We spent a night in Passu, the next town down on the Karakoram Highway from Saeed’s place. Town is a relative term. The absence of population in Pakistan’s very northernmost corner reminds me of how it feels to drive from South Westland to Wanaka over New Zealand’s Haast Pass. Passu has, we estimate, about ninety homes.
What Passu has got in spades is mountains. Their craggy peaks surround the valley which the town follows. They look kind of hyper real. In fact they look photoshopped. They look very much like the mountains on the cover of those fantasy books I never read which are partly obscured by a scantily clad woman riding a dragon. They are, to say it simply, enormously impressive.
In what is becoming a trend in Pakistan, we were the only guests staying in our hotel and the only diners at the restaurant we visited for dinner. The owners of both told us the same story: Passu used to be a major tourist stop. Since 9/11 tourist numbers have dried up, and the ongoing association of Pakistan with words like Taliban and Bin Laden in the media has meant they have never come back. We estimate that tourist infrastructure is, at most, at 10% of capacity.
It’s a crying shame because this part of Pakistan is not only peaceful, its scenery is astounding. On our stroll back from dinner (where we enjoyed chicken curry and an exceptionally good apricot cake) we found ourselves making a list of all our friends who we will petition to make a visit. If you like mountains, if you like the outdoors, you would love Passu.