If you’ve looked at people’s adventurous Instagram feeds, you must have come across beaches in unfamiliar locations that would have had you swooning over a beach vacation. Bali and Maldives are all the rage these days, but Pakistan’s pristine beaches and far-off places also offer a number of opportunities for anyone looking for a calm and relaxing experience.
Pakistan has its own pristine island in the Arabian Sea that is waiting for you to make it your next destination! Visit Astola Island as it offers the best option for you to start your exploration and familiarize yourself with marine life. Soak in the sun and bask in the calmness of a noise and pollution-free beach!
WHERE IS ASTOLA ISLAND LOCATED?
Astola Island or Jabl-e-Zareen (beautiful mountain) is a new island, located in the Arabian Sea about 39 kilometers southeast of the fishing port of Pasni. It is considered Pakistan’s largest offshore island with an approximately 6.7 square kilometer area. Administratively, the island is part of the Pasni sub district of Gwadar District in Balochistan. Balochistan has a host of tourist hotspots, waiting to be explored. Hingol National Park is another destination that should be on your bucket list.
The island can be accessed by motorized boats from Pasni, with a journey time of about 5 hours to reach the island.
ASTOLA ISLAND’S GEOGRAPHY AND ECOLOGY
The water around Astola is a deep turquoise blue that speaks volumes of the health of its sea life. In June 2017, the government of Balochistan declared Astola Island as a ‘marine protected area’ in view of protecting, conserving and restoring species, habitats, biodiversity and ecological processes that may be adversely affected as a result of human activities, furthermore, prevent degradation and damage.
Recently, a team of environmental experts sanctioned by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) declared the island a “very healthy and productive marine ecosystem”. The experts found a number of ‘healthy’ indicators that all indicate we’ve been taking good care of this natural gem. These included, rich marine life in a shipwreck about four kilometres off the island and a number of green turtles nesting and laying eggs on the island’s beaches and juvenile turtles hatching and returning to the sea.
It is essential to look at the marine life around a beach to understand whether or not a clean and safe environment is available for the inhabitants. And with the status of ‘protected area’ in place, the island is only going to flourish from here.
The island consists of a large tilted plateau and a series of seven small hillocks which gives it its name of Haft Talar, seven hills. The hills have deep chasms and crevices, which are several feet wide. There are several natural caves and coves on the island. The south face of the island slopes off gradually whereas the north face is cliff-like with a sharp vertical drop.
Isolation has helped maintain several endemic life forms on Astola. The endangered green turtle and the hawksbill turtle nest on the beach at the foot of the cliffs. The island is also an important area for endemic reptiles such as the Astola viper, and is reported to support a large number of breeding waterbirds including coursers, curlews, godwits, gulls, plovers and sanderling. Vegetation on the island is sparse and largely consists of scrubs and large bushes. There are no trees on the island. There is no source of fresh water on the island and the vegetation depends on occasional rainfall and soil moisture for survival. Astola is also home to coral reefs, giving its biodiversity a unique flavour.
LIFE ON ASTOLA ISLAND
In 1982, the Government of Pakistan installed a lighthouse on the island for the safety of passing vessels, which was replaced by a solar-powered one in 1987.
Between September and May of each year, Astola becomes a temporary base for mainland fishermen for catching lobsters and oysters. From June to August, the island remains uninhabited due to the fishing off-season, the rough seas and high tides.
There is a small mosque dedicated to the Muslim saint Pir Khawaja Khizr, which is used by the mainland fishermen during the fishing season. Ruins of an ancient Hindu temple of the Hindu goddess, Kali are located on the island. The island was also known to the Hindus as Satadip.
Astola Island is a popular but “hard” destination for eco-tourism, although there are no lodging facilities on the island. Overnight tourists must camp on the island and bring their own provisions. Camping, fishing and scuba-diving expeditions are popular. It is also a site for observing turtle breeding.
Both boat and helicopter transfers are available from Agatti to Bangaram and Kadmat. The helicopter may be the only option in the monsoon season from May to September. Boats and ferries can be used for getting around from one island to the other. Once on an island, there aren’t too many options. You can travel on foot or hire a bicycle.
There are a host of activities that you can indulge yourself in. A number of travel agencies take people on trips here for leisure tours and Sea/Lagoon based tours, which can be an amazing experience for you. There are plenty of opportunities for Scuba diving, Yachting, Pedal boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Swimming, Snorkeling and sunbathing. This island is the answer for all of you looking for a complete beach vacation.
There are few if any uniquely Karachiite dishes, while local cuisine is similar to Sindhi, and if you are a fan of local cuisines, you’ll definitely love it!
There are, however, no infrastructure facilities for tourism here like hotels or camps, but that gives you all the more opportunities to set up camp any way you like. You can go glamping if that’s more to your taste and comfort.
So, are you ready to take a trip to Astola Island? And if you liked this piece, please check out our list of some other less-explored islands near Karachi.