Dublin, Ireland

Dublin is the capital of and largest city in Ireland, near the midpoint of Ireland’s east coast, at the mouth of the River Liffey and at the center of the Dublin Region. Founded as a center of Viking settlement, the city has been Ireland’s capital since medieval times.

Getting Around
Local buses, run by Dublin Bus, are frequent and cheap . Bus stops are green with a sign indicating the bus numbers that stop there.Fares start at E0.75 for a short hop within the city (up to three stages), and the exact amount must be paid in coins to the driver on boarding the bus. The driver can only give change in the form of a ticket, which can be redeemed at the Dublin Bus office on O’Connell Street. An excellent bus map of the city is available free of charge from Dublin Bus or the tourist office.
If you plan to stay in Dublin for more than 24 hours and you intend to travel around the city a lot, you should consider buying a Rambler ticket, valid for one (E4.50), three, five or seven (E16.50) consecutive days on all Dublin Bus scheduled services including the Airlink bus

Taxis were deregulated in Dublin in 2002. There are now far more cabs available, but this does not seem to have resulted in fare reductions. Taxi ranks in the city center are situated at O’Connell Street Upper, St Stephen’s Green, Aston Quay and College Green as well as at Busáras and the railway stations.

Dublin’s light railway system, the DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) links the coastal suburbs with the city centre. It is useful for short hops between the north and the south of the city and for transport to hotels and places of interest in some suburban areas.

Shopping
Where Dublin excels in the shopping stakes is in locally crafted goodies from woolly jumpers to hand-woven rugs, and from gorgeous pots to elegant furniture, glass, jewelery and fashions. Beautiful, covetable items from all over Ireland are sold in Dublin through dedicated sales shops and in the big craft stores on Nassau Street.

The two main shopping areas are based around Grafton Street and Henry Street. Each has a distinctly different tone: Grafton Street is definitely the more upmarket of the two, with a number of quality boutiques among the high-street chains; Henry Street is a little seedy in places, but has an excellent street market and good shops in the adjoining arcades.

Tours and Attractions
An excellent way to get an insight into the city is to join one of the many specialist guided bus or walking tours doing the rounds of Dublin’s familiar and not-so-familiar sites of historical and cultural interest. These usually run daily and can be joined at the starting point, although it is wise to book ahead for some of the more unusual walking tours, as they may not run if there isn’t enough interest.

Dublin Bus operates the hop-on, hop-off Dublin City Tour, with open-top buses running every 10 minutes between 0930 and 1700 and every 30 minutes from 1700 to 1830, starting at McDonalds on O’Connell Bridge. The complete tour takes over an hour and visits 16 sights around the city, with guided commentary provided by the bus driver. The bus ticket (E10 adult, E5 child under 14) includes discounts at each of the sights and is valid for a day.

Click here to see some photos I have taken on my trip to Dublin.

The Kaghan Valley

The Kaghan Valley
The Kaghan Valley is located in Northern Pakistan northeast of Hazara, NWFP. It’s one of the valleys that are relatively easy to reach from Rawalpindi / Islamabad. The mountain scenery, the dales, lakes, water-falls, streams and glaciers are the main reason to come here. The Valley extends for 155 km rising from an elevation of 2,134 meters to its highest point, the Babusar Pass, at 4,145 meters. Further north from from Babusar Pass, a jeep track leads to Chilas, which is now on Karakoram Highway (the road that connects Islamabad to Xinjiang province of China via Gilgit, Hunza and Khunjerab Pass). Before Karakoram Highway was opened in 1978, the only road access to Gilgit was through Kaghan Valley.

Naran is the best base for treks and walks in the valley. There are some options for accommodation here and some restaurants. Naran is best reached by jeep from Balakot some 200 km north of Rawalpindi / Islamabad. The best time to visit Kaghan is in summer months (May to September). From the middle of July up to the end of September, the road beyond Naran, snow-bound throughout the winter, is open right up to Babusar Pass. Movement may be restricted during the monsoon season due to heavy rains and landslides.

A Visit to Kaghan Valley will leave you enchanted by the spectacular beauty of its Mountains, Glaciers and Lush Greenery. Kaghan Valley includes Naran, Kaghan, Shogran and its surrounding areas. The way to Kaghan valley starts with two hour drive to Abbottabad. At Abbottabad you can refresh yourself with a cup of tea before driving to Mansehra, Balakot and onwards to Kawai. Kawai onwards is a steep climb to the Shogran plateau which offers a splendid view of a fabulous array of mountains, amid pine trees and lush green meadows.

