Alex Reynolds doesn’t have a trust fund. Yet she left the United States in 2013 to travel the world. She used her blog and freelance gigs to make money on the road. Some three years later, this American Filipino changed gear. She decided to deep dive into “forgotten” places – those in the news (if at all) for the wrong reasons. She has been to Afghanistan, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Bangladesh, Iran and many other offbeat destinations since then.
But the place that won Alex over is Pakistan, so much so that she’s been there five times since 2016. Now she has partnered with a friend to start women-only travel tours across the stunning country.
We spoke to Alex about her time in Pakistan – a country that’s shrouded in mystery and rarely talked about for its landscape and appetite for travellers.
Our readers in India would love to know – why did you pick Pakistan?
Why not? I like to travel to “off the beaten track” places – places that haven’t yet been consumed by mass tourism. There’s no denying Pakistan qualifies! I first ended up there in 2016. I was travelling overland only – no flights – and from Iran my only options were Afghanistan (difficult), Turkmenistan (no independent travel), and Pakistan. The internet told me I was probably going to die if I did, but I’d read a forum post by someone who said they had a lovely time in Pakistan. That’s all the motivation I needed.
Wow, and you didn’t die of course. What is the ground reality on security in Pakistan – is it as bad as it is made out to be?
Not at all. That’s not to say the country is totally safe – there are still semi-regular attacks in certain areas, and the military is very, very present. But the vast majority of the places a first-time tourist would end up in are certainly safe enough to travel. Pakistan’s security situation has improved immensely over the last few years.
What was your experience with the Pakistani people? What is their opinion on India?
My overall experience with the Pakistanis has been immensely positive. Pakistanis are by far some of the most hospitable people I’ve met in my travels. It’s not uncommon to be invited to a meal by a complete stranger, or asked to stay in someone’s home after talking for just a few minutes! Very much like in India, there are many people willing to stop what they’re doing to help a traveller, even one they’ve just met.
As for people’s perceptions of India… you’d be surprised! Of course there are people who parrot the news media and think all Indians are out to destroy Pakistan (vice versa exists in India, as we all know). But I’ve met many people who are very curious about their big next-door neighbour, and I’ve spoken with Indian travellers who said they were welcomed with excitement and warmth when they visited Pakistan.
Plenty of Pakistanis have ancestral homes or relatives in India. Many Pakistani travellers dream of seeing the Taj Mahal, trying street food in Delhi (and comparing it to Lahore or Karachi’s food) and reenacting 3 Idiots in Ladakh. Though India is demonized in the news, not all Pakistanis believe everything the news tells them.
Tell us about some of your favourite places that are must-haves on a Pakistan itinerary.
Oh, that’s difficult – it really depends on what your interests are!
Mountains are what draw most travellers to Pakistan. The Hunza region is the most iconic of Pakistan’s mountainous destinations, but personally, I’m in love with a district called Ghizer to the west of Hunza. While Hunza takes your breath away, I find Ghizer to be like a warm embrace. The mountains are more gentle, the waters are more blue, and the people are the most open-minded and hospitable in Northern Pakistan. In my opinion, anyway.
But I’m also a sucker for Sufi shrines – I’m entranced by their energy, the feeling of calm contrasted against the buzz of activity that you find within their tiled walls. The shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in southern Sehwan Sharif is one of the biggest and most well-known in the country, but personally, my favourite is the shrine of Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai in the town of Bhit Shah. It’s just as beautiful, but feels more intimate, and there’s always music playing at any time of day.