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13. Sep, 2012

Sheikh Badin: The road less travelled

Sheikh Badin: The road less travelled

Tucked away to the east of the Pezu Mountains, a two-hour drive from Dera Ismail Khan, lies Sheikh Badin — a hill station that could serve as a proverbial oasis in the midst of the largely arid terrain of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
I discovered this hidden getaway while on a family visit to DI Khan. My cousin, who would often venture out to Sheikh Badin on a bike — there are no paved roads on the last leg of the journey — suggested that we take a day trip there. And, the very next day, we were on the road.
The resort lies at an altitude of 1,400 metres above sea level, and to get there the two of us took the Indus Highway from DI Khan to Peshawar, reaching the foothills of Pezu some two hours later. The road beyond the Pezu foothill has been inaccessible to vehicles other than motorcycles and four-wheelers, and locals seem to prefer travelling either by foot or on the sturdy 70s’ Toyota jeeps that serve as public transport.

From the foothills of Pezu, on our four-wheeler that took us up the rough and steep incline in about an hour before finally hitting a winding path that we trekked on foot. As we ascended the steep slopes, the city down below became a distant sight and the hot city wind turned pleasant and cool.
Going by the place’s name one would imagine that it lies somewhere in Sindh (since its name is the same as the district of Badin), but it has nothing to do with our southernmost province. It is said that the hill of Sheikh Badin was named after Hazrat Bahauddin Zakariya, the great sufi saint of Multan who travelled to this town in order to preach Islam. Others believe that the hill is named after Pir Sheikh Bahauddin, whose tomb is built on the hilltop and attracts devotees from the vicinity all year round. Later, the name was shortened from Sheikh Bahauddin to Sheikh Badin. And so a place that has nothing to do with Badin got a name closely resembling it.
Sheikh Badin is perhaps not on the radar of domestic tourists, who instead flock to the Northern Areas for a vacation. But the British, who were known not to have let any hill station go unused, spotted this unlikely town and promptly set up shop. They arrived at Sheikh Badin somewhere around 1861 and set up a cantonment to entrench their presence. It is said that the station did not have a water supply at the time, but the British weren’t going to let such a small detail deny them a hill station. They promptly built four small reservoirs with channels of mountain stream water feeding into them. And to chill their drinks for the essential summer retreat experience, they converted a well next to the pools into an ice storage facility. Apparently, they also came up with some 19th century technique of filtering the water, but that’s been lost to antiquity since.
The present-day town, however, is somewhat underdeveloped. Upon reaching the cool hilltop, I discovered that it has only one rest house, known as the Daak Bangla, which was built more than 100 years ago. It comprises a few rooms with a vista view of the mountains, but I opted to take in the breathtaking view of the Pezu Mountains from a charpoy laid out in the veranda. Antique furniture and other accessories are still in use but in a rather decrepit condition. There is only one shop set up by a local that sells cold drinks and snacks, not surprisingly at double the usual price. Drinking water is difficult to find, so it is advisable to take your own.
But perhaps where Sheikh Badin beats every other tourist destination in Pakistan is in offering you your first-ever (hopefully) lock-up experience. Fancy that? Tourists can actually rent prison cells for a night’s stay or camp out in the lawn by paying a small amount to the local caretaker. And they can take their pick from among six small and four large cells, and a jailor’s room — all still in reasonable condition!
I learnt on the journey that there is wildlife in a nearby jungle that includes leopards, jackals, wolves, pheasants and partridges. Locals say that the jungle is being developed into a Sheikh Badin National Park. But would the animals still be there when the park is completed? We’ll have to keep our fingers crossed.
Animals aside, Sheikh Badin is sparsely populated, with only 25 to 30 houses, one primary school for boys and girls and four mosques. They do not have paved roads, hospitals, secondary schools or other basic amenities. The oasis town of Paniala lies in the southeast, while a cement factory is located in the west. Locals complain that the factory spews out pollution that is damaging the local environment and will eventually affect the little tourism that there is.
While the remote little town charmed me, it was saddening that such places are not given priority for development and promotion by the tourism ministry despite their potential as major tourist destinations. Hill stations in Pakistan are mostly synonymous with Murree or Bhurban, places that have an infrastructure in place to receive and accommodate thousands of domestic tourists every year. Sheikh Badin needs improved infrastructure too, in order to popularise it among tourists. There is news that the ministry is planning to build a carpeted road and a Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation motel in Sheikh Badin, along with a chair lift facility from the village of Paniala. But given the government’s record in delivering services, these promises are best not to be taken seriously. In the meantime, the jail awaits.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, July 29th, 2012.