Most of the tourists especially come to visit lake Lake Saiful Maluk lying 10,600 feet above sea level with its natural tranquility in the foot hills of Himalayas. Saiful Maluk is one of the most beautiful lakes of the world. To sit beside the lake is to be in the fairy world. Camping at Saiful Maluk is an experience of life time. You can find nice and comfortable hotel accomodation at Shogran and after a day’s rest consider moving on to Sri Paya. But be prepared for the extra bumpy ride. You can also plan a hiking trip to Sri Paia from Shogran. It will take around two and half hour to reach at peaks of Sri Paia. (In local language, Sri means Lake, Paia means Peak) Once you reach Sri Paia the discomfort of the journey is forgotten as you find yourself surrounded by a spectacular view of the Makra Hills and the Malika Parbat peak. Malka Parbat in english means “Queen of Mountains”.

The next stop Khanian offers the best Trout Fish one can taste in the north. The dazzling greens of Dana Meadows and the slippery glaciers at tarmac, on the way to Naran, are quite an experience. Malka Parbat, can be best approached by hiking or driving 10 KM from Naran to the legendary Saiful Maluk nesting in the shadows of The Malka Parbat. On a clear day, you can behold the majesty of the Malka Parbat’s peaks reflected in the lake’s deep blue icy waters. The road from Mansehra to Naran is excellently built. The workers of Frontier Works Organization are always busy in repairing the road and clearing the way of eroded mountains to ensure smooth flow of traffic. Naran is one of most popular tourist spots of Pakistan at distance of 160 KM from Abbottabad. Travelers from Pakistan as well as many foreign countries rush in summer to the lush green valley surrounded by snowy mountains.

Click Here to see more photos.

Murree and Suburbs

I (Kashif Ali, Manager GPRS) solemnly declare that I went to Nathia Galli last week with my family.
I thought I will share my experience with you as some of you are planning to visit this areas in your dreams.

What to See?

Galliats around Mari , don’t confuse it with Murree (Nathia Galli, Donga Galli, Ayubia, Bhurban etc) are excellent to visit. These are easy to commute, roads are nice and there are many hotels. Nathia Galli & Ayubia (Recommended, 25 KM from Muri or Murree) are excellent for natural views. Lash or Lush or whatever green jungles, beautiful hills, full of monkeys and birds, and relatively less crowded compared to Muri or Murree, so only go if you are newly married (any of you planning 2nd or 3rd marriage?) or are with extended family (avoid in-laws!). Highly recommended visit.

PC Bhurban hotel (5 KM from Muri or Murree) is a must, even if you don’t stay there. It will keep you (especially kids) busy for one day. There are good attractions in it namely swimming pool, bowling alley, Amphitheatre (Roman Architecture open air theater) as we don’t care about islamic Architecture anymore, play land for kids, theme gardens, tracking path, shopping etc. Entry fee is RS 300 per person, which can be reclaimed against food bill. Their Hi Tea is good value for money (approx Rs 500 per person, kids under 5 go free, time 4.30 to 6.30pm, go around 5.30 and you can save on dinner). Link to PC Bhurban http://www.pchotels.com/pchb/index.htm

Ayubia to Donga Gali Pipeline Track (in Ayubia National Park, Built in 1930, 8200 feet high, Distance 4 KM. This is a beautiful walking track (it is straight, no climbing or mountaineering). Views are stunning. Just do a part if can not complete. Small children can walk, babies need carrying and the rest can sit on their ass and watch.

There are 3 chair lifts around Muri or Murree (Ayubia, Patriata & Pindni Point). All are a bit difficult (but not impossible) to manage with small kids. I have personally done Ayubia one with two small kids & elderly mother. Views are nice at the top and there is a park there too. Ayubia is near Nathia Galli (hence can be combined with it) so you can have a combo, Patriata is 25 KM from Muri or Murree in opposite direction. Main Muri or Murree especially Mall Road is very crowded.

Hotel & Accommodation

For accommodation, highly recommended is PC Bhurban (very expensive though, Rs 10,000 per night for double bed). 2nd choice could be PTDC motel (link below). Double room is around RS 3500. It is government owned, relatively clean & comfortable according to their own standards (I have not stayed in it though). Their food is very good. PTDC motel is located in Ayubia. Check PTDC Motels  http://www.tourism.gov.pk/

Otherwise you can go to the area early in the day and bargain any cleaner hotel there. Before committing always visit the room, especially check the bed (sit on it & smell it) and see the bath room. Because weather there is damp and cold hence bed mattresses and carpets start smelling bad. My recommendation is to go for a really good hotel. This is money well spent. You don’t want to be uncomfortable with your family on vacations.

