A grand reunion at Pakistan’s coziest homestay

Village life, mountain vistas, and good friends at the most famous homestay in Pakistan, plus information on how to reach this homestay in Gilgit Baltistan.

 

Looking for a homestay in Pakistan? Here's my story at the homestay of a friend in a small village in Gilgit Baltistan, Pakistan. Mountains, glaciers, and delicious homemade local food. What more could you need? Read on for more about how to book a room at the homestay, how to get there, and other important information.

Might be useful? Pin it!

 

I first met Rehman in 2016.

Though Rehman is Pakistani, our first encounter was in a small restaurant in the Chinese border town of Tashkurgan.

… several days too late.

I meant to connect with him as I traveled through Northern Pakistan. But thanks to my unorganized tendencies and a week of lethargy-inducing local encounters, I failed to find him on his home turf. Instead, we chatted over parathas and eggs on the other side of the Pakistan-China border.

Homestay in Pakistan - Alex and Rehman in Tashkurgan, China in 2016 - Lost With Purpose travel blog

A final photo with Rehman in Tashkurgan in 2016 after crossing the Pakistan-China border

Rehman insisted I come stay with him and his family in his house in Ghulkin. I promised I would once I returned to Pakistan.

But my plans are notoriously shifty. My 2017 return to Pakistan saw me visiting only Lahore and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province—places not remotely close to Rehman’s home in the far north. This time ‘round in 2018, I planned to divide my northern nature time between Phander and Yasin Valleys. Not quite as far away from Ghulkin as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa… but not in the same direction, either.

I told Rehman as much, but he was persistent.

> Just one cup of tea buddy. Only one day.

> I will give you transport.

> Please, give me time for only one day.

His requests wore away at my mind, and fate conspired with him against my previous itinerary.

A few days of tension thanks to involuntary security guards in Yasin Valley was the straw that broke this camel’s plans. Bleary eyed, I hopped on a local minibus heading in Rehman’s direction at 5:00 the next morning. 

Homestay in Pakistan - Valley view on the Karakoram Highway in Gilgit Baltistan - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Typical views along the Karakoram Highway

The road to paradise

Seven hours of cramped minibus rides later, I finally spotted Rehman waiting for me by his small blue car in Aliabad, Hunza. I waved, and broad grins simultaneously spread across our faces; two years later, we finally had our reunion!

Greetings out of the way, I climbed into the car with Rehman and Judy, an older American woman (and blog follower) also staying at his home. Chatter filled the car as the silky smooth curves of the famous Karakoram Highway led the way back toward Rehman’s village.

Homestay in Pakistan - Attabad Lake in Gilgit Baltistan - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Can’t beat the blue of Attabad Lake

Turquoise waters of Attabad Lake glittering in the sun; ruins of an ancient Silk Road route hugging the mountainsides; cigarette smoke mixing with fresh mountain air rippling through open car windows; the (upper) Karakoram Highway is the perfect road trip. As the sun warmed my arm hanging out the car window, I felt as though we were driving towards paradise. An hour passed; our happy conversation never ceased.

Gravel crunching beneath the car’s tires announced our arrival at our final destination: Ghulkin village.

I stepped outside into the bright afternoon, sunlight illuminating the village just so. Ghulkin looked straight out of a classical painting with rustling trees, stone houses, and women in colorful salwar kameez working fields sprouting with green.

Homestay in Pakistan - Central field of Ghulkin village, Gilgit Baltistan - Lost With Purpose travel blog

My first view of Ghulkin

Grabbing a big watermelon and my dusty backpack from the trunk of the car, I followed Rehman and Judy up a narrow dirt path between houses. Just when my legs began to protest at all the high altitude activity—Ghulkin is more than 2,000 meters above sea level—Rehman pushed open a wooden door, and we all entered his guest room.

Laid out in traditional style with a sunken center surrounded by four raised platforms, the room was definitively cozy. Red carpets on the floor lent a warm atmosphere; beds laden with fluffy blankets completed the picture. I flopped in a spot of sunlight on the ground to continue my chat with Judy; within mere minutes, Rehman’s mother—known affectionately as “Grandma”—appeared with cups of hot mint tea.

Becoming family

It was the picture of contentedness, and that feeling persisted over the following days. To stay in Rehman’s home is to become a part of his family, to join his village for a time.

