Monday, September 5, 2011

Spice Girl Caravan To Naran

We took a long day's drive from Islamabad to Naran. This valley is in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which was formerly known as The Northwest Frontier Province. Naran is one of my country's best tourist attractions. It has such amazing scenic beauty that I suggest you witness it with your own eyes. If you do, you're bound to encounter Kunhar River wherever you go, because it runs all along the valley. I recommend visiting anytime between June and September. When Winter arrives, all paths are covered with snow and communications are near impossible.

We saw some interesting places on our road trip from Islamabad to Naran. The farms, green pastures and animals only added to the picturesque landscape. I couldn't stop clicking the shutter. Leaving Islamabad to enter Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, we passed by Hasan Abdal: a small town in northern Punjab named after a saint. Hasan Abdal holds a lot of significance for Sikhs. Around 1520, the founder of Sikh religion Guru Nanak resided there. This is why Gurdwara Sri Panja (one of the most sacred Sikh sites) was built in Hasan Abdal. It's visited by Sikhs from all over the world.

We also passed by Abbotabad District. Does the name Abbotabad ring a bell? It's the infamous place where Osama Bin Laden was discovered then killed with the world knowing little more of what happened. Abbotabad is also the transit point to all major tourist regions in North Pakistan, such as Naran, Shogran, Nathiagali and other awesome destinations.

We crossed the small town Balakot, known as the gateway to the beautiful Kaghan Valley. Balakot was completely destroyed by an earthquake in October 2005. Although the town has redeveloped, none of the new constructions have cement roofs as per government order. I recalled the devastation caused by the quake and the sadness that overshadowed the nation.

Arriving in Naran by 5 PM, we were still looking for a hotel at 9. The one we'd booked was sickeningly dirty. No hygienic person would stay there. We drove through a market flooded with motels, hotels and inns. All sucked! The locals seemed greedy and knew nothing about courtesy. Since it was peak tourism time, they doubled rates without negotiation, no matter how shitty their accommodation. Furthermore, it's not difficult or expensive to get to Naran, so it was choked with crowds on holiday. Thus, our first Naran impressions were simply BAD!

There are decent hotels, but they're expensive, and one must book rooms a month in advance to be safe. However, we were in the middle of shit with no turning back. We had to find a room somewhere before our bladders exploded. We found The Trout Land Hotel. It was big with a nice view. Yet, their loo was gross to the core. They didn't believe in changing bed sheets or pillow covers. Plus, how could I forget this one key detail: the toilet flusher was perpetually out of order. I don't know how we spent two days there, but we did. There was no other choice.

One day, we took a 4x4 safari jeep with an expert local driver. That's the best way to travel the bumpy regional mountains and see the major attractions. Our chauffeur was a young boy who knew the routes well. He had excellent control and was one of the finest drivers I've come across in my life, despite his tender age.

Our first stop was a hill station called Lalazar, 20 kilometers from Naran at 10,200 feet above sea level. It's breathtaking with flowers, green steppes and mountains everywhere. The best thing about Lalazar is that it's still unknown to most tourists. Trekking is an absolute must here. Photographers will especially love this divine work of nature.

Rafting in Kunhar River is yet another adventure to try your hand at. Foreigners usually opt for the roughest sections, while most Pakistanis prefer smoother stretches of water. We were lucky to meet an expert guide who made us feel extremely comfortable. I loved every bit of our river rafting. One more thing you should experience in the area is a manual trolley ride over Kunhar River. If you're scared of heights, choose one at lower altitude. The ride costs only Rs 25 (which is peanuts), and this is serious Pakistan fun.

Probably the most famous Pakistani tourist attraction is Saif-ul-Malooq lake. The sad part is that visitors in general are trashing the place. There are garbage cans everywhere. Yet, people don't use them. They throw empty wrappers and bottles into the lake, which is ignorant and absurd. 

For now, the glacier adds enough clean water from above to flush the filth out naturally. However, unless measures are taken, crowds will succeed in polluting this wonder within a few years. In addition, men at the site surreptitiously make videos and snap pictures of women, which is a total turn-off for me. This is how I spent two hectic but exciting days. My take on Naran is simple: it has great attractions, but pollution and deforestation are evident. Having said that, I still highly recommend a visit.

Zaira Rahman is a spicy Islamic girl who writes travel reports from her home in Pakistan. Unlike the British Spice Girls, she's not a ho and speaks comprehendible English. She's an advocate for the ethical treatment of people and animals plus the author of the books Pakistani Media: The Way Things Are and If Mortals Had Been Immortals & Other Short Stories.


  1. How nice. I don't get the time to travel so this is really wonderful. Thanks for sharing your story.

  2. I so thoroughly enjoyed this article that I will save it and read it again. You kept my attention from the first sentence. I feel like I was with you on your travels. I am impressed!!! I will be very lucky "being a singer/songwriter" to write a song as attention grabbing as your article. Thank you sooo much for sharing. I have been inspired:)

  3. @Jackie: Thanks so much for enjoying the article. I too don't travel that much but this time round I thought of keeping a log of it...I'm glad people are liking my travel stories :)

    @Daniel: Oh my God, you are being TOO kind my friend. Though I am so happy that you find my writing so inspiring and I hope it might aspire you to write some brilliant songs soon, but you are already a master at your art while I'm such an amateur at writing :)

    Thanks guys, your appreciation motivates me to keep writing in the future.

  4. Chandani: Thanks so much dear. Your the best critique and a compliment from you means a lot to me :)

  5. I like the landscape of the first picture since natural (olivia Miranda R.)

  6. wow! the landscape is really beutifull coexist with nature. I like much go to rivers.