BUBBLE 30 – NORTH TO THE VALLEY OF PEACE – HUNZA

Bismillah Hir Rahman Ir Raheem

And He it is who has made the sea subservient …

And He has placed firm mountains on Earth, lest it sway with you, and rivers and paths, so that you might find your way,

And landmarks; and by the stars they are guided. (16:14-16)

Do they then not travel through the earth, so that their minds gain wisdom and their ears thus learn to hear? For surely it is not the eyes that are blind, but blind are the minds which are in the foremost. (22:46)

People have been travelling for as long as one can remember for multiple reasons such as trade, transporting items, delivering messages, escaping from terrorised and war-stricken regions, pilgrimages, migration, meeting families and friends, to explore and learn, etc. In all of these travels, it is impossible that one does not experience a change within himself/herself no matter how small, and learns something new that adds to their current knowledge. By learning, one possesses knowledge, that when shared it benefits others, and humility as he becomes aware of how small his current world is, how little he knows of it and how much more he can/should know about it. Thus, to some, it can be a life-changing experience.

On the third day of Eid ul Fitr, I went to Hunza along with my family and a couple of relatives and friends, forming a total group of 11 travellers. Hunza is located in the province of Gilgit-Baltistan, just north of Gilgit city. The journey there from Islamabad is 2 days long (19 hours minimum to be exact).

If you plan to go there and want to avoid the long hours journey, you can take a plane ride from any city to Gilgit and arrange a car or van there to take you to Hunza, which is about 1.5-2 hours away.


But in my opinion, take one plane ride whether going there or leaving there but make sure you arrange a car or van and drive in the opposite trip, because the beautiful landscape you see during your drive, as the green mountains transition into brown, is beyond words and is totally worth not missing.  



Hunza is a region of exquisite beauty with tall, mud-brown mountains that encompass the main city like a bowl with a few broken ends through which the valley passes through as the Hunza river meanders across the city.

View of Hunza from Duikar View Point beside Eagle Nest Hotel

Hunza is divided into three parts; Upper, Central and Lower Hunza.

Upper Hunza includes Passu and Sost which are north of Attabad Lake, on the way to Khunjerab Pass.

Middle Hunza includes Aliabad, Karimabad where Baltit Fort is located, Altit Fort and Murtazabad.

Lower Hunza includes some parts of Aliabad, and Hussainabad.

 

Hunza Glamping Resort
We stayed at Hunza Glamping Resort which was secluded from the busy streets and commercial areas, giving a semi-camping feeling, but the interior is very well designed and comfortable and is one of a kind, with a lovely view of the mountains & the valley. This has been recently made. If you want to place a booking there or want to know further information from the manager, who was very welcoming and catered to our every need, along with his wife:

Ali Nawaz
0322-4501339

 

Khunjerab Pass

On Day 1 at Hunza, we visited two places on our itinerary; Khunjerab Pass and Hussaini Suspension Bridge.

Khunjerab Pass connects the Northern part of Pakistan to China at the Karakoram Ranges. It is around 2 hours away from Central Hunza and is therefore a part of Upper Hunza. If you refer to the map I shared above, it will show our route from Aliabad to the Pass via Gulmit, Passu and Sost. The journey on the way to the Pass was amazing…….because my travel group made me laugh alot, but also because of this:

Attabad Lake

Passu Cones

When we reached Khunjerab Pass, it was very cold there as we had gone uphill. The drop in temperature in the gushing winds that hit us made my teeth chatter and gave a stinging pain to my head and ears. A friend lent me her scarf so that I could cover my ears and head. She took my picture as she said I looked cute.

In addition, the atmosphere is also quite thin there as my sibling started to feel difficulty in breathing (she doesn’t have any respiratory disease).

There wasn’t alot of heavy snow but it was enough to give a nice contrast against the ‘earthy’ mountains

The Khunjerab Pass is visited often by many tourists, local and foreign so it was difficult to take pictures in front of the gate where everyone was crowded. But it was a fun and interesting experience and the gate looked great! If you visit Hunza and have the time, it’s good that you go there but if you don’t, follow through other things on your itinerary as it will not be as important as other places in Hunza, in my opinion.