The kitchen was the center point of their sphere of existence. Lounging on pillows around the warm stove at its heart, I helped Rehman’s daughter Rafya with her homework, and learned bread-making from his wife (and English teacher) Sitara. Grandma always made sure my belly was bursting at the seams, and Rehman’s father entertained me with stories of summiting mountain peaks and developing a fondness for beer when he visited German years ago.

Homestay in Pakistan - Sitara cooking on the stove in the middle of the traditional home - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Cooking in the kitchen area of Rehman’s home

Homestay in Pakistan - Bread baking in the fire - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Traditional bread baking in the fire

Early mornings were for village wanderings. One morning saw me scaling hilltops in search of sunrise views. Another brought an encounter with an old woman in a colorful box cap. She proceeded to take me by the arm and lead me through the village, happily explaining things in Wakhi despite my not understanding a word of her language.

Homestay in Pakistan - A man working his farm field in Ghulkin early in the morning - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Early morning work in the fields

Sunny afternoons and evenings were spent with Rehman. We dodged local boys commandeering the road for their football matches as the sun set; oohed and aahed at golden hour light hitting the famous Passu Cones; visited his sister’s home for a cup of tea and some biscuits after a shouted conversation across the valley.

Homestay in Pakistan - Passu cones at sunset in Gilgit Baltistan - Lost With Purpose travel blog

The famous Passu cones

One morning, Rehman drove some of us to the nearby Passu Glacier, where we (very inelegantly) slid down steep walls of loose rocks to access its icy spires. There, Rehman taught me ice climbing basics, cackling as I failed miserably to scale the sheet of ice as nimbly or gracefully as he did. (I have a sneaking suspicion he is part mountain goat, part Iron Man.)

Homestay in Pakistan - Rehman looking for a path through loose rocks by Passu Glacier - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Scrambling to find a path through the loose rocks

Homestay in Pakistan - Ice climbing in Gilgit Baltistan - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Trying (and failing) to scale the ice. Photo by Mihaly of Into the Unknown World.

Homestay in Pakistan - Rehman ice climbing on the white glacier in Gilgit Baltistan - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Rehman making everything look easy, as usual

Each day began and ended in serene bliss. I could’ve stayed for weeks, but alas—all good things must come to an end, right?

Doing things right

On my final day, Rehman drove me back to Aliabad when I couldn’t find a ride to hitch. As we followed the Karakoram Highway once more, he asked me questions about his business.

What can I do better? Where can I learn more about hospitality? How can I get more people to come? 

I answered him earnestly and in detail. Partially because he’s a friend and I want him to succeed, but also because I believe his business needs to succeed.

Homestay in Pakistan - Rehman on the white glacier - Lost With Purpose travel blog

He’s got a mountain ahead of him to climb, but I think he’s succeeding already

You see, Pakistan’s northern areas are gradually being consumed by poorly managed mass tourism. As the numbers of domestic tourists voyaging to Gilgit Baltistan increase every year, so, too, do the numbers of hideous concrete hotels and mediocre tourist establishments serving greasy Punjabi dishes. Locals see the success of neighboring businesses, and abandon their roots in an attempt to greedily cater as quickly as possible to the needs of tourists from other parts of Pakistan. Outsiders move in to capitalize on business opportunities, and take work from locals.

Homestays like Rehman’s are essential for preserving culture and setting an example of how tourism can be done responsibly. Tourists have no choice but to engage with local culture, to adapt to it and appreciate it, unlike the tourists who stay in new concrete hotels and only emerge to take selfies and eat the same food they eat at home. My hope is that Rehman’s success inspires more people to set up local homestays instead of generic hotels.

Homestay in Pakistan - Traditional stone home in Ghulkin - Lost With Purpose travel blog

A home in Ghulkin

Pakistan’s northern areas are a place to enjoy nature and peaceful village life, not stroll down streets of ugly hotels and tacky souvenir stands. There’s only so much that we can do as tourists to slow the frenzied development of the north… but choosing homestays over hotels is one of them.

Visiting Rehman’s homestay in Pakistan

So I’ve sold you on Rehman’s homestay, eh? Great! Here’s what you need to know about visiting his home.

Cost of Rehman’s homestay

There’s no set cost for a night at Rehman’s home; he simply asks you to pay “as you wish” when the time comes for you to leave.

