Is it currently dangerous to travel in Pakistan?
No, it is not dangerous to trek or tour with Concordia Expeditions Pakistan within Pakistan. We use only local guides who always have a thumb on the pulse of the society. Our routes are chosen to avoid troubled regions altogether. We keep our itineraries flexible to handle things like land slides over the road or illness of a client. This flexibility also means that the group would be ready and able to go around a trouble spot if one should ever occur.
Please remember that the news media tends to emphasize the few troubled spots because these make more sensational news. We are always happy to address your concerns on these issues – contact us today if you have more questions.
Do any of the treks go into the troubled areas in Kashmir?
No, our treks do not go into the disputed areas of Kashmir. If any dispute ever shifts into one of our trekking areas, we will reroute to avoid it.
Are the Pakistani people friendly to westerners?
Yes, extremely so! Allowing for cultural differences, Pakistani people are very welcoming. They seem able to completely separate the individual westerner from his western government. Thus, they do not hold an American responsible for some of the policies of the United States government.
I want to go on the Silk Road Tour. Will the border with China be open?
Pakistan has had an excellent partnership with China for decades. The pass closure related to the war in Afghanistan should be of short duration. Silk Road participants should know that the pass is occasionally closed due to late-spring or early-fall snow falls. Open from 1sth May and closed end of October.
My tour mentions the Khyber Pass. Is this safe?
In any given recent year, the Khyber pass has been opened and closed several times due to changing conditions. If it is closed when our tour reaches that valley, we just skip that one-day side trip and choose another activity.
If I am a single woman, are there any specific concerns?
No, no more than there would be for a single woman traveling anywhere. Use your common sense, dress and act appropriately, and ask the guide if anything concerns you. The guide is accustomed to western women and is there to help you have an excellent experience in Pakistan. Prepare yourself to enjoy the large differences between your culture and that of the locals. Some of the people you meet will have never seen a western woman in person, so you are likely to be an object of interest.
How Do I get to Pakistan?
Several airlines have direct flights to the sister cities of Islamabad/Rawalpindi. Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) has flights two days a week from JFK Airport in New York and many flights originating in other countries. British Airways/ Air blue/ emirates books flights into Islamabad direct from New York and several other international locations. Singapore Airlines also has several flights per week into Pakistan. In general, PIA is the least expensive carrier from the United States.
What is the latest date I can arrive in Islamabad before the tour?
You may arrive as late as the morning of the first day of the trek, but it is best to arrive at least the evening before. Lodging is inexpensive, and we suggest an even earlier arrival date so that you may start the tour feeling refreshed. It would be easy to fill a couple extra days with rest and shopping.
What is the earliest date I may depart after the tour?
You may depart as early as the evening of the last day of the tour. Again, we suggest adding a day or two to the end of your tour if you can for leisurely shopping and walking about colorful Rawalpindi. We can guarantee that you will be reluctant to leave this lovely place.
Will someone meet me at the airport?
The guide or one of his coworkers will meet you at the airport. If you are arriving several days early and don’t care to be met, be sure to let us know. The Shalimar hotel (where our clients usually stay in Rawalpindi) has a taxi office in the airport directly to the right in the main concourse after leaving customs.
Are there any dressing prohibitions?
Yes, if you wish to respect the local culture (and we hope that you will), there are a few things you should avoid. Leave home Lycra, tight fitting pants of any kind, shorts, any skirt shorter than ankle length, and any low-cut or tight-fitting blouse. Women should choose garments that de-emphasize the curves (esp. waist and bosom) – think baggy! The savvy traveler would also avoid things with blatant western slogans.
How shall I dress on road tours and in towns?
We strongly recommend dressing as the Pakistani people do, in the loose garment called the shalwar kameez. It is very comfortable and the locals love it when visitors dress like this – we received so many compliments! Even better, you will really feel like you are in a foreign country when wearing it. The shalwar kameez is worn by men and women, young and old, and consists of very loose pants, a knee length tunic, and (for the women) a matching head scarf called a dupatta. This virtually eliminates any concerns about dressing.
