It’s the journey that matters not the destination and getting from Gilgit to Chitral via the Shandur Pass is one of the epic journeys in Pakistan you should do.
It ties in perfectly with visiting the Hunza Valley north of Gilgit along with visiting the Kalash valleys in the Chitral area. These are two of the main places to see in northern Pakistan.
If you have your own car…awesome!
If you have your own motorbike…awesome!
If you have loads of money for a tour…ok.
Or if you’re budget travellers like us and backpacking in Pakistan cheaply, don’t have your own transport and try to save money where you can, then this is how we did this journey, for cheap.
Note: As a foreigner take at least 10 photocopies of your passport page and visa page in passport to give to the security checkpoints as you go through the area.
The Shandur Pass Journey
Step 1. Karimabad to Gilgit and The Phander Valley
Starting off in Karimabad, the main area for visitors in the Hunza Valley, we headed by hitch-hiking and local van the 2 hours down to Gilgit.
Gilgit itself is nothing special so don’t worry about spending your time there, just get an early start (leave around 8 in the morning), and you will be able to make it to Phander on the same day.
From Gilgit, we thought about hitch-hiking to Phander but a local van was ready to leave and only cost $2 for the 5-hour journey so we jumped on that.
Travel by local van.
The trip starts by going through small villages and following the Gilgit river before you get to the small town of Gahkuch after 2 hours or so. A 20-minute break there for a late lunch (try the plov across the street from where the van stops) and then another 3 hours to the Phander Valley.
Phander is the place to break the trip on the first day. It’s a beautiful valley with a small lake and a river running through it with small trout.
Arriving late in the evening there is a bunch of small guesthouses to stay at and we opted for the Sada Bahar Hotel run by the affable Sheraz.
Sheraz is very welcoming and friendly and his hotel is clean and budget-friendly, costing around 1500 rupees for a double room.
There won’t be any time to do anything by the time you get there so just chill in his hotel, have some freshly caught trout from the nearby river, and relax.
The next morning getting up early you can head up to see the small Phander Lake but it is a good 1-hour walk to get up there from the hotel, or you will have to pay for a ride there and back, which can cut 1000 rupees out of your budget.
Just mention to Sheraz you want to see him fishing and he’ll be happy to oblige. He goes fishing every day and it’s just several minutes walk from the hotel to the river.
Make sure you try some trout before you leave Phander as it’s some of the best in the country (unless, naturally, you don’t eat fish).
The Phander Valley.
Sheraz fishing for trout.
Trout for breakfast! Some of the best you can have.
Phander Valley to Broke Village
We had intended to try and get to Chitral in the same day but as with all well (or unwell in our case) laid plans that didn’t happen.
Cheap public transport from Gilgit to Phander is easy and is on a paved road, but after Phander the road is rocky and heads up high over the Shandur Pass and is best done in a jeep.
There is a daily public Natco bus that does this route to Mustuj but it’s such a beautiful drive it’s one of those times where spend a little to enjoy yourself more.
Sheraz arranged a jeep for us and drove us himself across the pass. We paid a ‘donation to petrol’ of 3000 rupees.
Taking the jeep was the best idea as it allowed us to stop and enjoy where we were whereas on public transport you won’t have that option.
Plus the jeep is much more fun!
Leaving the Phander Valley.
The Phander Valley soon turns to a dirt rocky road and even wider spaces as the Shandur National Park opens before you.
Shandur National Park.
Shandur Pass road.
At the top of the pass is a military checkpoint. It took around 1 hour at this place to get my clearance as a foreigner to pass into Chitral province.
Stopping in a small ‘cafe’ for chai and talking with the local cattle herders and cafe owner who has been there for over 25 years.
There is the famous Shandur polo ground where once a year in early July the Gilgit and Chitral polo teams come to play against each other and the area becomes packed with spectators from each team leading to a huge festival atmosphere (I’ve seen videos of it on YouTube).
But where the polo ground is there is also a miltary base so no photos are allowed and, obviously, no photos of the checkpoint area itself.
So here’s a cool video on YouTube that shows what the Shandur Pass polo game is like:
Herders with their cattle on top of the Shandur Pass.
Selfie with the locals.
Driving along the lake after the checkpoint.
It was around 4 in the evening by the time we arrived in Broke village after leaving the Shandur Pass checkpoint and there was no need to push too much in one day, especially as the budget Shandur hotel was only 1000 rupees for the night.
You can make it to Mustuj but as we found out the next day it is noisier whereas Broke is quiet and relaxed.
The porch on the Shandur hotel is good for relaxing on and gives you the chance to meet people. A group of polo players coming back from polo practice greeted us.
Polo players greet us in Broke village.
Broke village with simple hotel on right.
Simple but cheap sleeping on Afghan bed on the floor in Shandur hotel.
Broke Village to Chitral
To get out of Broke to Mustuj meant waking up at 5 in the morning as this is when most jeeps and transport will be going.
Hitch a ride for 1-200 rupees for the 2 hour trip to Mustuj over a very bumpy road and then wait around in Mustuj for another car or van heading to Booni which is a town another 2 hours drive away. Pay around 1-200 rupees for that trip per person.
The road to Mustuj.
If you’re in Mustuj for a few hours waiting for transport find this little cafe to hang out in for chai and paratha.
The road to Booni.
Booni is the main town after leaving Phander and has a lot more transport options so once there it will be easy to find a car or shared van for 200 rupees for the final 3 hours drive into Chitral.
Our main reason for visiting Chitral area was to head into the Kalasha valleys so we spent only a few hours in Chitral city itself as there’s not much to do there.
But if you’re lucky you may be able to see some polo practice or a game at the local polo ground in the city. It’s the cities sport obsession and fun to watch.
Polo in Chitral.
Cross The Shandur Pass!
The Shandur Pass is one of the best road trips in Pakistan and is a must for the adventure traveller looking for scenery and meeting local people.
And it can be done on a budget as you have seen!
For more guides on Pakistan check out my Pakistan destination guides.
Be sure to take travel insurance for any adventure just in case. I use World Nomads Travel Insurance and have found them to be excellent for adventurous journeys.