GVS: What’s the one thing Pakistan has in terms of tourism that other countries lack?
Maliha: Every country has something great to offer and is different in its own right. I wouldn’t say that other countries lack this factor but Pakistan; I feel that the kind of hospitality we provide to the visitors, is unique. We are very caring hosts and go the extra mile to make the guests feel welcomed.
The rich food culture of Pakistan, when it comes to hosting visitors is overwhelming. I have seen people of this country–out of sheer love and respect– opening doors of their homes to tourists and becoming the hostcum-tour guides to travellers, helping them sightsee. It is definitely an underrated country that needs to be explored but I see a good change coming for tourism.
GVS: Your favourite Pakistani street food?
Maliha: This is such a tough question with no right answer but to start of, I would say Gol Gappa for the win and also Paratha rolls. I can’t leave ‘ande wala burger’ and ‘doodh bottle’ out of the game but to be honest, I should really stop because my mouth is watering up now. Given the diversity of food items available in Pakistan, I can’t get enough of it each time.
Read more: An exclusive interview with Isphanyar Bhandara
GVS: What inspired you to come up with the tagline ‘Travel is our passion, culture is our motivation’?
Maleeha: The tagline represents the soul of our journeys. When I was 17, the tagline was ‘travel is her passion, culture is her motivation’, once I was married, her changed to ours. I and my husband are often asked the reason for our travel.
These are not leisure trips that we take but are to educate ourselves on different cultures; that motivates us to keep going and exploring. So this sentence drives from the fact that I am narrowing down our journey into these few words.
GVS: Are you a backpacker or a long term traveller?
Maliha: I am a little bit of both. I believe in exploring at my convenience; which means that every time I feel like taking a trip or experiencing change, I don’t need to fly thousands of miles and spend hundreds of dollars.
I believe that as long as your purpose is to travel and explore, start with your surroundings. So go visit a nearby town or take a quick bus or train ride to the next city. If your purpose is to visit a specific location, start by setting a goal in mind, working out the budget and saving towards it.
Even if it takes you a year or two to save which is the case with most of my trips, save up with all your heart and ultimately, when you embark on that adventure, you will see how ‘WORTH IT’ all that resisting buying things and eating out, was.
GVS: If you could go back in time and tell young Maleeha one thing about travelling, what would it be?
Maliha: If I could give my younger self advice about travelling, it would be to save up money from birthdays, eid or any extra cash I make and invest it all towards a trip. Also, document everything and improve video making skills.
Read more: GVS exclusive interview with Fareeha Idrees
GVS: What are the 5 things that every traveller must have at all times?
Maliha: To start with, ‘purpose’ as it adds great value to your trip. Secondly, ‘will power’ because you will fail at times and things will not go your way and to keep going, you must have that strong will power, so you remember why you started in the first place. ‘Liberal mindset’ would be the third thing.
Everybody comes from a different background and as you are out exploring different cultures, you will see a lot of people, who do not share your values but that is not a bad thing so keep an open mind and always respect the differences you discover. Next is the ‘positive attitude’.
Travel is always full of surprises and in that scenario, your attitude matters a lot. There might be conflicting things that you come across; how you deal with them will vary as will the results of the situation. A positive attitude and a smile can get you through a lot, no matter where you are.
And fifth and last, a ‘realistic approach’; daydreaming about perfection isn’t bad but thinking that you can apply for a visa and you will definitely get it in time or a fight will not get cancelled last minute or your bus will take exactly 5 hours to get to a certain location is not always the case .
This is real life and in life, things go wrong. All the things I have mentioned, actually do happen and even though you had a plan and you had places to be at, in such times the realistic approach would be to tell yourself, ‘‘it’s okay, life happens but I will try again’’.
About 5 essential material things to carry on travels vary depending on the trip you are taking but the aforementioned facts, I have learned over time with each travel and these things are important for you, the traveller, to keep in mind.
GVS: Your husband seems as big a travel fan as you are, what is special about travelling in pairs?
Maliha: The best thing about travelling with him is that I get to share some of the best moments of my youth with him. I don’t believe in growing old and travelling after retirement, because I think that is only a way for people to delay any plan. I believe in cashing any and every chance one gets to travel whether one is young, middle-aged or old.
