Two Weeks in the Hunza Valley

Trip Start Mar 21, 2005
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Monday, October 29, 2007

For two weeks, Hunza Valley, another Shangri-la of sorts, was my home, whether in a tent or a guesthouse in Karimabad, Gulmit, Passu, or Sost.  For the first few days, I relaxed in Karimabad, followed by a week of trekking from Gulmit to Passu--the long way.  The trip finished at the Pakistan-China border on the Karakoram Highway at the Khunjerab Pass.

Between Gilgit and Karimabad, the Karakoram Highway followed the Hunza Valley.  In late October, the poplars and orchards were brilliant orange or red, their colors and intensity changing as the sun shone through the leaves at different angles.  Rakaposhi, the 7,700 meter giant loomed icily over the valley, with blue skies overhead.  Nights were cool, days were warm; the place could easily be a Shangri-la, it seemed..

Once again, Rado and Marta were my neighbors.  We shared food--apples fresh from the tree, stuffed naan dishes, or walnuts--and chatted from our patios overlooking the valley and its mountains.  At night, the Hunza Inn and neighboring guesthouses served all-you-can-eat dinners--rice, vegetables, beef, chicken, apricot soup, apples, daal, pudding.  Ramadan was over, so eating like this was now a treat.

I walked around the valley, visiting the old town of Ganish and Karimabad, with its Baltit Fort.  The scene took me back in time, to when different valleys were fighting each other. 

Now, however, the Ismailis of the Hunza Valley were peaceful.  Boys played cricket on slopes too steep to play cricket (under normal circumstances).  Children walked with me in the narrow streets, asking questions in English.  Women dried melons and tomatoes.  Men drove small tractors or tended a store.

For one day, I had to make a detour because the parcel company made a mistake and returned a package to my Gilgit hostel.  The people working at the company didn't really know what they were doing.  I joined the Madina Inn staff for a cup of chai and some conversation, though.  The recurring theme was how the people of Pakistan were kind and generous and the politicians were all corrupt, leading Pakistan nowhere.  On another note, somehow all the Karimabad photos dematerialized, so nothing here.

Gulmit was the small town where I began my week-long trek to Borith Lake, across three glaciers, up the immense Batura Glacier, to Passu.  When the trip began my Hi-tech Boots were newly-shined and waterproofed, my clothes were clean and dried in the Hunza air, and my Lowe 7000 cubic centimeter backpack was full with the regular equipment plus 1.5 L of kerosene and food from Hunza and Gilgit: honey, bay leaves, curry spices, hot pepper powder, garlic, two onions, dried herbs, salt, MSG, baking powder, three eggs, mountain tea (made with a local thyme plant), Pakistani chai, sugar, custard mix, porridge, vegetable oil, butter, dried cheese, powdered milk, dried tomatoes, macaroni, wheat flour, corn flour, vermicelli, rice, porridge, walnuts, dried mulberries, coconut, apricots, raisins, dried apples, and figs.

On October 23, I left Gulmit for Borith Lake, up one hour on a dirt road to the village of Kamaris, meeting some people along the way.  In general, though, the streets were quiet and the sunny weather turned mostly cloudy.  At Ghulkin, I crossed the Ghulkin Glacier on a sinuous trail marked with cairns, reaching Borith Lake an hour later at 1:30 pm.  Views of Shispar (7611 m) poked between the clouds.  After setting up camp under a small poplar tree and fetching some water, I set up my Brunton Optimus Nova Stove made a walnut mess for a snack:

Walnut Mess
Make a batter with eggs, flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, oil, and warm water.
Oil a pan.
Pour the batter over the heated pan. 
Add walnuts and sugar on top. 
After a while, attempt to flip everything over.  If successful, then congratulate yourself.."you are special!"  If not, stir everything up until you get chunks of walnuts, caramelized sugar and cake.
When done, eat the tasty chunks, pretending you meant to do that. 

After the Walnut Mess, I made a Macaroni Stew for dinner, overlooking the sunset on the jagged Tupopdan mountains behind Borith Lake, where ducks flew in and out of the lake grasses.

Macaroni Stew
Boil the macaroni.  Set aside. 
Fry garlic and onions in vegetable oil, cut with the Pakistani Dir knife I bought in Gilgit (Rs 150).
Add salt, MSG, herbs, dried tomato, curry mix to the fry.
Pour the macaroni with its water into the frying pan. 
Add flour to thicken.
Enjoy.

Nearby, as I ate the stew, a group of men chopped an apricot tree under a gibbous moon for the wedding.  That night, some wild animal called from the nearby slope.

For breakfast, I ate mulberry, walnut, and cheese stuffed chapatis.

Mulberry, Walnut, and Cheese Stuffed Chapatis
Rehydrate dried cheese and mulberries overnight
Boil mulberries, cheese, and walnuts with sugar until thickened
Make dough with flour, salt, and water. 
Press the dough into thin circles.
Add a small dollop of walnut, mulberry, and cheese mix to the center
Fold the circle and repress the stuffed chapati.
Fry the chapatis with oil. 
Top the chapatis with additional mix and honey.

Breaking camp, I walked around the lake, past a small settlement (where were all the people?), and down a lateral moraine, following a goat and sheep trail down the steep sides.  Soon, I had views of the white Passu Glacier, with its silty lake at the head.  There, I purified some water using Ferrous Sulfate and Calcium Hypochlorate, which isn't the easiest method, but the only one I could find in Pakistan.  I add the chemicals to a 1.5 L water bottle, shake to create an orange flocculation, then slowly filter the water using a bandana....drip...drip...

