If you are a Karachite or find yourself living in any southern area of the country, you know how fleeting winters are. They come and they go before you can even whip those NewYorker long jackets out and enjoy the vivacity of the winter’s chill. And lest we not forget the Lahoris who are living amidst a smokescreen of damnation, which makes the city too air polluted to go to. The question arises, where does one go to chase the cold? Where does the common Pakistani go for their pensive escape? Why, the north, of course! These particular must-visit locations will help you plan your next winter trip to get a real sense of what cold feels like, get a glimpse of real snow, and most importantly, breathe fresh air once again away from the hustle of our metropolitan habitats. You could easily fly out to Islamabad and then venture out to these northern jewels of Pakistan!
Quaint in nature, this district nestled in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa houses immense natural beauty and even lovelier people. Long gone are the tethers of terrorist militant activity that once overshadowed this illustrious valley. The city of Mingora showcases several hot spots including several active marketplaces, a ton of delectable food options, and the swat museum which was reconstructed after the bombing of 2008, displaying several archaeological finds and discoveries that tell a great deal about the ancestry and history of swat and its people. Going to Fizaghat is another option for some more tourist attractions and an amusement park, plus if local food doesn’t agree with you, the Fizaghat mall has many relevant options including a Pizza Hut. You could also head up to Bahrain, another lively town in the district that sits right next to the Swat river with a breathtaking view of the mountains. Finding a decent hotel and adequate heating will not be difficult, and catching a cold will be even easier despite this being the barest of what’s to follow. So layer up! Being a history aficionado, I also headed over to the Stupa (a commemorative stone structure aimed to house relics or be a place of mediation) in Shingardar which is one of the major remnants of the Buddhist era of Swat. The stupa stands next to a small village, and the structure alone makes you feel like you are stepping into a lost part of our rich cultural history. On a similar note, one can also visit the White Palace that was built by the first king of Swat in the small town of Marghazar, another adequate historical fill for one’s mind.
Known for its mountains, forests and lakes and at an elevation of 2,001 meters, Kalam valley is located at a considerable distance from Mingora just above Bahrain. It is the birthplace of the Swat River, which forms with the confluence of two major tributaries of Gabral river and Ushu river. The avid streams and waterfalls in Kalam are sure to make for an arresting view. You can even find a hotel amidst the scenic waterscapes and the many bazaars that offer touristy hotspots for shopping and food. Not only that, but the clean air alone will make you feel immediately rejuvenated and take breathing to a whole new level. The air that fills your insides might as well be the freshest your lungs have ever received. Just eight kilometres away lies the massive well preserved Ushu forest, inhabited by large trees and awe-inspiring nature in its truest form. In the winter, the trek is laden with snow as the canopy stands against a jarring contrast of the blue sky. The weather here falls to 0 degrees or a little below that during the winters, so double the layers you wore in Swat before you go, and get those snow boots out of the closet because your normal shoes will not do the trick. All in all, you can expect lush trees, clear blue waters, and serene meadows from this gem of a place.
Not for the faint of heart, this exquisite location sits at the top of a mountainous range of Hindu Kush. Imagine a vast landscape carpeted with lush white snow, embellishing the natural beauty of the area, covering trees and rooftops alike. As soft as fur, the snow announces its presence with a bold visual, bringing with it a strict temperament delving into minus degrees. While the weather can go down to -10 degrees on this peculiar hilltop, adequate layering will help you beat the cold and enjoy this place to the fullest. I’m talking thermals, followed by shirts, accompanied by more thermals, and then bombarded by a string of jackets. Want to retain your ensemble of high fashion while trying to overcome the wrath of this wintery beast? A cute muffler matching your beanie is the best we were able to accomplish. The rest of the messy outfit that makes you look bloated can be chalked up to survival, or for the sake of. Going up the mountain is also a difficult task on its own, taking normal small cars is inadvisable without adequate engine power, and one also has to chain up their tires after fresh snow has fallen or ice has begun to form on the roads. Once you’re all set, you can hike up to the Ski resort or the newly established Pearl Continental Hotel for an array of activities, including skiing, chair lift, Hi tea, or for the simple ones like me, a mere snow fight in PC’s dedicated area amidst the clouds.
Looking for a private sanctuary with a chilly atmosphere? Balakot may be the answer! This small town in the Mansehra District was rebuilt after the 2005 earthquake and stands as an emblem of perseverance. At night, you can hear the gushing stream of the Kunhar River as you fall into a peaceful meditative sleep in the comfort of your warm room. Balakot also happens to be a pebble throw away from the scenic escapes of Kaghan Valley with vast forests and water bodies for your eyes to devour. The lower area below Balakot sometimes referred to as Nainsukh Valley, will be chilly enough for you to layer up double. Meanwhile, Kaghan Valley above Balakot City is cold enough to turn the whole area to freezing in the winter. You can also go up to the gorgeous Saif ul Muluk Lake that sits in all its grandiosity against a mind-blowing view of snow-peaked mountains that go as far as the eye can see. Legend has it, the lake is named after an Egyptian prince who fell in love with a fairy princess at the lake. So if you desire an aura of mythicism and have an enthusiasm for seeking out natural wonders, this place should be priority uno.
Kashmir will sink in your heart’s special place and tug on all your emotive heartstrings, just like it did for me. The province is as beautiful as it is quiet, the latter enhancing the former, especially when it comes to Keran. Located on the edge of the Neelum river, and right opposite occupied Kashmir, this dainty little town features exquisite beauty and breathtaking views. Since there is no Wi-Fi and normal Pakistani Sim connections don’t work in Kashmir, you will have to get the army operated SCOM connection in order to keep up with your Instagram. Or, better yet, you could switch off the phone and connect with the friendly locals or go on a moderately-challenging hike up to Neelam valley to soak in what might as well be one of the most spectacular views you would ever set your eyes upon. What you will not find in Keran is a flux of good accommodations or centralised heating, so don’t be too picky and find an adequate enough hotel and that will just do. Just out of spite for the folks across the debated border, you could start a bonfire outside and play Dil Dil Pakistan on a giant speaker, to let the occupant side know what’s what. And while I’m tempted to entrench this piece of writing in Game of Thrones references pertaining to the north and how winter is coming, I’ll restrain myself in the fear of becoming a cliche. Although, the north remembers, especially in the face of occupied Kashmir. Just be sure to not cross the line of control at any point and accidentally start a war with our neighbour. Other than that, you’re all set to enjoy the exquisite beauty that our beautiful province has to offer. At night, the whole area engulfs itself in darkness and only a single white light from each establishment can across the river can be seen, mirroring a sea of stars that embellish the whole area, making you forget about all of life’s trials and tribulations as you soak in the view.