Western clothing is acceptable, especially for men and in the large cities, but keep it loose. Women will feel most comfortable in this conservative society with a loose top that falls below the hips, baggy trousers, and a large scarf to drape over the bosom Women must cover their hair with a scarf before entering any mosque. Long sleeves are generally more acceptable than short, although this is changing. Most Pakistanis wear sandals, but you may prefer more protective shoes for the sometimes treacherous conditions underfoot in urban areas.
How shall I dress while trekking?
The guides and porters who will be with you on the trek are more accustomed to western dress than locals you may encounter elsewhere. Thus, you may feel free to slip into a slightly more western mode without offending anyone. You will still want to avoid shorts, Lycra, and tights. An easy compromise for women is to wear a loose long-sleeved button shirt with long tails – leave the tails out. Shalwar kameez tend to be a bit cumbersome when trekking anyway, though the porters all wear them. It is often possible to leave your SK at the last hotel and have it waiting (and clean!) when you return from the trek.
If I wish to buy a shalwar kameez, will this be possible?
Certainly! Your guide or the hotel staff can direct you to a local market nearby. Men’s ready made shalwar kameez are easily available for about $25US; women’s ready-mades are slightly less common (at about $35US) but the hunt itself is fun. Expect the pants top to be ridiculously huge, this is normal, and remember to get the string/naga for the waist – it is often sold separately.
Men, this is your chance to wear a pastel color you wouldn’t touch at home – check out those lilacs and mint greens! Ladies, your choices are bound to be even more eye-popping (be sure to get an outfit that comes with a dupatta). The dupatta is worn draped over the bosom in the cities, and over hair and bosom in more rural areas. Have fun with it!
What type of trekking boots do you recommend?
All treks in Pakistan cover rough ground, often with snow, ice, multiple stream-crossings, and loose rocks. A typical trek will also have some very warm days. The most important thing is that your boots are comfortable: make sure that they are well broken-in and that your feet are still accustomed to them. The best boots will be waterproof and have a stiff sole and stable upper. We found Solomon’s X-Adventure series with the rocker sole to be lightweight and absolutely exemplary over all terrain and weather combinations. They also work well with crampons for the Gondogoro La trek. Plastic boots are not necessary for any of our treks.
What type of camp shoe is best?
The best camp shoes have multiple personalities. They are good for hot days in Islamabad, stream-crossings on the trek, and day’s end in camp. They are lightweight (remember, you will often carry them), easy to put on, comfortable on tired feet, and quick to dry. Running shoes and Teva river sandals are both popular choices. Some folks bring one of each, but with the trekking weight limit this can be impractical. An old pair of shoes or sandals can be an excellent tip for a porter at trek’s end.
What is the arrangement for meals on a trek?
In camp, you will eat in a dining tent with table, stools and a lantern. Lunches along the trail are served picnic style on the ground, with table cloth and dishes, and generally include a hot drink and soup in addition to more usual picnic fare. The timing of meals may vary according to the route and the length of time you take to cover each segment. The snacks you carry in your pack will help if you grow hungry between meals. There are three meals every day, plus tea.
Will I be able to eat everything that is served?
Our cooks and cook assistants are familiar with the difficulties westerners may face with food in Pakistan and use extreme care when preparing meals for you. Dishes and utensils are washed as carefully as trail conditions allow and then rinsed with boiled water. You may freely eat anything that is presented to you. We do recommend moderation: a frequent cause of upset is simple overeating. It is also important to drink plenty of fluids, as dehydration is easy in these dry climates and high elevations.
What are meals like on road tours or before/after treks?
In larger restaurants and hotels, menus usually include a variety of western and Pakistani dishes and some vegetables, boxed juices, and fruits. Smaller cafes offer lentil-based dishes (dal) with meat. Tea, bottled water and soft drinks are available in all cafes and restaurants. Coffee is almost always “instant,” but the teas are excellent.
What types of foods are likely to be served on a trek?
