Peoples across the world calls Hunza valley the centerpiece of the Karakorum Highway, and i think it is a well-deserved title. Out of the bleak Karakorum Mountains, a valley suddenly appears that is a deep luxuriant green. Channeling glacial run-off, the people of the Hunza valley have created a lush green region of poplars, fruit trees, and fertile agricultural fields. Above that are towering snow-capped mountains like Rakaposhi Diran Spantik, and Ultar I and II. For so many reason, the Hunza valley is very popular amongst the foreign toursit of all nationality but specialy favorite place of Japanese and Korean tourists. Another surprising thing to notice is the level of English and find out that in Hunza everyone goes to school, thanks Agha Khan Rural Support and Education Facilitation and some foreigner peoples who setup educational facility to help peoples of the area.
Karimabad, the popular town of Hunza
Valley of Hunza has always been a favorite spot for me and I don’t even remember how many times I been there and I can bet anyone who visited Hunza must be fallen in love with the beauty and simplicity of its culture. Some important features of the Valley of Hunza beside its location are, the average life of Hunzans peoples are 100 plus and can easily be seen fit working in fields.
Many of them live up to 120 or 140 years of age and the main cause of death is old age or diseases or poverty; not degenerative disease like in the rest of country or West.
Rakaposhi, the higest peak in Surronding of Hunza
The Hunza water, one type that comes from glaciers through the bed of sand is the valid reason of longevity and the other is the locally produced wine, nicknamed “Hunza Water”, is something of a mythical product. Everyone knows about it, but few ever tasted it and many of my friends, who tasted it described it top quality product.
Hunzans dry everything on their roofs to preserve it for the long winter ahead. Rakaposhi is hidden by cloud in the background and the locals stress the driver to make stopover and showing us the different mountains as we passed them and tell us the names and also offered us a nice welcome cup of milk chai.
We were very happy to be there with overwhelming gratitude of Hunza peoples, able to view these fantastic vistas in warm sunny weather with blue skies and white snowy mountain ridges. In the way we stopped to see the art of wood carving with the help of water flow and indeed Syed Gul Khan was mater of making glasses, dishes and bowls of wood. We visited a factory where loom was converted into carpets and it was pleasing the witness that today Hunza is in progress in education agriculture, orchard, business small industries automobile, wooden work, building construction banking, women development programs, Health programs, Health units as well as first aid posts in every villages, Embroidery, Handicrafts, carpet industries, Mining precious stones etc.
The best destination of Hunza is Karimabad (stronghold of Ismailis, the followers of Prince Karim Agha Khan) in the lush Hunza valley, the brief view of sleepy village of Karimabad is a tourist oasis who greets everyone coming from outside.
The street that winds up to the old Baltit fort is crammed with shops selling local handicrafts such as shawls and carpets, along with local dried fruit, antiques and gemstones. The people here are Ismaili, which means they welcome music and dancing, and are partial to Hunza water a spirit made from mulberries - or their homemade Hunza wine. There is also a cafe-cum-bookshop called "The Hunza Cafe" that serves the taste and sense of Hunza peoples. So come in spring for the blossom, or autumn to see the rooftops lined with huge rush trays of apricots, tomatoes, apples and spinach drying in the sunshine. A four-hour trek along the irrigation channel that winds up through the village and hugs the rockface up the mountains will take you up to Ultar meadow, where a small makeshift campsite offers views of Ultar peak and glacier.
The livelihood and business of the area largely depends on foreign tourists because this is the only spot in Pakistan whereby they move around freely, drinking alcohol is allowed (even shops were filled by beer cans) and most of above the friendly nature of Hunza peoples attracts foreign tourist in great numbers but lately the over all security condition restrict a good numbers of foreigners to travel this beautiful valley and this was harshest fact for local peoples to suffer from, because they invested heavily in setting up hotels and luxury apartments.
Come to the hotel view from our balcony we sat in warm sun and gazed at the ridge of Rakaposhi (7000+m) and across to Diran and The Golden Peak to the east. The Hunza River was far below us and we had fantastic views across the terraced fields of Nagyr; the 'kingdom' on the other side of the river. It was now the earlier start of spring season so one can see the true greenery of the valley and the orchids of apricot, Nuts and almond beside other dry fruit.
The town Karimabad felt like a different town from the rest of Pakistan in terms of their culture, traditions and basic civic facilities. Mostly the population of Karaimabad is Ismaeli, which is a sect of Shia Islam. The women are unveiled and educated. The people are fairer than the rest of Pakistan, there are many high cheek bones and a definite either European or Central Asian look to some people.
There seems to be much investment in the area from foreign NGO's anyway and literacy is definitely higher. The older Ismaeli women wear brightly colored and embroidered pillbox hats under a white shawl, with dark braided hair flowing over their shoulders. Polo is a big deal in these parts and they take obvious pride and care of their horses. Its a nice change after all the horses in Islamabad and Punjab which looked about a day from death are deeply wrinkled by the harsh sun and lifestyle, but perhaps also by the fact they always seem to be smiling so much. Paragliding is also taking it due place among the hearts on Hunza peoples as I seen many jumping from Ultar meadows and coming down peaceful, indeed they learned this art very quickly. We spent 3 days in Karimabad chatting to other travelers from foreign land and local guides and enjoyed the totally different culture and life style. The place is dreamlike, so quiet and beautiful and the food is simple and healthy.
