Normally, I like to plan trips in advance and be fully prepared but our recent escapade was quite an exception. This was our third trip with the tour company ‘Ghoomo Phirro’. Normally they have all-inclusive tours but this one started from Balakot and we had to get there on our own. We decided against driving on our own and opted for public transport to experience Pakistan fully for the first time. Today I will be sharing details of this adventure.
Summary of the trip
Exotic. Lush green. Dense forest.
State-of-the-art. New. Modern. Artistic. Great KPK Govt initiative.
Thick. Exotic. Refreshing. Pine trees. Unexplored.
On 13th July 2017 at 10:15 pm, my husband and I grabbed Careem to Thokar Niaz Daewoo bus station.
Took 11:00 pm bus to Abbottabad. Slept the whole time. Reached at about 5:30 am.
Day 2: 14thJuly 2017
From there, we took Daewoo shuttle to Mansehra starting 6:15 am. Couldn’t sleep, thanks to these noisy guys who sat right behind our ears.
From Mansehra Daewoo station, we took a local taxi to Lari Ada. I was excited to see it as it reminded me of Abrar’s song ‘Tumhare aur mere ghar k beech mei hai lari ada lari ada’. (There’s a lorry station in between your and my house).
There are no set timings of departure of wagons there. They say when we have enough passengers, we will start. I kept humming ‘lari ada’ till the passengers assembled.
Every man and woman was staring at me as if I’m an alien.
We took that local wagon to Balakot city. We sat in the front. There was no window. I still slept the whole time. We reached Balakot city at 8:30 am.
Took a local taxi from city to PTDC Motel Balakot. Had French toasts and omelet paratha there.
Realised the rest of our group will reach after 2 pm.
We wanted a bed but no reasonable motel rooms were available for 4-5 hours.
So we got ready to explore the city on our own. Asked motel to keep our luggage safe.
Walked to the riverside and we were blown away by the powerful current in it.
Explored the local markets. Bought ear muffs and a bunny rabbit for only Rs. 20 each. The price tag made me love these items even more.
Went to a pharmacy, chose 4 ‘motion sickness’ Stematil pills, asked the price, the shopkeeper smiled and said, ‘free for you’. I insisted that I want to pay for it, he refused.
We found a riverside restaurant with Pakora/Samosas. We were not hungry at all.
The waiter said, you don’t need to buy anything from here, you can still sit here for as long as you want.
We took the offer and happily sat on their chairs next to the river.
There was a charpai (bed) on the end of the terrace. The moment it vacated, we attacked it.
We both wanted to drop on it but we realized we’re in KPK and we might get stoned if we both sleep together on a charpai in public. Many people see us with resentful looks as they assume we’re unmarried lovers.
My husband and I took turns and slept for an hour each on the charpai right next to the riverside.
The sound of the water was so serene that I fell asleep in no time.
When we woke up, we ordered some Pakoras (fritters) as we felt guilty for taking up space in his restaurant for hours.
I saw a man spilling a full container of black colored used oil, from the bridge into the clean white Kunhar River. For a few seconds, the color of the river changed to dark brown till it all blended in. My heart bled! He was too far or I would’ve stopped him. I was deeply disturbed.
The waiter gave us a full plate of Pakoras for Rs. 80. We couldn’t finish the plate as we weren’t hungry. The waiter saw left over Pakoras in our plate and brought Rs. 20 back to us saying, we didn’t finish it so the price for us is less. I was touched. The Pakoras were leftovers in our plate. They couldn’t possibly be of use to him. Why did he still charge us less?
On our way back to PTDC motel, the amount of garbage thrown on road and river side was just tragic. The stink was lethal and flies were everywhere. I wanted to sit down with all the people of that city and read out my ‘Mind Your Muck’ blogpost to them. Why don’t these people understand? You don’t even need education to get it. You just need common sense and quarter of a brain. You do not abuse your natural resources/treasures like that. It is just not right. Pakistan is beyond beautiful, why are Pakistani’s destroying it themselves?
At around 2:30 pm, our group mates arrived PTDC motel and we met each other as I walked out of the washroom sheepishly with my tooth brush. We started loading our jeep.
Journey from Balakot to Sharan with group mates
I fell in love with our jeep. It was red and was fairly open and airy.
9 of us crumpled ourselves into the small space and our journey began.
There was a local driver and our guide Rasheed for the trip.
The journey was very bumpy. The views were stunning. The forest was dense: full of pine trees.
Jeep tyre got punctured in Paras where we got off and had challi (corn).
It was beginning to get really dark. There was fear-of-the-unknown yet excitement to see our destination.
Rasheed was very funny. When I asked him about wildlife in this jungle, he replied ‘Reech (bears), tigers, leopards and pichal peri (lady ghost)’. He even painted a horrific picture of what she looks like. We started screaming. He loved it.
Around 8 pm, we reached our destination and were overpowered by sheer beauty of the pods.
The area has a barrier and has a set of rules written down on a board.
There was a constant sound of water flowing in a stream nearby.
