Mountain tourism in Pakistan


Pakistan is a land of splendor.

The scenery changes northward from coastal beaches, lagoons and mangrove swamps in the south to sandy deserts, desolate plateaus, fertile plains, dissected upland in the middle and high mountains with beautiful valleys, snow-covered peaks and eternal glaciers in the north.

The variety of landscape divides Pakistan into six major regions: the North High Mountainous Region, the Western Low Mountainous Region, the Balochistan Plateau, the Potohar Uplands, the Punjab and the Sindh Plains.

Stretching in the North, from east to west, are a series of high mountain ranges which separate Pakistan from China, and Afghanistan.

They include the Himalayas, the Karakoram and the Hindukush. The Himalayas spread in the north-east and the Karakoram rises on the north-west of the Himalayas and extends eastward up to Gilgit.

The Hindu Kush Mountains lie to the north-west of the Karakoram, but extend eastward into Afghanistan.

With the assemblage of 35 giant peaks of over 7,315 meters, the region is a climber’s paradise. Many summits are even higher than 7,925 meters and the highest K-2 (Mount Godwin Austin) is exceeded only by Mount Everest.

The Karakoram Highway, which passes through the mountains, is the highest trade route in the world.

The region abounds in vast glaciers, large lakes and green valleys, which have combined at places to produce holiday resorts such as Gilgit, Hunza and Yasin in the west and the valleys of Chitral, Dir, Kaghan and Swat drained by rivers Chitral, Pankkora, Kunhar and Swat respectively in the east.

Dotted profusely with scenic spots with numerous streams and rivulets, thick forests of pine and juniper and a vast variety of fauna and flora, the Chitral, Kaghan and Swat valleys have particularly earned the reputation of being the most enchanting tourist resorts of Pakistan.

South of the high mountains, the ranges lose their height gradually and settle down in the Margalla hills in the vicinity of Islamabad, and Swat and Chitral hills, north of river Kabul.

Although the climate of the region is extremely diverse, depending on elevation, yet as a whole it remains under the grip of severe cold from November to April. May through July are the pleasant months.

The southern slopes receive heavy rainfall and are consequently covered with forest of deodar, pine, poplar and willow trees. The more northerly ranges and north-facing slopes receive practically no rain and are, therefore, without trees.

Pakistan boasts of the largest share of the highest mountain peaks in the world.

Its own highest peak, the famed and dreaded K-2, is the second highest in the world, being just some “ropes” short of the Everest in Nepal and is regarded as far more formidable to climb.

Three of the mightiest mountain systems ― the Hindukush, the Karakorams and the Himalayas ― adorn the forehead of Pakistan. The second highest peak of Himalayas, as also of Pakistan, is the Nanga Parbat, which literally means the “Naked Mountain.”

Pakistan has seven of the 16 tallest peaks in Asia. The statistics are simply baffling: 40 of the world’s 50 highest mountains are in Pakistan; in Baltistan over 45 peaks touch or cross the 20,000 foot mark; in Gilgit within a radius of 65 miles, there are over two dozens peaks ranging in height between 18,000 to 26,000 feet.

There are a total of 14 main peaks soaring above 8,000 meters in the world.

Out of these, eight are located in Nepal, five in Pakistan and one in China.

These peaks are targeted by mountaineers every year.

In fact, a successful climb over these peaks is considered an enviable measure of their attainment. By far, the largest number of mountaineering expeditions visiting Pakistan has been coming from Japan.

K-2 (8,611m) is the second highest mountain the world. It was first attempted by Martin Conway’s expedition in 1902.

Nanga Parbat (8,125m) is also known as the killer mountain. Nanga Parbat has cost scores of lives, though quite a few have successfully scaled it.

In spite of its bloody record, Nanga Parbat is still the most sought after target. Its dangerous challenge seems to add spurs to the determination of climbers.

In the far north of Pakistan are valleys where dwell, from times immemorial, various tribes differing in race and culture.

Separated by insurmountable obstacles, these tribes very often live a totally land-locked existence blissfully unaware of the world beyond.

Pakistan has more glaciers than any other land outside the North and South Poles.

Pakistan’s glacial area covers some 13,680 square kilometers, which represents an average of 13 percent of mountain regions of the upper Indus Basin.

These glaciers can rightly claim to possess the greatest mass and collection of glaciated space on earth.

In fact, in the lap of the Karakoram of Pakistan alone there are glaciers whose total length would add up to above 6,160 square kilometers.

To put it more precisely, as high as 37 percent of the Karakoram area is under its glaciers against Himalayas’ 17 percent and European Alps’ 22 percent.

These western low mountains spread from the Swat and Chitral hills in a north-south direction (along which Alexander the Great led his army in 327 B.C) and cover a large portion of the north-west Frontier Province.

North of the river Kabul their altitude ranges from 5,000 to 6,000 feet in the Mohamand and Malakand hills.

The aspect of these hills is exceedingly dreary and the eye is met by the dry rivers between long rows of rocky hills and crags, scantily covered with coarse grass, scrub wood and dwarf palm.

South of the river Kabul spreads the Koh-e-Sofed Range with a general height of 10,000 feet. Its highest peak, Skaram, being 15,620 feet.

South of Koh-e-Sofed are the Kohat and Waziristan hills (5,000 feet) which are traversed by the Kurram and Tochi rivers, and are bounded on south by Gomal River.

The whole area is a tangle of arid hills composed of limestone and sandstone.

South of the Gomal River, the Sulaiman Mountains run for a distance of about 483 kilometers in a north-south direction, Takht-e-Sulaiman (11,295 feet) being its highest peak.

At the southern end lie the low Marri and Bugti hills. The area shows an extraordinary landscape of innumerable, small plateaus and steep craggy out-crops with terraced slopes and patches of alluvial basins, which afford little cultivation.

Kirthar Range south of the Sulaiman Mountains forms a boundary between the Sindh plain and the Balochistan plateau.

It consists of a series of ascending ridges running generally north to south with broad flat valleys in between. The valleys are green with grass and admit cultivation up to a height of 4,000 feet.

For centuries, the areas have been watching numerous kings, generals and preachers passing through them.