11. Sep, 2012

In between fantasy and reality

In between fantasy and reality

I just came out of my hotel room, its dark outside  and i started to walk on the road. There are no street lights and i can see giant mountain silhouettes all around. With each step, i am gaining a distance between me and my hotel. It is black pitch dark. I am walking under the light of zillion stars. For a moment, i felt scared. This is so unlike i have experienced in the city. I have to go back to my hotel.

star trail pakistan1 In between fantasy and reality


I couldn’t understand what was so scary about it. Was that the mightiness of nature or the dark odd surrounding?

[at the hotel lawn]

I grabbed a chair, rested my neck at back and started gazing at the sky. I see a lot of stars, shining and sparkling all over. After few moments, i found myself lost in those stars, far away from reality,into a fantasized world. It was very difficult. The sky was all shining as if there is some celebration going on. I felt as if those stars grabbed and pulled me towards them. Or the sky came closer to me. While lost into them, i felt my heart beat getting faster and tears dripping down my eyes. For the first time in my life, i felt alive….

June 19, 2012 – (From my travel diary – Yasin Valley, Gilgit-Baltistan)

02. Sep, 2012

Memories of Mantu

Memories of Mantu

Mantu is like a samosa, not fried but steam boiled. I was first introduced to it while roaming in the bazaar of Chitral where I came across a boy selling mantu on the road side. Locals in singles and groups were sitting around, enjoying mantu and a good gathering.

The first Mantu, which i ate in Chitral, was not freshly made. However, on my second try, I discovered fresh and delicious Mantu in a small restaurant in Gilgit Bazar, right behind PTDC Motel. This is the only famous mantu shop in the city, with a chef that hails from Kashgar (southern China). It is not a very fancy place: there is a kitchen by the entrance, and a few tables on which to dine.

Mantu dumplings consist of a spiced mixture of minced lamb or beef, couched alongside onions and spices wrapped in dough that is then steamed in a special circular steel utensil. It is steamed by placing number of mantus in a row on a circular tray with holes which is placed in the utensil a little above from boiling water and is then covered. Mantu can be served according to your appetite. The taste can be enhanced by adding black pepper, vinegar and chili sauce. Once can easily eat a dozen of mantu in one sitting.

During ancient times, mantu was considered to be the food for travelers along Silk Route: they carried dried mantu with them and boiled it to eat at stopovers. Mantu is widely eaten in Asia, especially in Afghanistan, China and Turkey, though with some variations.

People in northern Pakistan, who are said to have received the dish from southern China, are fond ofeating it in small-sized mantu- but i also came across some Chinese engineers while traveling on the Karakoram highway who were seating a much larger version of mantu. Mantu-making is now a family activity in most parts of Gilgit-Baltistan, where a small utensil can be purchased from Gilgit bazaar and mantu can be prepared at home.

(The article was published in Herald by dawn, June 2012 travel edition)


27. Jul, 2012

Lake in the rocks – Kharfaq

Lake in the rocks – Kharfaq

Gilgit Baltistan is famous for its high mountains, water streams, sand dunes and far away lakes. Some lakes are famous, more touristic and very much accessible. I have been to most of them. But there are some lakes into the wild, far away and difficult to access.

I was staying in Khaplu Palace and Residence with Serena Hotel in Khaplu when Abid, the Guest Relational Manager of the hotel pin pointed Kharfaq lake out of a general conversation at dinner table.

“It’s sad that I haven’t been to this lake in our own Ghanche District. I’ve heard it’s beautiful and hardly any people go there.” Said Abid.

This triggered me. I still had a spare day in Khaplu so I decided to explore that lake.

route to Kharfaq lake 1 Lake in the rocks   Kharfaq

Route to Kharfaq Lake, Khaplu

Abid got excited with my intentions and hence we left hotel early next morning for the town called Kharfaq, a 45 minutes drive from Khaplu. We parked the car in bazaar on main road and Abid went out inquiring about the lake.

