Hitchhiking my way through Northern Pakistan. Hunza & Hopper Valley

The Police in Naran kindly hitchhiked on my behalf desperate to help me and within in 2 minutes we hit the jackpot when a family stopped. Their driver initially didn’t want to take me afraid of issues that accompanied a foreigner at boarder controls. The kind family persisted on taking a very dirty Ró in and insisted on helping me. I felt like crying I was so happy.

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My adopted family
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Babusar Pass is the of the highest mountain crossing (by car) in the world at 4,173 m

The parents of my new family were both doctors and their family were all visiting Hunza for the first time. They wisely hired a private driver to take the stress out of Northern Pakistan. They all spoke excellent English (having worked in London for years). We immediately hit it off. Despite all of the Pakistani complications I have experienced  the incredible hospitality of the people. It will always prevail. The family insisted I was their guest and I was not be allowed to pay for anything. During the windy 10 hour drive we made regular pit stops to appreciate the stunning scenery. It really is unparall to anywhere else in the world I have seen.

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Some of the pit stops en route to Hunza
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Me and Natasha on the balcony at Eagles Nest 

Mid way through the journey I was violently unwell and the police station byriani was repeating on me. I successfully managed to hold myself together until we pulled into eagles nest one of the most exclusive hotels in the Hunza Valley. Tourists come here just to see the amazing view point. When we arrived it was late and he had just been informed there had been an avalanche which was causing gael force winds. It was literally impossible to camp. The family didn’t even hesitate and smuggled me into their family room where they had without a doubt the best view of Hunza’s iconic mountain lady finger.

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The view of Lady Finger from the balcony
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The spectacular Karakorom mountain range

The Hunza valley is just heaven.  It is surrounded by some of the tallest mountains on earth. It still feels authentic with locals living in little stone huts selling their craft. It is famous for its cherry orchids, apple trees, walnuts and dried apricots. The air is fresh, clean and everyone is drinking glacial water. A much needed break from the dust, pollution and noise of Lahore. This is why I became obsessed with Pakistan in the first place and it certainly delivered.

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When I was there the Hunza Valley was covered in the most divine fresh cherries
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The Hunza Valley

It is touristy (only with Pakistanis) but is totally worth it and I was excited to chill here for a couple of days. Lahore physically and mentally drained me.  I opted out of dinner that night nursing a v bad tummy. I instantly knew what was making me sick. While I was camping with the nomads one of the children filled up my water bottle for me. It was only afterwards when I had almost polished it off I realised there was gravel, muck and some other green substance in the water. I knew it tasted funky but ignored it. This brought me instantly back to Argentina where  I was violently sick for 6 weeks having stupidly contracted a virus from drinking water from a stream. Anyway, luck was on my side and I only was sick for 1 week.

The following morning  my self and my new adopted family headed off to Lake Attabad. Sadly in 2010 there was a horrific landslide which buried the entire village of Attabad killing 20 people and blocking the valley. This resulted in the lake having a stunning turquoise colour (prior to this it was grey). It is pretty horrific when you consider what is beneath the lake. It is a established tourist attraction in Pakistan where people can hire boats and jet skis. It also claims to be the bluest lake in the world not sure how they decide this accolade. I can confirm it is very blue and beautiful.

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Lake Attabad
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In they Pakistan they absolutely love colour one of the many boats on Lake Attabad
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Depending on the time of the day it changes colour

Next on the agenda of the day was a pit stop to see some of Hunza’s famous forts. After a delicious lunch of the usual Pakistani fare we headed back to the lake for a picnic of mangos.  Pakistani mangos are the best in the world. I has such connection with Natasha and some great conversations. She explained to me a little about Pakistan’s sad and cruel history and how they are still suffering based on the image created by the media. Their  family are from Peshawer which is one of the areas that was badly affected during the war. Natasha said during 2014 they would regularly hear bombs in their village. Their family had to change the entire windows of their house on 6 different occasions! They lived in fear. Behind their house, was a school where 132 children were murdered. This country has experienced unimaginable suffering and tragedy. Natasha explained now  that Peshawer is perfectly safe and that they are trying to re build their lives and their image but the media is destroying any possibility of this. Most people I have met have thanked me for coming to their country and pleading with me to spread the positive word and to come back.

