Pakistan is full of wonders. Many are in the north but a few of them reside right around the neighborhood if you live in Karachi. Though the country is surrounded by a few islands, the only one exciting enough to camp and explore is Astola.
The beauty of this island is that it becomes accessible only in winters. You cannot even think of visiting the place in summers because of high tides unless you plan to visit it through a helicopter.
Located around 35 km south-east of Pasni, Astola also known as Haft Talar, is a six-kilometer-long and one-kilometer wide island. It is home to a wide variety of marine life.
One will find thousands of sea urchins, crabs, catfishes, snakes, seahorses, and turtles, while exploring the shores of the island. Further, it is home to two prominent religious places, Kali Mata’s temple – located on top of a mountain, and Mosque Khizar – a small mosque on top of a hill on the main beach. Legend has it that the mosque was constructed by HazratKhizar himself during his stay at the island in the 12th century.
The architecture of the island is in the shape of a big whale. It has six different beaches. During my exploration, I was able to click some of the mesmerizing beaches that cannot be visited by a boat and you will need special climbing gear to explore them. These beaches also host a few caves that are home to sea turtles who use it for nesting.
The island is divided into seven mountains, which has led it to be named ‘Seven Hills Island.’ On the southern side, the mountains are steeper and cannot be climbed easily. The caves are behind these mountains and are covered by rocky beaches.
The hills on the island are joined all together forming a single ground on the top. But from the bottom, they all look different. It can only be climbed to the top from the main beach where a mountainous slope has been created by SSG soldiers, who used to train here during the off-tourism season.
The climb to the top of the mountain takes 300-400 footsteps and a steep and rocky route fiddled with slippery stones. When on top, one will find a small mosque and a crashed helicopter skeleton. My guide said that the helicopter crashed here around eight years ago because of uncertain conditions and the fate of the passengers is not known.
Around 500 meters from the Helicopter skeleton, one will find two well-maintained helipads that mark that helicopters are frequent to the area.
The top of the island is completely barren and a few football stadiums can easily be formed on top of it if the government allows.
I ventured close to 4km of the island and after that I forgot the direction in which I was walking. So, I headed back. The only way to head back if you forget direction is by walking to the edge and then following it to the corner of the mountain from where you will descend to the base camp.
On the southern edge, the island has a light tower installed on top of the mountain, but it isn’t in working condition anymore.
Two kilometers away, accessible by boat, from the main beach, the turtle beach exists. This one is frequented by Pasni-based fishermen. The beach doesn’t have turtles anymore, but one will find tons of fishnets and two graves around 200 meters on the right-side of the beach.
Astola is a wonderful island to visit in winters. One can easily catch fishes with their bare hands and camp for the night. The island is only accessible through Pasni or Gawadar. But before visiting, be sure to note that there are no lodging facilities available at the Island.