• Saturday, January 25, 2020

Rock Climbing in Margalla Hills and the Northern Areas

Discussion in 'Pakistan Tourism' started by PAFAce, Mar 9, 2017.

  1. PAFAce

    PAFAce SENIOR MEMBER

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    Hello All,

    I'm planning a trip to Pakistan in the next few months, and this time I am determined to get as much adventure out of it as possible. In this regard, I am hoping to get in touch with rock climbers who would be interested in climbing with me at Margallah Hills and/or in the Northern Areas (Gilgit, Skardu, or anywhere else in GB or AK).

    Please feel free to let me know about any organizations that offer rock climbing excursions as well.

    Also, if you have any other adventure sports that you could recommend, please feel free to tell me. I'm already looking at paragliding.

    Thank you!
     
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  2. krash

    krash SENIOR MEMBER

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    The rock climbing scene here is less than in its infancy. Only token organisations exist which offer lowest climbing grade opportunities. Foreign rock climbers are also hard to find. There were two brothers who used to spend +6 months every year in Skardu but their efforts were mostly in bouldering and that too private. So if you're looking for anything beyond this then you must rely on yourself. If not then drive a couple of hours north of Islamabad to Khanpur Lake, you'll find at least one setup which will offer you elementary rock climbing along with cliff diving (recommended), paragliding (meh), jet skiing, cave exploration (very meh) and camping. What's your skill level in the sport?

    Paragliding has scene a tremendous explosion in the country since 2008. Northern Pakistan has been inundated with flyers from all over the world, it's the new mekkah of the sport. But the local setup still leaves a lot to be desired for. The tourist operators will offer you elementary tandem flights (e.g. the one in Khanpur) which are pretty meh. There are some amateur clubs but they are mostly private and fall far short of the paragliding documentaries that you see about our north. Do you have experience in paragliding?

    I'm assuming you haven't been up north before? If so then trust me when I say that a simple visit will give you more than you're expecting. There is simply too much to see and experience up there. You have not seen anything like it, you will not see anything like. Just a drive to and from Skardu will knock your senses right out of you. Give me a few details of your stay and I can help you make an itinerary that'll be beyond anything you imagined. However, if you're used to GB and AJK or just must have an activity based experience then too there's a ton of things that I could recommend depending on the sort of trip you want. If you have climbing (mountaineering) experience then I can hook you up with people for a great many expeditions. If not then I could recommend a ton more treks of all grades. Mountaineering and trekking are two things which we have got well covered in that part. Like I said, I'd be more useful if you could provide some details of your intended trip.
     
  3. PAFAce

    PAFAce SENIOR MEMBER

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    Thank you!

    Here's the map I have of the places I'd like to visit. You're right, I've never been North of Islamabad before.
    https://drive.google.com/open?id=1GJpueQdh41elsCgL1vGxBDp46Y0&usp=sharing

    I am a recreational rock climber. I've climbed outdoors a few times, and up to 5.10a indoors (though only once). I'm not nearly experienced enough to undertake a new climbing route entirely on my own, but experienced enough to climb outdoors comfortably. I've done Ice Climbing as well, but I figure that won't be possible in Pakistan after March.

    I've never done paragliding. I'm looking for a tandem beginner flight somewhere quite scenic, such as Skardu.

    At this point, I'm looking to do camping, day hikes, swimming, paragliding, climbing, fishing, and whatever comes my way. I don't really have the time to do any long expeditions this time around.
     
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  4. krash

    krash SENIOR MEMBER

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    Anytime.

    You wont find much here then. The organisations that would take you rock-climbing won't take you to anywhere of note. I would recommend scrapping this. Btw, you can still ice climb after March here, GB is the most glaciated region outside the poles after all. But you would face the same problems as with rock climbing, tons of opportunities not enough facilitators.

    Sadly, none available in Skardu.

    The problem with adventure sports in Pakistan (except mountaineering of course) is that to go beyond the elementary level (which are quite meh) you need to do it yourself. Won't find much help here.

    Ok so let's begin. The thing about Pakistan, especially the north, is that there's too much to do and even more to see. Although your list includes places that just can't be covered in a single trip, we can try packing as many of the places and activities mentioned by you as we can into a single 1 week long trip. I usually recommend travelling nonstop to Skardu/Gilgit but we'll take it easy, it's only your first time. I would recommend picking either Skardu or Hunza as your ultimate destination. For now we will go with Hunza as the example (If you'd rather make it Skardu, let me know). Would you be staying in Lahore? If so then you can check out the mosque, the Minar-e-Pakistan and the fort in a single day and then maybe dine for dinner at Cuckoo's Den (It's not as good as it used to be but you can't beat the view). You'd have crossed two places off before even beginning.