Everyone in the bazaar encircled Abid. He inquired with locals about the lake. We had to take permission from the local committee. I tried to understand their conversation but I found out Balti Language to be one of the most complicated one till now. I picked few words from their conversation like Jheel, Kharfaq, angrez, Karachi and Pakistani.

Some kids sneaked into the car’s windscreen and whispered “angrez”. I don’t know what gesture of mine made me look like a foreigner to them.

The committee there has a rule. One local guide must go with any outsider going to the lake and a fee must be paid. For foreigners, it was 1000 Rupee. Abid convinced them I am not a foreigner but a local journalist and hence they agreed on Rs. 500.

We left the car on road side and took my camera and lunch along. Meanwhile, Mohammad Amir from local village joined us as our local guide. Amir is a student of Matric, farmer and works as a local guide when not studying. I inquired about timings with him:

“I go in 45 minutes daily up to the lake”, said Amir.

Is it easy? I asked.

“Yes it’s an easy trek and you’ll take an hour to reach if you rest en-route. “

Amir did not know that I have spoiled stamina of city where we prefer walking less, travel in cars, and take lift in buildings rather stairs and try to park our car as closely as to our destination. And here Amir says pointing on top of the mountain “ONE hour”

We started our hike going through the village of Kharfaq, leaving the main road aside and taking a short cut. It leaded us to a beautiful path made of stones with lush green trees on both sides and a water channel flowing downwards.  The path then turned into a staircase made up of huge big stones, all the way up where your sight ends but stairs don’t. It didn’t scare me at all since I had that ONE hour hike in my mind.

Abid took lead while Amir was with me all the way up. Abid was in interesting character, he would talk with no expressions on his face and very difficult to guess what’s on his mind. He was always hiking ahead and the moment he realizes that he has gone too far, he would then wait sitting at some stone for me to arrive. He has good taste of music. He played his favorite ghazals of Munni Begam and Jagjit Singh in car. And on trek, his mobile with loudspeaker had the same music all the way up.

I was busy taking photos on the way while Abid kept intruding into my frame every now and then, posing for the camera. He was fond of getting himself photographed. He didn’t miss the chance of getting himself photographed with that big camera I have. He would pose in every possible way. I could do nothing but smile, click and ask him politely to sneak out.

The staircase never ended, I kept on stepping from stone to stone uneven, some low and some extremely high.  Big giant zigzag steps were taking us high. Hike was difficult and steep, but the only thing in my mind was the lake. Lakes always sound something beautiful and serene. That’s what kept me going. I had to take stopovers of 3-5 minutes after every 10 minutes of hike to give my spoiled city lungs some oxygen and rest.

Sometimes I would stop to take rest and pretend as if I am taking photos just not to embarrass myself in front of my guide since Amir was in no mood to rest. I kept on inquiring about the lake. Amir would only reply “not so far, just 10 minutes” pointing somewhere on the mountain up.

The way these mountain people hike is different. They are fast, used to of altitude while we are not.

The staircase ended up in beautiful mountain fields. Step by step, field by field all the way up spread miles and miles. The women were working in the fields while the view of the fields and river Shyok in the background was awestruck from top.

2 hours later while there were no staircase but a high mountain in front, Amir again said “10 more minutes”. The steep hike ended with the start of a dry rough patch. The green field ended and dry terrain with dark rocks all over started appearing.

Walking with no rest, hungry and getting disappointed with the timings, Amir finally said: we are there. That’s the lake. He pointed again at the piece of rock on top that according to my calculation was not more than at 10 minute distance. Adrenaline in my blood rushed me running towards the lake. I saw a glacier on top of mountain, and a patch of turquoise green water at a distance started to appear. It took us 2 hour 40 minutes to finally reach to the lake.

This lake was totally different then other lakes I have been to. There was no greenery around, just dark mountains and shady rocks that gave it a wild look. But it was astonishing and different in its own wild way with no sign of human around it.

I threw my bag aside rushed towards the water, sat on a stone, took rest and indulged myself in that tranquility. It was calm, peaceful and serene there. I could listen to the silence of water, birds flying and chirping high above.

