Travel with Fahad Mahmood to the Katpana Desert in Skardu. Every now and then, when life starts to get somewhat monotonous, one starts to crave a little time away from the dullness that is day to day life. Going abroad has its perks but tends to burn a hole in one’s pocket, especially with today’s exchange rate. So why not take time out to explore your own country and take in the gorgeous views that make the northern areas of Pakistan absolutely stunning?
Avid photographer and traveler, Fahad Mahmood and his wife Mishel were both caught in the rut of corporate life but yearned to live more organically. They no longer wanted to chase after material wealth, rather connect with mother earth, share experiences and make memories. It was the mix of the corporate lifestyle and his passion for being out in the wilderness that led to the creation of Glamp. ‘Glamp Pakistan originates out of my life experiences; being a photographer and traveller by passion, I work to capture landscapes and wildlife across Pakistan.’ We talk to the couple to get a little more insight into why the next time you’re itching for a change of scenery, you might want to head north!
Please tell us a little bit about what and where exactly Glamp Pakistan is? What sets it apart from a normal campsite?
Glamp Pakistan is permanently located in Katpana Desert (also called Biama Nakpo), Skardu, which is the second highest cold desert in the world. We refer to our set up and facility as a ‘glamp site’ or ‘glamping’ which is short for ‘glamorous camping’. For most of us, glamorous camping refers to camping in style, or (with some degree of) luxury. We combine the luxuries of (being in a) hotel with the outdoors so that the conditions are not too rough for our clients. We provide the luxuries and comfort of a 5-star hotel paired with an incredible outdoor experience. Further to that permanent arrangement, we also set up a seasonal site in Deosai which is the second highest plateau on the planet. All that in your own backyard!
With the facilities provided Glamp seems like a perfect place even for families with children. Can you tell us a little bit more about that, from personal experience?
We moved to Skardu in June 2017, when our son was only ten months old. My wife was a little apprehensive at first because she had never lived in the mountains permanently, but together, we took this leap of faith. We did so for the vision we had for ourselves and our child. Once we shifted there, we found out that Skardu is a proper city with most of the things we were used to available, and some even better! My family stays here with me, and goes back to Lahore only during the winter. I speak for the three of us when I say that we could not be happier! It is everything we ever wanted, especially for our son. We really encourage families to visit Skardu because it is a perfect family getaway. It is so close to nature; so honest and so raw. There is nothing artificial in the air, food or people. Our glamp site is a favourite among kids because they love to play with the sand, roll down the dunes, dig and slide around. It also provides a platform for clients to interact with nature while we take extra care of them, trying our best to make them feel at home.
When is the best time to visit and the ideal length of stay?
We have four very distinct seasons in Skardu Valley; Summer, Winter, Autumn, and Spring and they are all great times to visit, but our personal favourites are Autumn (October and November) and Spring (April and May). Summer is popular amongst tourists, perhaps because of summer vacations; but if you ask us, the two seasons we mentioned are more beautiful… and less visited! A good trip itinerary starts with at least three nights and four days, but in my opinion for a place of such caliber, even a lifetime spent here is too short.
What can visitors expect to do and see once there?
Katpana is a small village in the suburbs of Skardu. It is one of the most unique landscapes on the planet. It is the second highest cold desert in the world, surrounded by the mighty Karakoram and Himalayas, marsh lands which host the migration of Siberian birds, orchids of the village and a breathtaking view of the River Indus, and a jaw dropping 360 degree view of the beautiful Skardu valley. Being here is all about enjoying nature on our glamp site. On moonless nights, you can see billions of stars in the sky and more of the Milky Way galaxy, which has become a rare sight, especially in congested cities. People enjoy stargazing whilst sitting or lying on the dunes enjoying the warmth of a bonfire. It is a treat to watch the sun rise over the golden sand dunes at dawn or take in the beautiful hues decorating the sky at sunset. The marshlands and orchids of Katpana village are amazing for an evening walk where one can immerse themselves in the serenity around and interact with the village lifestyle. We also offer delicious and unique food at our restaurant; from Yak burgers to steamed rainbow trout, guests can sample a variety of food infused with local spices and ingredients.
How do you promote a positive image of Pakistan to foreigners and why do you think that’s important? How can we attract more tourists from abroad?
The basic purpose of making Glamp Pakistan is to work towards building brand Pakistan. We both have
been working to create brands for multinational and national corporations. We thought it is time to start working on branding our country. We especially engage ourselves with foreign tourists and make an effort to show them the warmth of our land whilst providing them services to fulfill their needs. From documentary screens to bonfire stories, we create experiences for them to take back the true flavor of Pakistan and change their perception about this country and its people. We believe that there is a huge potential for the tourism industry and better visa and security policies can bring in a huge chunk of tourist traveling to Asia. This will help build a more wholesome and positive image for us and create real life brand ambassadors of Pakistan around the world. So there you have it! With Autumn upon us, it’s not too late to pack your bags and head up north for some serious eat, pray, love style holidaying. Reconnect with nature, breathe in the crisp mountain air, delight in the absolute zen, all visa free!