major junction along the Karakorum Highway with the road connection to China, Skardu, Chitral Peshawar and Islamabad. There are several remains of the Buddhist era with the most prominent being Karga Buda and Buddah carved in rock. Drive a further hour to the village of Minapin where you will overnight. (B,L,D)
Overnight Diran Hotel or similar
This morning enjoy exploring Minapin village and take a short hike to Pisan Glacier. This is an easy hike along edges of Pisan village to Shule where you will experience the closest views of Mount Rakaposhi and Pissan Glacier ( approx. 2 hours). Continue on to visit the thousand-year-old Altit fort and 700-year-old Baltit fort which are some of the region’s oldest standing monuments and evidence of the valley’s feudal regime. Traditionally home to the Mir, or King of Hunza, Altit Fort was eventually vacated in favour of Baltit Fort. The rectangular stronghold sits at the foot of the Ulter Glacier and commands a view of the Hunza Valley and its tributaries—a strategic position for controlling the trans-Karakoram trade route between South and Central Asia. The fort served as home to the Mir until 1945. (B,L,D)
Overnight Darbar Hotel or similar
Today you will visit the Nagar Valley home to Hoper Village and the Hoper Glacier. Hopar Valley is a cluster of villages around a natural bowl at the bend of Baltoro Glacier. Snow capped mountains border the valley. Continuing on, you will head to Altit village and fort. Altit Fort is an ancient fort and was originally home to the hereditary rulers of the Hunza state who carried the title Mir, although they moved to the somewhat younger Baltit fort nearby three centuries later. Continue driving to Duiker. Take in the afternoon panoramic views and stunning sunset over the Rakaposhi Mountain Range and the Batura Range towering over the valley. The evening light is simply magical. (B,L,D)
Overnight at Eagles Nest or similar
Note: This hotel is very basic which is more than made up for by the view.
Take in the incredible sunrise over the mountains whilst enjoying breakfast before you drive through the Upper Hunza Valley. Stop briefly at 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. In January 2010, a massive landslide blocked the flow of River Hunza, creating a natural dam and burying 20 people beneath it. The rising water displaced thousands of residents and submerged countless villages, fields, orchards a well as a 19-kilometre stretch of the Karakoram Highway. In 2012, a spillway was created to release a steady flow of water and as the water receded, it revealed the villages that had been buried beneath. It is only now that people have started returning to rebuild their homes and lives. It is a fascinating area to explore.
Continuing on, you will visit the Passu Glacier before continuing to Khunjerab Pass which is the border between China and Pakistan which offers some of the countries most impressive scenic drives. Return to Passu village in the evening which lies at the mouth of the Passu glacier and is home for trekking to Bautra glacier, the 7th longest non polar glacier. (B,L,D)
Overnight Passu Ambassador or similar
The famous peak Batura, Shisper and Passu Cathedral are all over 7000m high and peer down on you in Passu. Explore the quaint village of Passu and the surrounding region rich with stunning hiking trails.
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.
This afternoon you will hike to Lake Borit lying above the village of Hussaini. You can admire the views of two glaciers and two different lakes during this hike. Borit Lake sits at the height of 2600m and from here, you will be blown away by the incredible scenery of the Batura mountain range. The hike to the glacier is fairly easy and enjoyable. (B,L,D)
Overnight Passu Ambassador or similar
Just when you thought the natural beauty of Pakistan could not get any better, you depart and set off for Fairy Meadows. 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’. At the end of your jeep drive up the mountains, you will reach Tato village and commence a 3 hour hike into Fairy Meadows. (B,L,D)
2 nights Raikot Sarai 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 each way, 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,L,D)
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,L,D)
Overnight at Northern Retreat or similar
Today’s 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.
Enroute, you will visit 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. (B)
Overnight Pearl Continental Hotel or similar
This morning you will visit the Faisal Mosque followed by Daman-e-Koh, a picnic spot and lookout in the Margalla Hills offering panoramic views over Islamabad. It’s a splendid spot to get a sense of the city’s layout, with the Shah Faisal Mosque a breathtaking sight in the skyline. From here, the day is yours at leisure until it is time to transfer to the airport for your onward flight. (B)
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**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.
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.