We have all been travelling to the beautiful mountainous northern Pakistan ever since we have been kids. Lately, we saw a new concept of travel emerge i.e. travelling via group tours. Isn’t it amazing? Now you don’t have to gather your group of family and friends and get into the hassle of convincing everyone and arranging for the transport and the itinerary. Booking with a tour group means, you pay and go. Simple. However there are 5 very crucial questions to ask before you book:
1- Who are the other travelers?
While travelling in a group has its own merits, you cannot ignore the fact that travelling with the wrong company can also turn your trip into an uncomfortable journey. Before booking you must ask you tour company about the group you will be travelling with. They should be willing to tell you how many people have signed up, from which cities and what is the gender mix. It is also important to know if you are a female travelling solo or a couple, whether there are other solo travelers, families or couples.
2- What food will you be eating?
You cannot pick & chose the food, but you need to know this to at least have your expectations straight. Some people are picky eaters, some have allergies and other health concerns. Food will not be the highlight of your trip up north. Most of the time you’ll have to be content with lentil-rice and meat broth lunches & dinners. Water up north sometimes becomes the reason of upset stomach. You need to be prepared, mentally at the very least. Or take along your canned/ready-to-heat food. (I have seen a fellow do that, and it was not a bad idea at all).
3- Whether there will be porters to carry the luggage (for trekking) or not?
I wish I’d done that. Because I thought I will be carrying my own load while trekking, I skipped some of the camera equipment I wanted to take. Only to know later that porters were available at a very decent price to take our luggage up and down.
4- How many hours of road trip will it be & whether you will have access to your luggage?
No matter which destination you are traveling up north, you will be taking a long road trip from Islamabad. It is better to know your itinerary, specifically the hours of your road trip. Why? Often, on the journey back, when you are already tired the bus ride feels more uncomfortable and long. You need to know it in order to not feel frustrated and be prepared with some essentials for e.g. travel pillow, eye mask, painkillers.
Also, when the road journey starts (in my case from Islamabad to Chillas) your luggage is tied up on the roof of the bus; and you will not have access to it till your reach your destination, which could be anywhere between 8- 18 hours. In which case you need to have your daypack separate from the main backpack, along with all the essentials you will need during the long bus ride.
5. If you want to film your journey, what kind of conditions to expect where?
Who wants to return from the trip without Instagram worthy pictures. Telling you from experience, that some parts of your road trip will be more picturesque than the others. And you will have limited batteries in your phone/camera. Also you might as well be sleeping while you are passing by a gorgeous small town. Your tour guide will be more than happy to tell you which parts of your journey will be Kodak moments and when can you put your camera to conserve the battery.