Soft Adventure /Cultural Tour (May – October)
“For nearly a century, the two most powerful nations on earth – Victorian Britain and Tsarist Russia – fought a secret war on the mightiest natural frontiers: the Hindukush, the Karakorams, the Pamirs and the deserts of Central Asia.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, more than 2,000 miles separated the British and Russian empires in Asia. By the end of it, this had shrunk to a few hundred, and in parts of the pamir region to less than twenty. As the gap between the two front lines gradually narrowed, the Great Game intensified. … Colonel Charles Stoddart and Captain Arthur Conolly, caught and executed in 1842 by Emir Nasrullah of Bokhara, were the major players of the Great Game or “this tournament of shadows” as called by one of the Tsar’s minister.
We relive that saga as we follow the blazing trail of the players of the Great Game. The high drama begins in the British built cantonment town of Rawalpindi as we follow the Grand Trunk Road to Peshawar and the historic Khyber Pass. Driving through the Pathan country we cross Malakand Pass, known as the garland of thoms by foreign invaders and once guarded by Sir Winston Churchil. We next move to Chitral, Hindukush, the arena of the Great Game onto Gilgit and the ultimate goal of our adventure is Hunza, the Lost Horizon and the northern most state to come under the Union Jack in the sub-continent.
Day 01: ARRIVAL RAWALPINDI.
Arrival Rawalpindi and transfer to hotel.
Rawalpindi still retains the charm of a garrison town of the British Raj as we drive pass red roofed bungalows, military barracks and churches.
It’s old bazaars, retain their oriental character, with artisans who still create in the old-fashioned way designing jewellery, pounding out copper and brass items, fashioning cane baskets, hand-carving walnut furniture.
Day 02: RAWALPINDI – TAXILA – PESHAWAR.
Drive on the Grand Trunk Road or Imperial Road, initially built by Sher Shah Suri in the 16th century but later developed by the British. The 1500 miles long road was the back bone of the British India connecting Calcutta to Kabul. Patches of the original road still remain. Next to one such patch a granite obelisk commemorates the bravery of General John Nicholson who manoeuvred the hostility of Pathan tribesmen against the Sikhs which led to the surrender of the later during the first Sikh war. It is believed that the phrase “in the nick of time” came from the event. Visit Taxila, the 2500 years old city of Gandhara. The site was excavated by Sir John Marshall in the early years of the 20th century. Follow the Grand Trunk Road to Peshawar. Overnight hotel.
Day 03: PESHAWAR.
Visit the British built Museum in Moghul Gothic style of architecture and Peshawar Club where once British officers took time out from frontier duties.
In the afternoon, we stroll down Qissa Khawani Bazaar (Street of Storytellers), where raconteurs once fascinated crowds with lurid tales. Today, dentists have replaced the storytellers rows of teeth vie for our attention. We wander down side-streets and see donkeys, goats, sheep, camels, men smoking “hookahs” or sipping tea, but we see few women. And the few that pass by us will be accompanied by a male. Even then, they will reveal only their mysterious eyes that peek through the spidery veil of their ankle-length “burka”. While in the bazaar, we also see the Cunningham Clock tower, built to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen Empress. Dinner in a typical Pathan restaurant. Overnight hotel.
Day 04: EXCURSION KHYBER PASS (subject permission)
While in Peshawar, we also make the historic journey up the Khyber Pass in a steam engine from British period. The Khyber Railway is a marvel of engineering with 34 tunnels and 92 bridges. The drama begins at the Jamrud Fort built by the Sikhs in 1823 when they attempted to control the uncontrollable Pathans. The track snakes through rocky mountains. Nearly every peak is crowned with a British fort that looks down at the impenetrable Pathan clay fortresses where guns would poke through turrets. This is tribal territory, and guns settle disputes.
Our journey ends at Landi Kotal, a popular smuggler’s town. We proceed for lunch and a Khattak dance performance at the Khyber Rufkes Nessm which retains its British Raj atmosphere. After this legendary excursion, Return to Peshawar.
Visit the Peshawar Christian Cemetery with its history of the Raj on tombstones – as appropriate rounding off of the day’s activity. Overnight hotel.
Day 05: PESHAWAR – MARDAN – SWAT.
Drive to Swat passing through Mardan plains. For nearly 200 years Mardan has been a major military base. It is the headquarters of the elite Guides Corps, formed in 1846 to guide regular units in the field, collect intelligence and keep the peace on the North-West Frontier. The Guides were the first British soldiers to wear khaki (dusty) uniform. The imposing Moghal Gothic memorial arch in the centre of Mardan commemorates the Guides who died at Kabul in 1879 during the Second Afghan War. Over the historic Malakand Pass once guarded by Sir Winston Churchill, past Churchil’s Picket and past by ruins of Buddhist monasteries almost on each hill, we reach Swat Valley. Overnight hotel.
