I want to share the most valuable information that will be helpful and crucial for you while planning to travel to the Northern Areas of Pakistan. I will try to explain these with my traveling experience in various areas in Pakistan, such as Murree, Naran, Swat, Gilgit, Hunza, Skardu, Chitral, and Neelum Valley.
Inspect the car before running on the roads
We try to plan our tour schedule in terms of days and places to visit, but unfortunately, you forget about the vehicle's current condition. Everything looks fine, but there may be some hidden defects you will have to face during your journey.
It was mid of December in 2016 when we started our journey to visit Swat valley. As we had passed Kaller Kahar on Lahore – Islamabad Motorway, I noticed the temperature gauge near the red sign. It was not a good sign to move further, so we had to stop to check the problem. Its engine was burning. Therefore it was not easy to turn off the radiator cap. After waiting a few minutes, we managed to open it. The radiator was almost empty, and no water was there.
Fortunately, we had water. After filling the radiator with water, we continued our journey toward Swat. But after some kilometers, I noticed that needle was crossing the mid of the scale. After a few minutes, it showed to overheat the engine again. It was an alarming situation. Therefore we had to stop at the Rest Area and search for a car mechanic.
Fortunately, we had found a mechanic in the Rest Area. After inspecting, he said that its gasket was overheated. You had to replace that gasket to move further. This situation was due to leakage in the radiator that we had not noticed before getting out for the tour.
There was no option except to pay a heavy amount to repair it. We were again on Lahore - Islamabad Motorway after replacing its gasket at the expense of time and money.
If you decide to spend your valuable holidays on some tour, then inspect your vehicle yourself, or you must visit some local mechanic to confirm any defect. Otherwise, you will have to write a blog like this.
Stay fueled up
Fuel is the most valuable resource to make your traveling in action. You have to face long delays and increased traveling costs if car fuel has finished on the way. Gas stations are not available nearby, so skipping one may initiate an unexpected situation for you.
While driving toward Lahore on Lahore Abdul Hakeem Motorway in March 2022, I checked the fuel gauge when its needle was touching the endpoint. It had better get petrol from Uch Sharif, but I had ignored it deliberately to save little time. I continued my journey and planned to fill it from the gas station available in the next Rest Area on the Motorway.
After a 20 Km drive, the Rest Area signboard appeared that made me happy, but this happiness vanished when no gas station was there. We were not feeling good about the unavailability of fuel, but there was no option other than to continue the next part of the journey. Our car could be turned off any time on the road if we did not have fuel within the next 20 to 30 kilometers.
Fuel search was the only thing that staggered my mind without worrying about what was happening in the surroundings. The trouble in my mind became more complicated when there was no gas station in the next rest area.
Now we had decided to call the Motorway Helpline to provide petrol as continuing the journey was impossible. The Motorway Helpline told us that they had taken more than one hour to provide us necessary fuel. Otherwise, we had to purchase petrol from the tire shop in the Rest Area.
It was nearly midnight. The tire shop owner was sleeping without worrying about the vehicle noise there. I had called him to wake up. He left his bed quickly and came in front of me and inquired about the problem I was facing. I had asked for petrol and charged three times the price for it. I had no option other than to pay it to continue my journey toward Lahore without wasting further time.
So you have to fill your vehicle's fuel tank to avoid any unfortunate during traveling. Always maintain your fuel gauge above one-third to have a safe and continuous journey in the Northern Areas.
Get room reserved
Hotel reservation is one of the main elements in your tour planning. It must perform before visiting the Northern Areas. Several tourists are visiting the Northern Areas, so it will be painful to search out a cheap and comfortable room without a prior room reservation.
It was a cold night in the last week of January 2019 when we had just arrived at the Murree hill station. We did not have any room reservations before that. We had planned to get a room on the spot. We are shivering with cold gusts and struggling to find a covered area to warm us.
To enjoy snowfall, many tourists came to visit Murree. Therefore most of the hotels were already filled with those tourists. Fortunately, there were few rooms vacant and available at double price. We did not have enough money to pay heavy rent just for one night, as it would disturb our three days tour plan in Murree and Galyat. We were trying to find a room that was under our budget. Due to high demand, rooms were not available at cheap rates.
After a long struggle to search out, we had to pay double rates to stay for that cold night. We did not have any option left, or we might freeze on the cold night of January under the snowfall in Murree.
Now you have to call immediately to reserve a room if you are planning to visit any hill station in Pakistan, and never try to ignore this aspect of tour planning.
Is air enough in tires?
While traveling, you may have a tire punctured. Where and when all these happened, you never imagined? It will be a total disaster if you are alone on the road or trek and unable to find any human being around you. Then you will not be able to move forward without replacing the punctured tire with the good one or pumping some air to search out any tire shop.
It was the morning time of June 2017. I turned on Besham Khawaza Khela Road from Kalam Swat to access Besham City. This area was not as developed as other areas, but it was a shortcut to go to Gilgit from Swat.
