What should every Nepali know about Pakistan

Welcome to Pakistan!

Pakistan. The countries on earth that have an even worse image than Pakistan can be counted on one hand. Isn't that the terrorist stronghold next to Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden was caught in 2011? And weren't the men who carried out the attack on the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai in 2008 trained there? Wasn't there an incident a few years ago where tourists were kidnapped and killed?

My own knowledge of Pakistan before this trip was more than limited; I could not even have assigned the above facts to the country, whose national territory is more than twice the size of Germany. How could it have been otherwise? Pakistan plays almost no role in the German media, I don't know a single Pakistani and none of my friends and acquaintances have ever been there. When I told my parents about our travel plans at home, my father asked worriedly: "You're not going to Pakistan, are you?" I replied to him at the time that of course we are not going to Pakistan, "We're not crazy!"

We really had no plans to go to Pakistan. But from Iran on we met again and again travelers who were traveling in the opposite direction as we were and who had just come from Pakistan. All those who had already visited the country could not get out of the swarm. And it wasn't dangerous, on the contrary, they always felt very safe there. "Wouldn't that be something for us after all?"we started to wonder. Our curiosity was aroused and we began to research. A few weeks later it was clear: We are going to Pakistan!

Station 1: Passu

So here we are. The bus from China stops in front of the Pakistani immigration building in Sost, and everyone gets off. The few Pakistanis who were with us on the bus grab their luggage and have already disappeared into the building with the word “Immigration” written on the door. We too shoulder our rucksacks and go inside. The Pakistani border guards are friendly and give us a form that we have to fill out. Our passports and visas are checked within a few minutes. Nobody here is interested in the contents of our backpacks. "Welcome to Pakistan!", call out to us, then we have officially entered the country.

Before we go out to the taxis waiting in front of the building, we can even exchange our leftover cash from China for Pakistani rupees at a fair rate at one of the officials. Since we ask him about the usual price for the trip to Passu, the price negotiation with the cheerful taxi driver quickly comes to a conclusion. Together with Tomó from Japan, with whom we share the transport, the journey begins. We are surprised by the very good condition of the road and marvel at the impressive mountain giants that frame the Hunza Valley on both sides. On the way we stop briefly at a friend of our taxi driver who is selling dried apricots on the side of the road. "The best in whole Pakistan!"as he credibly assures us. After we have convinced ourselves of the sweet taste of the dried fruit, we buy a bag from it.

When we arrive at the hotel in Passu, it is already dark. But before we rent a room here, the price has to be negotiated first. Almost 50 euros per night for accommodation in this small village is quite expensive before and after some back and forth and a "low season special discount" we agree on half. In Passu, at 2,500 meters above sea level, the October nights are already very cold - too bad that there is no heating here. So we sit wrapped in fleece and windbreakers at dinner that we have with Julia and Simon from Switzerland. And there is nothing else here: electricity. Fortunately, the hotel makes do with a small generator that brings some light into the frosty restaurant and our room, at least in the evening hours. But it's over at 10 p.m.!

After a good night's sleep, we are ready for our first real day in Pakistan. When we order breakfast, Julia and Simon, who are traveling with a driver and guide, have already left. Since we prefer to take it easy on the first days in a foreign country, we make ourselves comfortable in the hotel garden, where we enjoy scrambled eggs, fresh chapati (Pakistani bread) and herbal tea. After we have finished breakfast, I get my guitar from our room and bring Leo her e-book reader with me - just don't stress 🙂 I have already performed a few pieces when I hear a voice behind me. "You play very nicely!" lets out a bearded man and comes up to us beaming. At his side is a woman with a headscarf, who is probably his wife. "May we join you?"he asks gently. Of course we answer yes to his question and we are right in the middle of our first encounter with the people of Pakistan.

The very polite gentleman introduces himself as a "retired Colonel" and spends his autumn vacation with family and friends in Passu. He listens curiously to the stories of our trip so far and is visibly pleased that we have decided to visit his country. "The Colonel", as we have called him since that day, explains to us that northern Pakistan is very safe, the military has everything under control here. We hope he's right, but since he served the Pakistani military for decades, he should know.

After we had been talking in fluent English for half an hour, we were joined by Rizwan and his family, who also worked for the Pakistani military. He is also happy to meet us and before our new acquaintances say goodbye for an excursion, they invite us to have dinner with them. You are in contact with a family in Passu who prepare traditional dishes from the Hunza Valley for tourists. We are happy to say yes. In no other country have we come into contact with the locals so quickly and have even been invited to dinner - a promising start 🙂

After a tasty and entertaining dinner with the Colonels, we set off on our own the next day to get to know village life in and around Passu. Since our hotel is a good bit out of the way, we take the little-used main road to walk the two kilometers to the center of the village. But we don't get very far. A tractor stops next to us, from which a young man asks us if he shouldn't take us with him. Hitchhiking on a tractor? At first I hesitate, but before I can answer Leo has already agreed. And so shortly afterwards we slowly but surely roll towards the village. It does not seem everyday that tourists ride along on a tractor, because several villagers wave at us laughing on the way.

Passu seems very idyllic to us. The potato and apple harvest is in full swing and the leaves of the many fruit trees have already assumed bright autumn colors. We walk around the village and talk to several residents, all of whom are happy that we are paying their village a visit. Many of them even speak English, which we would not have expected in the very rural far north of Pakistan.

On the one hand, the life of the Passus residents seems very peaceful in the midst of this magnificent mountain world. On the other hand, we are also sure that it must be very hard to live here without electricity or running water and to support yourself through heavy field work. We are almost uncomfortable that everyone we meet wants to give us something. Even if we try to decline with thanks at first, we end up with a backpack full of apples and potatoes back to the hotel.

Station 2: Shimshal

Following a tip from the Colonels, we decide to head from Passu into a side valley of the Hunza Valleys to go to Shimshal. The small village is connected to the outside world by a narrow mountain road and can only be reached by off-road vehicle. Since private transport is too expensive for us, we opt for the shared jeep, which is also used by the locals as a kind of bus replacement. The owner of our hotel called the driver of the off-road vehicle and reserved two seats for us. So we are amazed that eleven people are already sitting in the car when it arrives. How are we supposed to fit in there?

Somehow we manage to do it and share a row of four or five seats for the next 4 hours. A 14-year-old boy was unlucky and had to spend the very winding and bumpy route of 60 kilometers on the roof. Since the sun is already setting and it is getting dark early in the mountains, a very cold undertaking. But we are also anything but comfortable and are happy when we finally reach the foothills of Shimshals and the off-road vehicle gradually becomes emptier. We still want to know whether something has ever happened on the narrow road, which mostly leads close to the abyss of a ravine. Our driver waves his hand with a laugh, everything is safe here. Well then…

In Shimshal we find a simple guesthouse where we are cared for and cooked by the only employee, Jafer. Even if there is no electricity or warm water here, we still feel comfortable and stay for three nights. For Leo's birthday, which we celebrate here in seclusion, Jafer even bakes a delicious cake in a pan on the gas stove. It's unbelievable what is possible with the simplest tools.

Shimshal is an exciting place for us. How can people actually survive in the middle of the mountains without any real connection to the outside world? What do they eat, how do they survive the hard and long winters and is there such a thing as free time? We are happy to be able to ask these and many other questions to Jafer and his friend Saman, who invite us to their home. We also stop by the local school, which organizes the annual sports days just before the holidays. We are invited to tea by the headmistress and are allowed to take a look into the classrooms, which are not heated despite the frosty temperatures. The director proudly shows us the school's solar system, which generates electricity for a computer room in which the students are prepared to use this everyday device.