If you think backpacking across Europe after graduating college was #goals, think again.
Europe is easily accessible (even from Pakistan) — it’s a convenient flight away with plenty of hotels and Airbnb options that make accommodation easy, trains that connect cities and countries with each other in just a few hours, is extremely tourist friendly and, contrary to popular belief, the visa is easy to get if you fulfill some pretty basic conditions. It’s perfect for the faint-hearted too — the ones who are happy with a no-pain picture in front of the Eiffel Tower or the Swiss Alps.
What takes real courage is going up north and exploring Pakistan knowing the flights can get delayed often, the road is long and uncomfortable, accommodation options are few and the good ones are just as expensive as anywhere else in the world.
But perhaps what takes the most courage is leaving the comfortable life in the city to go up north and make a home in the valleys to make these places accessible for others.
Very few people have this courage. Ahmed and Baneen are two of them.
A Baithak For The Khanabadosh:
The brainchild of Ahmed and Baneen, Khanabadosh Baithak is a tent and breakfast that started off in Shigar Valley two years ago and moved to Ghulkin, Hunza just recently for the next three years. It plans to go to Sindh for the winter and for summer — time will tell.
The couple describes Baithak as one strand of a bigger vision of the Khanabadosh Collective. “It’s a manifestation in-process of a shared dream. A bunch of friends would often get together over tea for conversations, confessions, pronouncing our aspirations, burdens. In one such sitting, the word ‘Khanabadosh’ was coined as a lighthouse for all of us divergent wanderers, doers and thinkers. It’s a slowly expanding community of engineers, theatre artists, designers, writers, musicians and so on.”
The two add that Baithak emerged from a need to live a life away from the traffic, noise and excesses of city life. “We wanted to move away from society’s notions of success and consumerist stresses and hoped for a simple life filled with cultural richness, creativity, meaningful encounters and healthier perspectives,” Ahmed adds.
If that’s not daring, I’m not sure what is. But what’s even more inspirational is that Ahmed and Baneen moved away to make travelling and similar experiences more accessible for everyone else too.
Thanks to their tent and breakfast, people from all over Pakistan can come and camp at Khanabadosh Baithak. Not only is it an affordable accommodation space, it also gives an entirely different experience compared to other local offerings.
The two firmly believe that before Pakistan’s travel industry thinks of expanding, environmental needs ought to be considered first.
Breaking The Chains Of Consumerism:
Bringing such an idea to life can be challenging and scary. For Ahmed and Baneen, the two quintessentially khanabadosh at heart, this has been a blessing.
The pair explains that their tent and breakfast setup is meant to offer the experience of slowing down and enjoying the luxury of time. “The idea is to walk more, to eat fresh and local as much as possible. It’s not for tourists but for travelers who want to explore cultures, communities and lifestyles — with a side of entirely delectable edibles, because, well, food!”
“There is space available for campers to spend the night under a bejeweled sky, the perfect setting for a communion with nature and bonding with fellow travelers over campfire stories.”
Chai And Chit Chat At The Baithak:
Since a baithak is incomplete without chai and food, Khanabadosh Baithak has a small kitchen that is also its food lab.
Interestingly, the only things on the regular menu are chai, coffee and some basic snacks, but that shouldn’t disappoint you. There is a lot on offer besides the basics, but the options keep changing as they depend on supplies available that day. One day, you may get crepes for breakfast, but on another, you may not have the choice and will get to enjoy a shakshuka.
The idea is to use a bare minimum of processed foods and make the best of ingredients available locally. “We have some family favorite recipes, some collected over the years from our travels and then of course, things we like to eat ourselves. In our food lab, every day is a surprise for us just as much as the guests,” add Ahmed and Baneen.
What really makes the food special is how it’s served: all meals are communal. All guests gather around the same table and end up having interesting encounters and conversations. Eating together is a beautiful and trans-formative experience that not only makes the food taste even better but also memorable.
A Parting Message:
For all their efforts, if there’s one thing Ahmed and Baneen want to emphasize, it is to value your own country.
“It’s worth your money just as much as those luxury tours to Dubai, Thailand or Switzerland. Read up about location destinations, check maps and keep an open mind. Don’t wait for a blogger/vlogger from another country to tell you your worth,” said Baneen.
At the same time, Ahmed encourages everyone to explore the lesser known.
“Be it deep into Balochistan or Thar, or high up in some valley in Hunza or Baltistan, explore, but also be respectful of the people and their cultures. For the north in particular, understand what it means to be driving along some of the world’s biggest non-polar glaciers. Be aware of the sensitivity of this terrain,” he added.