Weather

Weather is a bit cold & rainy there. So take warm clothing. Avoid weekend with 14th August. It is going to be very crowded. Sunny Bank (chowk) is a hub for Muri or Murree, Pindi, Bhurban, Nathia Galli and Muzaffarabad roads. It really gets chocked with traffic (I spent one hour in car on Friday evening). So avoid weekends if possible.

Food

Best use mineral water (easily available there, in fact all amenities are easily available). Take vomiting (motion / travel sickness) tablets with you. For food, just be vigilant & eat what is freshly made. If you are used to Lahori restaurants, you will cope easily. Food is not bad (at least it is comparable to Lahore). Full of Fats, Spices, and what nots

Skardu, Baltistan

About Skardu
Skardu, capital of Baltistan is perched 2,438 metres above sea level in the backdrop of the great peaks of the Karakoram mountain range. Baltistan is known as the “Tibet-e-Khurd” or Little Tibet since its life-style reflects that of the roof of the World and Land of Lamas.It borders on the Chinese province of Xinjiang and Indian-occupied Kashmir. The tourist season is from April to October. The maximum temperature is 27C and the minimum (October) 8C.

What to See
Apart from its incomparable cluster of mountain peaks and glaciers Baltistan’s five valleys- Shigar, Skardu, Khaplu, Rondu and Kharmang are noted for their luscious peaches, apricots, apples and pears. Shigar valley, 32 kms. by jeep from Skardu is the gateway to the mountain peaks of the Karakorams. Skardu has a historic Fort atop a ridge known as the Mindoq-Khar or Castle of Queen Mindoq and three lovely lakes. The two- Kachura Lake 29 kms. and Satpara Lake 8 kms. from Sakrdu- are ideal for fishing.

The Deosai Plains are 32 km south of Skardu. This plateau is the habitat of the greatly threatened Himalayan Brown Bear and many other wild animals. At an average elevation of 3500 metres, Deosai is now a National Park and protected area for wildlife.
The rolling grassland here supports no trees or shrubs and the area is snow covered for seven months of the year. Spring comes to Deosai in August when millions of wild flowers begin to bloom all over the lush green grassland. This is a time when Deosai looks like a paradise with a landscape full of wild flowers on green rolling hills and crystal clear water streams with snow covered peaks in the background.
An adventure jeep safari will take you right across the beautiful mountain ranges of the Himalayas and the Karakorams Travelling on KKH, you will enjoy the most spectacular scenery on earth. Before reaching Deosai, you will also witness the magical views of Nanaga Parbat (8126 m), the ninth highest peak of the world. At Deosai, you first stop will be at Sheosar Lake. This place offers beautiful views of south fact of Nanga Parbat and a panoramic view of Deosai Plains. At Bara Pani, you can spend one day and visit the core of the National Park for Bear watching or you may enjoy fishing in the cold waters or Barwai Stream. From Deosai, you can travel back via Skardu and Gilgit to enjoy the most thrilling drive along the Indus River.

Click here to see more photos.

Skyline Drive

Shenandoah National Park lies astride a beautiful section of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which form the eastern rampart of the Appalachian Mountains between Pennsylvania and Georgia. Skyline Drive, a 105-mile road that winds along the crest of the mountains through the length of the park, provides vistas of the spectacular landscape to east and west. The park holds more than 500 miles of trails, including 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail. Trails may follow a ridge crest, or they may lead to high places with panoramic views or to waterfalls in deep canyons. In season, bushes and wildflowers bloom along the Drive and trails and fill the open spaces. Apple trees, stone foundations, and cemeteries are reminders of the families who once called this place home.

Skyline Drive is not just a 105-mile road through the park; it is a way to experience it. Drivers will pass rock cliffs, and vistas, and probably deer and other wildlife; they will drive through tunnels of trees, past wildflowers and ferns, and (in late spring) by banks of mountain laurel in bloom. 75 overlooks offer a place to stop and absorb the view and the peace. The 35-miles-per-hour speed limit allows drivers the opportunity to truly enjoy the ride and helps to ensure the safety of wildlife along the road.

Click Here to see more photos