Friday, January 2, 2015

Journey to roof of the world

Although I am not fond of traveling to northern areas but this time I planned for the vacation to see how much Pakistan is blessed with the beauty of nature so I decided to visit the most beautiful place called Hunza Valley and Khunjerab Pass. With a group of 80 people from each age bracket we traveled breaking all the barriers of the false assumptions about the security issues and infrastructure issues and reached Khunjerab Pass (China Border).

We started our journey from Lahore. With the non-stop travelling we first reached Naran , crossing  Abbottabad and Balakot, stayed there for a while to gear up for next long journey. With the dirt road up we reached Babusar top which is a lonely, wind-swept mountaintop with no settlements in sight. It was so cold there that our hands were freezing. Chilas comes right after it.

Chilas which is the capital of Diamer District and is a small town located on the left bank of the Indus River. The Karakoram Highway (KKH) passes right through it and there is a PTDC motel for travelers going onwards to Gilgit and Skardu. For me, it was a creepy place where women were nowhere to be seen and its weather was too hot to bear. There were a few scattered villages with little children in rags playing on the roadside. It took more than two hours to cross it and then Gilgit comes. From Gilgit approximately there is five hours drive for Hunza.

Hunza is the northernmost part of a region known as the Northern Areas of Pakistan. It is a real life green paradise on earth. Aliabad is the main town while Karimabad is a popular tourist destination because of the spectacular scenery of the surrounding mountains like Ultar Sar, Rakaposhi, Bojahagur Duanasir II, Ghenta Peak, Hunza Peak, Passu Peak, Diran Peak and Bublimotin (Ladyfinger Peak), all 6,000 metres (19,685 ft) or higher. This place is like the story book where you find a lot of beautiful views green fields and apricot tress which looks like paradise. The famous Karakoram Highway crosses Hunza, connecting Pakistan to China via the Khunjerab Pass.

At night after two days travelling, finally we arrived at our hotel which was ‘Eagle Nest’. It is located on the apex of Hunza Valley and is just twenty minutes away from Karimabad town. This hotel is one of the famous places of Hunza where foreigners and visitors come and stay for a long time. Guests can easily reach hotel through carpeted road that is about six kilometer from Karimabad. We stayed here for three days and two nights.

In Hunza Valley, friendly people greet you everywhere. The women do not wear veils. There are many schools, also some especially for girls. One of the main activities of the locals is the cultivation of apricots. The local languages spoken include Burushaski, Wakhi and Shina, although most people understand and speak English and Urdu aswell. The literacy rate of the Hunza valley is believed to be more than 95%. Here people live with compassion and harmony. One of the most notable thing of the valley is that these people do not allow any outsider to buy any kind of property because they think it can affect their peace. People from Korea , China, Russia and other countries comes here and stay for months just because they trust these people and they feel good and fresh after spending their vacations. People are trustworthy and honest. You cannot see any kind of wastage on the roads too. Most of the people are highly qualified and if someone could not study due to some reason then there are some technical schools for those kids so that they could have some skills to live an independent life.

The visitors are overwhelmed by the rugged charm, the fragrant breeze singing through graceful poplar trees and the velvet-like green carpet of wheet fields, set against the background of snow-covered mountains.

After a long journey, when we woke up in the morning, a surprise was waiting for us, the beautiful view of the mountains from our room balcony. This view really surprised us all.   From the hotel we could view 11 top peaks and among them most popular were Rakaposhi, Ultar Peak, Golden Peak, Diran Peak and Lady Finger. After breakfast our tourist guides planned hiking for us. We climb the mountain which was near to our hotel and it was great fun. In the night the hotel management arranged a musical night for all their tourist staying there so that people get to know about the culture and music of Hunza.

Musical night was superbly arranged in which the famous musician of that area performed and made all the audience spell bound with their talent, music and dance. One of the musician was a polio patient but was blessed with talent of playing flute. He played it excellently. It was most amazing time we had there.  Biker Moin Khan also joined us there and shared some of his views about the town. His fellow friends also gave their contribution in music and sung a wonderful song.

On the next day, we went to Khunjerab Pass (China Broader). It took almost one hour from our hotel to Attabad lake from where we had to sit in boats and cross the lake where jeeps were waiting to take us to the broader.

The Attabad Lake was formed following a massive landslide in 2010, which buried 20 people beneath it and blocked the flow of River Hunza, creating a natural dam. The water has displaced thousands of people and inundated over 19 kilometers of the Karakoram Highway. It has clean blue water. Boats ferry people, their belongings and even cars from one side to the other, all through the day. Even the trucks coming from China, carrying material and equipment for the Karakoram Highway construction have to cross the lake on a barge. It takes almost 45 minutes to cross the lake.  Further there was four hours drive to reach the broader. There is a city called ‘Sust’ which comes in the middle of Karakoram Highway. This town has an important place on the highway for all passengers and cargo transport because all traffic crossing the Pakistan-China border passes through this town. On our way we also found a melting glacier and flow of the water was fast. After a long dive we reached China Broader and it was an awesome feeling to be there. Weather was very normal there. We stayed there for an hour, met the soldiers who were serving there and had a good conversation with them. When we were on the way back to the lake, the melting glacier became hinder for us as in night the flow of the water was too much fast that we could not cross that small path on our vans. After waiting almost two hours near the glacier, a big truck came to take us to the lake. The group of 80 people was shifted in the truck. The road was bumpy and it was a difficult way to cross it. By the time reached the lake at late night. After reaching near lake first we have to take the permission from DCO of that area as it was not allowed to travel in lake after evening. After the permission we again seated in the boats and crossed the lake where our buses were waiting for us. It was a wonderful experience to cross that beautiful lake in the mid night with the light of moon only. Through it seems horrible at the same time but we all made that moment very memorable with our jokes.  That day became the most adventurous day of our trip.

Next day, the time came to say bye bye to people of Eagle Nest hotel who were very friendly and generous. We did some shopping from the shops inside the hotel. These shops have handmade jewllery, clothes and caps from which their culture reflects. The entire staff of the hotel and the owner himself was very kind and benevolent. With their blessing we say them good bye.

Coming down from the hotel, we stayed at Karimabad for some hours to explore their bazaar and also to see the Baltit castle.  The fairy-tale like castle of Baltit, was built about 600 years ago. It is situated on the top of a hill from where it overlooks the whole valley. Stilted on massive legs, its wooden bay windows look out over the valley. Originally, it was used the resistance of the Mirs (the title of the former rulers) of Hunza. Baltit Fort is three-storey building with 53 rooms. The main gate opens into a dark hall or corridor on the ground floor. The fort has been well kept. It maintains a museum, library and a nice restaurant. The credit goes to the Agha Khan Trust for Culture. There are guest rooms, kitchens, storerooms, prisons and living rooms attached to this corridor. A wooden staircase goes up through a square opening in the floor above. Preservation at its best, this Fort serves as a perfect example of culture restored and preserved for the future generations of the mountain people.

After visiting bazaar and fort we moved to the way back to Lahore. With incredible peeks, beauty of hunza, this trip not only gave all of us a respite from our daily dull routines; also it gave us the chance to explore new things. The most memorized time is the visit to the china broader. Despite of bumpy rides, difficult roads, the trip did not lose its charm and fun. Our tourist guide ‘The Traveller’, thanks to them for arranging such amazing and pleasant trip for all of us. Your smiling faces and efforts gave us courage and motivate us to all come all the difficulties.