The Province You Didn’t Know About by Agha Sarmad

Gilgit–Baltistan is an autonomous self-governing region which unconstitutionally is often referred to as the 5th province of the State of Pakistan. For many people, this might be just a northern territory with perpetually snow-capped peaks and scenic beauties, but this region is astonishingly much beyond that. This region has it’s own rich culture, vast languages and individuals that are festive as well as welcoming who enjoy something very close to a peaceful utopia. My journey to this breathtaking place was an opportunity for me to enjoy one of the things I cherish the most in life – photography.

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The River Indus captured at sunset from a hotel’s terrace.

 

I traveled enough places in this region to easily label it a photographer’s paradise. On the first day of my journey, I visited the closest place I could travel to by foot from the guest house I resided in – the Mighty Indus. I was captivated by the peaceful and serene atmosphere I witnessed when I saw the first sight of the main river channel of Pakistan. It was the time of sunset and blissful air wind was blowing towards my face. I asked some people en route to it about a shortcut which was too dangerous because of the slippery sand, but still I managed to reach where I wanted to. I could see a few more people nearby taking pictures and chatting along, enjoying the blissful aroma surounding in the open air.

An extra long shot view from my boat.

An extra long shot view from my boat.

The following day, I headed out with family to an alluring lake, as clear as crystals and as blue as the sky above itself. The locals termed it the Upper Kachura Lake. Loaded with basic facilities but a beautifully calming environment, this place again forced me to take out my camera and store the ravishing scenery in front of me. I had a boat ride and managed to capture various abstracts I could execute from my mind.

Local people call this range 'Allah waali pahaari' because it naturally has the word 'Allah' in Arabic form visible on the mountainous terrain

Local people call this range ‘Allah waali pahaari’ because it naturally has the word ‘Allah’ in Arabic form visible on the mountainous terrain

What surprised me the most was when the person riding our boat mentioned about the ‘Allah waali pahaari‘. It was a mountain range which the locals had named that way because it naturally has the word ‘Allah’ inscribed in Arabic form visible on its mountainous terrain. Under the sunny weather, I spent about two hours discovering this place. It apparently had a very old Buddhist temple too belonging to the 18th century loaded with large scriptures belonging to that century and a massive statue of Gautama Buddha that was apparently not taken good care of, nor was it seemed to ever be restored.

Polo - the pride of Gilgit Baltistan.

Polo – the pride of Gilgit Baltistan.

After two or three days, I had the opportunity to visit the main city center market. Numerous tourists like me could be seen, many of them being foreigners stopping by mostly at the handcrafts shop and purchasing cultural antiques available there. Not being much of a shopping person, I headed out to a nearby ground from where I could hear loud cheers of people. As I reached closer to the situation, I witnessed the sport that is very close to the heart of Balti people – Polo. It was apparently as significant to the locals as Cricket is to the people of Punjab and Sindh which was revealed to me by what I saw from a diehard fan of a team running towards a player of the opponent team and hitting him with a bat just because he was accusing the other team’s player of cheating falsely. It felt like this would bring up a sudden chaos but the situation rapidly settled and the rest of the match went great.

A panoramic shot of the Shangrila Resorts.

A panoramic shot of the Shangrila Resorts.

The final day of my journey was spent at the Lower Kachura Lake, known by the more popular name, the Shangrila Lake. This place was enriched with both natural as well as man-made beauty. Lined with appealing resorts shaped in the Chinese pagoda styled architecture, it felt to be a place aloof from Pakistan completely. Several tourists were present at the lake, in addition to field trips of many nearby local schools. I was taken by the breath-taking landscapes of the snow-capped peaks in the background that looked near but in reality were a thousand kilometers distant. The resorts of this place offered all luxurious services and had rent rates whopping up to 20 thousand per day. Some locals revealed that former presidents like Pervaiz Musharraf and Ayub Khan had also stayed in one of these resorts on their visit to the place. Even the view from the rooms was priceless to look at. It didn’t look like a place someone would want to visit for a day, but instead a week at least, to discover more and more hidden treasures that lie within it.

Alas, my journey ended when I sat on the bus en route to Islamabad. I could not imagine the magnificent beauty I had witnessed the whole week. To this day I’ve been thinking how terribly such mind-blowing locations of our country are rotting away which were once the top tourist destinations nationwide. The talibanisation of nearby areas had spread terror about these places which was not quite the scene as I witnessed. This terror has lead the coming generations to be completely oblivious about the golden treasures the extreme Northern part of Pakistan carries along. I believe that the autonomous provincial government of Gilgit-Baltistan should join hands with the Federal Tourism Agencies of Pakistan and once again revive the charisma of these places which are good enough to earn Pakistan huge incomes based on the tourist destination spots. This could help stablize our economy as well as encourage immense foreign investment into the developing nation. I conclude by leaving a few more images I took to highlight the alluring views these places carried around.

The Upper Kachura Lake.

The Upper Kachura Lake.

En route to the hills.

En route to the hills.

Crystal clear lake water.

Crystal clear lake water.

An alluring view of the Shangrila Lake.

An alluring view of the Shangrila Lake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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