An upshot of Pakistan’s easing of visa rules – citizens of 180 countries can apply online, while 50 nationals of 50 nations can get a visa on arrival – is the boom in influencers and YouTubers who have visited in recent years. “I’ve seen these people on social media – foreigners who have gone to Pakistan, especially the northern areas,” says Ghulam Dastgir, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the UAE. “They are full of praise – they say Pakistan is a beautiful country. One of the government’s biggest priorities is the tourism sector. It is trying to facilitate in terms of infrastructure. The road network is already there, for example, the Karakarom highway. Young people, from inside and outside Pakistan, are visiting these places and putting up video clips.
“When people from outside visit Pakistan, they leave with a different, more positive image.”
One of those people is travel vlogger and influencer Nathan Buchan (World Nate), from Mount Maunganui, New Zealand. “Before going to Pakistan, I was a little nervous,” he tells GN Focus. “I wasn’t sure what to expect, and the media portrays Pakistan as one of the most dangerous countries in the world. I was worried about being kidnapped and held for ransom.”
However, Buchan’s fears turned out to be unfounded. “I have travelled to more than 30 countries so far, and Pakistani people are the most welcoming and hospitable people I have seen yet. My perception of Pakistan changed very quickly once I met a few local people.”
Like Buchnan, Patrick Muntzinger, who blogs on Germanbackpacker.com, admits his impressions of the country before he visited were not positive. “Let’s be honest – Pakistan’s reputation in the Western world is not very good and the country is mostly in our media for the wrong reasons, such as terrorism. I didn’t know a single person before who ever visited Pakistan and it’s certainly not a place most Europeans would ever consider for a holiday and unfortunately, people still think that the country would be a dangerous no-go war zone, which is not true at all.”
Mark Wiens agrees with this sentiment. “While media doesn't always portray a country positively, I always know that media is not an accurate representation of all people,” says the Bangkok-based American, who vlogs about food and travel on Migrationology.com. “And so before going to Pakistan I really had a positive impression about the people, and my mind was also on the delicious food.”
Muntzinger had been invited to the country to take part in the University of Karachi’s annual international entrepreneurial summer school programme, but was initially unsure about making the trip. However, reading other travelers’ accounts of visiting the country set him at ease. “Yes, my friends and family called my crazy and were worried about me. However, I ended up having the time of my life and Pakistan quickly became my most favourite destination in the world!”
One particular region of Pakistan that has been heavily pushed by the country’s tourism authorities and travel influencers alike is the country’s north. “The scenery is mind-blowing,” says Buchan. “When I first thought about going to Pakistan, I imagined nothing but deserts and small towns as that’s I had seen on the news. When we ventured north into Chitral and the Hindu Kush mountain range, I could not have been more impressed.”
The Kalash Valley, in particular, stands out in his memory. “I would go back and explore more small villages with the locals.”
Muntzinger’s must-see recommendation for first-time visitors would be Hunza, also up north. “This small town in the mountains is surrounded by some of the most beautiful landscape and scenery I’ve ever seen and therefore a big contrast to the hectic and busy streets of Lahore and Karachi.”
Aside from the scenery, Wiens points out another thing about Gilgit Baltistan that attracted him – food.
One particular ingredient the food vlogger found fascinating was apricot seed oil. “This single ingredient, which I had no idea was even a thing until visiting Gilgit Baltistan, is quintessential in the local cuisine. I would taste different dishes from Gilgit Baltistan - from the flat breads to the stews - and immediately I could taste the vibrancy of flavour from the apricot seed oil. Along with being delicious, it has legendary health and life-prolonging properties. A new discovery for me, yet something that's been consumed forever in Gilgit Baltistan.”
Buchan says, “Words cannot explain. I thought it would be very similar to Indian cuisine, but it’s not. Pakistani food has a unique flavour, which everyone in our group absolutely loved.”
Muntzinger, who had never tasted Pakistani cuisine prior to his visit, found it to be a revelation – although he warns that it does have a kick. “I was surprised about how spicy it was, since I didn’t expect it and sometimes had issued handling it.” While most Pakistanis accept that Lahore is the country’s culinary capital, Muntzinger appreciated Karachi’s diverse offering of restaurants, street food and market grub.
There are currently about 200 flights operating between the UAE and Pakistan on a weekly basis.