The north lateral moraine proved tricky, as the trail at times required rock climbing moves.  At the top, the trail was barely carved into flaky moraine, here almost vertical, sending sparks through my stomach, and stopping my heart several beats.  The aged trail slanted down towards the glacier.  At the crux, a large pregnant rock blocked the trail, so I gingerly passed, holding on loosely, so as not to dislodge the rock (and myself).  Turns out that no one uses this trail anymore, as it's not considered passable (another trail begins in Passu--take that one instead).

Up the Yunz Valley, I passed a few yaks and found some abandoned shelters.  I picked one as a home as the cold wind howled.  I made some hot milk and prepared custard for breakfast, brewed some mountain tea, and made some more macaroni stew, eating walnuts while everything cooked.

In the morning, I ate the chilled custard and pancakes with honey and mulberries.  Descending to cross the Batura Glacier, I looked to the east to see one of the longest glaciers outside of the arctic.  The mountains were hidden behind clouds.  The glacier was covered in grey rocks in its lower reaches.  This is where I crossed.

The traverse wasn't technical and there were cairns, but the loose rocks required constant attention to avoid tripping or slipping. 

On the other side, I saw Snow Leopard tracks mixed with yak tracks, ungulate tracks, and perhaps a fox. I found a leopard scent mark as well on a boulder--fresh.

The wind accelerated and the clouds grew.  I found a sheltered ablation valley and camped under a willow tree.  For dinner, I boiled some water for milk and mountain tea, and cooked rice and daal.  Getting water took forty minutes as I needed to climb up and down the rocky moraines to the glacier.

The weather continued to deteriorate, becoming colder with more clouds.  I continued up the side valley adjacent to the glacier, finding more Snow Leopard tracks on the way.  A few snowflakes fell as I passed Yashpirt Village, empty for the cold months.  The valley was dry, though I passed a mill, evidence of a summer stream.  The willows up here had lost their leaves, giving a stark appearance to the grey landscape.  Finally, I found a stream coming from a side valley, though the stream vanished into the ground.  I camped up where the stream was clear and strong.

The sound of the stream was peaceful for sleeping as snow fell on my tent.  In the morning, I awoke to snow and sun, with the mountain to the north appearing, but the immense icefall to the south was covered in dark clouds.  By far it was the most impressive icefall I have ever seen, a huge wall of crevasced ice descending from the clouds, suggesting mighty peaks enshrouded.

After some custard with mulberries and chapatis with walnuts and cheese with sugar, I left and climbed another four and a half hours. A Wallcreeper flew by with its scarlet wings as I climbed up and down next to a stream, with several challenging places where the trail was about an inch wide on a steep slope.  Lammergeyers flew overhead with their massive wings; more Snow Leopard tracks.

For dinner, I made more rice and daal with mountain tea in the bitter cold and snow.  All night, the snow continued to fall.  In the morning, I saw the yaks go by--heading back down the valley.  After some thought, I decided to follow them back, as the snow and clouds were not abating, and the resident yaks would know better than me.  Singing "Walking in a Winter Wonderland," I followed the yak tracks in the snow, finally camping under the same willow tree as two days earlier.

  On the last day of the trek, I watched the weather clear, revealing immense peaks where I had walked the day before, recrossed the glacier and walked to Passu, arriving at the Passu Inn at dusk.  I stayed here for a couple of days, enjoying warmer weather and sun, as the weather had turned for the better. On one day, I walked to the Hunza River with a group of Koreans and Japanese travelers, crossing the famous "Indiana Jones" bridge, with its widely-spaced pieces of wood woven into a few cables.  Around Passu were small fields, apple trees, and thickets, perfect for a wide variety of birds including one Eurasian Scops Owl, perched for optimal viewing on a poplar branch.

To end my stay in Pakistan, I went to the Khunjerab National Park in Dih for the night, but wasn't able to camp as they allow camping, but the director five hours back in Gilgit needs to give written permission (As if we're supposed to know these things.  I was thinking how people would react if they went to Yosemite to camp but were told they needed to go back to San Francisco for a permission letter from the director!).

So the next day, I booked a seat on the minibus to China, went through customs, and drove the switchbacks, passing many Ibex along the way, including one large herd on a distant ridge.  At the pass, we were quickly whisked by the Pakistani guards, but on the Chinese side we were detained for an hour...but the views were good.

I left a friendly place, but also an unstable place, as I watched former Prime Minister Bhutto almost get assasinated by a suicide bomber on national television, with hundreds dead.  And the day I left, President/General Musharraf decided to declare a State of Emergency.  I wish Pakistan and all its people the best, and hope they can live with each other's interpretations of the Koran, as that's really the main issue here--faith.
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Where I stayed
Passu Inn

Comments

drshahidiqbal
drshahidiqbal on

wonderful
this is very nice. pakistan is great for mountaineers and trekkers. all such areas are very safe for tourists.

brianlawrenson
brianlawrenson on

Hunza Valley
I very much enjoyed your post. We were in the valley and in Chitral about two weeks before you. We too, had a terrific time. We were fortunate to have a jeep and driver which saved a lot of time. I was wondering if you have written about the Kalash people. Our visit there was fascinating. The story of our travels in on our website w w marcopolopress dot com. There are photos and details of my book about our Silk Road adventure. Check it out.

Brian Lawrenson

Karim Hunzai on

So good to read about our Hunza valley on your site.

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