Day 06: SWAT – DIR – LOWARI PASS – CHITRAL
At Dir we leave our air-conditioned transport and shift to 4×4 jeeps. As we cross the 3200 meters high Lowari Pass, think of General Lowe who hurried across to lift the siege of Chitral. The fort where Surgeon General George Robertson and his band waited in desperation still stands unchanged inviting the Great Game traveller to recall those 40 old days of the siege. Dinner o/n. hotel.
Day 07: CHITRAL.
The intriguing atmosphere of the Great Game still lingers in the rustic bazaars and twisting lances of Chitral. The omnipresent Trichmir peak on our back we head south-west to the Kailash Valleys that maintain their centuries old culture. A great deal of research was done mainly by the British Officers posted in Chitral. Return to Chitral for overnight.
Day 08: CHITRAL – SURGHOZE
At koghozi pause to remember the disappointment of Colonel Kelly who had struggled over the snow bound Shandur Pass only to learn that the Siege of Chitral had been lifted but a day earlier Reshun, midway between Chitral and Mastuj, is the site of the dastardly killing of two British Lieutenants who were set upon by the Chitralis during a polo match. Their hones might still lie under one of the many walnut trees.
Overnight camp at picturesque Surghoze.
Day 09: SURGHOZE – PHANDER.
Drive through the HIndukush Range of Shandur Pass over which Colonel Kelly led his valiant Punjabi troops in deep snow to lift the Siege of Chitral. Past the picture posteard lake of Shandur reach the secluded camping site of Phander. Overnight camp.
Day 10: PHANDAR – GILGIT.
Gupis marks the turn off for Yasin and Darkot, the latter being the site where perhaps the spiriti of George Hayward still lurks by the banks of Farang Bur – the Whiteman’s Stream. Immortalized by Henry Newbolt’s poem (He died among Thieves). Hayward believed that the real road from Peshawar to central Aisa lay through Chitral and over the 3700 meters Broghul Pass. He was beheaded at Darkot by a local chief of Hindukush and his grave lies off a side streed in Gilgit. Arrive Gilgit and transfer to hotel for overnight.
Day 11: GILGIT
Gilgit was the temporary goal of ancient traders, who struggled along the treacherous Silk Route. Surrounded by rugged mountains they include some of the world’s highest peaks, Gilgit was the traders’ rooftop oasis – their place to do some quick trading for essential goods before resuming their journey. Here you see faces and costumes that represent all of Central Aisa, and Gilgit’s small bazaar does a brisk business selling Chinese products and essential goods for today’s adventurer; the trekker and mountaineer. And while it is the largest trading centre in northern Pakistan, it is dwarfed by Mt. Rakaposhi (7,788m.) and grand vistas that beckon the visitor. While in Gilgit, we visit the Christian cemetery to offer silent prayers for George Hayward. Visit the old British barracks and the Public Library. Overnight hotel.
Day 12: GILGIT – NILT – HUNZA.
Relive the excitement of December 18911 when the British fought the Hunza people in Nilt, Cyat and Chaprot where three Victoria Crosses were won by the British to mark the resolute courage of their enemies. Hunza Valley was the northern most valley to be drawn under the British Raj. This is the land of the Ismailis, a sect of Shiite Muslims who follow their leader, Prince Karim Agha Khan. Everywhere we see evidence of ismaili concerns; charming small schools, hospitals, welfare centres – always white and green and waving the Agha Khan’s flag. British forces reached Baltit Fort that towers above the village of Karimabad (old name Baltit) in time Christmas. Karimabad, just off the Karakoram Highway, heading north to China, is Hunza’s former capital. From this mountain village, vistas of snow-clad peaks dazzle at sunrise and sunset, bathing terraced fields in soft light and shadows. The village is still the home of the former Mir (king), whose wife has revitalized Hunza’s handicrafts and created a new source of income for the people of Hunza. Overnight hotel.
Day 13: HUNZA – CHILAS. (250 kms, 6/7 hrs.)
Drive to Chilas on the main Karakoram Highway. Overnight at hotel.
Day 14: CHILAS – ISLAMABAD. (480 kms. 12 hrs)
Drive back to Islamabad. Overnight hotel.
Day 15: ISLAMABAD – DEPARTURE.
Transfer to airport for your homeward flight after reliving the Great Game etc.