We explored the pods inside out and were amazed at how clean and exotic they were.
At night, we sat together on the chairs in the garden and had fun conversations.
We went for dinner to the dining room tent on the other end of the garden/hill.
After dinner, we went away from our pod lights and stargazed till we got a neck sprain.
The stars were just gorgeous. There was glitter sprinkled all over the sky.
Coincidently, we saw 4-5 shooting stars during that time.
Got into bed 11:30ish.
Didn’t realize our pod window was open. Felt pretty cold at night.
Trek to exotic Manshi top over 8000 ft above sea level
Day 3: 15thJuly 2017
Got up and ready by 8:30 am and had Omelet Paratha breakfast.
At 10:20 am, we started off on a trek to a mountain top Manshi.
The track started from right next to our pods. The moment we entered the forest, the trees welcomed us with their colossal grandeur.
The scenery and landscape were beyond stunning. The lush green color was a therapy to the soul.
We passed streams, goats, cows and sheep.
There was a lot of wild vegetation. Mushrooms and red berries were everywhere.
There were no other tourists except for us. It’s really an unexplored and untouched forest.
While walking, a snake came up to our track. Rasheed quickly snapped his stick at it and it lay down stunned. We hopped over it and continued our trek.
It took us about 3 hours to reach Manshi top. At times the incline was pretty tough.
We kept asking Rasheed ‘Are we there yet?’
Our group mate Ali offered a sweet to all of us including Rasheed. We all put the wrapper in our bags or pockets. A minute later we saw the same wrapper on the track. We knew Rasheed was the culprit.
When I found the right time, I spoke to Rasheed and lightly said that we have to keep Pakistan clean. He smiled and said ‘This is all dirty, you see this wood on the ground, stones, mud and wrappers’. I realised he had no idea about bio-degradable. I tried to explain it to him. He seemed convinced and said he will keep wrappers in his pocket in future and not throw them outside.
When we reached the top, we were literally in the clouds and visibility was low but very dreamy.
We saw 2-3 local wood houses near the top and they were so happy to see tourists around.
They made fresh Makai ki roti, 2 types of Saag (spinach curry), fresh yogurt and lassi for us.
We felt so indebted to them as they were so hospitable. Their whole family even sat with us while we enjoyed the super organic food.
We were then informed that another local man in a nearby house had made fries for us so we went there and enjoyed the spicy fries with tea.
The trek down to our pods
When we were about to start trekking back to our pods, Rasheed asked us if we wanted to go back on the route with the Reech (bear) or the one without it. We asked him if the Reech was harmless we would love to see it (Duhh!!). He told us that a few days ago, he took away someone’s nose and some weeks back, he ate up 3 men. That was enough for us to decide the path back.
It took us 2 hours to trek back to our pods. We walked past Youth Hostel which was made in 1920s. Rasheed told us that groups of 15-20 girls and boys come once a year to this place and put disco lights up on trees in the forest and have a party there.
Reached our pod garden. Took swings. All of us brought goodies from our pods in the garden and had baked beans, Pepsi, Kurkuray, Fruitella, Doritos, Toffo and Nimco.
It was freezing cold and I had to wear my hoodie, leather jacket and my new 20 rupee ear muffs.
At night, our group mates told us that they are in their pods because some drunk guy is roaming about in the garden and trying to be approachable.
We all got together in one pod and started playing Monopoly deal.
Yummy dinner (Bhindi, roti and chicken karhai) was served in the dining room.
While we were having our usual conversations at the table in this most serene and peaceful place, suddenly our hearts started racing as we heard about 6-7 clashen coff gunshots right next to us.
We were frightened. I was sitting right next to the dining room tent’s entry so I could clearly see that the old bearded men who were sitting on chairs in the garden close to us were culprits.
Rasheed came to us after hearing the gunshots and we told him this is unacceptable and that he should call the security guard straight away.
The guard came to us and assured us that he has talked to those men and told them to behave and that they will not do it again.
Our mood was pretty much spoiled, we sat in the tent scared for our lives.
A few minutes later, we heard 10-12 gunshots again. We became very angry and each of us wanted to walk straight up to those guys and ask them what the hell are they doing. Is this any way to celebrate your happiness? Those gunshots can actually take innocent lives.
They were drunk and that added to our anxiousness and helplessness. Nobody wanted to do anything that could even trigger those men slightly.
Sheepishly, we made our way to our pods. Thank God, those creepy over-aged bearded drunkards with guns retired at around 11 pm. We took a sigh of relief, got ready and called it a day.
I caught a cold somewhere then. Couldn’t stop sneezing. We had run out of tissues. Haaris ran to Ali’s pod next to ours and borrowed some tissues.
Day 4: 16thJuly 2017
Woke up at 8:00 am with a fever and cold. Had fluffy paratha, omelet breakfast over an intellectual discussion on crime in the world.
Shared funny incidents of how we ran after thieves and muggers in Paris to get our stuff back.
Took some pictures in the garden and then started our journey back to Lahore.
