Mastuj, in the north of Pakistan’s Khyber-Pukhtoonkhwa province, is a place where you can get away from it all. And I mean really get away from it all. In fact Mastuj might be the most remote place I have ever been to, and that’s saying something.
Mastuj is the town where all transport from Chitral to Gilgit stops for the night. A hamlet not far from Afghanistan’s wild Wakhan Corridor, the town sits on a plateau at the confluence of the Yarkhun and Mastuj Rivers. From a distance, the verdant green of Mastuj’s mountainous setting almost look like the Hunza Valley, a few hundred kilometres to the northeast. However Mastuj is no Hunza; the difficulty in accessing the place has ensured that very few travellers know its charms.
Those charms might not be apparent at first; the main street of the town is a rather shabby collection of grocery stores and mechanic workshops.
But venture out of the centre and discover a beautiful town where natural streams run through gardens, hens cluck their way around the streets, and quaint fences demarcate the paddocks of farms.
The silence of the outskirts of the town would have be eerie if it wasn’t so perfect. I lay down on the grass by the road and watched the clouds drift across the sky for some time… simply bliss.
Further along the road lay the PTDC Motel, operated by Pakistan’s Tourism Development Corporation. As I walked into the quiet reception the manager scrambled to get behind the desk – apparently, they weren’t expecting guests that afternoon. I was stopping in to get a bottle of water, but as so often happens in Pakistan it ended up being tea and biscuits with the manager, the manager’s friend and the hotel’s security guard.
A walk further Long the PTDC Motel road took me to the Mastuj Fort. I wasn’t expecting to be allowed to enter, but an old gatekeeper appeared and started rambling in Khowar, the local language. I didn’t know what to do but follow him… so I did, through the pretty garden and right up to the fort’s walls. Another man appeared and started speaking in Urdu… he explained that the fort was locked, but that I was welcome to walk around the grounds. He introduced his older friend as an ex-Air Force pilot. The old man nodded without smiling, before continuing his tour in a foreign tongue.
I was only in Mastuj for one night, and I had only ever planned on stopping there because I had to. After my afternoon ambling around the town, its pretty gardens and the fort, and meeting some of the local characters, I realised that Mastuj was not as much a waypoint as an unintended destination. The furthest I had ever been from anywhere might have just ended up being somewhere.
While in Mastuj I stayed at the basic and unclean, but cheap and and convenient NATCO Retiring Rooms. The PTDC Motel is a more expensive, cleaner and more comfortable option. Because most foreigners who come to Mastuj are doing so to transit, an armed guard doesn’t accompany you everywhere like in Chitral, however that might change if you decide you want to go walking in the mountains.