No wonder best moments don’t come easy way. You have to work hard to get them.

The three of us had our limited lunch, I made some photographs of the lake and Abid again sneaked into the frame. I started taking his photos and couldn’t realize I missed the frame of lake without Abid in it.

Kharfaq Lake 1 Lake in the rocks   Kharfaq

Kharfaq Lake, Khaplu

We headed back taking nothing but the beautiful silent memories of lake side. I has happy that descend would be easy and take less time. To my surprise, it was easy until the big staircase. It became much more difficult, I had to step down carefully, taking care of myself not to fall.I had to put a lot of pressure on foot and knees while getting down every step.

We reached the road in 1 hour 45 minutes. It wasn’t easy way back. Amir asked if I feel pain in my legs. I couldn’t feel them at that moment. He said that I’ll get good sleep that night, with lots of pain in legs that only time can heal.

I said good bye to Amir, and thanked him for his support all the way. If he was not there and wouldn’t have motivated us with “just 10 minutes”. We would have had difficult time hiking.

Reaching the hotel, everything around me was circling like a 3d cartoon movie. I couldn’t think of anything except a warm shower and bed. I couldn’t feel my feet. It was all stiff and difficult to move. This usually happens if you take such hikes after a long time especially with a lot of pressure during descend.

After a warm shower, I jumped straight into my cozy bed, switched off the lights and tried to take a power nap. The moment I was about to lose my senses into sleep, the phone next to my bed started ringing. It was Abid online and said in one go; “How are you Sir? Have you taken rest? Can I send my USB now so that you can copy my photographs?”

I obviously had to copy the photographs or he wouldn’t have let me sleep that night.

Dan Millman in his book Peaceful warrior says “It is the journey that brings happiness, not the destination”. I realized that it really wasn’t the destination, but the whole journey that brought charm that day to Kharfaq Lake.

(The edited version of article was published in The News Sunday, July 01, 2012)

23. Jul, 2012

Only for VIPs. a travelogue

Only for VIPs. a travelogue

Some journeys do not end up the way we want. There are bigger, unexpected plans that nature has for us.  I was staying in Chitral valley last summer and only place to see east side of Trich Mir (Highest mountain of Hindkush) can be from a town called Booni, some 2.5 bumpy drive from Chitral. I decided to photograph Trich Mir in a day trip. I got my van from main Chitral bazaar, the journey started with an inexperienced new young driver. Car broke several times on the way and a journey of 2.5 hours became of 4.5 hours.

Food has always been an integral part of my travel. I take Tea at every stopover. I decided to have my lunch after I reach Booni. For me, not having food from Booni was like disrespecting my journey.


Only for VIPs Only for VIPs. a travelogue

Before reaching Booni, the van started shaking and we realized the tire got flat. The driver pulled over at a town called Kuragh for tire repair. I could not resist sitting in the van waiting and started roaming around the bazaar in search for tea. I came across a restaurant with highlighted words “Only for VIPs” written on the main mirror door. This obviously prompted me to go inside and explore. May be I can have tea there. Although I wasn’t any “VIP” but I still wanted explore how VIP would that be in such remote locality where I can’t even get mobile signals. It was a small and very well organized restaurant from inside, clean but old furniture, beautiful cutleries and a television.

A man named Gul Faraz appeared from the kitchen door. He seemed in his late 50s wearing green shalwar kameez and yellow slippers, white hair, thin stubble and a well trimmed mustache.

I enquired “Aap ke pass chai hai?” (if you have tea)

Ji hai! Baithiye; he said while pulling the chair for me to sit, hence I felt VIP, so not like remote restaurants.

Tea was served nicely in a proper teacup and saucer as it is served in good high-end city restaurants. It was already lunch time and I had an empty stomach hence I enquired if there was any food in the restaurant. I have Shami Kababs, Pulao, Chicken Curry, salads and achar. Gul Faraz replied.

That sounded tempting and before I could order anything, the driver outside started calling out loudly. It was time to leave. I did not want to miss that food.  I said good bye to Gul Faraz and promised that I will return from Booni to have lunch at his place.

I love shami kababs and pulao. I can have it everyday if I am in the city and I never expected that to be available with him in that remote area.

