[Travelogue] A land of big hearts and wonderful stories
“Like many others I know who were either born outside Pakistan or moved overseas at a young age and never wanted to have anything more to do with Pakistan, I too didn’t care much about it,” Khan told Arab News.
“It wasn’t until I explored the country on my own that I realized how beautifully diverse it is.”
Hunza on Foot is an expedition company started by Khan, whose previous work in grimmer factions, including volatile security and working as a journalist, led to him answering an internal call to find peace elsewhere.
“I come from a war and conflict news background where my job revolved around the worst possible news about the country. From murders to terrorism, blasphemy to rapes, if it wasn’t bleeding, it wasn’t leading. That’s the unfortunate nature of news.”
Covering the horror that keeps the world tuned into the news day after day, tragedy after tragedy, was a career that Khan knew had to come to an end.
“It took over a decade of conflicts, rapes, terrorism, honor killings and finally an attack on a school where over 120 innocent children were massacred in cold blood (the Army Public School Peshawar attack in 2014). I was there the day it happened and our news team covered the incident and the fallout.”
Khan, who is also a veteran of the United States military, has spent years face to face with the darker realities of humanity.
“It’s a dark life, to always be surrounded by violence. It eventually starts affecting you and everything you do. I turned in my notice a day after the Army Public School attack and as soon as the notice period was over, I packed up my bags, put my dog in my car and took off for the Karakoram mountain range in Hunza.”
The trip for relief would eventually give birth to an idea that would change not only Khan’s job but his outlook as well.
“After exploring it for about two months and feeling like a completely new person — mountains can really breathe a new life into you — I decided I want to do this for the rest of my life, hence Hunza on Foot.”
Acting as a tourist within the borders of the country he now called home, Khan was exposed to aspects and parts of Pakistan that encouraged him to engage with the landscape more.
“There is nature like you have never seen before. One of my favorite things about taking international travelers to the stunning Gilgit-Baltistan region of Northern Pakistan is the look of utter shock on their faces the moment we arrive. Most of the time it takes them hours to finally look me in the eye and get a few words out.
“We have been blessed with the largest collection of high peaks in the world. Pakistan has every terrain known to mankind and it needs to be witnessed first-hand, because no matter how great some of the photos that get published might be, it’s just never the same as being there and experiencing the magic yourself.”
His journey into the mountains bred social media accounts that captured the stunning and deeply underrated (or most aptly put, unknown) regions of Pakistan that many, including Pakistanis themselves, had not been exposed to. And as is the case with most connections in the digital age, Khan’s connection with National Geographic started online.
“I had been following Paul Salopek, a twice Pulitzer-winning journalist and a National Geographic fellow who had set out from Ethiopia in January 2013, on foot, and has been walking ever since. One day in 2015, I decided that I too want to walk long-distance, across Pakistan. In October 2016, I took my first step and walked for 91 days and 2,380 km across the country from the Pakistan-China border to the Karachi coastline.”
Heading out on foot was a common ground between the two journalists and, as fate would have it, Salopek wanted to walk on Khan’s home turf.
“When Paul started planning his journey into Pakistan from the Afghani Pamirs, he started researching possible walking partners (already living here). Two good friends and very good journalists recommended me to Paul, who then looked me up online. We started corresponding over email and eventually decided to walk together from the time he entered Pakistan through the wildly remote Wakhan Corridor, all the way to the Wahgah border that connects Pakistan to India via Lahore.”
Salopek, the founder of the project dubbed “Out of Eden,” began the trip in 2013 to cross the world on foot following the ancient migration of the first human beings, with National Geographic documenting the journey.
“I am only a small part of this grand, global walk that is following the ancient migration of the first humans,” said Khan. “My section of the walk started at the high mountain pass called Irshad Pass, which connects Pakistan and Afghanistan via the Wakhan Corridor.”
National Geographic is not the first opportunity Khan has had to follow his purpose. In 2015, Khan was contacted by Humans of New York founder Brandon Stanton as he came to Pakistan in order to be a liaison between himself, the country and the beautiful people that Naveed had met on his many journeys up north.
“I’ve been fortunate to get associated with people like Paul Salopek and Brandon Stanton, who’ve helped me showcase the beautiful people and places that Pakistan has to offer,” said Khan.
“My primary objective since the day I started has always been to promote Pakistan as a safe destination for adventure travelers. It’s still largely untapped by the adventure tourism
The article was published in Arab News on