Gilgit to Islamabad via Naran and Taxila

Unfortunately flights from Gilgit to Islamabad are unreliable in the autumn weather so two long days of driving were needed to get back to Islamabad to finish the trip. There was plenty to see though to break up the journey.

Not far from Gilgit is the meeting point of the three highest mountains ranges on earth, the Hindu Kush, Karakoram, and Himalaya, and where the Gilgit and Indus rivers meet.

In Gilgit itself is the atmospheric British Cemetery, dating back to the age of Empire and the Great Game with Russia. It is also home to non-Muslim locals, and more recent casualties of accidents in the mountains.

Also close to Gilgit is the Kargah Buddha, over 1,200 years old.

Heading along the Karakoram Highway the small town of Chilas will in the next decade be drowned during the development of a huge hydroelectric dam. We stopped for lunch at the optimistically named Shangri La, home to some lovely carved doors.

Outside were more carvings, old Buddhist rock carvings from the days of the Silk Road.

The Indus River here had what looked like beaches along its banks. Around 85% of its discharge is carried between May and September from snow and glacial melt, as well as the monsoons.

As we headed up the 4,000m Babusar Pass it started to snow, and there was no visibility from the cold top.

Amazingly before our eyes though the cloud cleared to reveal a landscape that wouldn’t be out of place in the Scottish Highlands.

The lake the other side of the pass appeared to be a popular spot with the locals, busy taking group photos and selfies.

A routine tea stop turned into something magical with views like this, and freshly make bread cooked in front of us.

Naran is an increasingly popular spot with the locals, with up to 50,000 Pakistani tourists a day during summer, coming to escape the heat of the south and see the mountains. This has triggered a huge and seemingly unplanned hotel building boom, with no doubt horrific implications on the local environment, judging by the huge pile of rubbish seen later down the valley, next to the river.

Cafes where people can sit soaking their feet in a refreshing stream appear to be popular, though understandably not in late September, the water was pretty cold!

On the outskirts of Abbottabad, a bustling town famous for being Bin Laden’s last home, we stopped to take a closer look at the amazing Pakistani trucks as they were repaired. Each is a work of art, though increasingly the paintwork is being replaced with cheaper stickers sadly.

Our final stop on the way to Islamabad was one of Pakistan’s six UNESCO World Heritage sites, the Buddhist remains at Taxila. The largest of which is the impressive Dharmarajika Stupa, a tranquil place in the late afternoon sunshine.

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