Now starts the Pakistani side of our adventure in Hunza valley (district) and Gilgit-Baltistan; having crossed over from Xinjiang, China over the Khunjerab Pass. (Please visit https://alikarimtravelog.com/category/asia/china/silk-road-china/ for the China Silk Road trip) Hunza is a mostly Ismaili district of Gilgit-Baltistan Province; which was originally part of Kashmir before partition. For Ismaili’s that want to know about our experiences meeting the local Ismaili population, their lives, JK’s etc in Hunza, please PM me.
The Pakistani border post is at Sost; which is about 75kms from Khunjerab pass. So while we were physically in Pakistan, we were not officially in Pakistan since we had not been processed by Pakistani Immigration. So we stayed on the bus, and had to cross the Khunjerab National Park, where we, foreigners (USA, Korea) had to pay US$8 cash each to pass through the National Park. Pakistanis and Chinese were exempt ☺; no stopping allowed in the National Park, because we had not officially entered Pakistan.
Along the KKH, we saw lots of rockslides and glacier slides over the KKH; the Pakistani side of the KKH was certainly not as well taken care of as the KKH on the Chinese side; where it was immaculate.
At one point, we were forced to stop completely as the road was closed off; which we were told was because of a rock slide further up the road. We were informed it would take about 30-40mins to clear the road. So we waited and stretched our legs. Suddenly, there was a very loud explosion and I panicked as I thought that might be another rock slide near us. However, it turned out that this was a controlled blast of the rocks on the rockslide ahead to allow the earth mover to clear the KKH.
Soon, we reached Sost, which is the official border post, and were met by Zafar, our (Ismaili) driver. After clearing Pakistani customs/immigration, we left the bus (as did most fellow passengers), and made our way to Passu village. We were now in Upper Hunza valley. There were multiple small villages along the way, all along the river valley where flat land was either available or terraced to allow growing of crops (Potatoes, corn, wheat, aubergine, long beans etc and poplar trees) with irrigation. 100% of the people here are Ismaili’s and so we spent some time here to meet the locals, visit their homes and several JamatKhana’s that are present in every village.
Our first stop was in Khyber village, where Zafar took us to show us the local JamatKhana. There, we met several young people who showed us around the old JK, and then the newer JK that was being built. The facilities were simple and basic, but sufficient. The backdrop around the JK was spectacular with huge snow capped peaks all around.
The whole Upper Hunza valley has simply spectacular views; it is truly a Shangri-La. Never experienced such natural beauty anywhere before. Pictures cannot do justice to this spectacular landscape. When we arrived into Passu, we saw the greeting etched on the mountain-side across the Hunza river commemorating His Highness’s visit there in Nov 1987.
We drove and stopped for the night at the Sarai Silk Lodge in Passu; a basic hotel with spectacular views
After settling in, Abbas came by and introduced himself as our Guide for the rest of the journey. After discussing our Pakistan trip plans, and a quick dinner, it started getting dark, and it was time for JK. So we drove, then walked over to the Passu JK; by this time, it had got dark rather quickly; I guess the huge mountain peaks all around block a lot of the setting sun’s light; and since there were no street lights around, the cellphone lights came in very handy.
We joined the local Passu Ismaili’s in their very nice, small, JK for evening prayers. The prayer formats were a little different from what we are used to. Several ceremonies and methods were also different. After JK, we met all the locals in the JK compound; got a tour of the facility; there were about 50-60 people in attendance at the JK, and being a small village, everyone knew we had just arrived. They almost all spoke English as they are all 100% literate; and were very hospitable.
Many people invited us to their homes for dinner, tea etc but since we were tired from a long day driving from Tashkurgan, China, we decided to call it a day. Check out our journey from Tashkurgan Drove back to the hotel and when the car was switched off, the whole area was pitch dark; they had no street lights and no light pollution. The beauty of it was that you could easily see the millions of bright stars in the sky; breathtaking.
Hunza district was part of the Kashmir region that India claims, but in the wars after independence, this part of Kashmir came under Pakistan control. Until 1974, Hunza was actually a Princely State, when was dissolved by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.
We spent most of the next day in Passu village, before driving to Karimabad (formerly Baltit, also known as Hunza) visiting sites along the way; the whole Hunza area from Khunjerab Pass to Karimabad Is 100% Ismaili.
