Pakistan Trekking Guide. Isobel and Ben Shaw. The Guidebook Co., Hong
Kong, 1993. £11.96.
Readers familiar with Isobel Shaw’s excellent general guidebooks on Pakistan, the most recent being Pakistan Handbook (Moon Publications, Chico, CA, 1990), have been eagerly awaiting the appearance of Pakistan Trekking Guide. It is a welcome addition to the limited literature on trekking in Pakistan.
A dozen years ago, we reviewed Hugh Swift’s guide to trekking in Pakistan for this journal. It was the first trekking guide to Pakistan. Hugh pointed you in the direction of the trek and let you discover the details yourself. The other approach in guidebooks is Steve Bezruchka’s, whose guides to trekking in Nepal provide minute-by-minute, step-by-step descriptions of each turning in the trail. Pakistan Trekking Guide is a nice compromise; the route descriptions do not eliminate opportunities for discovery, yet there is enough information to avoid getting lost. The descriptions are based on personal experience and extensive research. Though they have done most of the treks, the authors indicate when information has been obtained from other parties rather than their own experience. The access-and-trail information and difficulty ratings are accurate, and particularly useful since maps for Pakistan mountain areas are difficult to obtain. The book provides adequate sketch maps for all the treks described. The material is organized in terms of treks accessible for the three mountain airports: Chitral, Gilgit and Skardu. This is helpful to the trekker arriving by air, but less so to those travelling by ground transport. However, there is an index.
The book provides an excellent introduction to the cultural, historical, and political situation in Pakistan. Isobel and Ben Shaw present a sympathetic and positive portrait of Pakistan, its people and its scenic beauty. Their fear of Pakistan becoming “another Nepal” overrun with trekkers, is unfounded. Although the highest peaks in Pakistan are crowded with expeditions, the number of trekkers remains small. The country suffers from bad press and ineffective tourism promotion. Trekkers and tourists find daunting the prospect of vacationing in a country where alcohol is forbidden and the sexes are strictly segregated. Women trekkers, in particular, may be made to feel unwelcome if they dress and behave in their normal western mode.
The only shortcoming of the book is its lack of coverage of Swat, a beautiful alpine region. Easily accessible by road from Islamabad or Peshawar, Swat
offers trekking and climbing, from weekend hikes to multi-day ascents of peaks and passes. The Shaws do not recommend Swat due to the reputation of Swatis for hostility and theft. However, our experiences in Swat (several visits in the 1960s, 50 visits between 1988 and 1992) was excellent. The only hostility we encountered was small boys throwing stones, quickly admonished by their elders. In Swat, as in all of Pakistan, it is wise to engage a local person as porter/guide and to inform village leaders of one’s plans and presence.
This is an informative, well-organized book. Pakistan Trekking Guide should be required reading for anyone planning to go to Pakistan as a tourist, trekker or resident.
Gene and Betsy White