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It’s all about the people
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And Pakistan has some of the best

Travelling is not always comfortable, fun or safe but there is always something amazing around the corner whether it be a nice meal, an encounter with a stranger, a laugh with someone new or a stunning view. Travelling is all about embracing the good, the bad and the ugly. The police incident in the mountains was definitely a low point but you just need to cop your self on and keep going towards that peak and Pakistan certainly has several hundreds (or thousands of them!).

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Beauty in every corner

 

My adopted family only had a short holiday so had to go home. I couldn’t afford the fancy hotel so instead went searching for a campsite. There are buckets of them in Hunza. I found a lovely one with panoramic views of the snow capped mountains. I wanted to go trekking around the valley so I inquired about routes and tried to figure out could I manage it alone. Before I knew it I was being accompanied by these two  Pakistani teenagers. This was a toughie  due to the altitude in Hunza. It was surprisingly roasting during my time in the North (I packed the woolies afraid of freezing my arse off).

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The start of the trek
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My new teenage lovers
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The valley is covered in these gorgeous flowers
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I have never been so happy to find a stream. I was so close to dehydration
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Ró and the boys
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My favourite mountain in Pakistan was Lady Finger

The hike was absolutely stunning and we had it all to ourselves. I thought I was going to die at one point as the boys were sprinting up the mountain. I ran out of water. They didn’t seem to think water was that important.  I pleaded with them that I needed to find a stream asap. They were way too chilled for my liking. After about an hour we found the most glorious stream and peace was restored. Without the boys there was no way I would have been able to do the trek. Afterwards we all watched the sunset together it was very romantic. One of the teenagers proclaimed he loved me.  I still to this day receive regular calls off him.  He invited me to stay with him in Pakistan!!! I politely declined the offer. He was so cute in the camp site he kept gifting me with sweets, biscuits and mangos. My parting gift was a hideous black beaded Chinese necklace. I gave him an equally shit present of a blanket I robbed from Oman Air!!

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A view of the Karakoram Highway from the top of the mountain also known as the KKH
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The famous Karakorum Highway. It is a 1,300 km road that connects China to Pakistan and is the highest in the world. It is stunning and passes through glaciers, lakes and mountains. Naturally it is very dangerous

The campsite was a great spot for befriending randomers. One day I was just chilling and this young guy came over saying he heard I was a doctor and would I help me. I  tell people over here I am a food doctor it’s the easiest explanation. Anyway I really wasn’t in the mood for chats and wanted to be alone but politely told him I couldn’t help. Anyway he persevered and was itching for a convo. He invited me for dinner with his family so I agreed. I couldn’t have been more wrong it turns out he was an absolute legend with a very special family. Sometimes there are occasions when we want to keep to ourselves but you have to commend people who just strike up conversations with strangers. We don’t do it enough and it could be the start of some thing beautiful.

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My new crew

There group consisted of 22 year old Usman, his father, his cousin, his uncle and the uncles mate. I liked them a lot from the get go. They said that now I was their sister and they would do everything they could to help me because they were so grateful for me for coming to their country.  While bonding over chapati they ended up extending their stay and said they wanted to bring me to a place called Hopper glacier. Usman proclaimed it was the nicest place he had seen in his life. Quite the statement. The Dad had just bought a plot of land there and planned on building a hotel/camping site.  He wanted me to go to give my opinion. I happily obliged always delighted to get off the beaten track with some randomers. The quaint little village of Hopper immediately stole my heart. Simply stunning and not half as built up as Hunza. The site for the hotel is ridiculous, like out of this world and if done rights could make a spectacular hotel.

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On top of that hill is the new hotel site!
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Yes I approve
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Hoper Glacier
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This glacier was absolutely massive and had so many crevasses.
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Glacier for miles and miles
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My favourite place in Pakistan to date

In the afternoon we trekked to a new spot which according to Usman’s Dad has possibly the best view in all of Hunza and he was also considering investing in some land there. We befriended more Pakistani men and at one point there was just me surrounded by 30 men (the women once again were in hibernation). A shame for them as this place was heavenly. Lush, green, snow capped mountains and colourful flowers were everywhere. The crew got tired so a jeep came to take us up the rest of the way. It was a bumpy, hilarious and an extremely dangerous drive.