While going to Booni, I forgot the snow caped peak of Trich mir and the pulao kabab started circling my head.

After reaching Booni, I made my photographs quickly after taking a short trip of the village. Trich Mir peak was dominating the hindukush mountains across a beautiful crop fields in front of me. I headed back quickly to the bazaar to get my van back to Kuragh. I realized it was last van of the day leaving for Chitral.

All I had in my mind was the food and “Little Star Restaurant”. I was confused if it’s worth taking risk of missing the last van. At last, Food took over my confusion. I asked the driver to drop me in Kuragh while he yet again warned me.

Little Star restaurant was locked from inside, I knocked and after a while, Gul Faraz opened the door and was happy to see me that I kept my promise. I ordered food without any further delay.

Gul Faraz outside his restaurant Only for VIPs. a travelogue

While Gul Faraz got busy in the kitchen to cook food, I watched tv to pass my time. Within minutes, he served me the delicious made pulao, kababs, salads, pickles and chicken curry. It was served again in the same well mannered way. He said he respect his guests and the food.

Gul Faraz informed me that the only way to go back to Chitral was taking a taxi and that would cost me a fortune. I realized I had no money left except for the lunch; neither there was any ATM in the area. I told Gul Faraz my situation of empty wallet.

Gul Faraz was a nice man. He offered me to be his guest for the night. I was a bit reluctant since I had no money. Somehow, Gul Faraz managed to convince me. Just stay, don’t worry and enjoy your stay. I am happy to have a company, said Gul Faraz.

We started with general conversation and within minutes, Gul Faraz was enjoying my stories and adventures of travels across Pakistan.  He showed me his well organized restaurant. He manages it alone. He is the only employer here and the only boss. He cleans it himself, cooks himself and serves himself. He has a house behind the restaurant while restaurant had only one guest room having two clean beds for guests and a well built wash room.

Gul Faraz offered me tea in evening which we had outside his restaurant lawn that too made by himself, observing the last beam of light on closest snow capped peaks.

Food1 Only for VIPs. a travelogue

He has spent his entire life working in major cities of Pakistan in 4 star restaurants as a cook and was best at it. Later he decided to return to his village and relax with his family. He runs this restaurant just for the sake of getting himself busy.

I asked Gul Faraz about the idea behind “Only for VIPS”? He added : I don’t like customers who pass by the restaurant, come over for a cup of tea, treat it with less manners, split, litter, smoke and unclean the tables. They go away paying few bucks for the tea and don’t realize how hard it takes to clean their mess. I don’t like it. That’s why my restaurant is locked and I only have specialized guests who know me well. Officers and elite from the surrounding valleys visit my restaurant, order before hand, and have food along with good time. That’s all I enjoy.

He added more: Luckily, the restaurant was open at your time. I was reluctant to serve tea to other passengers, but you seemed to be a decent guy from city. People from cities are well mannered and educated. I was happy to serve you and I am happy to have you here now. I like journalists.

I felt honored. But I told him I am not a regular journalist. This is my passion to explore.

“And your passion brought you here.” I am honored too.

Gul Faraz was a man of dignity and knowledge. We spent time together while he shared his stories from the city, his passion to cook and serve.

He also told me that he was building two other rooms for his restaurant. I was happy for him. I was happy for the fact that now I have another spot to go next time, a reason to meet this guy and stay in that valley.

He served dinner to me. It was same as of lunch. I was feeling embarrassed from deep down. I did not have money to pay for the dinner, the evening tea. I only could pay for the lunch I had. He said: don’t worry about the money. Money is temporary, human relations are precious and permanent.

Gul Faraz showed me the room and bed where I had to sleep. It was a clean well formed bed, just like home.  He gave me his clean clothes to sleep in. He didn’t go home just go give me company and protection.

I was living that moment. The unexpected turn life had taken within hours. I was living it. I couldn’t think over it then, in fact, I really liked the flow and the game that nature plays.

I had a good sleep. He woke me up next morning before sunrise. I was overwhelmed by his hospitality as he offered me good cup of bed tea. He said he has already called Booni to reserve a seat for me in the first van leaving for Chitral. I was happy, and relaxed. He went in the kitchen to make breakfast.

