Karachi to Kashmir (and beyond) was an eye-opening trip
I’m not too sure why I’m bringing horoscopes in, but as a Sagittarius, I die for traveling – and this year I’ve just been extremely blessed in that regard. I’ve traveled with friends and family, and I’ve seen places of Pakistan that I hadn’t ever seen before. So naturally when my family brought up the possibility of the road trip across the country, I was super hyped. 15 days, 4 provinces, endless destinations. You bet I was like, “LET’S DO THIS!!”
I’ve traveled all through Pakistan ever since I was a kid and I’ve seen so many cities and so many places, but the thought of this Karachi to Kashmir trip really excited me
Partly because it’s always great to revisit the places you’ve been to, but mostly because of all the new places you’re going to see. Pakistan has just SO much to offer, you can’t ever get bored of the diversity and the variety of landscapes, monuments, places and people that every single corner of the country has to offer.
This time around, most of the places that I was going to were completely new for me, never have I ever traveled cross country all by road. I’m not gonna lie, but the entire possibility of traveling by road from Karachi to Kashmir seems like an absolute daunting task but when you actually get through it, it’s honestly one of the most liberating ones – unless of course you’re in a hurry. But road trips help you absorb so much of your surroundings. You can take random pit stops wherever you’d like, bhalay it’s for chai or just for a random photo-op – and being the annoying chai charsi and a photography enthusiast, you bet I pestered my family to stop at every single location.
So first day, first stop on our Karachi to Kashmir trip was a random restaurant out in Khairpur because you can’t do road trips without chai stops – and you can fight me on that
The amount of chai I’ve had in these 15 days has just been off the charts, but do I have any regrets? None.
But Khairpur has these date tree plantations that are just so gorgeous, so naturally, that’s a photo-op I couldn’t have missed
And while Sindh, when it comes to your mind, sounds like a really barren and hot province, it actually has pretty gorgeous views of all the khait and greenery (but yes, definitely burning hot at 44°C in the afternoon!)
We made our way to Bahawalpur, the city graced with marvel and awe-inspiring mahals, giving you a peek to the grand lifestyle of the Nawab of the city
Trust me, I was just as fascinated when I saw them as I was when I used to visit them as a kid. But the adult me saw the palaces with much more appreciation. The beauty, especially in the night, was a sight to behold. It’s just sad that the Nawab of Bahawalpur had to give up his palaces, but the tourist in me was glad that I could visit them nonetheless and bask in the glory of them all.
But here’s another thing that Bahwalpur is super famous for, the markets and the kaam waalay kapray – the gota, the mukesh and all that
And as a person who has found their newfound love for shopping, you can say that it was actually pretty fun – minus the fact that I almost melted in the shadeed garmi, but you gotta give some to get some.
Seven hours from Bahwalpur comes the famous Katas Raj Temples near Kallar Kahar, something that had been on my list since years
The temple is a truly interesting place, and the reason it was on my list since so long was because once upon a time, the ponds inside the complex used to be crystal clear, absolutely blue. Historically, the pond at Katas Raj is said to have been created from the teardrops of the Hindu deity Shiva, following the death of his wife Sati. Even literally, the name of the complex has been derived from a Sanskrit word kataksha, meaning “tearful eyes.” All of this makes the places worth a visit, TBH.
But here’s the catch: due to a general lack of attention (and a nearby cement factory which completely disrupted the site’s water table), the place has fallen to a complete disrepair. The waters are no longer blue, but instead a murky green lined with litter. Katas Raj still stands as a holy site for many Hindus across the subcontinent, and the complex’s dilapidated state is just a sad sight.
On to the real Karachi to Kashmir adventure, the entire “the mountains are calling and I must go, ” agenda of the trip.
So stopping over at Islamabad, then at Abbottabad, we geared for what we made so much of an effort in this Karachi to Kashmir trip for: the North. Our ultimate stop was going to be at Minimarg, a small set of villages in Azad Kashmir – more on that later – but the entire journey was incredible (if I had to put it in a word). I got to check off so many places off from my list including the Babusar Pass, Lulusar Lake and the gorgeous Astore Valley.
Babusar, very rightfully called the heaven on earth, connects Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with Gilgit Baltistan and has the most gorgeous sight to behold
Badalon ki game bohat on thi waisay, but look at how dramatic this place is. But again, that’s just one side. Let me flip it up for you a little.
Owing to the massive surge of tourists in the area, the peak is now flooded with make-shift food stalls and hotels, completely destroying the view you get from the top.
