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Travelling with Travel and Culture, Pakistan

Sue Lambton Toured Pakistan in April 2005

I had booked my ticket to Pakistan and my idea was to make my way north from Lahore to arrive in the Hunza Valley, finding buses and hotels along the way.  However, with the best of intentions, the week before I was due to go, I panicked!   Sitting on my sofa in my home in Birmingham, I realised the enormity of what I was proposing to do.  I had little knowledge of the country and no Urdu!  I resorted to the internet to book hotels and the requisite transport but it became apparent that this was simply not going to work.  A few of the hotels referred me to the Travel and Culture website which advertised a 5-day tour to the Hunza Valley (along with other trips I did not have the time to do). 

So I embarked on a series of correspondences with the agents out there and (with only days left to go!) agreed on an itinerary.  When I arrived in Lahore I again e-mailed the travel company to set a time to meet my guide, Jamal, in Rawalpindi.  We met on the morning of the 30 March 2005 introduced ourselves and off we went on our trip.  And what an adventure it turned out to be.  We started at the wonderful museum and site of Taxilla, the birthplace of Buddhism, journeyed through the gentle valley of the Indus, rising higher through the desert travelling along the Karakoram Highway the famed silk route.  Which I discovered was the main route for Chinese pilgrims visiting the monasteries and holy places of Buddhism.

We passed through Gilgit and branched off to the Hunza Valley.  Do I write a book about this incredible journey?  Each day brought new and amazingly exciting experiences (superlatives are barely enough to describe what was going on). Each day ended too soon.  The people, the air, the awesome and spectacular landscape and the food, all warm and embracing and delicious.  Arriving in Baltit was magical, it has been referred to as Shangri-la among other things and it truly is. The terraces of gentle apricot blossom and the warm and friendly communities nestling in the valleys or clinging onto the sides of the incredibly austere (and quite frankly HIGH) mountains, I have absolutely no doubt that the area is aptly named. 

I had arrived.  Each evening Jamal and I would sit down to tea (or my absolute favourite, hot buffalo milk) to discuss the day and make plans for the following day. By the time I reached Baltit I knew that I was not ready to let go of this special time, so the tour was extended to more and more days (arranged with total equanimity by Jamal).  We wandered over glaciers and up to the Chinese border.  Then down to the lush green Swat valley, Takht-I-Bai and on to Peshawar. 

A wonderful border town, awash with people from all over the Middle East and Asia.  At this point I simply had no more time left.  Jamal and I had to part company.  He booked my flight, arranged hotel and collection in Lahore, in typical tireless style. My spiritual journey, inspired by Dervla Murphy “Where the Indus was Young” was more than I could ever have imagined it to be.  Jamal intuitively knew what I wanted and made my dream a reality.   He provided a complete adventure on a number of intricate levels whilst offering protection and safety through his knowledge and understanding of the areas we travelled through. (The technical side of the tour, hotels and drivers etc was faultless.) That delicate balance is hard to find.  And have I started working on my itinerary for my next trip to Shangri-la?  Well, I would be a fool not to.

Susan Lambton

April 2005


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