As with any backpacking trip, fresh items will be more common in early days. A typical breakfast will consist of one of more of the following : omelets, hard-boiled eggs, chapati (flat-bread), cold or hot cereal, and tea. Lunches vary, but usually include dried fruit and nuts, tea, hot soup, biscuits, and a main dish (hot or cold). Dinners typically include hot soup, rice or lentils or noodles, meat (chicken or goat), chapati, vegetables, desert, and tea.
I am a vegetarian, is this a problem?
We will do our best to accommodate any dietary requirement, and have done so successfully for clients in the past. Please let us know about any special requests well in advance. A very strict vegetarian may wish to carry extra high-calorie snacks.
How do I get potable drinking water for each day?
While on the road, bottled water is for sale at all hotels and cafes. Your guide can help you locate and buy water if needed. While trekking, the cook staff will boil water for you and keep a group drinking water container full for your use. Most water preparation happens in the evening, so it is wise to fill the water bottles you will need the next day each night. Some clients take a water filter or treatment preparation in their day packs so they may refill their bottles during the day. You will need at least two, perhaps three or four, quart-sized water bottles.
What kind of sleeping pad should I bring?
Two types of sleeping pad are valid choices for trekking : Closed-cell foam pads (like ensolite) and specialty inflatable pads (like Thermarest). Many people find Thermarest pads to be more comfortable than Ensolite pads. However, Thermarest pads are much heavier and more expensive and may be prone to leaks which can render them useless. If you bring an inflatable pad, you may wish to bring a patch kit. Ensolite pads are tougher, lighter (allowing you more leeway with the weight limit for treks), and less expensive. Also, a closed-cell pad would be an excellent tip for a favorite porter at the end of the trek.
Do I need a four-season tent?
No, a three-season tent is enough. Weather conditions should not be severe- or prolonged-enough to warrant the extra weight of a four-season tent.
Do I need to bring my own tent?
Yes, you will need your own tent on all of our treks. You will be happiest with a tent with a small footprint (larger choice of sites) and a lower profile (better in high wind). We also suggest tying loops of cord to the places where tent stakes would go. This gives you the option of wrapping the cords around rocks when tent stakes won’t work. The bottom of the tent should be waterproof and a ground cloth is a good idea.
May I rent a tent from Concordia Expeditions?
In an emergency, we can likely find a tent for you to use, but the quality of gear available in Pakistan is frequently poor, and availability is not guaranteed. We strongly recommend that you rent, borrow, or buy a tent in your home country and familiarize yourself with it before arriving in Pakistan. Our porters will set it up for you if you wish during the trek, but you will need to assist them the first couple times.
Do I need to bring crampons and ice axe?
You will need crampons and ice axe only for the Gondogoro La trek/Snow Lake/ Wakhan corridor. Please be sure you have at least basic proficiency with both before getting to Pakistan. This means you should know how to put on your crampons, should have them adjusted to your trekking boots, and be comfortable walking in them. You should have a safety strap on your ice axe, know how to hold and use it for snow walking, and be good at the self-arrest. We can recommend some mountain courses if you need to learn these basics. Vertical ice technique is not needed.
What if I simply cannot get my gear weight down to the limit?
If you’ve sawed off your toothbrush handle, left out your change of clean underwear, and your duffle is still overweight … worry not! Sometimes it just isn’t possible to keep your duffle weight under the limit. If this happens to you, just tell us approximate weight ahead of time. We will inform the guide.
Your duffle will be weighed at the trailhead and you will be assessed an “overweight” charge, which is payable to the guide on the spot. Most duffels loose a little weight over the trek as you eat your snack supply, but this does not change the charge. Partial loads of food are shifted around from porter to porter each day to keep load weights constant. Unnecessary porters are sent back every few days as food is consumed.
What is the weight limit for gear on a trek? What container is best?
Please keep the total weight for the gear and personal belongings to be carried by a porter to 15 kg or 33 pounds. This gear should be stored in a single tough duffle bag, which will be lashed to a porter’s back frame. Your duffle will depart in the morning with your personal porter and you will not see it or him again until the evening camp.