Hussaini Suspension Bridge

Reference: motogpsroutes.com

Hussaini Bridge is one of the most dangerous suspension bridges in the world. It’s suspended on either ends by tightly wound ropes and cables and comprises of 400 wooden planks.

My travel group and I tried to cross the bridge. Half of us only went halfway. A few of them screamed out of fear. But the rest of the group and I managed the cross the entire bridge and return safely Alhamdulillah.

It was a thrill as many people would be crossing the bridge so the bridge would start shaking in either direction, making me hold on to the rope tight. In addition, the ropes at the center of the bridge were lax so when the wind would blow, it would cause the bridge to swing and blind your eyes for a while. When you look down at the gushing river, you have to make sure your mind doesn’t get disoriented and confused which can be scary for you. At that point, I felt like I was on a ship, but I looked ahead and kept on going.
At one place, the plank was broken so I had to take an extra step to cross the bridge. When we asked about it, a local said it was necessary to ensure optimum length so the bridge doesn’t vibrate and topple people over.

When Mama asked what happened if people fell in the river and how were they saved. He said there was no one who needed saving because if you fall in the river, you die almost instantly as the river is deep and due to shock and hypothermia. So everyone, be very careful if you intend to cross the bridge.

 

Attabad Lake

On day 2, we went to Attabad Lake and Altit Fort. Attabad Lake is a lovely place for a calm boat ride, a moderately faster speedboat ride, for racing jetskis or to just lie down and gaze at its captivating colour.

This lake was actually a part of Hunza River. Many years ago, a large landslide blocked the river, causing it to flood Attabad Village and kill all its inhabitants. If you’re there, you’ll noticed tree branches protruding from the water that emerge deep under the soil of the flooded village.

When we were taking a speedboat ride, my family talked to the driver who told us alot about Hunza. He said that the local government ensures that this water is not polluted. If any nearby commercial area is made, they must show where their sewerage pipeline ends. He told us about the peaceful and calm nature of his people and family, many festivals that were organised in Hunza by Aga Khan. My travel group kept talking about a drink called Hunza Water which, they claimed, was made from alcohol.

 

Altit Fort

The local language of Hunza is Burushaski. It is an ancient language which according to locals is quite difficult to learn. Schools teach English and Urdu but not Burushaski. This language is learnt from childhood at their homes. In addition, our guide at Altit Fort said tourists called the city Hunza but the locals call it Hunzu or Hunukesh which means ‘land of the Huns’. This region has a lot of history as far as the era of Tibetans, Aryans, Mongols and British in the subcontinent.

One important thing I wanted to share which we came across by talking to and observing the local people is that the people are so kind, generous, caring and beautiful people. They talk with such excitement and joy that it radiates from their glowing skin and wide smile. They are friendly and helpful. A girl can give two guys a high five and talk to them without anyone staring and pointing at them, which is almost unacceptable in the city. In addition, the shop owners are so humble and respectable that they will avoid long eye contacts with women and can’t even comprehend exploiting people. I bought a necklace at a jewellery shop and he even told me which had real quartz and which didn’t.

_ _ _ _ _

I don’t remember the history of this fort that was told by our guide very well, but from what I remember, there was a royal family who had two sons. When the valley was flooded, the Northern and Southern parts were separated so each son had control of either one side. Skirmishes occurred and the younger brother was removed from power and lived in Altit Fort with his family. The fort had safe rooms for the family for protection and a tunnel that passed underneath the fort that open out to a bridge miles away. 

For more details, I’d suggest you talk to an expert, such as our guide.

The fair-skinned and light-eyed Hunzakuts claim to be descendants of soldiers lost from Alexander’s army as he invaded India, although genetic studies have disproved the claim. 

I wasn’t able to take a good picture of Altit Fort so here is a picture of the ticket.