Matlab, I get the fact that Pakistanis live for food, but that doesn’t mean you do it at the cost of the beauty that’s around you. I feel absolutely horrible for saying this, but Pakistani tourism for most parts has been absolutely destructive than being otherwise – and people’s general lack of civic sense just adds to it all. I couldn’t take a proper picture of the stalls, but you can see well in the background the entire clutter that I’m talking about.
But anyway, stayed the night at Bunji – barren, super rocky mountainous landscape (also very hot, definitely not the weather you expect when you hear the word “North” but TBH, that’s my own fault.)
Because we reached the place at night, during an absolutely ungodly hour, I couldn’t take pictures. But one from the morning, on our way to Chillim where we would shift into some 4x4s because our cars won’t be able to cross the mighty Burzil Pass.
You know I mentioned all those chai stops, but I forgot the most essential, as fresh as it could get, chashmay ka paani stops.
Honestly, unlike any water I’ve drank. Every spring had its own taste and drinking water became my new favorite hobby, there’s literally no exaggeration on that part whatsoever.
While we were on the Astore Valley road, we stopped over at a village called Gudai – and it was all about blue rivers, fresh cherries and gorgeous plantations
A little girl also brought us cherries from her place and invited us over for tea – which we couldn’t go for given that we were on a race against time to reach our ultimate destination, but the hospitality had us mesmerized.
But anyway, let me introduce you to my favorite place of all: Minimarg
Right on the edge of the Line of Control, Minimarg is an absolutely gorgeous village at an altitude of 2844 metres. Given the proximity of the land to the Indian Border, visitors have to take prior permission in order to visit the region but let me tell you: every bit of it is absolutely worth it.
While the place it incredibly beautiful, the name Minimarg stems from a tragic incident and is also a tribute.
According to local stories, Mini was the wife of the local zamindar and was loved by the villagers. But sadly, after 10 or so years after being married, she passed away and brought great sorrow for all those who loved and respected her – and therefore, as a tribute, the villagers decided to change the village’s name to Minimarg, or “Mini’s Death”.
A little ahead of the village is the region’s most prized location, the lakes: Rainbow and Crystal
And I’m not kidding, this place will be my destination wedding location (don’t steal my idea). But the beauty and serenity of it all had me in awe. The waters absolutely crystal clear that you could see through the depths, flowers in all the colors I had never seen before, a river flowing from under an ice-cap, green mountains on one side and rocky mountains on the other. Honestly, this is the kind of place we think about when we think about heaven and I wish I was exaggerating on that part… but I’m not.
Before heading here, I heard how people called it a “Mini Shangrila” – well, I haven’t ever been to Shangrila but there was definitely one, very cute red hut that actually gave those vibes
But look at how CLEAN! As a Karachiite, I was sold right here. Hell, I’ll shamelessly admit that I even drank this water and it just… mind-blowing taste.
On our way back, we stopped over at a tiny village called Nagai. And you know, the kind of villages that we all dream about? Wooden huts, amazing mountains in the backdrop…
Look at this beauty!
We also hung out with a couple of local kids who honestly, were a super fun bunch to spend time with
Now on to my second favorite place where we got a chance to stop for a while on our way back from Minimarg: Burzil Top.
Burzil, standing at 13,808 ft, is an ancient pass, and is part of the historic caravan route between Srinagar and Gilgit – also being the oldest route connecting Gilgit with Srinagar and Skardu through Deosai Plateau. Even mid July, when the rest of the country is dealing with the harsh warm weather, Burzil stood snow-capped in all of its might.
This was also us starting the last leg of the trip back to Karachi, so we decided to take a little detour to the Deosai National Park to see the great Sheosar Lake
Our driver told us that locally, it’s called an andha lake because the water has no direct inflow or outflow access – and that also explained why the entire area was kinda marshy and spongy if you walked on the mud and grass. Felt very trippy tbh. Also, Deosai mein TBH saari game baadalon ki thi.
All in all, I’m not the kind of person to reminisce too much about things, but this Karachi to Kashmir trip, and all the friends I have made throughout this journey will always hold a special place in my heart. Pakistan has so, so much to offer – the only thing I’d ever want for it to be more organized and accessible so that every Pakistani gets the chance to visit the marvels that our country holds.
After my Karachi to Kashmir journey, next up on my list is definitely Hunza and Gilgit, let’s see when I get to cross that out, but until then, I’ll live in the memories I made up there in the mountains.
Cover image and all photos inside post by Bisma Rizwan