Home made wine factory
Whenever im in Karamibad, the very next day we follow up to strenuous trek up to Ultar meadows.
The Ultar-II peaks dominate the town and the glacier out of sight above us was our aim. We set off up the ravine coming out of Glacier to move up and up. The path used to be fairly good but after the earthquake hit that part we noticed it was completely destroyed and people there alongside the cliff working and blasting the rocks to make a track and water channels. The water pour in from the bed of sand and get refined and passes through these channels of snake curve carrying water all over to irrigate the many terraces and keep the fertile farms alive. These channels really are amazing; they are carved out of the cliffs and like all terracing around must have taken massive effort to build and maintain, but the people here are not afraid of hard work evidently. We always cautiously crossed the glacier with small feats and as we were getting closer to peaks, we finding each of them clouded over and the temperature had dropped considerably. The Ultar Glacier looked rugged and imposing as we looked across to its cold, jagged crevassed black surface. The cliffs all around bore the scars of past glaciers and we realized the scale of ice that was once here and that must still be here in front of us.
filing the bottles with Huza wine
It was hard to imagine the depths of the sharp pinnacle on the left, above Hunza ice involved in carving out these gorges and mountains. Up at the peak there is Ultar Meadow shaped nicely as green plateau, full of grazing varieties of cattle's (those were Yaks, Zuu, goats and some variety of mules and horses). It look all spectacular when night prevailed it shadow over whole valley. One thing always Fantasies me is the sky, shinning with millions of stars , I had never seen such a galaxy of stars anywhere else in any part of country, so it always one of memorable experience of life.
Altit and Baltit Fort:
From the pictures one can see the fort's style, looks like Tibetan style, the story that mustache guard told us about the history about this fort was that almost 900 years ago the Ruler of Hunza wedded to the daughter of Ruler of Sakurdu.
The ruler of Sakurdu gifted his daughter with hundreds of maids and architect personals so that his daughter truly represents as Queen of Hunza. The emperor of Hunza took full assistance from the skills of architect personals and decided to lay foundation of Altit Fort through Altit Heritage Trust (AHT with support of Aga Khan Trust for Culture which is almost 900 years old and rightly now in the process of renovation and will be open for visitors in 2011. Another hundred years later another prince of Hunza decided to make another Fort known as Baltit Fort. The renovated Balti Fort is an ancient fort in the Hunza valley. In former times survival of the feudal regimes of Hunza was ensured by the impressive Baltit fort, that sits on top of Karimabad. The foundations of the fort are said to date back around about 800 years, but there have been rebuilds and alterations over the centuries. The architectural style is a clear indication of Tibetan influence in Baltistan at the time.
The Rulers of Hunza abandoned the fort in 1945, and moved to a new palace down the hill.
The fort started to decay and there was concern that it might possibly fall into ruin. In 1989 the current Mir of Hunza donated the Fort to the Baltit Heritage Trust (BHT), established by the Government of Pakistan for the purpose of owning and operating the Fort. The Aga Khan Trust for Culture has initiated work for restoration the prime historic landmark of the 700 year old Baltit Fort on the terraced slopes. The main theme of the project is to preserve this setting despite natural decay and the inevitable impact of recent changes, such as urbanisation which has begun to threaten the integrity of the built heritage. The Fort is now a museum and cultural centre. Moreover, culturally and environmentally compatible small enterprises are being promoted which provide gift items, local woolen rugs and hand-knotted vegetable dye carpets for visitors. These activities are playing a major part in reinvigorating the traditional community spirit and restoring the residents' pride of their heritage. The renovation work took 8 years and completed in 1996 and the fort is now a museum run by the Baltit Heritage Trust.
Stones of Hunza
Hotel Eagle Nest
Eagles Nest Hotel situated at the height of (2800 m), perched on overlook above the Hunza Valley.
Surely the most amazing view I have seen, one can look down thousands of feet to the Hunza River, across the valley to Rakaposhi, and to the north at Ultar.
Famous Mustache gaurd of Altit fort
Just beside the hotel "Duikar" the ultimate viewpoint (2900 m) which is a 5 minute climb up behind Eagle's Nest Hotel. Here you have the best views during sunrise and sunset, if you have the chance come to Eagle's Nest Hotel at full-moon there is a large plateau-like area, with many cairns and rock piles. To me, this felt like a sacred site; a place perfect for reflection and enjoying the beauty of the valley. View of rock cairn and rock ridge, with Ultar behind. Many of the cairns seemed to attempt to mirror the mountains behind.
From a few central places, the cairns would line up with the surrounding mountains, like shrines to their divine beauty. View of central valley in morning. Rakaposhi is across the valley above the prominent ridge, a completely glaciated rock towering above the valley. Starting from Eagle's Nest Hotel it is a 1 ½ hours climb up to Hosht (3600 m). From the Hosht viewpoint you have great views of Ultar Mountains and Hopper glacier. The Hunza panorama is wider and dearer here. Early in the morning, golden light first hits the top glaciers of Rakaposhi [the highest peak] and matches the color of the sky for a few minutes before the other tall peaks are revealed. A truly amazing site, providing perfect visual instruction on the highest peaks of the valley, one can stay in Eagle Nest or talk to the the management of hotel, as they allows peoples to do camping in their premises..
Highly recommended place to visit during the months of May to August to witnessed the most beautiful valley of Hunza :-)