Pakistan is a surprising and exciting country still relatively unaffected by the tide of international tourism which is sweeping its larger neighbour India. I was first attracted to Pakistan by tales of the spectacular Karakoram mountains which form the country‘s northern border with China.

There are not many western travellers in Pakistan; European faces are a rare sight on the streets of Lahore or Karachi.

The sights and sounds of the cities are well worth experiencing. Fascinating ornate buses and trucks, hopelessly overcrowded with people and goods. career along narrow streets. Fleets ofdecrepit black and yellow Morris Minors provide the nation with an almost comic taxi service.

Evidence of Britain‘s colonial past is everywhere in the names of the streets and in the surrounding architecture. One

Another re.ic of the colonial past is the railway system. A Pakistani train

journey especially a long one can only be described as an unforgettable experience. and not one you would wish to repeat. The midsummer heat in the Punjab and Sind is really not very pleasant. and most travellers will want to head for the mountainous Northern Territories.

The town ofGilgit sits at the

junction of two mighty rivers which

31 3‘ 'i‘

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carve their way through the Himalayas before bursting onto the plains to begin their 2000 mile journey south to the Indian Ocean. Gilgit’s recent prosperity has been assured by the construction of the Karakoram Highway, which snakes its way northwards along the Hunza river before heading up and over the 15,000 foot Kunjerab Pass. onto the plains ofChinese Central Asia. The new road provides greater ease of access to the previously remote villages. enabling them to export

David Hamilton, a professional trekker who leads expeditions to the Karakoram range of mountains in Pakistan, here gives his trekker‘s eye view ofthe country.

agricultural produce such as the world famous Hunza apricots more easily. It also opens the area to tourists. some ofwhom continue along the Karakoram Highway to China. while others explore and trek in the valleys heading up from the road.

My own favourite area for trekking lies 200 miles further east in the region of Baltistan. From the town of Skardu it is only 4 hours travel to the foot of some of the world‘s largest peaks. The largest glaciers on Earth (outside the Polar regions) are to be found in Baltistan. The landscape is harsh and rugged. The skyline is often dominated by formidable snow-clad peaks and precipitous rock spires rising above moraine-strewn glaciers. Occasional green pastures and small lochs provide excellent camp sites from which to view impressive sunsets over the high peaks.

The lower valleys are inhabited by the hardy Balti people. who farm their crops ofwheat and rice on small irrigated terraces. The women in the mountain villages seem to lead a much less restricted life than their city sisters, perhaps because the form of Islam practised in the

mountains is more liberal in this respect. After seeing only heavily veiled women in the cities it is a welcome change when a proud young mother asks you to take a picture of her brightly-clad child.

The upper valleys have no permanent settlements. but are visited by shepherds and cattle-herders during the warm summer months. They are usually somewhat surprised to find westerners trekking in ‘their' valleys. but after communication problems have been overcome they are normally friendly and helpful. Most tourists who visit the Karakoram mountains are drawn initially by the stark beauty of the landscape. However by the time they leave many have been won over by the charm and generosity of the mountain people.

Some parts of the Karakoram are being tamed in order to accommodate more tourists. The trekking route to K2 along the Baltoro Glacier is now quite busy. Other parts remain as inhospitable and remote as they were in 1938 when the famous British explorers Shipton and Tilman set out to fill the ‘I.ast Blank on the Map‘.

The Karakoram Himalaya remains one of the world‘s last great remote mountain wilderness areas. and is a fascinating destination for the adventurous traveller.

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