I was not finished with the tea yet when the van arrived and started honking. Usually they don’t wait for a passenger. Gul Faraz apologized he couldn’t serve me breakfast. As I was saying good bye to him, I approached my wallet and tried to give him whatever money I had. Bending his hands backward, he smiled and said “Guests are blessing sent by God, so that we can serve them” You have to pay Nothing. Have a safe journey ahead!

I asked again: not even for the food? Not even for the lunch I had?

Good bye Danial. Hope to see you again!

I rode the van and headed back to Chitral.

I sneaked my head out of the moving van, looked backwards and waved good bye to Gul Faraz, There was a sense of happiness. I was smiling all the way for no reason. All I was thinking about this amazing hospitality. What if Gul Faraz was not there? What if I couldn’t have the place to sleep? To eat? What if I was lost? Would it be more memorable if I had gone with the plan, had my food in Booni and returned back to my hotel in Chitral? I am happy that “Some journeys do not end up the way we want them to be….

(The edited version of article was  published in Herald by dawn, june 2012 travel edition)

16. Jul, 2012

Hide and seek by k2

Hide and seek by k2

Trekking after 7 days, crossing through harsh tarrain and difficult baltoro glacier, i finially reached Concordia where you get to view four 8000+ peaks that includes world’s second highest mountain “K2″.

I was excited all the way from Skardu to Concordia, just to see a glimpse of that mighty mountain that have been playing with my thoughts and dreams for such a long time.

k21 Hide and seek by k2

Upon reaching Concordia, i tried to concentrate on my west side to see if i can view the peak. The peak was hiding behind dark clouds. This saddened me. I wanted to see that mountain. I came all the way up there just to see a gimplse of it.

I found myself a big stone to sit and waited aslocal guides told me that this mountain plays hide and seek, will sneak out its peak from the clouds for a moment and will hide again.

I pointed my camera towards the peak, and waited for the right moment to click. It took almost 3 hours to the peak to show its first glimpse.

That day, we couldn’t see the whole k2. But it became clear the next day. But that’s true that this mountain loves to play hide n seek.

29. Jun, 2012

Journey to the mountain of my dream: K2

Journey to the mountain of my dream: K2

I couldn’t have imagined going to k2 base camp, in my wildest dream ever. But with time, I started developing this passion for mountains that initially took me to Himalayas, Hindukush and Karakoram as a tourist and then as a photographer. With time, I started developing this curiosity to explore whats beyond off the road in those mountains which required trekking. I started trekking, from day treks to two and then week long. I went to Rakaposhi base camp, Wakhan Corridor and other small treks, crossed glaciers, wild mountains, forests, rocks, rain and snow which then prepared and motivated me to do k2 this time. The mountain of my wild dreams.

Danial Shah Wakhan Corridor1 Journey to the mountain of my dream: K2

Trekking along the Wakhan Corridor (Sep 2011) - photo by Ameer Hamza

I am all set with the accessories I will need on this trek and I’m tagging along a group, heading towards k2 base camp from July 01 onwards and I hope I come back, safe and sound to share my stories and photos of wilderness.

And I will not have any regret if the wilderness out there takes my life away, and let my tireless body be with the wild mountains forever. This could be my last blog post of life, or could be one of the first of an epic journey.

See you!

-Danial Shah

15. Jun, 2012

When night falls

When night falls

The whole Hunza Nagar view was right in front of me while i was sipping tea at Hunza Baltit Inn in Karimabad. I could see High Rakaposhi peak on my left while Ultar peak and Baltit fort were shining on my right. The sun was already about to set, sky was getting darker and dim lights on wooden hotel gave that evening a mood.


Hunza Baltit Inn When night falls

Hunza Baltit Inn, Karimabad

I kept on sipping tea in veranda till night fell. I saw a pitch dark rugged mountain right in front. Shining white snow was leading on the top. Above that, i saw stars. Not billion but zillion stars.

stars When night falls

Star trail shining right in front of the veranda of Hunza Baltit Inn Karimabad

I ordered one more cup of tea, took my tripod and started taking pictures.  I started observing them. It felt like as if someone has sparkled shining  white pepper in sky. I tried to talk to them. They were calling me, showing the proof of their existence, shouting out aloud  “We exist”.

