Epic peaks, rushing water and a chill in the sweet mountain air characterize the picturesque valley of Hunza, nestled deep in Gilgit-Baltistan, and engulfed by the great Himalayan and Karakoram ranges.
Summers are the ideal time to pay a visit to this valley; it offers a respite from the intense heat prevalent in the rest of the country yet is still warm enough to be pleasantly welcoming. Hunza is a favorite among holiday-goers both for its amazing natural beauty and the extensive cultural heritage it houses.
Hunza boasts many hotels perfect for a few nights’ accommodation. Top of the list is Eagle’s Nest, which is located at what may be the highest point in Hunza and hence affords a better view of the entire valley than any of the others. Al-Barakaat offers decent services as well, with all the modern day amenities you can hope for in the mountains, such as WiFi.
The locals in Hunza are very friendly and welcoming, and women are seen going out and about more than is common in other far flung regions of the country. This might be owing to the composition of the population, a majority of which consists of Ismailis, and hence the people in Hunza adhere to less strict rules of segregation. The region boasts a literacy rate of more than 95% and every child is educated at least to the high school level, a shining example and excellent model to emulate for the rest of Pakistan. Offers of succulent fresh cherries and a minute’s rest under the shade come frequently to complete strangers from the locals, and the children filing around are shy but rosy-cheeked, adorable and clearly used to having visitors around.
One of the must-visit places in Karimabad of neither historical nor natural purpose is Café De Hunza. It is located above a quaint antique shop which houses gemstones, shawls and local apricot products as well as tea leaves and oils in immaculate packing. Besides offering the best nutella pancakes, cappuccinos and hot chocolates you will ever have the pleasure to feast your eyes and taste buds upon, it also introduces you to the special delicacies that are Rostri and Hunza walnut cake. The café is as much of a cultural experience as it is an epiphany concerning food, and the assortment of books and maps on display are available for perusal. The café is a sum of both modern aesthetics and traditional decorations. And if you’re in for a full Hunza experience, the rooftop offers a beautiful view of the mountain peaks and the stars at night and each sip of the legendary coffee and beat of the light Balti music cement your desire to never leave. And the café remains open as long as you want to stick around so that’s actually quite possible! Make full use of the 20% student discount while you can, and if you’re nice and sincerely interested, the owners don’t mind sharing their recipe for the exquisite Hunza tea either!
Altit fort is located at a distance of three km from Karimabad, and the name translates to “this side down.” Carbon dating suggests that different parts of the fort were built at different points in time. Parts of the fort date back more than a thousand years. Altit was initially built to serve as a palace for the Mirs, but after the addition of the watch tower, it was turned into a fort and used as one. The previous purpose is reflected in a room on the second level, with houses an earthen space for resting flanked by four columns, where official receptions used to take place. A guided tour is also available on request if you’re interested in the history of the area and a more nuanced of the architectural elements. The fort has recently been restored by the Aga Khan Trust for Cultural Historic Cities Support Programme.
Baltit fort dates back 700 years, and owes most of its splendor to the Tibetan princess who married the local prince in the 16th Century and brought along with herself her 500 maids, masons and craftsmen to look after the new home, changing its face and foundation forever in the process. The first floor of Baltit fort contains guards rooms, a dungeon and a private meeting room, as well as the kitchen which still houses some of the utensils used in the times of the rulers. The second floor consists of an open terrace, and the main attraction is the royal throne under a wooden canopy. Bay windows afford an incredible view of the valley below. On the third floor, there is a small mosque. Here too a guided tour can be arranged for a small fee. The fort has been honored with the Award of Excellence in the UNESCO 2004 Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Culture Heritage Conservation.
Rakaposhi is one of the most famous peaks in Hunza, and the hike to the perfect viewpoint is hard but not impossible. Invest in some sunglasses to protect your eyes from the glare of the sun so high up, make sure your shoes have a reasonably good grip for the slippery rocks and get copious amounts of water bottles and you’re pretty much good to go for the day. Though chances are, whatever you do, you’ll be out of supplies halfway through anyway, but the thirst will only drive your desire to make it to the spring and hopefully in time to see the sunset as well!
Attabad lake is the result of a landslide and lends great meaning to the phrase “cruel beauty”. It is mindboggling to see such a beautiful and pristine byproduct of such a terrible and devastating tragedy, but a few minutes of gazing out on the ice-cold water and all worldly matters seem to slip away. A boat ride on the colorful ships takes you across the full length of the lake, where you can recover from the freezing but pleasant winds by following the trip up with a hot cup of tea from the tiny stalls on the other side.
Hunza is called heaven on earth for a reason, and once you arrive, you’ll never want to leave.