Where did you go?
Frieha Altaf: I went to Chitral, Mastuj and Shandur. These are the three areas of the Hindu Kush and the Kalash Valley that I visited and most of it was done by road.
What inspired you to go?
FA: The last time I went was 26 years ago when I was doing Lux Style Ki Dunya and doing a fashion shoot for the first time with Sana Safinaz up there for TV, so I wanted to revisit the place. The Kalash Valley had become more commercial, but at the same time, I felt like most of the area had not changed that much (the roads were pretty much the same like we had 26 years ago). I was kind of happy about it because if there’s too much tourism, things get destroyed more and there’s more garbage. Chitral was amazing – there’s so much to see just in the city of Chitral. There’s a bazaar where you can buy lovely woolen stuff and buy a lot of dry fruits. You can also visit the museum. Keeping Chitral a base, you can visit many places from there. Kalash Valley is about two and a half hours by road; it’s a very katcha road but it’s worth going there and experiencing the culture. You must go there, and you must see what it’s like, especially if you can drive and don’t mind the khaddas – I just love driving!
What were your most memorable moments during the trip?
FA: The high point for me was Mastuj, I hadn’t even heard of Mastuj before – it’s about a four hours drive from Chitral, and it’s like a little tiny valley. It’s beautiful, it’s by the river and the Hindu Kush people have these chalets there and you can go for walks, and have a lovely breakfast underneath the grapevines. You can do yoga there and you can relax. I just really loved it!
We drove for about another two hours to Shandur, the drive is also very precarious but that would obviously be the case as it’s Shandur after all, which is 12,000 feet high and it’s got the famous polo ground, where we saw the Shandur Festival (polo festival) that happens in June. There was a lot of history. We stayed in tents overnight by a stream. This was a first-time experience for me as I’ve never camped before, but this kind of camping is called “glamping”. This whole trip was different because there was a group of 20 people and half of us knew each other while half of us didn’t but we had a DJ every night, so imagine 12,000 feet up and you can still have a nice party and listen to the DJ playing. We had parties for six nights in a row and we would still get up early in the morning to do our trips. It was all very relaxing, very enjoyable and a lot of fun!
What are some travel must-haves?
FA: Sunscreen, hat, comfortable shoes, mosquito repellent, some conservative clothes. Chitral’s not okay with people wearing dresses but inside the Hindu Kush, because we were partying we could wear whatever we wanted infact we could even wear shorts inside, but outside we had to obviously be careful about our clothing! Sunglasses for sure, some extra batteries especially because we were camping and we needed a battery with a torch, extension wires and external batteries to always keep your phones online. WIFI services are available at the hotels but it’s always better to have data! So these are all some travel must-haves.
Tell us about your travel experience during COVID.
FA: All of us had to take a test before we went, so we were all COVID-free. We also had to keep extra masks and sanitizers. All the staff at the hotel as well as the drivers were wearing masks and constantly sanitizing their hands. We became a bit more casual with the passage of time, because we knew that the group we were with, were all COVID-free, but even then we made sure there were only two or three people in the jeep at one time, so we were taking precautions such as these throughout.
PHOROGRAPHS COURTESY: FRIEHA ALTAF