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I think this would make a fairy decent camp site
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I think of worse places to camp
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Laying a few rocks where there were holes in the road. Pakistani efficiency at its best
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We witnessed this crazy avalanche while having breakfast

En route home we stocked up on local cherries which Zubair, the dad kindly gifted me with. They dropped me off at my campsite that evening and gave yet again another present but this time it was for Dom! I was given a gorgeous cream shawl and was strictly told this was for my Father. Don’t know what Dom has done to win over the Pakistanis but you are in the good books. I was also gifted with a gorgeous grey shawl. Generosity and kindness beyond belief and this is something sadly the media does NOT portray.

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The media doesn’t portray this
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or this…
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or this 
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In fairness not too bad view from my tent

I spent a fab morning napping, listening to music and doing some writing. My new lover boy was regularly supplying me with mangos, biscuits and chai. He told me loved me and was planning to move to Ireland. Let’s just hope that will never happen otherwise Nils has some stiff competition.

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The moon being stubborn during the most glorious sunrise

Hotel owner was also a legend and insisted on driving me and big backpack down the mountain on his motorbike. It was a painful but beautiful ride. Half way down we took a pit stop in his family house for some tea and hunza bread. So nice and authentic seeing how the locals live. Their family home was covered in apricot and cherry trees. Next on the agenda was to try and make my way to Passu. This was ridiculously easy I briefly researched and tried to figure out how to get public transport but realised there was none…Hitch hiking the KKH was my only option!

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Standard views in Hunza

A Rough Ride to Pakistan; My first few days exploring Lahore.

The journey to Pakistan was as rough as they come. It was hell but I suppose that comes with the territory when you book a a cheap flight to Pakistan. Every 3 of the connecting flights were ideally delayed one a mere 8 hours so this gave me a lot of thinking/ reflection time as to why the feck I was coming to Pakistan on my own….??

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Saying goodybe to Nils in Amsterdam, I made a little detour tour to go visit him in between Iran and Pakistan 

I think after about 30 hours I arrived into Lahore’s airport and got totally overwhelmed. I couldn’t stop crying while waiting for my bag in the tiny airport.  I was a basket case  to put it mildly. All of the armed guards looked utterly confused. I’m blaming watching a star is born on the plane for the flood works. I was bundled into a taxi from what I recall with a nice chubby man. He wanted money for his ‘assistance’ it was probably his lucky day as I have no idea what I gave him but he seemed exstatic. The taxi  journey was almost as turbulent as the flight over. Supposedly there is a road tourists aren’t allowed to pass through, taxis must take a different route which is significantly longer. Obviously my chap did not do this. I got held up at a police check point as a result where every second person had a massive rifle. Passport went MIA for 30 minutes but we eventually got the all clear and were back on the road. I was dropped off at Lahore’s one and only hostel (which honestly is fairly grim at best).

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And chill…….

I slept for a record 12 hours and decided to check out the Pakistani couchsurfing scene not loving the ‘hostel vibes’. I know I complained about the Iranian heat but Jaysus Pakistan is giving it a run for its money.

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Getting lost in Lahore; this red head look is v popular in Lahore

Uber is big over here and you can choose from car, moto or tuk tuk which is great and your not dealing with cash which is always a bonus unless your me and you forget the fare comes straight from your account and you pay them all cash anyway!!!

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Tuk Tuk

So when I arrived to Mr Jami’s house I thought I was lost as I rocked into a Tax Consultancy Building.  Anyway his staff soon welcomed me and escorted me into the fabulous building. Mr Jami was actually travelling in New Zealand at the time but is well known in Lahore for his generosity towards tourists and has an array of staff to look after the guests. I was extremely lucky as I was welcomed into my own room with AC. I was given a fabulous lunch spread and some chai before hitting the leaba.  I couldn’t believe my luck.

