Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Rahmans' Winter Vacation in Pakistan's Naltar Valley

This winter, Monis Rahman, a senior technology executive in Lahore, and his family decided to forgo their skiing spot of choice in the Alps to explore Pakistan’s Naltar Valley and its skiing facilities. Monis, an experienced techie from Silicon Valley, is an entrepreneur behind ROZEE.PK jobs site, SimSim mobile payments wallet and EasyTickets online ticketing platform in Pakistan. Read on to discover the how and why of this fun-filled trip to a winter wonderland. Here's Monis' interview with Asma Chishty of popular Pakistani travel site

Asma Chishty: Was this your first trip to Naltar Valley? How would you describe the place to potential visitors?

Monis Rahman: Yes, this was our first trip to Naltar and the first to Gilgit and Hunza as well for that matter. Naltar Valley has incredible raw beauty with picturesque mountains, flowing rivers and unpaved roads. Reaching it is a bit of an adventure, but that just adds to its charm. It is located between Gilgit and Hunza (Karimabad), off of the Karakoram Highway. The last stretch is a 45-minute drive in a jeep or four-wheel drive on the steep unpaved rocky Naltar Valley Road with a river running below it. Once you reach Naltar Valley, you are filled with a sense of accomplishment and awed by the gorgeous scenery around you.

Naltar Valley Ski Resort in Pakistan

AC: Was it a family trip? How many people were part of it in total and how many days did you go for?

MR: Yes, this was a family trip. We were a total of five people, two adults and three children aged 11, 8 and 5. We went for a total of four nights and five days.

Rahman Family in Naltar Valley

AC: Why did you choose this time of the year to visit, given the challenging weather conditions up north?

MR: We usually go skiing during the winter holidays in the Alps. This year we decided to be a bit more adventurous and try skiing in Pakistan. We had heard about Malam Jabba and upon further research learned that Naltar Valley had the best local facilities and a longer ski slope. Our main consideration was ensuring that there was enough snow on the slopes and Naltar Valley has snow machines to create snow which was reassuring. It was one of the best family vacations we had – because the adventure and discovery left us all with a sense of awe.

AC: Naltar was snowed out in the winter; what special preps did you have to make in terms of travel essentials and logistics to factor in the weather?

MR: Because we were traveling with children, we ensured we had proper warm layers and gear. Secondly, it was important to have good transport with four-wheel drive so we rented a Prado, which are quite common in that area.

Serena Hotel in Gilgit, Pakistan

AC: Where did you stay and would you recommend it to others wanting to go?

MR: We stayed at the Serena Inn in Karimabad for two nights and the Serena in Gilgit for two nights. Both are great, with excellent heating and hot water hence a safe choice. However, I would love to try more local indigenous places if I go again without family.

How would you compare Naltar, its landscape and its peaks to skiing resorts in other parts of the world?

Monis Rahman Snowboarding in Naltar Valley

AC: Does it have the potential to be developed as a tourist attraction?

MR: The ski slope at Naltar was good. We enjoyed it. And the landscape, coupled with the rustic village setting, adds to its charm. They have at least two snow blowers to produce snow and a grooming mobile to flatten the slopes. The tow lifts are very practical once you master them. They rarely operate the chair lifts which goes to the very top so we had mid-slope runs. With some investment and proper management catering to tourists, the area has incredible potential. It’s currently not built to handle a large number of tourists and is a private air force facility which accommodates visitors on request. I can very easily see it reaching international resort levels with visionary investment. There is only one piste (run) so for advanced skiers it may get boring after a while. International resorts have several dozen lifts and runs which form maze-like trails. Several runs can be added in Naltar if there is a will to do it. So while we thoroughly enjoyed the experience, international ski resorts are quite a bit more organized, structured and have a much greater variety of runs.

We would still do Naltar again because it’s close, much cheaper and has its own beauty.

AC: What was the most memorable part of the trip?

MR: One of the two most memorable things was building a snowman with the village kids in Naltar while we waited for the tow lift to start running. The other was having hot Dowdoo soup on the road side in freezing cold weather near the Hussain Bridge followed by a snowball fight.

AC: And the most challenging?

MR: The most challenging was reaching Naltar on Naltar Valley Road after the snow storm. A bit scary! 

AC: Any travel tips for those looking to travel up north in this weather, especially with children?

MR: Make sure you have warm clothing, a jeep or a four-wheel drive vehicle, accommodation with heating and hot water. If you plan to go skiing, lots of coordination is needed with air force personnel because the resort timings can be a bit whimsical and ski equipment is not guaranteed.