In the jeep ride back, we had a lot of fun as we had all blended in so well by this time.
Conversation topics ranged from business ideas to fraud. We all discussed our professions and ideas in life. We also discussed stereo types and how they form.
Reached PTDC Motel Balakot at 1:15 pm. Said our goodbyes and cleared our dues.
Car ride from Balakot to Islamabad
After a little break, we started off for Islamabad in Ali’s car at about 2 pm.
On the journey back, we took Muzzafarabad route via Murree expressway. This was the best decision.
The views in the first half of the journey were just spectacular especially in Muzaffarabad as we drove from one of the highest mountains in the city to its city center.
I was relaxing in the back seat and it was hard to do so as I would move from one window to the other with my camera as I was just blown away by the beautiful scenery.
Drove through the scenic city Garhi Habib Ullah with Kunhar River flowing through.
Views of Neelam valley and river were stunning and we were reminded of our memorable stay in PC Muzaffarabad a few months after our honeymoon.
To bring us back to reality, we got stuck in a traffic jam for about 45 minutes in a city called Upper Deval. Apparently some huge truck decided to go on this tight road with cars parked on each side.
As we continued our journey towards Bhurban and Murree, we were hit by dense fog. It was so thick that we could barely see the road. It did look brilliant but it slowed up our journey drastically.
Despite us asking him not to, Ali was kind enough to drop us all the way to Rawalpindi Dawoo Bus station so we could start our journey to Lahore. We reached the station at 8:15 pm and all the seats were full. We got a chance ticket in 9 pm bus.
Daewoo Bus from Rawalpindi to Lahore
The seats we got were the last two. As soon as we got in the bus, we realized that the end of the bus has biggest AC ducts which cannot be closed. It was freezing cold in there. When we asked the bus hostess to adjust the temperature. She apologized and said the back of the bus has oxygen ducts so these can’t be reduced.
I had two scarves with me which we both covered ourselves with. But they were surely not enough.
Our sweaters were all checked in the luggage. Hubby asked the hostess if there’s any other seat available in the bus. She said there is only one front seat empty with her.
I got up and made my way all the way to the front of the bus and as soon as I sat next to the hostess, I realized that there was an even bigger AC duct on the front of the bus.
I asked her. She confirmed that oxygen ducts are placed both in front and back of the bus and nothing can be done about these unfortunately.
My fever was on its peak and I was shivering with cold. I mumbled ‘kya maseebat hai (what a disaster!).
Suddenly, a woman in Naqab (veil) came to me, offered me her shawl and said ‘you can use this’.
She was really like an angel for me. I covered myself with both the shawls and slept peacefully till the journey interval (dinner break at Siyal service area).
This woman was inspiring and broke stereotypes. Even though 3 men from our last 3 bad experiences all had a beard, this woman proved that your appearance cannot define you. Your actions do.
At the end of the journey, I nicely folded her shawl and handed over a ‘thank you note’ to her along with the shawl. She was happy to get the note.
After we had our KFC meals in the bus, the hostess and I started chatting. She was an engineering student who was a daughter of an Aeronautical engineer in PAF. Since my dad was the same, we clicked well.
She said she always wanted to be a driver in Daewoo bus but unfortunately they don’t allow it. There were some mind boggling discussions on how the hostess profession is gender biased and appearance conscious. Even their job descriptions state that they must be fair in complexion and must have attractive features. She said being fat and old (30 is considered old) is out of question and girls are fired straight away if they don’t stay within the appearance limits set.
She told me that bus passenger’s behavior is directly proportional to their physical appearance. If a bus hostess isn’t that fair and good looking, customers start mistreating her and be nasty to her for no reason. Whereas fair and pretty girls almost never face any bad behavior by customers. When I heard this, I was quite concerned. It really was an eye-opener for me.
I asked her about the worst passenger behaviours. She told me that there are no limits. People have even tried to hit hostesses. They verbally abuse too and use foul language disturbing other passengers and the driver.
We both agreed that one shouldn’t be nice to those who are behaving badly. Those who are extra nice are often treated worse.
I asked her what Daewoo’s policy is against such people. She laughed and said we have great policies. We are even allowed to stop the bus in the middle of motorway in such cases and kick such people off the bus. I was shocked.
I laughed and ask if that has actually happened. She said it has happened countless times and that a woman along with her kids and rack were also thrown out of the bus as she was being verbally abusive, was disturbing other passengers and not listening to them at all.
Motorway police has given Daewoo bus service the authority to simply call them before stopping on the motorway for such an occasion in order to get them off. She said we don’t care whether they take a lift from someone else or walk home. If they behave like shit, they will be treated like that. I was actually really happy to hear that.
After we reached Lahore Thokar Niaz Baig station, we called a Careem and reached home at 2:30 am on Monday morning. We had to wake up for office in a few hours. We had the worst Monday morning blues that day at work. But we have built some more priceless memories which will last a lifetime.
Yes it took us about 15 hours to get to it but every minute there was so worth it.