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With a Local Trekking Agent
With an Adventure-Travel company

There are four basic styles of trekking. The one you choose depends on your experience and finances. Backpacking is cheap, but for most people is not feasible for long treks. Self-organised treks can be difficult and time consuming to negotiate without a fair command of Urdu. Going through a local agent is more reliable and removes the need for some equipment without taking with it all of your flexibility, but it can be expensive. Trekking with an international adventure-travel company is very expensive, catering for those with little experience or time.

Whatever style you choose, remember this warning that each trekking or mountaineering party 'represents another wedge of destruction onto a fragile environment and culture’—and step lightly.

Talking of stepping lightly, a word of warning here about glaciers. Do not venture out on a glacier without a guide unless you are experienced with them. Most Karakoram glaciers are covered in gravel and boulders, and some are deeply crevassed, particularly where two glaciers meet or where a glacier is surging forward. Other glaciers may be smoother and less covered in rocks, particularly higher up, and some are like kilometers-wide motorways of ice with only small crevasses. In August, you reach patches of permanent snow starting between 4,500 and 5,000 meters; here glaciers become very dangerous, as the crevasses are hidden. Trekkers who venture this far must walk in single file, probing forcefully in front with a long pole to find the crevasses. It is best to rope up at least the first two or three in line. Mid-afternoon is the most dangerous time, when the snow is at its softest. Someone in the group should be trained in crevasse rescue.

Also a word of warning about bridges: some are washed away each season and only the locals know which are in place and safe. If you are trekking unguided, be sure to ask frequently about the condition of the path and bridges ahead.


The cheapest way to trek is to do everything yourself: find the cheapest flight to Pakistan;

travel by public transport to the beginning of your chosen trek; then put your kit in a bag and set off without guides or porters. This has become very popular in Nepal, where it is possible to live off the land, sleeping and eating in the local villages and so reducing to a minimum the load in the backpack.

Backpacking is slightly difficult in Pakistan. Most of the trekking here is higher than the permanent villages, so there are no shops, tea houses or hotels along the trails. This means that you must carry everything with you and that, unless you are a particularly fit and experienced trekker aware of your own capabilities, your range is reduced to a few days. Backpacking does, though, provide maximum flexibility. You can go wherever you like as quickly or slowly as you wish.

We would recommend trekking in pairs or groups of three or four. If you trek completely alone there are some dangers to think about, even for the experienced explorer. Many of the trails you follow are merely goat paths, which are not marked and are often unclear, especially across glaciers. These areas are sparsely populated, and if you became lost or injured you might never be found. In Pakistan the valleys are so remote and large that it is difficult to give anyone precise details of your intended itinerary, so it is really difficult  for anyone to organize a search party if you do not return.

The added problem for women is that Pakistan is a Muslim country, where a woman out alone is a provocative figure—local women never leave their home area unescorted. Long day walks around villages and long afternoon walks away from camp can be considered in some places, but even women who speak some Urdu and know their way round reasonably well are unlikely to feel comfortable spending the night alone.

If you really must trek alone, the best precaution is to pay a local farmer or shepherd to walk with you. They are happy to do so, and the cost is comparatively low. Although very few people outside of the main towns speak English, and in the higher villages many cannot speak Urdu either, you can communicate with surprisingly few words . Not only does your farmer or shepherd provide help in an emergency, but he also knows where to find water and can tell the other shepherds who you are and smooth out any problems such as where you can or cannot camp. Chances are that he has friends and relatives higher up the valley and will invite you into the shepherds' huts for tea and bread. This is the only way that you will get to see exactly how the locals live, which is a wonderful experience, as housing, clothing, customs and language change from one valley to the next.


Organizing your own treks entails getting yourself to the village closest to the start of the trek and hiring porters on the spot. A smattering of Urdu is essential, as the porters speak no English. This is our usual style, unless our trek takes us onto a difficult glacier, for which we need an expert guide with mountaineering experience.

For beginners it is advisable to hire a guide as well, but finding a good one can be a problem. As there is no guides' association in Pakistan, there is no special training or exam to pass. Anyone with a little English can pose as a guide, so be sure to ask advice and see letters of recommendation. You can ask trekking agencies  to recommend a freelance guide, or you can ask around in hotels in Skardu, Gilgit, Hunza or Chitral. If you are lucky, you may find an experienced guide who is between jobs for one of the bigger agencies. You want someone who can tell you what equipment and food to take and maybe even fill you in on the customs and folklore of the area. You may also need him to suggest an itinerary, hire porters and settle porter disputes.

Trekkers with experience and confidence can trek without a guide, as local porters usually know the routes better than any guide. When hiring porters, ask for references, though most have none to show, leaving you with nothing to go on but instinct. If your porters turn out be good, give them letters of recommendation for future use.



Pakistani trekking agents  can arrange a trek, either by mail, email , telex or fax before you leave home, or after you arrive in Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Skardu, Gilgit or Chitral. Again, getting a good guide is the secret to success. Even those employed by agencies vary enormously in competence. It is best to take quotes from several companies to find out exactly what they provide in the way of porters, food and equipment, how much they charge and what experience they have.

Although using a local agent is more expensive than organizing a trek yourself, it still leaves you free to fix your own itinerary and change it, if necessary, as you go along. It also relieves you of the worry of finding a guide and porters, as well as of the expense of buying equipment that you may never use again.


There are several international trekking and adventure-travel companies that arrange group treks in northern Pakistan . For one price they provide airfares, hotel rooms, guides, porters, food and most of the equipment you need. They offer a number of treks from which to choose, giving a description of each. This is an expensive way to trek, but, for those with deep pockets and little time, going with an adventure-travel company is the best way to ensure that you spend your holiday on the trail, not in the hotel.

For those not experienced with either trekking or traveling in Asia, international adventure-travel companies can remove the worries and many of the potential pitfalls. This is perhaps the ideal way to go on your first trip. Then, when you have seen how the system works, you can go back and organize a second trip by yourself.

That said, the drawbacks are many. Due to time limitations, organized treks must run to strict itineraries, covering the prescribed distance each day even if members are feeling ill. Also, the companies offer only the six or eight most popular routes, where you have little chance to get away from other foreigners or see local communities unblemished by tourism. Worse yet, you can find yourself stuck with strangers whose personalities or physical capabilities make them far from ideal as trekking companions.

If you decide to go with an international company, choose one that a previous customer can recommend—though, ultimately, it will be only as good as its local Pakistani ground agent and your assigned guide.

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