Camping with Passu’s famous apricot man.

I hitched hiked to Passu and it was a piece of cáca. I didn’t even have to put my hand out when a kind chubby man offered me a lift. He was en route home for a wedding (which I also got a nod to). Mid way we stopped off for some chai and bonded over our love of apricots. My mind was blown when I saw him pour salt into his tea (apparently this is a v popular custom in Northern Pakistan). He then proceeded by adding instant coffee into his salted tea. I did the same minus the salt adding. It was naturally minging but I was literally dying for a coffee that it more than did the job.

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The KKH and also sometimes known as killer road

The chap was a hotel manager so conveniently had some contacts and sorted me out with a safe camping spot in a nice hotel with a jackpot view of the Passu cones.

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I took this photo from the window of the car
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My first glimpses of the Passu Cones

So Passu is a tiny village known for its striking scenery of these cones shaped rocks which reach over 6000 m high and are just spectacular. It is probably the most photographed road in Pakistan.

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Views from the road

I set up camp amongst a load of Pakistani families (terrible idea). They all thought I was a freak and people over here just cannot comprehend a woman travelling alone. When they see the tent they further freak out. I was serenaded with screaming children for the night but all was compensated for the ridiculously good and free view.

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View from my tent

I was feeling  pretty bad in Passu and was not sure was it caused by altitude, loneliness or just general exhaustion (in hindsight it was likely a combo). I was also trying to recover from dirty water incident. What travelers sometimes underestimate is the energy it takes to plan a solo trip and sometimes it is exhausting waking up every day with absolutely no idea how to get anywhere. The added bonus in Pakistan you have no idea of what obstacles await you. The next am I made my way to Passu’s most famous café called Glacier Breeze which probably has the best view in the world. My travel book author proclaims that Passu is his favourite places in the world. I can totally see why.

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The view from the cafe… There are no words to describe this place
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The Passu Cathedral range  has to be seen in real life to appreciate its magnitude

The café is famous for its view but mostly known for its moist apricot cake which is an attraction in itself. I dumped my backpack and took front row seat. I was drenched in sweat from the walk but couldn’t believe my luck when I saw a foreign couple!!! I  am not going to lie Pakistan has delivered on so many levels but it has not been easy and one of the hardest things has been the loneliness. Day to day you will rarely meet a female and foreign travelers have become a thing of the past. At least when things are shit and you are with someone you can just laugh it out, but alone it it just misery. I was desperate to find people to trek with or chat with. Anyone looking to open a hostel? Go to Pakistan they need one!!

This couple were inspiring. They were travelling as a family with their 2 and 3 year old boys in a converted van. They were on the road over a year and Pakistan has been one of their favourite countries to date. Not an easy gig but seriously inspiring stuff. I quickly coped out of my feel sorry for myself mood took in the marvelous views and ate 2 slices of badly needed cake. I was even treated to a decent cup of coffee. Just what the doctor ordered.

Two Pakistani lads rocked up and hilariously knew my name (I hadn’t  a breeze who they were if you will pardon the pun). They said they recognised my shirt!! Who hasn’t? I wear it every day. They remembered me from Hopper Glacier. I briefly met as they were en route back from a 4 day trek to Rush Lake. I offered to carry their bags up the last hill as I totally related and felt sorry for them (having been in that situation way too many times). They said that would be unheard off for a girl to offer like that and that’s how they remembered me!

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Motorbiking through Passu with this legend Shaheryar

We all bonded over more apricot cake, hunza water and apricot juice.  I eventually realised hotel man had abandoned me  (he promised to collect me from the cafe and drive me to a campsite). It was just as well he stood me up he felt like a funny fish from the get go.  I asked apricot man could I pitch my tent in the café grounds. He didn’t hesitate and I even organised to go trekking with him the following am to the surrounding glaciers. Myself, Cherry and Zohaib my new MATES piled onto Cherry’s Honda and made our way to Husseini’s famous suspension bridge.

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Husseini up close and personal
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Husseini’s bridge

The Husseini Bridge is known as one of the most dangerous in the world. Mainly because of the massive gaps between the planks , +/- missing planks and the vicious winds causing it to rock. The raging river beneath really settles the nerves. Local authorities have now banned tourists from crossing the bridge. Everyone was being turned away. It also didn’t help that I was a woman. Luck was on my side when Cherry sweet talked the guard into letting me cross. It was an Oscar worthy performance as he stated I came all the way from Ireland just to cross the bridge. After lengthy discussions I was issued a visa for the bridge which meant I had to to myself. I think he thought I was a VIP and part of the embassy. Obviously said nada. An incredible scary but thrilling experience.

