A 20 year old student pursuing his passion in Computer Science, with writing as a major part of my life since as long as I can remember and the art of visual communication, or photography, as a hobby, there’s aren’t many chances to enjoy the beauty of northern areas.
Just last month, I had the pleasure of being a part of a trip to the beautiful Northern areas of Pakistan, from the immense peaks of Hunza to the amazing grasslands of Fairy Meadows. It was an 11-day trip, arranged by a local travel startup.
I, along with a handful of friends, was a part of the 80-strong group that boarded the train from the Karachi Cantonment Railway Station.
This was my first time going on an unsupervised travel trip and naturally, I was excited. I had been to some places like Hunza, Naran, and Gilgit before, but it was more than a decade ago and I barely remembered it.
What Did I Use?
This was also the first time I was actually going to get a chance to photograph whatever I wanted to. I don’t own a dedicated camera — be it a simple digital one or a DSLR— and I never have.
Yet, I love to take pictures from my smartphone, touch them up a little with a simple editing app, and upload them on social networks, from Facebook to Instagram and even on Quora. By now, it’s more of an obsession than a hobby.
- Smartphone — Motorola Nexus 6. Bought two years ago, it has a 13 MegaPixel rear camera with a f/2.0 lens, OIS, and a dual-LED (ring) flash. The camera is decent with a generous amount of detail and good picture quality but don’t expect to be wow-ed with the pictures you get right from the shutter.
- Camera App — Google Camera: In terms of camera software features, it is no way close to what you may get from a modern flagship.
All I get is exposure control, a decent autofocus, and HDR+, which is my favorite feature about the Google camera app and probably the only reason I use it. Developed and perfected by Google itself, HDR+ is stunningly good at capturing low-light photos and reducing noise. In fact, I almost always take a picture with HDR+ set to “On” because the color range and deep shadows it captures are simply too good.
- Editing App — Snapseed: No, I don’t use Photoshop (although I plan to from now on). You can think of Snapseed as the next-best-thing when it comes to editing on a smartphone. A complete professional editor, Snapseed provides a great set of tools to edit your photos., Snapseed is perfect for almost anything.
Armed with my Nexus 6 and a 10,000 mAh battery pack, I was off to the land of peace and beauty. And boy, was I in for a treat!
We left Karachi on the 4th of August on the Business Express to Lahore. After a grueling 36 hours of non-stop travel by train and bus, we arrived in Mansehra. It took us another whole day of coaster ride to arrive in Gulmit, our location of stay for the next three nights.
The place, also known as Gul-e-Gulmit, is a centuries-old historic town, with mountains, peaks and glaciers, and is host to some of the beautiful views I have ever witnessed. Just a two-hour drive from Hunza Valley’s Karimabad, it is a must-see place if you are ever there in the province of Gilgit-Baltistan.
Drinking a hot cup of tea in Gulmit while waiting for the sun to come up.
For the next two days, we visited a number of places; including Attabad Lake, Hunza Valley, and Khunjerab Pass, but always coming back to spend the time in Gulmit.
The author’s friend, standing in silhouette against the mountains surrounding Attabad Lake.
Attabad Lake is the lake you see in the pictures of almost anyone who has ever been to Hunza — the one with the breathtakingly blue waters. Surrounded by barren mountains, the lake is a wonder of nature, and not just because of its vibrant color.
Attabad Lake, also known as Gojal Lake, was formed due to a massive landslide. The landslide blocked the flow of the Hunza river for five months, killed twenty people, and displaced hundreds more.
Who knew nature could transform such a devastating event into a lake so stunningly beautiful?
Baltit Fort is an ancient fort in the Hunza Valley in Gilgit – Baltistan, Pakistan. A UNESCO World Heritage site, this fort’s foundations of the fort date back to 700 years ago, with rebuilds and alterations over the centuries.
The breathtaking view from the roof of Baltit Fort.
Abandoned in 1945 by the Mirs of Hunza, this fort started to decay. However, a restoration program was initiated through the support of Aga Khan Trust for Culture Historic Cities Support Programme and completed in 1996. Now, the fort is a museum run by the Baltit Heritage Trust
Hunza Valley through a window, Baltit Fort.
An old cannon on the steps of Baltit fort.
A high mountain pass in the Karakoram mountains, Khunjerab Pass is situated at a height of 4,693 meters. It is the border between Pakistan and China and a really popular tourist location.
Tourists gather around the barrier to capture a moment.
When we arrived, the place was brimming with people from all over Pakistan, clicking pictures here and there. Some were even taking the pictures with an ATM machine (the only one there), which I found quite funny.
Only later did I found out that the ATM, installed by the National Bank of Pakistan, is the world’s highest-altitude ATM, which explained some of the obsession (though not all of it).
Originally, our tour was planned to go to Hunza through the Kaghan road, which snakes its way through the beautiful valleys of Naran and Kaghan and the stunning Babusar Pass. But due to a landslide near Babusar, we had to go through the much-longer Karakoram Highway — an 18-hour coaster ride from Mansehra to Gulmit.
Taken from a moving coaster, I never expected that crack on the road to align so perfectly with the river down below.
It did, however, led us to see the wonder that is the Karakoram Highway. Famously dubbed the eighth wonder of the world, the incredible 1300-long stretch of road is a sight to behold, making its way around (and even through) giant mountains.
A view of the Passu Cones, the most photographed peaks of the Passu region, from the Karakoram Highway.
Named by German climbers, Fairy Meadows is every bit as beautiful as the name portrays it to be. Imagine sitting in a lush green grassland, surrounded by humongous mountains and the mesmerizing, snow-covered, Nanga Parbat.
Around you, local children are busy playing football and cricket while cows, goats and horses, mill about in a state of utter calm, eating grass and drinking from the freezing-cold natural spring that flows through the land.
Nanga Parbat, partially hidden among the clouds, in all its snowy glory.
The last destination on our itinerary, Fairy Meadows provided a fitting end to what had been an amazing trip. While the four-hour trek along with the two-hour jeep ride may be enough to sap anyone’s energy, it all seems worth it when you get to see the view that awaits you at the top.
The view of the setting sun, from our camping site.
The point of this article is to show that as long as you have a decent enough camera, you can capture some perfectly decent photographs. I don’t deny that a DSLR, or maybe even a dedicated digital camera, can be used to extract much better results.
Obviously, they are much better suited for taking on a trip but in today’s day and age, people rarely buy dedicated cameras. They rely on their smartphones to do the job! So what I mean to say is that if I can get decent results from a smartphone that came out more than three years ago, you should be good to go with almost any modern smartphone.
All you have to do is focus a little harder, find a better angle, and spend just a few minutes on touching up the photo. That’s all you need to get some pretty amazing results.
The best camera is the one you have with you.
Note: The auther owns the copyrights for all the pictures. The pictures are not available for reproduction.