Its very common in mountains that you get to see stars, uncountable stars shining above your head. My daily routinne every night had become to get out of my hotel room, order tea and watch stars. I like making shapes with stars as we would used to do in childhood.

If you are somewhere in mountains, be it in Balochistan, KPK or Gilgit-Baltistan. Get out of your room this evening, watch and talk to zillions of stars waiting for your call.



08. Jun, 2012

Apricot Mousse Cake in Khaplu Palace & Residence

Apricot Mousse Cake in Khaplu Palace & Residence

After a good local balti meal, i asked Chef Abbas of  “Khaplu Palace & Residence“ if he has something sweet to offer with local touch.

“We eat lots of apricots. Baltistan is famous for dried apricots. It keeps us warm since its cold throughout year. I can make Apricot mousse cake for you.” Said Abbas.

APRICOT MOUSE CAKE? The name itself watered my mouth and i could not wait any further to enjoy it with a warm cup of tea while enjoying the view of the 200 year old Khaplu Palace.

Khaplu Palace Residence Apricot Mousse Cake in Khaplu Palace & Residence

The balcony with the view of Khaplu Palace & Residence


It’s first week of June and i am in Baltistan. Karachi in southern coast of the country is experiencing extreme warm weather, Lahore in center is boiling hot while i can feel cold wind and see snow caped mountains right in front of me in Khaplu.

Dried Apricots are famous in Baltistan. I have seen them available at every second shop in this region since the first time i came here in 2009. Back in times i remember a Balti school friend of mine once brought dried apricots as a food souvenir for me from Baltistan. In fact, Pakistan is one of the top 12 producers of apricots.

Apricot mousse cake 2 Apricot Mousse Cake in Khaplu Palace & Residence

Apricot Mousse Cake in Khaplu Palace & Residence


I love mousse cakes, my favorite had been Strawberry mousse cake but now this yummy fluffy soft apricot mousse cake by chef Abbas became my favorite one. I took my time to enjoy its every bite with tea. The only regret i have is that i had very less of it while in Khaplu. No where else i will be able to find it. I think i will have to go back there again one day.

Apricot mousse cake 11 Apricot Mousse Cake in Khaplu Palace & Residence

Apricot Mousse Cake in Khaplu Palace & Residence


If you are visiting Gilgit-Baltistan, I would suggest  you to make a special trip to Khaplu Palace & Residence in Khaplu, a town 2.5 hours drive east of Skardu. Stay there, have local meals and ask Chef Abbas to make special local Apricot mousse cake for you.


06. Jun, 2012

I am in Baltistan

I am in Baltistan

i see clear blue sky, i see pure white clouds, i see sand dunes, I see sand storms, I see last beam of light hitting the mountain, i see mighty river flowing, i see snow caped peaks, i see nature. I am in Baltistan.

These mountains have been calling me for 4 years. I remember my first time in 2009 when i first landed on this land. It was a dream come true. On my return, i made a bond with these mountains and asked them to make a promise; that they will call me every year to meet them. 4 years have passed and i am still meeting them every year. My affair with mountains is not less then any romantic tale.

It brings me close to nature, the Creator. Observing the last beam of light hitting snow caped peaks and then diminishing, vanishing in no time.  That is my best thing to do these days every sunset. It feels like as if the Creature has lighten up a candle made of mountain and snow.

Last beam of light on mountain 2 I am in Baltistan

Last beam of light on mountain, Khaplu


Last beam of light on mountain I am in Baltistan


I feel powerful, but yet very small when i compare myself to the mightiness of nature. Not just the mountains, but mighty river flowing miles and miles, sand dunes changing its shape along the river side every day.

Khaplu to Seling 2 I am in Baltistan

Khaplu to Seling


After every long day trip of photography and conversation with nature, i get to sleep in one of the most amazing hotels “Khaplu Palace & Residence“. A 200 year old palace, well preserved and now being run by Serena Hotel. Staying in such palace takes you back in history.  My room is again part of the palace, old, wooden work all over and dim lights.

khaplu palace residence I am in Baltistan

Khaplu Palace & Residence


I feel alive. At least for days i will not have to face traffic jams and buildings. I will be staying a month or so in Gilgit-Baltistan, living close to nature. Reason behind is simple; i need a good conversation with myself, to explore myself.