MR's Trip Itinerary

Day 1

On our first day, we caught an early morning, 45-minute flight from Islamabad to Gilgit. Luckily the flight was on time, since it is notoriously unreliable and often cancelled due to the weather. This time of year, the flights are relatively more predictable than in the summers. After landing in Gilgit, we went directly towards Karimabad where we checked into the Serena Inn. Once we had settled in, we set out to explore Hunza. We enjoyed Baltit and Altit Forts which are about 2 kilometres apart – the view from Baltit Fort was spectacular. We ate dinner at the fabulous Kha Basi Café under Altit Fort amidst villagers going about their daily chores. The café is tastefully decorated and run by very well trained women who prepare local organic dishes fresh on the spot in almond or apricot oil. This was one of the most memorable meals we had.

Day 2

We ventured to Khunjerab Pass on the Pakistan-China border. Due to heavy snow, there were several points where we thought we would have to turn back. Our four-wheel drive came in very handy. We stopped on the side of the motorway after crossing Gulmit and the kids had hot Dowdoo soup from a roadside restaurant while I trekked to the Hussaini suspension bridge and overcame my own fear of crossing it. We stopped at Attabad Lake on the way, which was frozen. We finally reached Khunjerab Pass where the weather was -30 C degrees! After returning to Karimabad, we found a local restaurant in the village where were we had delicious Hunzai food.

Day 3

After a late breakfast, we drove to Naltar Valley ready to ski. The drive took longer than anticipated and we reached about 11:30am, expecting 4-5 hours of skiing. The Naltar Valley Ski Resort is run by the air force and we had to get special permission. It is not an organized tourist resort which predictable times of operation. We found out that they shut down the tow lift at 1pm so we only got about an hour of skiing on our first day on the slopes. It took a while to get the ski gear that is provided at the resort – you basically have to choose from a large closet which is not sorted by size, so there is some luck involved. Most of the people on the ski slopes were the local villagers who have become quite good skiers. We were determined to come bright and early the next day so we could get a full day in. We drove back and checked in to the Serena in Gilgit, had dinner at the hotel and played a board game of Risk.

Day 4

We were up early, geared up in warm clothing, and drove back to Naltar Valley (around a 2-hour drive). However, it was snowing profusely and the drive was much more challenging than the previous day. The checkpoint on Naltar Valley Road informed us that we would not be able to go up because of the amount of fresh snow on the unpaved rocky road. Cars were having difficulty coming down. However, after analyzing the situation and determined to get in the proper skiing that we came for, we braved it up the mountain and managed to get pretty close. We picked up a local villager along the way who was walking up the mountain. We eventually stopped about a kilometer before the resort and walked up the mountain to reach the tow lift. Much to our disappointment, the tow lift had been shut because of the heavy snow. However, the air force management was incredibly kind and opened the resort just for us. The five of us were the only ones on the slopes and about 15 personnel were assigned to us for ski lessons for Sarim (our five year old). As a snow boarder, I was lucky to find a snow board that was the right size in the “rental” closet and managed to navigate the tow lift which is a bit more challenging on a snow board compared to a chair lift. The next few hours were incredible. Fresh powder, completely empty slopes and dedicated support staff. We thoroughly enjoyed skiing at Naltar Valley. The drive back was challenging but we drove slowly and made it back in relatively good time.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Pakistan Travel and Tourism Boom

Extreme Kayak Adventures in Pakistan

Helicopter Skiing in Karakorams

Climbing K2: The Ultimate Challenge

Indian Visitors Share "Eye-Opening" Stories of Pakistan

American Tourist Picks Pakistan Among Top 10 Best Countries to Visit

Pakistani American to Pakistani Diaspora: Go Back and Visit Pakistan

Riaz Haq's YouTube Channel

PakAlumni Social Network


Riaz Haq said...

PM directs opening rest houses for general public, tourists

Prime Minister Imran Khan here on Monday directed the concerned authorities to open government’s rest houses for general public and tourists.

Chairing a high level meeting to review progress in tourism sector PM Imran said that the commercial usage of rest houses will not only boost tourism in the country but also generate revenue. He said, “It is the part of the government’s policy to open rest houses for general public.” The premier said that he would not tolerate any obstacle in implementation of the government’s policy. He directed the authorities to categorise all the rest houses in the county.

On the occasion Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chief sectary apprised the meeting that there were 157 rest houses in the province while Punjab Tourism Minister Raja Yasir told the prime minister that the provincial government had opened 177 rest houses for general public.

