13. Michael meditating and enjoying the beautiful scenery of Pakistan. Photo by BBS Image Credit:

Islamabad: Three young adventurers from the British Backpacker Society (BBS), which has ranked Pakistan as the number one travel destination for 2018, are back to explore the country’s breathtaking mountain scenery, meet its people and savour its traditional food.

Speaking to Gulf News, the BBS trio — Samuel Joynson, Adam Sloper and Michael Worrall — who have travelled to more than 101 countries, said Pakistan’s spectacular natural beauty and the amazing hospitality of its people brought them back.

“Pakistan is one of the most friendly and enchanting countries on earth,” said Joynson, one of the co-founders of BBS. “We have returned to see the charming regions that we missed the last time and to tell the world how much Pakistan has to offer visitors.”

He encouraged travellers to cast off their misperceptions and needless fears about visiting Pakistan. “In Pakistan, you will experience some of the greatest mountain scenery, phenomenal hospitality and great memories,” he said. “Which is the reason BBS recommends Pakistan as its number one travel destination for 2018.”

Sloper, 26, and Joynson, 27, visited Pakistan in 2016.

However Worall, who missed out on the earlier trip, is extremely excited.

“I have heard so many great things about Pakistan that I couldn’t wait to come,” he said.

The staggering range and sumptuousness of Pakistani cuisine has left him overwhelmed. “Pakistani food is incredible and I’ve become a big fan of the curries and bread [roti],” said Worrall. “The variety, flavour and spices used in the food are all are delicious,” added the 26-year-old.

Beyond the food and culture, what has also struck a chord with him is the generosity of Pakistanis.

“Wherever I have met people, in the city or out in the hills, they are so friendly and generous. They inquire after your welfare and ask how they can help you. It’s an amazing attitude,” he told Gulf News.

Worrall’s teammate Sloper was surprised at how delighted local Pakistanis are to meet a foreigner.

“This is what surprised me the most when I came two years ago. The people are exceptionally friendly and welcoming,” said Sloper. “I have returned with the two co-founders of the group to explore more of the northern mountainous regions and meet more people,” he said. “We have visited more than 100 countries but Pakistan offers the best mountain scenery we have ever seen. I genuinely think it is one of the most underrated travel destinations.”

Changing perception

Discussing the gloomy hue that many foreign media outlets paint of Pakistan, Sloper said, “If you go by what the Western media says, Pakistan seems like a very dangerous place, but the reality is different. As soon as you enter Pakistan, every kind of stereotype you clung to disappears very very quickly.”

Changing perception through travel is at the core of British Backpacker Society’s aim, an entity that has followers in the thousands online. The travel group offers unique perspectives on people and culture and inspires people to travel to rarely visited destinations in the developing world.

However, regarding the security concern that worries some tourists, Joynson has this advice: “You should certainly review travel advisories from respective governments, but also conduct independent research and speak to locals about the country’s situation before planning the visit.”

Last year, the trio earned huge appreciation after they ranked Pakistan as the number one travel destination.

“We are delighted that Pakistan government relaxed its tourist visa policy after claiming top spot on British Backpacker Society’s travel list,” Joynson shared, adding, “The global appreciation came in part after the article was published in Gulf News.”

Crossing into China

In 2017, the number of foreign tourists more than tripled to 1.75 million, according to Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation data.

The trio’s two-week journey began on a crisp mid-November evening when the three travellers crossed the Wagah Border to arrive in Pakistan.

“We were greeted with exceptional friendliness by the border staff and watched the fascinating border-closing ceremony at sunset,” Worrall said.

In Lahore, they were fascinated to see Badshahi Mosque and Lahore Fort — the epitome of Mughal architecture. After spending two days in Lahore meeting locals and savouring all the delicious food, they headed to the capital of Pakistan on November 14 in a train from Lahore Railway Station.

“The train was not on time but we had an amazing journey, sharing stories along with chai and biscuits with our carriage-mates,” Worrall beamed.

In Islamabad, the tourists spent most of their time hiking in the lush green Margalla Hills and enjoying food at the restaurants nestled in the hills. Finally, they geared up for the cold, icy northern region with warm jackets, gloves and boots before heading to the Chitral valley.

“As we entered the Chitral region, the scenery became more impressive, and the number of team selfies increased,” they said on Facebook with stunning photos.

Sharing the picture of tea brewing on a wood-fire, they said: “The mountain air is fresh, the tea is strong, and the team is ready to head even further into the dramatic Hindu Kush mountain range.”

In the chilly northern region, they also enjoyed a warm gathering and traditional dancing at a Kalash wedding ceremony. The team is now headed to Gilgit-Baltistan where three mountain ranges — the Himalaya, Karakoram and Hindu Kush — meet; and will then head to China crossing Khunjerab Pass, the highest border crossing in the world.

Places on the trio’s list:

Lahore

Rawalpindi

Islamabad

Chitral and Kalash Valleys

Shandur Pass

Gilgit

Khunjerab Pass