Use a waterproof duffle, have a rain cover, or have the contents in waterproof bags. These duffels have a bit of a hard life – be sure to bring a tough one with a good zipper. Typically, the same porter (your personal porter) will carry your bag every day and set up your tent (if you want). As he is personally responsible for it, you do not need to worry that anything will go missing. He will appreciate it if you pack it so the bottom, which rests against his back, is without any sharp protuberances.
Would the porters be interested in old gear at the end of the trip?
Yes! If you wish to supplement regular tips with gear, this would be a popular decision. We suggest not handing out any gear until the last day or two. Items much in demand are leftover AA batteries, camp shoes, and anything at all made out of fleece. We purposely selected old clothing so that we could give away much of it at the end. This had the dual benefit of reducing our load for the homeward trip.
The rural people of Pakistan are VERY poor and are happy with anything you wish to give, even if it is odoriferous! Most porters are very small men, so extra large western sizes will be too large. Not to worry – they can sell what they cannot use, for an even greater end benefit.
What can I do to prepare for high altitude before leaving home?
Physical conditioning is important for all of our treks. Being in good physical condition may help you acclimatize more easily, and it will certainly help you enjoy trekking more. If you are lucky enough to live in the mountains, spend as much time at high altitude as you can in the four weeks prior to your trek. Any exercise that strengthens your lungs will be helpful no matter where you live..
How do you handle acclimatization for high altitude on the trek?
All of our treks and tours are laid out to allow adequate time for acclimatization to the altitude. You will ascend gradually over a number of days and will sleep at the lowest practical spot on each part of the route. There are some strategically placed rest days to aid the acclimatization process. You can help by drinking lots of water and tea to prevent dehydration.
What if I am unable to adjust to the altitude?
Our guides are familiar with the symptoms of high altitude ailments and watch the clients carefully. It is also your responsibility to inform the guide if you feel ill. In most cases, hike lengths or rest days can be rearranged until you are feeling better. If you do not show improvement or the guide determines that you will be unable to continue safely, you will need to return to a lower elevation. This generally means that you will walk back out with an assistant guide, your personal porter, and a couple additional porters.
How physically difficult is trekking in Pakistan?
Our long treks, like K-2, Gondogoro La, and Snow Lake, are strenuous. You need to be an accomplished hiker : fit and strong, with good lungs. The routes do not always follow trails, and the terrain is frequently rough, with loose rocks, hills, exposed edges, and stream crossings. You will need to be able to walk strongly at a brisk pace for 4-8 hours per day (not every day!) while carrying your day pack. Sometimes, as during a snowstorm, you may be required to walk under even more taxing conditions. Before leaving home, be sure you are comfortable with basic boulder-hopping, scrambling, stream-crossing, and ice-walking.
I have a bit of a bum knee. Will I be able to trek?
Yes, you will be able to trek. However, you need to carefully and objectively consider your condition and limitations. The long treks can be pretty hard on knees and hips. You may wish to choose one of our shorter treks, like Rush Lake or Hunza Adventure, or arrange a custom trek where your ability to keep up with the group will not be a concern. Another option is a jeep tour : some of our tours cover lots of wild mountainous terrain!
What if I get sick or am hurt while trekking?
Prior to arriving in Pakistan, you will have acquired the correct vaccinations and medications. It is your responsibility to monitor your own health and fitness and contact the guide if a problem becomes evident. In most cases, hike lengths or rest days can be rearranged until you are feeling better. If you do not show improvement or the guide determines that you will be unable to continue safely, you will need to return to the nearest town. This generally means that you will walk back out with an assistant guide, your personal porter, and a couple additional porters. If you are unable to walk, you will be carried. Helicopter rescues are possible depending upon location, weather and altitude if you place a cash bond with the aviation company. Please call for details
Am I likely to get a “bad tummy” while in Pakistan?