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Making friends

Later in the night a German traveler ; Ivi arrived. A 20 year old Berliner who is travelling the world for one year and is finishing her trip in Pakistan.  We talked all night and it brought me back to my sleep over days.

Ivi was so interesting and ridiculously well traveled for her age. Meeting her was a god saint and brought me back to earth. She explained her challenges as a solo female travelling in these strict Islamic countries and how the discrimination has been so hard (mostly psychological in her case). She also traveled solo in Iran and said it was a walk in the park compared to Pakistan. But she was completely on the same page as me and a sucker for a challenge so I got some life saving tips off Berlin.

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Lahore is HOT it completely drains you hence why every second person on the street was asleep
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This lad had a v good sleep set up
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Happy Out

Ivi, being from Berlin was ridiculously cool so the following morning we got our uber tuk tuk to go check out a second hand market. Ivi, doesn’t buy anything new and had a v good eye for thrift shopping. I felt like a helpless hippo following this cool 20-year-old around the place. First purchase of the day was an ex-army backpack with urdu written on it. Ivi got extremely excited when she spotted this. I thought it was so ugly (and dirty) but Ivi convinced me it was ‘cool’ and way ahead of Berlin’s time and that I would be a fool not to buy it. So now I am also the the proud owner of the next best thing!!!! (who know’s maybe this is a stepping stone to me becoming an influencer). It cost €1 so I shan’t complain. * As I write this in hindsight I can confirm army bag was NOT worth it. It destroyed a brand new shirt I bought as I got caught in the rain. All of the dye started leaking. It has since been handed down to Dom who is chuffed.*

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Berlin’s next new thing (Presumably minus the sweat). This gives you a disgusting idea about how hot Lahore is
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Chai and chains at the metal bazaar

The first street we walked down was a metal bazar where locals where making all sorts of contraptions from car parts, to dumb bells. This was incredible and I have never seen anything like it and they had never seen anything like us!

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If you want to get your own dumbbells made this is where you need to go
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I surprisingly loved the metal bazaar
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So far the people in Pakistan love getting their photo taken

The people all seemed really friendly but equally surprised to see two foreign girls in a metal market. Generally speaking women over here don’t walk the streets, especially alone. We took regular pit stops for chai and chats. This hot drink somehow kind of helps with the heat (apparently).

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Stopping for Chai; I loved the cheeky grin on this lads face
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Taking a chai break from all the chapati making
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Starting them young
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The beautiful daily routine of making chapati from scratch
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This market caught my eye; absolutely love all the random details. It’s a work of art.

That night we were both invited to a couchsurfing meet up dinner. This is organised by Pakistanis who are trying to promote tourism in the area and unite foreign travelers in the city (as there are so few of us).  It was so nice and we had a delicious spread of roti, naan, rice, raita, salad, and a massive spread of different barbequed meats. They are constantly trying to make tourists feel welcomed and will absolutely not let you pay. It was great to connect with other travlers. The polish couple were travelling for 4 years in a converted ambulance which they bought in Poland. Inspiring stuff. These were the first and last travelers I was going to meet for the next 5 weeks……

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Mission Positive Pakistan. What an amazing way to meet the very few backpackers who are travelling through Pakistan

The next day, after being pampered by the staff in Mr Jami’s we set off to go explore the walled city and do some more thrift shopping (Ivi’s gig not mine).  The walled city is mental and in ever corner there is something more bizarre than the next. It’s hot, chaotic and dirty but it’s excellent. I love getting lost in these kind of places and the people were constantly greeting us with intrigued smiles and invitations for chai (that being said of course there was the odd creep lurking around). It kind of reminded me of the less touristy streets of Kathmandu except a little bit more mental.

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We could have had our choice of man
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Friendly strangers asking to get their photo taken

We checked out a beautiful hidden Masjid Wazir Khan. The Mosques here are completely different to that of Iran, not as well kept but have their own old world charm and are stunning.