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The locals crossing over into the next village

We rewarded ourselves with fresh apricot juice afterwards (famous in the areas) and Cherry dropped me back home (aka apricot café) where I was camping for the night. An amazing experience and I got a short taste on how amazing it is travelling the KKH on motorbike.

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At long last MATES! Pakistani legends;  Shaheryar  and Zohaib

That evening I was camping solo in one of my most randomist locations to date. It was stunning but to be quit honest it was sad. It was just this small tent in the midst of these sky scrapper rocks. A few random men put up my tent for me and treated me to my third slice of apricot cake. The famed apricot cake is being baked all night long so the smell wafts through the area.

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Apricot Man told me never has to buy aprictots they are all picked locally. He picks enough in summer, drys them in the sun and uses them for winter. Hunza is an apricot lovers dream. The place is covered in them

I went inside to avail of the rare wifi signal in North Hunza. Feeling slightly homesick, overwhelmed and quite honestly lonely I started balling  my eyes out. I think nothing screams more loneliness than one pitched tent in the wilderness. Travelling to places un touched by tourism is authentic, exciting but quite honestly can be difficult and really lonely. This type of scenery is so incredible that it is nice to share. Apricot man was a little confused and did the perfect thing by giving me a blankie and an awkward tap on the shoulder. An interesting fact about the apricot making business is that the people of Hunza are so sound that no other restaurant or café attempt to make the same cake. It is there thing and people respect that. I think this is the nicest gesture ever. There is another cafe that is famous for walnut cake and you won’t find it anywhere else except Cafe de Hunza. This is something you don’t see in Europe.

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Accommodation Pakistani style

The next day after a complementary coffee myself and Tenveer set off early to explore the nearby glaciers. This was stunning we were lucky enough to meet a Shepard en route who was on the verge of a mental breakdown as he hadn’t had human contact in days (I feel you mate).

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Shepard loosing his marbles in the mountains; also having a v similar hair day to myself
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This Shepard successfully made signal out of clothes hanger. Impressive stuff
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He invited me to stay with him on the mountain for a full week!!!! Tempting but no
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Chai compliments of the Shepard; it is never too far away

We encountered some difficulties when part of the trek was missing caused by a massive  landslide. After a dangerous scramble over a cliff edge we both made it and continued on the gorgeous trek where we were trekking around two different glaciers.

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The start of the trek
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Tenveer is an amazing mountaineer and literally sprinted up the entire mountain
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Me and the Passu cones
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Passu Galcier
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Batura Glacier is the seventh longest non-polar glacier in the world at 56 kilometres
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I loved this mountain
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Passu Glacier

That evening I decided I wanted to try my luck at going back to Hopper and to attempt the strenuous trek to Rush Lake. I successfully hitch hiked with some army officers. Cherry  convinced me it was worth it and one of the most beautiful treks in Pakistan. He found out there was a group of students from Lahore attempting the trek and that I could tag alone ( he was determined to find me some mates).

Hitchhiking on the KKH is a dream as it is one road and everyone is so friendly the longest I waited was 5 minutes verus 6 hours in Argentina!  There was pure and utter confusion when I rocked up to Hopper. I was told to go find a man called Sherbaz. A few random  men frantically grabbed my bags and escorted me into a hotel. I ended up getting my own guide because he said the group from Lahore were so slow and hated exercise so I would be better off alone.

After setting up camp for the night I was fed an array of foods; Korean noodle soup with potatoes, fresh cherries, some local pastry covered in apricot oil filed with a sweet wheat filling (this was kind of minging but obviously licked the plate). The food kept on coming and I had dahl and chapati to finish off.  I rolled into my tent. I was told for Rush Lake you need a guide as you have to cross multiple glaciers which are filled with crevasses so its no easy gig. I insisted on carrying most of my food and camping equipment (most people hire a cook for the trek but I obviously wanted to make life more difficult).

7 am was kick off the following morning and I was in for a rough but beautiful ride……

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Leaving Passu behind me via the KKH

 

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