This is a chest. I took a picture of this surface because if you look closely, it contains a clockwise facing swastika sign. Swastika means ‘well being’, ‘being good’, ‘auspicious’ or ‘prosperity’. The swastika facing the opposite direction means the complete opposite. But if you look at the Nazi Swastika symbol, it is clockwise which is an unfortunate wrong portrayal for what the symbol means

Above is a sundial used in ancient times in the palace to tell the time of day.

In this container, the palace workers put in hot water which is used to warm the bed which you can see as the flat surface in the background where the ruler and his wife slept.

These are pots used for cooking. According to the guide, the rocks are igneous/metamorphic rocks which are used at the base for cooking food.

Here’s an exquisite view from the terrace of the palace. Below is the Hunza River and to the right is the road that leads to Upper Hunza where Khunjerab Pass is located. On the left side of the road towards the river lies Sacred Rocks of Hunza which supposedly contain ancient carving but I was unable to check it out.

Above the terrace, there is a podium where executions of criminals would take place. The execution would be kicking them off the cliff.

This is our guide in this tour. His name is Muhammad Javed. He is of Tibetan origin and has a PhD in many subjects like mysticism. He plans on writing a book called ‘Me’ so be on the look out for it. I bet it’ll be really good. If you plan on visiting Altit Fort, make sure you find him as he’ll completely immerse you into centuries of history. 

Here he was taking a panoramic picture of Baba.



This is the watch tower of the palace.

We came across this large and beautiful tree in the lawn nearby Altit Fort.

According to our guide, soldiers training for the army had to undergo a rite of passage. They had to jump from this rock to the next and then back, in an attempt to determine who could overcome their fear. If they fail, they fall and die. If they are victorious, they are made commanders of the army.



There is a jewellery shop right next to Altit Fort which contains an assortment of jewels and stones. I bought a purple quartz necklace.

 

Karimabad Bazar

I’ve shared my pictures of my nighttime stroll with a few friends from my travel group across Karimabad bazaar. The beautiful part of Hunza is that being a woman, I can walk all over Hunza and always be safe. I hope this area doesn’t become too commercialised and influenced by the city.

I came across these elegant robes while the rest of my group was checking out shawls (which are amazing quality). These robes are worn by Aga Khanis/Ismailis. Robes like the green ones are worn by students at their graduation from Aga Khan University. The black one looks so cute it looks like a karate robe.

We stopped to have drinks at a funky cafe (whose name I’ve forgotten). It was run by young university students who had a sense of humour, if you see what they wrote on the whiteboard. They were very friendly and kind, no matter how much my group joked with them and annoyed them. I had a Blue Lagoon there.

Rakaposhi

On day 3, it rained heavily today and we were afraid there would be landslides. Alhamdulillah, the rain stopped in the afternoon for a while and we sprinted off after quickly loading all our stuff in the van. We had a half an hour hurdle on the way due to a landslide but we reached our destination safely.

Rakaposhi Mountain is the snow-clad mountain in the background. There are two army base camps near the mountain and I heard it is an amazing hiking location.There was a tiny landslide that covered the river but it still continued to flow beyond the rocky obstruction.

Marketplace that is just a 90 degree rotation to the left from the previous picture. We got bar magnets of scenic locations of Hunza and a few rings from the jewellery store. I got an amethyst ring. I’m not really a ring person but it looked lovely, and it would match well with my purple necklace. Do check it out if you come across it. They have local and foreign stones and jewels.

I finally got to have chap shoro that we kept hearinf was so good. We managed to get the last chap shoro of the day from a street vendor. It is sort of like a naan (flat bread) pie which is filled with beef, onions and a few spices. It was good, although a bit spicy. Try it out wherever you can. Also try mumto (dumplings). We weren’t able to find them in Hunza but we found them in Gilgit on our way back home. But trust me when I say they are to die for!! Perhaps it’s a bit of an exaggeration but you’re the judge.

I hope you all are mystified by this beauty as I am. If you haven’t been to Hunza, what are you waiting for?!


Allah Hafiz