A slight upset (one day) is fairly likely, though many travelers never have a minute of trouble. We didn’t have any trouble until we returned to the United States and gorged on fresh foods! There are several things you can do to reduce the risk of serious upset.
1. Eat a chewable Pepto-Bismal after every meal (doctor recommended). This will stop you up for a day or so at the start, but then everything will be fine.
2. Use only bottled or boiled water for drinking and teeth-brushing.
3. Wash hands with soap before every meal and at every rest stop.
4. Eat everything in moderation. Many upsets are caused by overeating.
5. Drink a lot of water and tea.
6. Carry medications like Cipro to help with serious problems.
7. Use care when eating in markets and regular restaurants.
What type of weather may I expect?
In the plains south of the mountains (Islamabad, Lahore) it is frequently hot and humid in the summer. Temperatures may be above 100 F and heavy rains are possible. Temperatures and humidity will drop as you head north into the mountains. Here, as in all mountains, the weather changes frequently and you need to be prepared for a wide range of conditions. The Karakorum range is quite dry, but you will certainly have a day or two of rain. The other ranges are less dry. Snow is possible, though extended storms aren’t that common during the trekking season. It may be very warm (90’s F) in the valleys below the glaciers.
What kind of transportation will we use in Pakistan?
The vehicle used depends on the size of the group and the quality of the roads. When on major roads in the south, as for the Grand Trunk Road Odyssey, we use medium size buses or minivans. These are very comfortable and usually have air-conditioning. On smaller roads in the north, groups typically switch to smaller vehicles like jeeps. For most of the treks, the last leg of travel to the trailhead is in a Jeep 4×4 or Toyota Land cruiser 4×4. These have extended back seats, and provide a fairly comfortable ride on very exciting and interesting roads. All of the drivers we employ are trusted professionals.
What are washing facilities like?
In the tourist class hotels along the main routes, you will almost always have hot shower and tub in your room. (One time the water was cold – this is part of adventure travel). In smaller hotels, the facilities may be slightly less western – perhaps a handheld spray. On the trail, the cook staff will deliver a bowl of hot water to your tent each morning with bed tea. The timing can be poor for a real wash, but this is excellent for shaving, face and hands. There will also be hot water for hand washing at each meal. On rest days you may request an extra basin of wash water or find a private place along the river. Handi-wipes are basically ineffective.
I’m embarrassed to ask, but what are the restroom facilities like?
In large tourist-class hotels, you will find western-style toilets. Smaller cafes and gas stations have the squat-type toilet. Some of the most popular camps on the trekking routes now have concrete latrines, which are multi-cubicle, open-air squat toilets. The porters are getting the idea about using them, but there is still room for improvement. At other camps, the staff will erect a toilet tent for the clients, which is an outhouse-sized tent over a dugout hole. Carry your own toilet paper.
How do tips work?
The guide can help you determine appropriate amounts to tip, and when and whom to tip. You will generally tip each driver when the drive is completed. Porters and other trek staff are tipped from a client pool. It is a good idea to carry some 100 Rs notes with you for this purpose. Tips are accompanied by a hand shake and a heartfelt “Thank you” from each client. Plan to tip core staff and your personal porter at a higher rate.
Will the guide speak English?
The guides allbspeak good English, and the core staff (Head cook, cook assistants, assistant guides) speak some English. The drivers usually speak some English. Most porters know a few words: Hello, Good Morning, Good, and OK. We suggest learning a similar few words in Urdu because it is nice to have something to say in return.
What are sleeping accommodations like on tours?
Concordia Expeditions Pakistan (CEP) uses only nice, tourist-class hotels. We aim for double occupancy, though triple occupancy is sometimes necessary. Most beds are a rather large, extra-long single-sized. The Shalimar and some of the other big hotels in the large cities have the same standard full-size beds that are common in the United States/Europe. The beds are firm, with a mattress. Most hotel rooms have some kind of cooling system and an in-room bathroom with shower. Not all rooms have heating systems.
How long is a typical driving day?