Passu is a small village of less than 100 households, and all are farming households with cows/sheep/goat rearing. They are a simple, but very friendly and inviting people, and are located on the banks of the Hunza river which starts from a glacier at Khunjerab pass. The homes used to be built with stones and mud adobe, but were improved over time and now are cinder block build.
Inside, the houses have a traditional Tajik design ceiling of squares inside squares, which is supposed to be very good for withstanding earthquakes. As we walked through the village, we met with multiple people and got invited to tea multiple times, but had plans for tea at Zafar’s house and then lunch at Abbas’s house, so could not stop. Very friendly and inviting people all over. We noted that most of the families (full families) were out in their fields working their vegetable fields. This included the council president; see pics
All houses here have clean running water gathered from the glaciers high up, and piped to all houses. In addition, water channels were dug by the villagers from lower down the glaciers to bring irrigation water to all the farms, by gravity. Every small plot for growing crops was irrigated; simple but very effective.
Each home also has a septic tank, and electricity from micro and macro power stations. A lot of this basic infrastructure development was brought about by AKRSP since 1980’s. But there is NO internet here, and cellular service is by a localized carrier, so no TMobile service here. I was unconnected for 2 days, but felt good 🙂
The ladies in Passu work very hard; they take care of the house, cooking/cleaning, the kids, the in-laws, the cattle/goats/sheep (daily cleaning, taking out to pasture, herding back at night), the farm work (planting, weeding, watering, harvesting). And they never complain, always smiling. Next time Dilshad Karim complains about how hard she works, I will remind her of these Hunza women 🙂
That begs the question; what do the men here do? Since the women do all the work around the home, farm, cattle, and family; there needs to be some money income coming in for other basics. So the men find work elsewhere to make money. So for example, Zafar was our driver and Abbas was our guide for 2 weeks during our trip thru Gilgit-Baltistan province
This area is well known for long life expectancy, in addition to its breathtaking natural beauty; the essential Shangri-La. We went to visit the oldest person living in Passu, Mr. Zahoor Muhammed Alvi, who was 108yrs old. In this area, everyone is familiar with everyone else, and there is no formality; if you want to visit someone, you don’t need an invitation into their home; you just go there and enter their home.
This is how we simply walked in uninvited to visit the oldest man in Passu. He sat up in bed to meet us and talked to us in Wahi. We were served tea/hot milk by his family and chatted for a while. He is not very active now, but still goes to the bathroom by himself; no help needed. Healthy indeed. I have never met anyone quite that old, so another first for me. Mr. Zahoor gifted me a Hunza hat; it was something I had wanted to purchase anyway, so it was very kind of him to gift it to me. Something I will never forget. So very kind and giving people here.
Then we went and visited an Early Chidlhood Development center run by the AKES; where they had kindergarten to grade 3 kids.
We received a demonstration of healthy personal hygiene by the children of ECD II
We also visited the Middle school which was founded by a Japanese lady that is run by AKES, that goes from grade 4-8; after which, kids have to go to boarding high schools in larger towns like Karimabad or Gilgit.
School compounds and Recreation areas; football and volleyball during recess
In between, we stopped for tea at Zafar’s house. Zafar’s father is 92, and still works in the farm, daily doing manual labor. Amazingly strong mountain people. Tea was traditional “choi” (or namak tea); which is tea, and you stir it with a big piece of rock salt, to add salt to the tea. More you stir, the more salt you get in your tea. This is typical mountain tea.
Typical Tajik interior ceiling design; skylight for light and ventilation and the round hole on side for chimney in winter for the stove for heating. The square in square design is meant to help withstand earthquakes
Lunch was at Abbas’s house; where his wife, Joshan, had cooked up a big lunch for us; including typical apricot based pancakes, nan, vegetable curry (okra, potato, onion), daal and pilau. What a feast. They grow a lot of potato’s here, and store them for use all winter as a high energy food; my kind of food :). Abbas’s father is also 92, and always active. Both he and Zafar’s father had fought for Pakistan in the Kashmir war after independence.
An absolutely wonderful time spent in Passu; with the friendliest and warmest people.
Next, Drive to Karimabad, touring Karimabad, and then onto Gilgit and beyond.