NomadMania continues to highlight a variety of diverse travellers and today we talk to Sarah Aziz from Pakistan – an avid Instagrammer who has travelled to more than 50 countries on 5 continents and talks to us about her adventures today.
Sarah, tell us a little about yourself and what you do…
I am a woman in her thirties currently living in Pakistan in its biggest city Karachi. I am an engineer by qualification and have been a corporate executive for about 11 years, working on senior leadership positions and my last assignment in the corporate world was being a human resources communication head in one of the biggest conglomerates in the country. Most recently I have endeavoured to become a restaurateur offering Karachi’s first Portuguese and Mediterranean cuisine inspired by my enriching travels to the south of Europe.
You are 3rd on our list of Pakistani travellers and one of only few women that qualify for our masterlist that we have from your country. Are there many travellers such as you from Pakistan that you know of? How many of them are women?
Unfortunately due to a variety of factors e.g passport acceptability, affordability, cultural and strong religious limitations (specially for women), travelling from Pakistan to most places in the world is extremely restricted therefore I have hardly come across an avid traveler from Pakistan who I got an opportunity to know on a personal basis.
However there is one biker from Pakistan who has covered substantial part of globe on his bike and his name is Kamran and he is present on the social media as Kamran on Bike. Additionally, I have known people from Pakistan who travel or have been based in different countries in connection with work only, however I don’t consider that exposure as travelling.
When did you first experience the ‘travel bug’?
I have been travelling with my family since my childhood, coming from the forces background our travelling was comparatively more than many others, especially in various parts of the country including the part of Kashmir that is with Pakistan. Also, we travelled to other central, south, east and northern territories that includes world famous mountains ranges (Himalayas , Karakoram and Hindu Kush).
The very first time I got to experience the freedom of travelling or to be in nature was when I was sent to a leadership camp as a 13 year old. I spent 15 days with other girls from families of other people from bases all over Pakistan. And that’s where I felt the bug had stung me. I still remember the camp, the leopards and those wild white daisies!
Later on, the fact that I started drawing immense peace, pleasure and a unique type of excitement became very evident in my exploration drive of Pakistan. So the very first country was my own and in that journey there was hardly any place that was left which didn’t get my feet.
At the same time, I got in a relationship with an army officer with whom my only compatibility was exploring the country by road, subsequently as part of my work I got the opportunity to visit the most serene yet underdeveloped, underprivileged places and my job was eventually to create a sustainability impact in those areas through company’s social responsibility and value creation programs.
I was exposed to the most raw form of travelling by road, camping in far flung areas, waking up in a different forests with their own flora and funa and getting mesmerized by the quantum of beauty associated with it.
What is your preferred travel style? What kind of travelling would you like to do more in the future?
My travel style is going by my gut rather than undertaking a very meticulously planned trip, I just pick the principle destination, get myself booked for only one night mostly in the center of the city and from there on it becomes quiet nomadic.
There have been instances where I decided to go to another place in the morning without having a place to stay and figuring that out on my way. My travels mostly are based on my thirst for culture, history, wilderness, spirituality , traditions, community (interacting with locals) and nature last but not the least the hunger to explore food and wine.
In one of my recent travels I went to Bosnia and Herzegovina and ended up staying in the small town of Blagaj for almost a month. This defines my travel style quiet appropriately. When I left Pakistan, I just had a 2-night booking in Sarajevo and from Sarajevo I was going to Split in Croatia by road and suddenly came across this indescribably beautiful khan (a dervish house from early 15th century) and fell in love so much that I checked into the closest town Mostar and just remained there for almost a month.
As to my future travels I have found a new love in wildlife and animals and for some time would like to explore that from as close as possible hence my future travels could be to eastern and central Africa exploring the national parks. I have felt a very deep connection recently while volunteering with wild elephants and would like to explore it further. I would also nor shy away with exploring African spirituality.
Do you have any specific travel goals you would like to accomplish?
My travel goals usually consist of exploring the most non-sought-after places where I can experience raw wilderness, nature and uncorrupted beauty. I get suffocated in crowded cities with crowded touristic places. My goal has also been to get a first-hand feel and experience of the local community – their most natural way of living the food the history that resides in their chests and not documented anywhere.