    Starting from Lahore I'd recommend leaving the afternoon before around 2pm(You pass through the Kaghan Valley during day time this way, you'll thank me later). You'd take the motorways till Hasanabdal (burhan interchange). You can stop in Islamabad (4hrs 30min from Lahore) for an early dinner but you should be on your way to Hasanabdal before 8pm. After you leave Hasanabdal you'd pass through Khanpur before you reach Abottabad. This is where you can go paragliding, but forget it (again you'll thank me later). The scenery will have started to shift before you reach Abottabad, but it's only the beginning. In Mansehra you'll have two route choices; towards Badgaram (the classic KKH route through the Kohistan region) or towards Balakot (the newer route through the length of the Kaghan Valley). It all depends on the season you go. I'm hoping that it's after April, you get to see both the routes this way. If so, then you should get off the KKH at Mansehra and take the road to Balakot. If you would not have stopped too many times up till now, you should reach Balakot at around midnight. You can choose to stay the night here, there's a chaplu Kabab dhaba on your right just before you cross the bridge, I recommend.

    Welcome to the North. Next morning you should be up and ready to leave before light. I'd recommend grabbing some quick snacks and delaying the breakfast. From here onward the drive itself will be a treat. From Balakot it would take you around 3 hours to reach Naran, if you leave at 6am then you can have your breakfast in Naran at around 9am. The town isn't what it used to be but you'll get to cross it off your list. You could hire a jeep from here and to take you up to Saif-ul-maluk (2-3 hrs round trip) but I'd recommend ditching that and saving the time for far greater places further ahead. You should be on your way again before 10am. The route will then take you through Batakundi, Jalkhad, right around Lake Lulusar (pretty spot) and then to Babusar Pass. Babusar is extremely beautiful and it would take you around 2 hrs to get there from Naran. Crossing the pass you will exit KPK and enter GB's Chillas district.

    You will notice a very sudden change in scenery. The vegetation will vanish and the mountains will start growing even taller. You'll link up with the KKH here and reach Raikot Bridge in another 2hrs (2pm). If you were to visit Fairy Meadows, this is where you'd hire a jeep for it from. But we will keep on driving. A little further you'll reach the Nangaparbat view point. It is truly spectacular and would change your perspective on mountains altogether. Moving further, in about an hour from Raikot, you will reach Jaghlot. You can stop here for lunch. Just after Jaghlot you will come to the junction point of the three highest/greatest mountain ranges in the world. You'd be driving on the side of the Hindukush (on your left), on your right would the Himalayas across the Indus and straight ahead of you would be the Karakoram. Just a little further from here is Alam Bridge, if we were going to Skardu we would have crossed it eastwards over the Indus and entered Baltistan. Leaving Jaghlot at around 3pm you should reach Gilgit before 5pm. You can roam around the city a little, shop a little, eat a little, it's not much. You can also spend the night here if you are excessively tired but I'd recommend sucking it up for just another 3hrs and reach Karimabad.

    Congratulations, you are now in the Hunza Valley. There are a bunch of different hotels you can stay at here. Spend the night here and wake up at your leisure the next morning. I'd recommend a hearty breakfast at Cafe De Hunza. Keep this whole day to enjoy Karimabad. Any direction you'd look, you'd see a +7000 meter peak. You can check out the Altit and the Baltit forts. Go up to the Eagle's Nest and take in the 'knock your senses out' birds eye view of the Hunza Valley. Shop for handmade exotic items in the market, check out the many different fruit orchards or even drive the very short distance to Aliabad, there's tons to do. TBH, if you just sat your entire day on a chair in your hotel's yard here, you would not regret it.

    Now is when all your activity based options open up. There are too many day treks available here for me to count. Your hotel manager will be more than glad to recommend a trek according to your mood at the time and arrange guides and porters for you. You can ask the locals for prime fishing spots too and they'll happily show you around. I would recommend going on a day trek the 2nd day and then leaving for Khunjerab Pass on the 3rd. You can leave early the third day, have lunch at Sost, reach Khunjerab by around mid-day, return to Passu for the night and then drive back to Karimabad before mid-day the next day. Spend the rest of the day relaxing in Karimabad because the next two days are going to be the long drive back completing our week long trip.