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This place is so stunning

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Some more thrift shopping in the afternoon consisted of shirt shopping with Ivi. Each costing 70c and on the right person definitely looked ‘cool’ whatever the feck ‘cool’ means now a days.  I bagged myself a green silk number and at the time I thought I hit the jack pot. It was only when I came back and did the fashion shoot with Ivi that I resembled a hideous, demented clown. The green shirt was gifted to the cleaner who seemed a little confused and amused by the gesture.

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Ivi and her new army bag leading the way for some Pakistani thrift shopping

Meeting Ivi gave me the motivation I badly needed. I was completely overwhelmed and a little bit disillusioned with Pakistan at the beginning but I figured if a 20 year old girl could hack it so could I. This young girl is inspirational and is going to move to the Netherlands to study politics. Good luck my friend you are destined for amazing things.

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The stunning Mosque of Lahore; this place is a work of art but a danger zone for selfie requests. It got so bad at one point I had to be escorted out by one of the body guards
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This was the beginning of the photo request things quickly escalated from here……

At one point I thought I was going to have to be hospitilised because of the heat. I don’t know how the locals keep eating these hot curries and chapatis in the stifling heat. Next on the agenda was Islamabd where I was couchsuring with a funny chap called Faz (an extremely devout Muslim). We got off to a flying start when we presented me with some Nutella and a strong espresso he studies in Italy (hence the coffee). Things soon went down hill from here when he started asking me what the purpose of my existence was, what my mission in life was and you pretty much get the gist of it. I spent the night with an Irish lad called Chris who is working in Islamabad for 6 months (thanks Meave for the connection). Having spent the entire afternoon with this  extremely devote Muslim it was refreshing to hear an Irish accent and a welcomed break from the small talk, broken urdu and the selfie requests. We gorged ourselves on the most divine Pakistani food. I took an uber back to funny Faz’s house where he very conveniently had his phone switched off and I very stupidly forgot the house so I was locked out for over 30 minutes in a fairly sticky looking neighborhood. Anyway the next morning I didn’t dilly dally and said my goodbyes.

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In case anyone is looking for some wooden insoles for their shoes Pakistan has got you covered

My short introduction to Pakistan so far has been a series of random strangers trying to help me. The hospitality in this country is parallel to Iran and really is remarkable. What I would say is sometimes it is a little overwhelming as you don’t have a second to breathe as there are ques of people inviting you for chai, dinner, to stay with him or travel with them. I hate saying no to people but also you have to have you wits about you. If you want to come to Pakistan for some alone time forget about it!

Anyway my good friend Em was renting an apartment with a Pakistani girl called Gulma  in Paris and Gulma put me in contact with her cousin who lives in Islamabad (v distance connection). Since my arrival in Pakistan this man was ringing me multiple times a day and sending me extremely concerned messages. Checking was I hungry, too hot and what he could do to help. I think the people here are genuinely in dis belief when they see a girl travelling alone as it is completely against their culture. All very nice but way OTT.

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A rare sighting of a woman doing the shopping alone in the market

It got to the stage where the Shavaz had invited himself on my trip up north to the mountains for 2 weeks. Put on the spot, I’ll agree to anything and then usually I fecking regret it instantly. I once signed up to a 10 day solo trek in Peru with an aggressive ex army Israeli lad I met in a hostel. I spent days worrying about how I would get out of it so my new rule of thumb is you have to be cruel to be kind. I told Shavaz I would meet for coffee but it was too soon for a 2 week camping expedition with a strange man. It did the trick. Anyway Shavaz turned out to be very kind albeit very conservative and concerned.

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Some pretty blue street signs
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The stunning walled city of Lahore

Next stop was Northern Pakistan the main reason for the trip was always the mountains. It is known as the jewel of Pakistan and home to 9 of the tallest mountains in the world and just like everywhere in Pakistan at the moment is untouched by tourism. The journey started off as v pleasant until lunch decided to make an appearance. I was violently sick for the journey and was given complementary puke bags (thank god). I survived the 6 grueling hours and was even gifted with some trendy beat ‘like’ earphones by the kind bus man. I had absolutely no idea about what was awaiting me in Northern Pakistan….A scary adventure of a lifetime

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Supposedly Pakistan produce the best mangos in the world and I can confirm they are ridiculously tasty