Pakistan is an emerging tourist destination, with more and more people from around the world getting to know the softer side of the country. It has scenic marvels, abundant natural resources, landscape and climates that wary as much as night from day, and people who you will instantly fall in love with for their hospitality and generosity. Oh, and food. It is a haven for foodies.

Recently, I came across travel promotions for Gilgit Baltistan (northern territories of Pakistan) at ITB Berlin 2018, and it brought back memories of our every-three-year family trips to the north of Pakistan during the summer holidays. One set of parents (either mine or my cousins) would gather me, my sisters, and our cousins in a far-from-glamourous-but-sturdy-AF van and we’d drive up north. We’d spend more time in the car than at the location, but that worked for us. We’d stop en route whenever we’d see a freshwater spring, wild animal, snow or food. Our destinations would generally be Gilgit and Hunza, via Naran and Kaghan. We’d stay at homely motels and eat freshly cooked food at dhabbas. It was always an unpretentious and fun adventure.

These trips came to a halt when my closest cousins moved out of Pakistan, and then some of us had to take studies seriously. I was 12 the last time we went up north, and my memories don’t serve me well. I wish I had kept a journal to document our travels.

Anyway. So this is my exposure to Pakistan’s northern territories. I was pleasantly surprised to see them again at ITB, where the Mir of Hunza, H.E. Mir Ghazanfar Ali Khan, Governor Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) led the delegation and showcased offerings from his part of the country later at a private event hosted by the Embassy of Pakistan in Berlin at Institute of Cultural Diplomacy.

He said that his territory comprises 10 towns, which hosted about two million tourists in 2017. Gilgit Baltistan boasts an average lifespan of 75 years, and most locals live a healthy life. Ailments like cancer and heart attacks are unheard of, mainly due to the organic lifestyle, fresh air and active routines. The literacy rate is an astounding 95%, and local grounds are guarded to ensure that heritage and culture are preserved to the best of their abilities. Oh, and did you know that it is also home to Polo? Yes, it is.

Words cannot do justice to the magnificent landscape of the region, which is home of some of the highest peaks in the world. The Karakoram Highway, also cited as the eighth wonder of the world, extends from Hasan Abdal in Punjab province of Pakistan to the Khunjerab Pass in Gilgit-Baltistan, where it crosses into China. It is one of the highest paved roads in the world, passing through the Karakoram mountain range, at an elevation of 4,714 metres (15,466 ft). A trip through it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and highly recommended.

For people traveling from Europe or the Americas, the cost is another incentive as well. It is comparatively cheaper than holidaying in a similarly spectacular destination. However, it’s not just Pakistan that has some gorgeous views and landscapes. There are other countries with views just as nice as Pakistan. One of my friends actually visited Iceland not long ago, and she said it was amazing. Apparently, there were gorgeous lakes and waterfalls to see and many hiking routes for tourists to explore. She told me that I should add Iceland to my bucket list and I should take an iceland tourist guide with me to ensure I see all of the best sites. I’ll definitely think about Iceland, it is somewhere I’ve always been interested in. However, I said I’d add Iceland to my bucket list if she adds Pakistan to hers. That way, we can both experience different places and cultures. She said she would definitely visit Pakistan as it has many things she does want to see.

There are many reasons that should make Gilgit Baltistan one of the top destinations for 2018, however, there are certain challenges that you must be aware of before embarking on this journey. While people of Gilgit and Hunza are extremely generous and hospitable, it will serve you well to respect local traditions and culture. Also, roads can be rocky and journey turbulent; so if you suffer from motion sickness, keep your pills handy. Lastly, it is a natural haven, which also means technology and access are limited. From booking hotels via travel agents to cash payments, it is good to come prepared.

I left security out of the list of concerns on purpose because while media feeds masses bullshit about law and order situation in the north, the truth is that people of the north are some of the most peace-loving people that I have come across. Tribal doesn’t always equate to barbarism, and people of the north will teach you that in more ways than one.

Summer is fast approaching, and if you are still making travel plans, look up Gilgit Baltistan. You might have to engage a travel agent or tour operator, and while I don’t have recommendations, I came across the following recently. Feel free to check them out and let me know in the comments below if you have a trusted tour operator that our readers can look into.

Zeb Travels: www.zebtravels.com.pk

Find My Adventure: www.findmyadventure.pk

I may visit Pakistan this summer, and am planning to take one of the trips with Find My Adventure with German (my BFF). If I do, you will surely hear about it.

So, what is on your travel bucket list for this year?