This once in a lifetime experience from the “Himalayas to the Arabian Sea” affords the Artisan Vacation traveller a chance to see majestic peaks, cruise the river Indus, view pristine lakes amongst alpine meadows dotted with orange bearded goats herded by local shepherds. The trip ends at the China border via the Karakoram Highway along the ancient Silk Road.
Below isa sample itinerary from Artisan’s last trip to this fascinating region of the world.
THE JOURNEY BEGINS
Via Doha, we flew Qatar Airways arriving in Islamabad at 5.00am. An early check in at the Pearl Continental was arranged and after a buffet breakfast, we took some rest before starting an afternoon that included: Faisal Mosque and Lok Virsa. We then continued along Margalla hills and Daman E Koh with dinner at The Monalwhere we enjoyed a panoramic view of the capital city, accompanied with good food and local music.
Next morning, we headed off to Swat valley, visiting the Takht I Bahi, an ancient Buddhist monastery. Then on to Mingora, capital city of Swat, arriving at Swat Serena where we stayed for two nights enjoying nightly dinners and live folk entertainment.
From there, we travelled on to the Hill Station of Malam Jabba which is a ski resort in the Hindu Kush Mountain range. Later, we returned for an overnight stay at Islamabad where we had some free time for shopping at the Centaurus Mall.
THE HIMALAYAS AND HUNZA VALLEY
Next morning, with the winds in our favour we took a flight to Gilgit. In the air we all experienced the breath-taking aerial views of the iconic Himalayas all around us.
We arrived in the Hunza Valley in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan, bordering with the Wakhan Corridor of Afghanistan and the Xinjiang region of China.On our motor coach ride to the Valley, we stopped for Pakistani saffron tea and crepes at the Rakaposhi viewpoint in front of the 12th highest mountain in Pakistan.
THE TWO FORTS
Once we were checked in to the Hunza Serena, we stepped out to visit the UNESCO World Heritage, Baltit Fort. This stunning fort dates back 700 years and was made the capital of the Hunza state. Over the years a long line of rulers made many additions and renovations. The fort remained occupied until 1945 when the last ruler finally moved to a new palace. Once the sightseeing concluded we had some free time for shopping in nearby Karimabad.
Next morning, we went to the Altit Fort and Royal Gardens, originally home to the hereditary rulers of Hunza. This Fort was actually abandoned in favour of the fort we had seen the previous day. It was truly amazing to see these ancient medieval forts hidden among Pakistan’s towering mountains. The Hunza valley is a place of natural splendor that has attracted travelers, merchants and mountaineers for centuries as it is strategically placed on the famous Silk Road.
EMERGING NEW ENTREPRISES
CIQAM project is a social enterprise project to empower women. Here we saw women training in carpentry, design and drafting, plumbing, and even award- winning sustainable architecture.
Next morning, from a location called the Eagles Nest, we saw the sun rise over the seven might Glaciers covering the Hunza Valley.After a buffet breakfast we drove towards Attabad Lake: created in January 2010 due to a natural disaster which blocked the river’s flow through the valley due to a huge landslide.Later, we climbed aboard a boat that ferried us across turquoise waters to the Hussaini Suspension Bridge (the oldest handmade bridge in the area).Finally, we enjoyed a very enlightening experience with a host family who served us a 100% organic dinner while they shared their personal values and daily lifestyle in this pure and majestic part of the world.
FOLLOWING THE SILK ROAD
The following day after a buffet breakfast, we drove towards the Pakistan-China border via the Karakoram Highway. This 1300 kilometre highway winds through mountains and tunnels, along the famed Silk Road, from Hassan Abdal Hassan to the Khunjerab Pass where it then crosses into China.
From there we took a jeep ride to Nomal and Naltar Valley, viewing pristine lakes and meadows where yaks and orange bearded goats greeted us. It wasa surreal experience: like a scene out of a foreign film. Later we enjoyed rich organic tea flavoured with local valley milk.
When we arrived at Gilgit, we unpacked our bags at the Gilgit Serena.After a good night’s sleep,we got up early and headed to the Phander Valley.
The next day, with the winds once again in our favour, we flew from Gilgit to Islamabad, getting another opportunity to view the majestic Himalayas. Then we travelled by coach from Islamabad to Lahore with a stop at Khewra, the 2nd largest salt mine in the world. There we stayed at the Pearl Continental Lahore.Next morning, after buffet breakfast, we visited Old Lahore with a rickshaw ride to Shahi Swari and Hamam, viewing the architecture of the Mughal era and visiting the 17th century Wazir Khan Mosque.
Our next drive took us to the Wagah Border of Pakistan and India for the flag lowering ceremony and parade.After seeing all these famous sights, we then had a free day visiting the shops on MM Alam street. We topped this rich part of our journey, with a fine dinner at Haveli where we had a beautiful view of the Badshahi Mosque.
We boarded another flight to Karachi, where we were transfered to the Marriott.
For those who wanted to fine treasures to take back home, we went shopping at the biggest mall in Karachi. The Lucky One Mall offers shipping, dining, and entertainment right in the heart of the city.
Next morning, we all visited one of Karachi’s most recognized landmarks, the Mohatta Palace, built in 1927 and designed by Agha Ahmed Hussain. In addition, we went to the well-known Jinnah Tomb with its stunning modern architecture that is the final resting place of the great leader – Mohammed Ali Jinnah.
Next day, we were hosted by the administration of the Agakhan University to view their state-of-the-art Hospital and campus. We were served a lovely private lunch in a special wing of the building: which was another totally surreal experience!
Our last evening in Karachi, we went to the Kolachi Restaurant Do Darya situated on the edge of the Arabian Sea. As the cool evening breeze blew around us, we savoured tasty Lebanese, Chinese and continental cuisine as we recalled all the amazing places we had experienced so far. The journey was not over yet.
OUR JOURNEY DRAWS TO A CLOSE
Leaving Karachi, the next daywe boarded Qatar Airways again for a flight to Doha where we spent two nights at the Souq Waqif. There we visited the Museum of Islamic Arts (MIA), went on a traditional shopping spree in the Souq, and then explored the Al Zubarah Fort (World Heritage Unesco Archeological Site) in the walled coastal town of Al Zubarah that flourished in the late 18thcenture and early 19th century as a pearling and trading centre. Our last evening was spent over a tasty barbecue dinner andshow cruise in Doha harbour.
As the sun went down on this Artisan Vacation we tarvelled and how we had gone from the towering, majestic peaks of the Himalayas to the stunning sunsets glittering off the Arabian Sea. All agreed, this was a trip that will be etched into our memories for a lifetime. If you want to see this magical part of the world, and travel yourself along the historic Silk Road, call us today.