The north of Pakistan is where all the epic landscapes are at and if you are planning a trip to Northern Pakistan, you are likely to be passing through Gilgit, the capital city of Gilgit-Baltistan province, and begin your journey from there. In this article, I will provide you with all the latest information you need to know to travel to Gilgit from Islamabad independently. There are mainly 2 ways you can travel to Gilgit from Islamabad:
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This is obviously the easiest and less troublesome way to travel to Gilgit given that the flight doesn't get cancelled. They are quite notorious for cancelling flights due to the unpredictable weather in the mountains and so I do not consider this option to be reliable.
I had a flight from Skardu to Islamabad canceled on me and I had to scramble my way back to Islamabad by road (32 hours!), and I still missed my flight out of the country so if you are planning to fly, please leave at least 3 - 4 days in your schedule in case you have to find other alternatives.
Pakistan International Airways flies Islamabad to Gilgit twice a day in the morning at around 113 USD. You might be able to find it cheaper through Momondo or Skyscanner as they may have some third party discount for you.
If the flight gets canceled, one other way you can travel to Gilgit from Islamabad is by bus.
NATCO is a government-owned bus company that connects northern Pakistan to the rest of the country and you can get on one from Islamabad to Gilgit. It is probably the most reliable mode of transportation for independent travelers who are planning to go up north from Islamabad.
The bus will cost you 2,500 PKR and it will take around 18 hours to reach Gilgit. It runs 3 times a day, all overnight, starting from 7 PM, 8 PM and 9 PM but they will only allow tourists to be on the 9 PM one as there are certain parts of the Karakoram Highway that the government does not feel comfortable having tourists passing through at night, namely Chilas. You can read more about my experience under safety concerns.
I would recommend you buy the bus ticket a day before but if you do not have time, you can also come to the terminal a few hours before and get your ticket then. The bus terminal is located in the I-11/4 sector, right next to a petrol station outside of the main city area. Take an Uber to the location shown below:
Once you've got the ticket, be at the terminal 30 minutes before and wait in the room next to the ticket kiosks and the driver will call for you when the bus arrives.
Due to previous incidents, the government is not taking any chances with tourists traveling through the Karakoram Highway and there are certain things you need to prepare before you get on the bus.
Things to Prepare Before Your Trip
- Prepare at least 10 copies of your passport. This is very important as there are many checkpoints along the Karakoram Highway and the driver is obligated to report a foreigner traveling on his/her bus to every single one of them and so if you want a good uninterrupted sleep, prepare the copies and give it to the driver or his assistant beforehand and they will manage it for you. In my experience, they took 7 copies and I had to go out of the bus once to register and get my photos taken.
- They do stop for meals and toilets but do prepare some snacks and water in case you are stuck somewhere due to roadblocks or landslides. It's not uncommon to be as the first part of the Karakoram Highway is still under construction.
- Prepare a good noise-canceling earbud and an eye mask if you want a good night sleep. They tend to stop a lot either for toilets or police checkpoints and they will not hesitate to turn the lights on in your face.
Overnight buses in Pakistan are pretty safe and like in most Muslim countries, men and women are seated separately unless they know each other so if you are a solo woman traveler, you will likely have the whole 2 seats for yourself and are unlikely to be seated with creepy men.
The presence of all these police checkpoints may seem a little much but they are there to protect us so if there are any incidents, you can always report to the police in one of these checkpoints.
As mentioned previously, there are certain areas where the government does not feel comfortable letting tourists roam free at night and one of that place is Chilas.
From my personal experience, I was traveling in the opposite direction with a shared taxi and since I was the only non-Pakistani in the car, we were stopped at a checkpoint after Jaglot. It was around 11 PM and they told us that we must turn back and wait until the sunrise because we have a foreigner in the car and for security reasons, they won't allow us to travel through Chilas at night. We tried to persuade them for half an hour and they wouldn't budge and so we had to sleep in Jaglot until 5 AM before they let us through.
I miss my flight out because of this stupid rules but at least my made a few new friends coming out of it. Many rules in Pakistan don't make sense but the best you can do is accept it and go with the flow. The last thing you need is a problem with the police in a country like Pakistan.
Where to Stay in Gilgit
Madina Hotel 2 - 11.00 USD/Night (Double Room)
This is the most peaceful places in the buzzing city of Gilgit. I always look forward to coming back here. It is located around the government building area so it is much quieter than any places in Gilgit.
They have a beautiful courtyard where you can order food and enjoy a nice meal while being surrounded by flowers and mountains. They also have a working hot shower which is always appreciated.
The owner is amazing. He drove me around Gilgit to find a working Western Union on his motorcycle while telling me how Pakistan used to be tourist-friendly and how it changed after 9/11, all without charging me a single rupee. He is a good man.
The Solo Traveler’s Journal is a series of posts by BucketListly where we will follow our founder, Pete Rojwongsuriya around the world as he singlehandedly travel alone and experience different cultures, people, and historical locations one country at a time.
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