Having run some of the finest hotels and resorts around the world, I have to say that the new Offto Resort in Karimabad is among the best.
Tucked away in a protected gulley at the base of Ultar Peak amongst the crown of jewels that is north ern Gilgit Baltistan, Offto nestles among a glorious canopy of orchards and tall poplar trees . Indeed, a passer – by walking the trail above the resort would not even see that it existed. It is only when you descend below the tree line, that you begin to feel the magic ; that you perhaps may have stumbled into Middle Earth. As you head down to the centre of the resort, you pass Hobbit ‘houses’ built into the hillside. A waterfall cascades into a large pool which rests sleepily in front of the resort’s main restaurant, ‘The Shire’. By now, you’re half expecting the ancient wizard, Gandalf, to emerge from the woods a cast a spell , for this region is certainly spellbinding .
In fact, “ spellbinding ” very accurately describes your feelings in this fabled land of wonders. Long before humans came to be, unimaginable forces created the great mountain ranges , later to be named the Himalayas, the Karakoram and the Hindu Kush. More than 7,250 g iant rivers of ice were spawned which carved pathways to feed the mighty R iver Indus, which flows inexorably to the distant ocean, nurturing and sustaining the lands through which it passes .
These demesne have born witness to the dawn of man and watched our exploratory endeavours, both peaceful and hostile, as we have sought to stamp our mark on the world. They have watched as we have buil t great roads, such as the Silk Road and more recently, the Karakoram Highway ; constructed towns such as nearby Altit which has been lived in for more than a thousand years and fortresses like Baltit that stands guardian over our town and the resort.
These wonders of the world have watched, silently and patiently, as we have created entire religions – Buddha was born here – and the great Indus Valley and Harappan Civilisations of Mohenjo – Daro that had organised town planning when the Pharos were unifying Egypt. Then in the first Millennium BC, the Gandhara Civilisation flourished, rooted in Buddhism and later to be influenced by Alexander the Great.
These magnificent sentinels of the northern areas a re here for you to behold and gaze upon in awe and to wonder at the majesty of the great peaks . But while you enjoy experiencing the beauty and treasures of this magnificent land , you must also respect the m and treat them with the veneration they deserve. F or after all, they were here long before we arrived as their guests and will be here long after have gone.
There are few tourist destinations in the world that can offer so varied a range of experiences as Pakistan. It is not just the spectacular and varied scenery of desserts, mountains, untouched coastlines and coral reefs , forests and meadows. It is also the warmth and hospitality of the people and the fabulous food . Delicate herbs and spices and fiery chilli infusions compete with the gentle flavours of the north and subtle, saffron powdered delicacies. Thousands of orchards of apple, peach, cherry and apricot in the north create spectacular spring blossoms while the luscious mango es further south bring seasonal joy to the world.
But much of these places are under threat, for the development and growth of tourism can be both a blessing and a curse. It can provide valuable revenues for communities but unless managed sustainably and carefully, it can destroy environments & cultures. Some once beautiful places have already been spoiled by irresponsible and un – regulated over – development and it is beholden on future tourism developers to take a conscientious and sustainable approach to exp anding this important but challenging industry.
Offto is committed to engaging with communities and the environment for the benefit of all. Not just those around us in Karimabad and Skardu, or more widely throughout Gilgit Baltistan or even Pakistan – no, I am talking about a commitment to the world.
So, when we built the resort, we used timber from landslide salvaged m ulberry and w alnut trees. For our furniture we used ‘kikar’ – 150 – year – old , 2 nd hand wood and for the construction of ‘The Shire’, we used 40,000 blocks of old stones or ‘phandia’, crafted by the last generation of masons in the region and the 1.7 km of road inside the property was been paved with loose rock slabs from the Passu ar ea. P aint throughout the resort was developed by a local factory , using constituents that are free of lead, arsenic and other such poisonous ingredients.
All wooden ceilings we re made from harvested ’sufaida’ , a wood that is similar to poplar , and we re topped by ‘ven e tian plaster’ , a mix of clay, sand and hay . It is completely organic, temperature balanced and has been in use for centuries – it was used in the construction of Baltit Fort . The outer layer – onduline – is a light weight bitumen mixed with natural weed fiber .
A big part of sustainable development involves engaging closely with , and supporting local communities . Offto Resort has arranged to provide local farmers with seeds for a variety of crops, selected livestock and free range poultry, all with a commitment to purchase back the resultant produce at fair market prices .
We also want to create the most colourful and diverse botanical gardens in the north and have embarked on a programme that has so far seen the planting of 7 new species of trees, 33 species of shrubs, 13 climbers, 10 perennials and 5 fruits and all this using no chemical fertilisers.
And finally, we have a limited tolerance for plastic, the use of which is avoided wherever possible, and we have special arrangements for recycling, sorting and handling waste . We also handle our own sewage treatment .
We are determined to operate our hotels and resorts to the very highest standards, in terms of comfort, facilities, service and cuisine a nd we are equally determined for our guests to take away with them treasured memories . Memories such as joyful and colourful festivals, wondrous panoramas, the blossoms of the Spring, exciting sporting recollections of ice hockey, skiing, trekking and for a few, climbing. And w arm and gracious hospitality , coupled with outstanding food and exotic drinks.