For jeep and culture tours, we try to keep driving hours consistent and as short as possible. A 4-6 hour driving day is somewhat typical. Sometimes, however, villages are a long way apart and we must lengthen the day to reach a suitable hotel. Many of the treks involve a flight or drive to the start of the trek. If the flight is canceled due to poor weather, the drive becomes necessary. These drives can be as long as 10 or 11 hours in a single day.
Will the guide accompany us in the markets?
The guide will usually be with you in the markets and other populated areas. In a few places, he may give you a place and time to meet back and you will be able to explore on your own. Most early mornings and evenings are yours to use as you wish. If you arrive in Pakistan early or delay departure, these days are your own. The hotel staff can help you with directions, taxis, or anything else you might need.
How may I learn some Urdu?
Good for you! The gratitude you receive with the use of each word will make it worthwhile. Do not worry about being embarrassed – it will give you great pleasure to be able to thank your drivers and porters in their own language. Thank you means Shukria!
The excellent book “Trekking in the Karakoram & Hindukush” by John Mock and Kimberley O’Neil has a great section with vocabulary in Urdu and some local languages.
Can you recommend some reading material?
Certainly! Here is a list of suggested books. We find that the more you learn in advance, the more you will enjoy your time in Pakistan.
Are there any restrictions for photographers?
Yes, and we ask that you follow them carefully. Photos are not allowed of these subjects: airports, airplanes, bridges on roads, anything military, and adult women. It is okay to take photos of young girls, but do ask first. With crowd photos, take them when there aren’t any nearby women facing the camera. You may have people coming up to you just to have their photos taken – it is still a real novelty in Pakistan.
What is the best film? How much should I bring?
Markets and historic buildings tend to be very dark, so you will want a fast film like 200 ASA for low light. Chances to use a tripod are rare. For trekking, the mountains are at high altitude and many of the scenes will have snow, ice or reflective rock in them. Slower films such as 50 ASA are fine here, and a small tripod can be very useful for those glorious evening shots. Bring several rolls of film more than you think you could possibly use: it may not be possible to purchase fresh film of the correct type if you run out. Pakistan and it’s people are extremely photogenic.
Cameras and lenses are heavy? What is the best combination?
As long as you are ready to carry it all in your day pack every day, bring as much camera gear as you’d like. A standard 35mm camera, wide-angle lens, and zoom lens will cover almost every circumstance, but this is a heavy setup. Many folks are happy with the modern pocket cameras with the built in zoom lens. These are small, light, and versatile. A tiny tripod is a fine idea. Be sure to bring plenty of batteries!!
What will I carry on a typical trekking day?
Think of a trekking day as an extended day hike in the mountains. You will want to carry a day pack with rain gear, extra jacket, sunscreen, sun hat, moleskin, camera, films, snacks, and lots of water. The guide will tell you which days you will need to carry your stream-crossing shoes. Many trekkers also like to carry a hiking stick.
How long is the typical trekking day?
A typical trekking day involves 3-7 hours of brisk walking. Rest days are just as they sound, with all walking optional. Weather or route conditions or other concerns may sometimes lengthen days. A faster walker will have more time to loaf or explore around each camp.
What are the stream-crossings like?
With the passing of each year, more stream crossings are improved along the major trekking routes. Most major crossings now have a sturdy cable and wood footbridge. On the Baltoro glacier, many of the minor crossings have a rough bridge for the pony pack trains used to stock the military camps. Much of the season, most other streams can be crossed with dry feet by leaping from stone to stone. During high water or on less-traveled routes, you will have more wet crossings.
Will the guide walk with us throughout the trek?
The guide stays with the clients in general, but may not walk with you individually. He needs to keep an eye on the whole group, especially any stragglers. Where the trail is easy, you may walk alone for long periods – this is a wonderful way to enjoy the solitude of these stupendous mountains. Where the trail is more difficult, the guide will be with you or will assign an assistant or porter to stay with you. The group of porters is large enough that at least one is usually in sight at all times.