Pay what you like, but remember that this is one of the very few ways he and his family can make money up in Ghulkin. I recommend paying at least $15 (or 1,500 Rs) per day per person. More is always appreciated.

Homestay in Pakistan - Homemade pancakes and apricot oil as a snack - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Pancakes and apricot oil as an afternoon snack. Mmm!

What’s included in Rehman’s homestay 

Facilities are basic in Ghulkin, but you can expect to have…

  • 2-3 meals a day, plus tea and snacks
  • Clean drinking water from a spring
  • Fruit trees galore starting in June or July
  • Communal sleeping area with some raised beds, some mattresses on floor
  • Bathroom attached to communal sleeping area
  • Bucket shower with hot water
  • Mobile signal available in Gulmit village, a 30 minute walk away

Rehman can also arrange treks and camping (with or without gear) in the region for an extra fee.

Homestay in Pakistan - Sunset views from Ghulkin - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Sunset views from the valley are 10/10

Is Rehman’s homestay a good fit for me?

If you’re a foreign tourist interested in learning about village life in a safe and easy environment, his homestay will be a great experience for you.

I especially recommend the area to (solo) female travelers, as you will be very safe and well taken care of in Ghulkin.

Pakistani travelers

Pakistani tourists are a more delicate matter. Rehman does not accept groups of Pakistani tourists. He’s also uncomfortable having male Pakistanis staying in his home/village, as he’s concerned about potential issues between male tourists and the women of his village.

However, I discussed this at length with him and he said he’d likely allow solo female travelers or small groups of Pakistani women, and might consider solo male travelers on a case-by-case basis.

If you’re an open-minded Pakistani traveler truly interested in learning about the local culture, feel free to contact him and let him know so. However, if you’re just looking for a vacation spot for you and your friends, please consider another venue.

How to contact Rehman and book a stay

You can’t book a stay online—calling or texting are your best options. Rehman does use Facebook, but signal is virtually nonexistent in Ghulkin, and there’s a chance he won’t receive your message for several days.

You can call or text Rehman from within Pakistan at 03555120343.

Homestay in Pakistan - Rehman driving to the white glacier - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Once you get off the Karakoram Highway the roads get a little bit iffy…

How to get to Ghulkin and Rehman’s homestay

Ghulkin is a small village close to Passu, a well-known stop on the Karakoram Highway.

Transport up the Karakoram Highway in the form of minibuses is readily available in Gilgit, Karimabad (Hunza), and Aliabad (the town before Karimabad). Ask locals or your hotel staff for transport to Passu, and they should be able to help. Once you’re on the minibus, call Rehman and ask him to speak with your bus driver so he knows where exactly to drop you off.

Rehman might also be able to pick you up in Karimabad or Aliabad depending on his schedule for the day. Call ahead or text to check with him and get more details.

 

Want more on Pakistan’s northern areas? Don’t miss my guide to the stunning Phander Valley!

 

Looking for a homestay in Pakistan? Here's my story at the homestay of a friend in a small village in Gilgit Baltistan, Pakistan. Mountains, glaciers, and delicious homemade local food. What more could you need? Read on for more about how to book a room at the homestay, how to get there, and other important information.

Liked this? Pin it!

Alex

American by birth, British by passport, Filipina by appearance. Addicted to ice cream. Enjoys climbing trees, dislikes falling out. Has great fondness for goats which is usually not reciprocated.

More about Alex

2 thoughts on “A grand reunion at Pakistan’s coziest homestay

    Lucas says:

    Awesome post, so timely, and exactly what I was hoping to find! I’m leaving to Pakistan (first trip) in less than a month, for 30 days, and will make sure to seek out this homestay. Many thanks for sharing!

    Brigid Budd says:

    Thank you for your comments about homestay or any type of stay in Pakistan. I plan to visit with my son and I cannot find anywhere authentic to stay. We rally wanted to visit the Kalash valleys, do you know of any homestays there? Rehman’s house sounds just what we are looking for. I am very interested in food!, culture and handicrafts and my son is a great walker and climber. You have given me some hope to keep looking. We would abandon plans for Kalash in order to stay with Rehman. Have you though of putting together a pack about places to stay (like Rehman’s) for visitors who don’t want the plush concrete horrors?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Lost With Purpose

Send this to a friend