    With this tentative itinerary you would have crossed off Badshahi Mosque, Minar-e-Pakistan, Lahore, Karimabad, Gilgit, Naran, Kaghan, Hunza, Mountain Ranges Junction, Khunjerab Pass, Khunjerab National Park and a ton of other places which you don't know, yet, that you should have on your list.

    Let me know if you need any further help, but to recommend you anything further I'd need more details of your trip. I hope I've at least been of some help thus far.
     
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  5. PAFAce

    PAFAce SENIOR MEMBER

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    Are you kidding me? That was fantastic! That's so much more information than I had gathered so far. Man, if I could, I would buy you some mithai or something for taking the time to write all that ouy.

    Just a few points:
    - I have 2-3 weeks, so I can go a litle slower than you've listed and spend a night or two outside of Gilgit-Baltistan.
    - I'm a motorcycle rider, so I'm hoping to rent a bike in Islamabad and doing the trip on the bike (some with a tour group, some solo).
    - I have already seen most of the places in Lahore. I just listed them on the map to see again. My trip to the north will start in Islamabad, not Lahore.
    - I have been informed that the Naran route to the North is closed until June (i.e. Babusur Pass is closed). This sucks, because I really wanted to go through that area (and camp at lake Saif-ul-Muluk).

    If you're comfortable with it, please PM me and we can talk there.
     
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  6. krash

    krash SENIOR MEMBER

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    Haha, nah you don't need to give me nothing, I'm just glad to help. But if you could then I'd instead request that you be generous with the less well to do locals over there. They're life is harder than any of us can ever imagine. Also, I'm sure you've already got this covered, but please take care of the places you visit.

    Oh what I could do with 2-3 weeks up there. You could add quite a few more things in the above itinerary with sort of time fram as well. You could even do both Skardu and Hunza. The only place outside of GB that I see worth staying at would be the Kaghan Valley. Naran and Shogran are cesspools now but the PTDC in Naran is a treat. Camping at Saifulmaluk, as you mentioned, would be a great idea. Just make sure that you go a little ways beyond the opposite bank of the lake (southern bank) before you pitch your tent. The northern side is where you land when you reach the lake from Naran, it's overrun by less than likeable tourists due to whom it's become a pretty downtrodden, polluted and ugly place. But once you've gone beyond the southern bank, you'll see almost the same untouched natural landscape that you see in those Saifulmaluk postcards. There is almost no light pollution at this spot and it's +3000m which means that if the sky is clear then you'd witness some insane night skies. I've seen the Milky Way clear as daylight stretching from horizon to horizon, the way you see in those long exposure shots. And if you plan on spending the next day there as well then you can go on a day trek to at least Malika Parbat Base Camp if not all the way to Ansu Lake. I believe that you should be able to rent some camping equipment from Naran but don't take my word for it, I've always taken my own.

    All that said, I would seriously recommend considering a 3-4 day trek around Hunza instead. The Rakaposhi Base Camp trek is an epic experience, so is the Rush Lake trek but it requires some climbing.

    Yikes! Not my cup of tea. Hitchhiked behind a biker from Bhesham to Dassu once, never doing that again. Are you sure you wouldn't want a comfy car instead? If you decide to go from Islamabad to Gilgit without extended stops then I could get you a car and a driver in less than 20k (one-way). There are guys who run these Gilgit Taxis from Islamabad.

    Ah, forget them for this time then, there's too much to see up north. Plus it saves you a ton of time.

    This is why I was hoping that your trip would be after April. May is a bit iffy but I have found the pass open at least thrice in that season, you'd just need to confirm with someone in Naran before you leave Islamabad.

    Ofc. I might need you to teach me how to do that though. Bit of a noob at that.
     
  7. PAFAce

    PAFAce SENIOR MEMBER

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    I will make sure of it!

    I've changed plans. Because I really want to go to Naran and Saif-ul-Mulook, I'm postponing my trip until after Ramadan, in July. That will also give me more time when I'm there (maybe even 3-4 weeks). I've been told that you can rent camping equipment in Naran, but if not, I'll rent some equipment from Islamabad and throw it on the bike. And yes, I'm definitely doing it on a bike. Babusar Pass looks TOO DAMN EXQUISITE not to be done on a bike.

    Yes, I am 80% sure I will do the Rakaposhi trek. Perhaps even Fairy Meadows. Are there any other beautiful hikes you would recommend?

    I'll send you a PM.
     
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