Once such experience was my interaction with the Turkana tribe at the border of Kenya, Ethiopia and Sudan where I ended up entering after considerable effort. The first few attempts were not very successful, however I decided to take tobacco for the tribe just to make sure that they allow me to at least enter in their jurisdiction.
The tribe was so closed that getting into their domain and finding an opportunity to live with them to understand their language, their customs, their traditions was close to impossible and yet I managed to break the ice with leaders, elderly women and children.
How would you say that your heritage have shaped your world views? Do you experience difficulties when travelling as a Pakistani?
My heritage and origin was too heavily influenced by religion where even independent travelling was/is not an acceptable societal norm, so the way it influenced me is to create this strong and burning desire to explore a world out of my heritage and origin where I am not judged or restricted to explore what brings peace and happiness to me – that is when I discovered the pleasures of indulging into wines cuisines weed and herbs.
Having the liberty to wear what I want and is appropriate to the occasion, that’s when I also started to explore my sensuality as a woman and doing things which defined me as a nomad, free from all restrictions / material / religious limitations.
Pakistanis generally are looked down upon by most of the works communities due to the fact that most of us could not learn to behave, respect and to follow the norms and the rules of the places we were travelling to and I find it difficult to break this perception about Pakistanis which seem to often be deeply engrained.
It was after some in-depth interactions that I could break this perception for myself and this is something that I even face till today, however once people get to know me and my beliefs and the fact that travel and related experiences are like a true worship experience for me, I manage to get respect from the global communities.
Have you had any difficult experiences with obtaining visas and border crossings?
To tell you the truth, the Pakistani passport is the worst passport in the world and the difficulties have increased multifold after 9/11 where even though the perpetrators were all from Saudi Arabia, instead Pakistan and its citizens ended up being criticized and looked down upon in an extreme negative manner.
Every traveler travelling out of Pakistan is viewed as a possible troublemaker or even a terrorist. Fortunately, being a woman who is relatively well-travelled now, I don’t experience any significant issues in obtaining visas or crossing a border/ My most recent experience was when I went in and out of Bosnia to Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro and Albania without having a problem crossing the borders.
At the time of this interview (early summer 2021), you are crossing the Kruger Park by car without external help. How did the adventure go?
As explained in earlier questions, I like to travel within a country mostly by road because this gives me the opportunity and flexibility to stop and explore at my own pace. That’s how I started my journey in South Africa and the first leg I picked was from Johannesburg to Dullstrom to Hazyview and then the Kruger Park.
I got to know the safety and security risks which were involved in a single solo traveler travelling by road, I went through several situations and thank my stars that somehow I got away from getting stuck in an ugly situation. Now when I look back on that journey I would not advise any other traveler. especially a woman, to undertake such a journey on her own. It is better to travel in a group where appropriate arrangements are put in place for the security and safety of travelers.
However the experience and the adventure was unmatchable and left a mind boggling impression on my mind and I ended up driving inside the Kruger park and witnessed the BIG 5 and other wildlife in its most beautiful and original form uninterrupted and without any disturbance. There were several occasions where I found myself totally alone in the middle of the sky and the earth, surrounded by the wildlife and this could not have gotten any closer to the nature.
Where would you like to travel next and what about your travels in the pandemic?
I have never been to South America and I would wish to undertake a visit to places like Peru, Chile, Uruguay,, Argentina and Brazil wildlife and tribes of the Amazon.
I ended up going to Turkey during the pandemic – this was when most of the world was closed for travelling and only Turkey was open and my craving for travelling just couldn’t hold me to stay within Pakistan. The places I explored were through hitch-hiking, exploring border areas getting a peek of Armenia, Georgia, Cyprus, Meis )Kastelorizo) in Greece, and also going around the Black Sea Region.
Recently, returning from South Africa which was on the red list of Pakistan due to the delta variant, I had to get special permission from the aviation ministry of Pakistan. So, I have to say that travel is not that much fun or convenient anymore, it’s becoming so much tougher for everyone and even for the avid travellers like us…