Also, as we go, we get to learn so much together which helps us have a similar mindset towards how we see the world. But to be honest, he is an awesome ‘Instagram husband’ and also makes me look great in the photos. Don’t worry, I return the favour as well.
GVS: Your travel photography is very creative, what inspires you?
Maliha: I get my passion for travelling and photography from my father. He is a great photographer and traveller. Seeing him and always hearing from people in my family of how great he is with the camera, I always pushed myself to think outside the box and keep practising. I do not think I am as creative as my father is but he is my inspiration.
Read more: Win With a Winning Pakistan – Exclusive Interview with Shazia Syed, CEO Unilever Pakistan
GVS: What’s your favourite travel memory from Pakistan?
Maliha: My father took me to Kalash Valley; along the way, I saw a beautiful hotel, which seemed a very high end to me. As an inexperienced traveller at the time, I wanted to stay in that hotel. However, when the car finally stopped, we arrived at a small, old hotel which seemed like a glorified tree house or a cabin.
I asked my father why we were staying there, as I was not interested in staying there. It didn’t look as luxurious as the hotel I had seen on the way there. It was a family-run wood cabin. The people were super friendly and welcoming. The money they earned from their small hotel was the only way they took care of family expenses but I did not realize it at that time.
I was upset and went to bed a little angry. Next morning when I woke up, I was thirsty. My father gave me an empty bottle of water and asked me to fll it from a freshwater stream that was flowing right in front of the cabin. I took my bottle there and as I was filling the bottle, I couldn’t believe how clear the water was. I had a sip and it was cold.
I ran to my father to make him try it as well. I then went out again, walked to the stream and sat by it. At a small distance, I saw a bunch of trees with different fruits on them. I have always loved seeing fruits on trees I don’t know why. I saw grapes and apples. I reached out for some grapes but they were a little sour.
Still, I was so excited to see all those trees. I saw some girls, close to my age, in the traditional kalashi black dress with colourful headsets and accessories. I was instantly interested in their traditional wear. I went to speak to those girls, wanting to make friends with them but turned out, we did
not speak a mutual language. We still shook hands and they started walking towards the cabin we were staying at. They were the owner’s daughters. The owners gave me a traditional dress, same as their daughters and I was the happiest kid on the planet at that moment. Even though my new friends and I were unable to speak a common language, we hung out that entire day.
They showed me around and that is how my days were spent. The day we had to leave, my heart was crying but I kept a straight face. The owner asked me if I would remember him and his family, once I grow up. Well, now I want to go back there, thank them properly and say, ‘’ I am 22; all grown up and I remember you and everything else.’’
That experience showed me the value of community, the value of supporting local family-run businesses, value of human interaction even when you don’t speak the same language and above all the value of travel. Since that trip, I have been in love with culture. It all started at home, Pakistan.
GVS: What places do you look forward to explore in Pakistan?
Maliha: I look forward to exploring the Hunza Valley and Kalash Valley in Pakistan. I also want to live there for a few weeks and just pretend to be a local. Live their lifestyle as I feel that it is so simple and peaceful.
Read more: Elias Davidson – A conspiracy theorist or historian researcher?
GVS: Do you have any funny travel stories from Pakistan?
Maliha: I don’t know if this counts as funny or a dark story, but my father laughs at it. This one time, we were in the northern areas of Pakistan. My father bought a bag of mangoes from a local vendor while travelling and we stopped by a river to take some photos. I was a kid at the time, but always loved mangoes.
I do think that mango is one of the most loved fruit in Pakistan. So while taking the pictures, we kept putting our stuff on the rocks by the river. Somehow the bag of mangoes fell into the river and started floating with the current. I saw it and ran after it.
Jumping on rocks and running after the bag of mangoes. My father saw me and told me to stop running or I would fall in the river. Now when I think of it, I realize how fast the river current was and how I could have fallen into it and basically never made it back. Now you can judge whether this is a funny story or just a dark tale of a girl and her love for mangoes.
GVS: If you could time-travel (past or future) to anywhere in Pakistan, where would you go?
Maliha: Unfortunately, I have not been to Hunza yet so my future plans are to travel to Hunza within Pakistan. I also have a ton of other unexplored areas in my beautiful country that I have not yet seen and I do believe 2019 is the year I will finally go to Hunza. Baluchistan is also another location in Pakistan, which I aspire to visit, especially the beautiful beaches we have there and the mud volcanoes.