Interview with Alam Jan Dario of Pamir Trails: Trekking in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan
This interview was originally published on the old ExpatHeather site, but the post was lost in cyberspace due to my attempt at moving around some files on the FTP server. Since it’s about time to start thinking about summer travel again and readers often ask me for advice about hiking and trekking in Pakistan, I decided to repost Alam’s insight into this region of the world.
Alam is the founder of Pamir Trails trekking and tourism company and has worked with Lonely Planet authors John Mock and Kimberly O’Neil as they put together the guidebook for Trekking in the Karakoram and Hindukush.
I ‘met’ Alam through the ExpatHeather blog and decided to ask him some questions about his career and about trekking in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan.
1. How long have you been a trekking guide and how did you get started?
For three years I worked as a teacher in a school in the Chapursan Valley. It was a great experience working with the children, but I felt that as a teacher I should be continually learning. How could I learn more when I spent my whole day inside the class? In Pakistan, most teachers remain in the class for 25 years or more.
I wasn’t sure if this was the right path for me, and I felt like I needed a change. I had no idea about the trekking industry or about foreigners. One of my friends told me, “If you go to Skardu you can go with the Angrez [foreigners] and make good money,” so I thought, why not?
I went to Skardu in May 1991. There was a group there who wanted to trek to Biafo Hispar. I took work as a porter for their trek. The next time I worked as a cook. By the end of the season, I was asked to be a trekking guide for Lonely Planet authors John Mock and Kimberly O’Neil. They were working on the guidebook for the Karakoram and Hindu Kush and were looking for someone who was born in the high mountain valley of Chapursan.
Since I was from that area, I was chosen for the job. I spent the next six months trekking and guiding these writers. We enjoyed each other’s company and until now we have remained friends. In the book they say that Alam Jan Dario knows his way on glaciers!
2. I see that your wife works with you. Is it typical for women in Zood Khan to work the tourism business?
Yes, you know in our culture we have many difficulties for women. I can proudly say these difficulties are not in Islam, these difficulties stem from our tradition. We are on the way of change, hoping to change these bad parts of our culture.
Chapursan Valley was closed to foreigners since before I was born. It was only in 1998 that the area opened to foreigners. Now, I take it as my responsibility to invite people to come to Chapsuran and see our culture and our people. My wife, Haji bibi, works with me and helps me to host travelers. We have invited many people to visit the valley, and they feel comfortable staying with us. Not only have they learned about our ways, but my wife and I hae also learned many things from the travelers. We think of spending time with people from different cultures like a “university of living life.”
3. What is one experience that stands out to you from your trekking career?
It was eye opening for me to come from a remote place like Chapursan Valley, where there isn’t even a jeep road, and to travel throughout the Northern Areas and even all the way to Islamabad. Once I traveled from the capital to the Northern Areas with an international geological group that was planning to measure the elevation of K2, the second highest mountain in the world. On the way I got to sit in the front seat of the bus and I was amazed at all the protocols, the hotels and the media interviews. Back then I was young and good-looking, and I got a lot of attention from the ladies!
5. What is your favorite trek to take beginner trekkers on?
For a short trek, I like to do the Yishkuk Glacier Pamiri trek. If beginners are interested in doing a longer trek, I’d take them into the Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan.
6. If you had a week to go trekking with your friends, where would you go and why?
If I had a week to go trekking, I would like to find new routes and paths. I like to look for passes among the glaciers and between high mountains. I’ve done this type of thing several times and have discovered new trekking routes.
7. What is the best time to trek in the Chapursan Valley and in the Pamir Range?
December-January and July-August.
8. What is the best way for travelers to get hold of you if they want to plan a trek or tour with Pamir Trails?
By internet. It’s best to contact me before your arrival in Pakistan. You can call me on my mobile (+92-346-5226623), although I do not have phone service in the remote areas. I do not always have Internet access, but I come down from Chapursan to check it every few weeks.
Guidebooks I recommend for visiting Pakistan (some info is outdated, but it’s generally better than what you’ll find on online ‘travel guides’):
Feature photo: Khujand, Tajikistan by Steve Evans