After thirty minutes of drive, I was feeling some slight bubbling in the car movement. I had to stop the car to check the situation, so I parked my car on the roadside. The right side rear tire had been flat. Fortunately, we had an extra tire in the car dickey. As we had almost replaced that one, at the same time, I cried that its air pressure was not enough to move. Luckily, that tire was not punctured.
“Take this air pump with you.”, one of my friends asked me when I was leaving Lahore for Swat.
Thank God, I have put an air pump in my car, and then we pumped air into it and set its air pressure enough to move. Our journey started again just because of this valuable resource in my car. Otherwise, we have to face other unexpected problems and waste more than two hours.
So I advise you to carry valuable and small-sized resources like an air pump, car toolbox, or tochan robe in your car before setting yourself for a tour.
Never forget the First-aid
Young tourists always consider themselves healthy and fit for all types of adventure, so they always avoid having a first-aid box in their luggage. They are wrong here. You never expect the condition of any unseen treks, the unexpected change in weather, and unable to avoid insect bites or unavoidable injuries. You will be in trouble if the first-aid box is not in your backpack.
We were in Garam Chasma, Chitral in September 2021, and decided to perform a hiking trek to access a small village in the surrounding mountains. Trek was a little bit difficult, and this trouble intensified due to the rain in the morning. There were also a lot of loose pebbles and stones on the passage. So it became difficult to put steps properly as rainwater made it more slippery. Crossing the steep slopes on the trek was the toughest of all. The weeds and plants on the sides were the only support to move up.
After a long struggle, we are on the top. It was a beautiful scenic view that we could not overlook. A vast lush green meadow was in front of us, in which small wooden huts scattered like flowers. A small stream that produced a romantic voice of its moving water on the shallow surface was flowing in its center. Reflecting sunlight rays were generating a dancing light show. It was a gift of all struggles one had made to reach there.
After a few hours, we started to get down. My friends were just ahead of me. Within a few minutes, there was a gap between them and me. I wanted to reduce this gap and tried to move fast. As I started to move fast, my feet running quick, I was running fast and fast, unable to stop myself due to moving pebbles under my shoes. In the next moment, I was rolling over the slippery path. Fortunately, my hands griped some stems of weeds that helped me to stop myself.
All these incidents made me injured. I had scratches on my arms and legs and bleeding on my left leg. I picked up my camera, which was rolling too with me over the trek. By chance, it stopped itself on the edge of a rock. As my friends were already going down, I had to stagger to move down slowly.
Finally, I joined my friends who were inquiring about the accident. Fortunately, one of my friends had a first-aid box. I have got a bandage on my leg, applied pain relief cream on my scratches, and took one Panadol tablet for relief.
Adventures or tours always accompany some unseen events. We cannot assume what could be there. Therefore, you must have a first-aid box for safe and secured expeditions.
Plenty of water while trekking
If you love adventures and mostly prefer trekking and hiking instead of safari or family tours, then you must have plenty of water in your backpack. In the Northern Areas, there are many springs, streams, and lakes everywhere, but sometimes these water resources are located at a distance. Due to the exertion of continuous body movements on the steep treks, your body is continuously dehydrating and losing energy. To hydrate and maintain the energy level of your body, you must drink water at regular intervals. Refill your water bottles as you find any spring or stream.
It was the morning of June 2018 when we left for Saif-ul-Maluk from Naran to complete two hours trek instead of using a jeep. The initial part of the trek was not much steep, and due to the metallic road, it was not much difficult to cover. But after 45 minutes of trekking, it became difficult and steeper.
The road condition was not good there, so you could not drive your car. We had to cross two long glaciers over the trek. The trek became difficult and uneasy to cover after crossing the second glacier. Now we had to move on a steeper path like a small-size mountain range. No water was available on that part of the trek, as the river flowed inside the deep gorges beside it. One never expected to get water from the river. We had water bottles, but unfortunately, we could not fill them before that part of the trek.
The weather was pleasant, but warm sun rays were continuously dehydrating me. I asked my group members for water. Fortunately, one of my group members had little water in the bottle. I got two or three sips to restore some of my body energy to finish the trek. I forced myself to step forward by taking repeated short breaks. I encouraged myself by composing a view of lake Saif-ul-Maluk in my mind. That view pumped some energy into my body to finish that trek quickly.
My thirst for water and wish to drink a lot of water intensified as the gap increased between the lake and me. Every forward step was like achieving a milestone. Finally, the view of lake Saif-ul-Maluk was in front of my eyes. I forgot all of my thirst and weakness. Now I was running toward the lake as earth’s gravity attracted a free-falling body.
Remember to have plenty of water before starting a trekking or hiking adventure. Always refill water bottles as you access water resources like a stream, river, or spring.
To enjoy the beauty of the Northern Areas, you must equip yourself with the required resources. Then your tour becomes the most memorable part of your life.