Punjab Tourism Minister Raja Yasir, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Minister for Tourism Muhammad Atif and other high officials were present in the meeting.

Earlier on May 4, Prime Minister Imran Khan had said that while other countries earned billions of dollars from tourism alone Pakistan had in past neglected its cultural heritage.

Meanwhile, the prime minister issued special directions to BISP chairperson Sania Nishtar to help ensure prioritised treatment of physically handicapped individuals.

The premier in a cabinet meeting issued special directives for physically handicapped and challenged individuals. He directed Sania Nishtar to ensure welfare and prosperity of such individuals. He ordered that a set quota of 2% to be kept for differently-abled citizens of Pakistan in employment opportunities.

He also directed to ensure provision of free hearing aids wheelchairs and other things to handicapped at the working place. “We will make sure that the handicapped will be taken care of and will be issued Sehat Insaf Cards,” said Imran Khan.

Continuing on he said that to attain the dream and vision of making Pakistan an Islamic welfare state the state must look after its needy and poor. He stressed on the need to care for and work for the handicapped of the country.

Riaz Haq said...

#UK's Princess Beatrice's extreme pre-wedding venture for helicopter #skiing in #Pakistan along with ex PM Jose Maria Aznar of #Spain and PM Matteo Ranzi of #Italy. #tourism

"It reflects the trust of foreign tourists over tourist potential in Pakistan and that's why such a large delegation has come to Pakistan to enjoy skiing," the president said, via his official Twitter account.

"With the world increasingly acknowledging Pakistan's natural beauty, Pakistan is destined to emerge as the tourist hub of the region and beyond.


Princess Beatrice is getting married in three months' time but she's taking part in an extreme sport most brides would steer clear of.

The Princess of York travelled to Pakistan for a heli-skiing expedition, known as one of the most adrenaline-fueled sport adventure-lovers can do.

Skiers, or snowboarders, are flown to the top of a mountain by helicopter where they are left to explore the slopes.

It's not your ordinary winter sport and is a favourite among the world's elite.

With her wedding due to take place on May 29 at St James's Chapel and Buckingham Palace, we do wonder what measures Princess Beatrice put in place to prevent herself from having an accident.

After all, a bride wearing a cast is never a good look. However, Princess Beatrice is familiar with the ski fields having enjoyed many family holidays to the Swiss ski resort of Verbier over the years.

It's unclear whether Beatrice's fiancé, Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi, joined her in Pakistan, though.

Pakistan's president Dr. Arif Alvi shared photos of Princess Beatrice at the presidential palace on Monday describing the visit as a "high level delegation".

He also spoke up the country's credentials as a tourist destination.

Riaz Haq said...

#Skiing #Nepal and #Pakistan: A New #Winter Trend? “I have two expeditions planned in the Karakorum, aiming for new ski lines at 4,000 to 6,500m,” Smithwick told ExplorersWeb. “This is only possible in the coldest months.” #tourism #gilgit_baltistan

Luke Smithwick, vigorously pioneering ski routes in the Greater Ranges, is ready to continue his “500 lines” project. Smithwick has already tried twice this year. He aborted one expedition because of the lockdown and the second because of lack of snow. Now, as winter comes on, he is ready for a third attempt.

“I have two expeditions planned in the Karakorum, aiming for new ski lines at 4,000 to 6,500m,” Smithwick told ExplorersWeb. “This is only possible in the coldest months.”

He also has two winter expeditions planned in central Nepal, at approximately the same altitude. And next spring and summer, he will ski higher up in both ranges.

Currently, Smithwick is training at home in Montana, while waiting for more snow to fall and conditions in Pakistan’s mountains to improve. “The Karakorum was bone dry in late autumn this year, says Smithwick. “It was so different from 2019, when by now we were skiing just over the border in Kashmir.”

Sophie Lenaerts from Belgium is leading a second team of skiers into Pakistan. She has already applied for a visa but the expedition is still in its early stages of organization, especially regarding personnel. “We might be five people or just my husband and I,” Lenaerts told ExplorersWeb.

Their financing and specific ski lines also remain uncertain at this stage. “In fact, our preferred destination is Nepal, but we have limited time and we need to check whether a quarantine will be needed.”

Another reason for Nepal: The Lenaerts run an NGO that teaches Nepali youngsters how to ski and snowboard, so that they can eventually guide ski tours in their home mountains.

Meanwhile, the Lenaerts face not only potential restrictions and delays in Nepal, but also in Europe, where the second wave of coronavirus has led to more lockdowns. Still, using winter in the Himalaya and Karakorum to ski new lines at mid-range altitudes may become a trend.