HUNZA & BEYOND – A NATURE LOVER’S ULTIMATE PILGRIMAGE

PART 1 OF MY JOURNEY – PAKISTAN’S GILGIT BALTISTAN REGION:

Words & Pictures (except Map)

By: Saifuddin Ismailji/ Founder: e-Travelers Club travel update

In the shadow of sky-scraping Karakoram, Himalaya and the Pamir Mountain ranges,

Flowing streams and rivers abound tranquil lakes,

Where orchards and flowers bloom,

the wilderness terrain teeming with flower and fauna;
Here, the mountain folks reveal their innermost secrets time-immemorial,
People who revere Nature’s art work,
These are immeasurable token of love,
Countless blessings bestowed by the Al-Mighty.
The gentle breeze, warm sunlight cutting through cool mountain air,
a gift to our five senses,

The sight is simply unforgettable.

Stretches of barren ruggedness that appear out of this world,

How could anyone sketch in words, the magical appeal of this space,

Words don’t come easy.

What can I say?

oh – what a wonderful part of my world.

Back on the road early morning, we hit the Motorway M1 and interchange at newly opened Expressway Mansehra to Thakot Bridge, merging into the Kara-Koram Highway (KKH). Driving along the 1300 kilometres KKH is a top of the thrill experience to access deeper into broad mountain valleys. Inaugurated in 1978, originating from Hasanabdal (Pakistan) into China via Khunjerab Pass (Pak-China border), the KKH is the Eighth Wonder of the modern world.

While regular flights, subject to weather, operate from Islamabad to Gilgit: the gateway to Hunza and Nagar; surface travel – though 12 hours on the road (about 500 kilometres) is highly recommended. An optional route is via Kaghan over the Babusar Pass with an overnight stay at Naran (Kunhar Hotel). New bus service by Faisall Movers offers comfortable travel from Islamabad to Gilgit via Babusar Pass (Naran).

Travelling at ease in a 4XDrive Jeep, we stop at several scenic spots with small tea stall and restaurants offering tea and coffee facility. As the day bleeds into darkness we break the journey and spend the night at a basic hotel by Samar Nala (cascade), a scenic place battered with ugly, eyesore hotel structures. Authorities need to take action to execute demolition of dilapidated hotels built on the cascade and shift them to a location away from this scenic spot. No hotels should be allowed to operate without a licence to manage and cater the very basic needs for overnight guests.

A few kilometres from here, you have a much better option with neat rooms and attached baths at the new cottage-like Hunza Hotel & Restaurant (Moinuddin 0355-4336861) near Sazin (Lachee, Kohistan). You will find better options further up in Chilas, including Shangrila Chilas (highly recommended for eats and refreshment) and Chilas Inn.

Next morning we continue towards Gilgit on the KKH with the inconvenience of about two hours journey on bad roads due to Construction of dams on the Indus River. The scenic drive reveal the sheer beauty of soaring black rocks and at the base, meandering Indus River, chucking layers of white sand, causing vast sandy beaches at several stretches.    

At Thalechi, the vintage point affords an impressive sight of Nanga Parbat Mountain – the colossal series of peaks in the Himalaya range, rising 8,126 meters. A few kilometres farther up, Haramosh peak, partly veiled in clouds, display its sheer stature at 7,409 meters.

On arrival at Gilgit after an absence of about 20 years, then, a quaint, quiet capital town of Gilgit-Baltistan, I am shocked being caught up in traffic congestion abound bright neon signs and a busy downtown scene. The bowl – like town, surrounded by high mountains, now pulsate in an urbane make-up. Once upon a time, Gilgit poised a significant trading post on the ancient Silk Route, then known as Sargin. Local Burushos call it Sargin-Gilit, which is derived from Burushaski word: Geelt. 

We check in the Riveria Hotel by Gilgit River and meet our host, an experienced hotelier with a vision in tourism, over the dinner, and after an absorbing discussion on the future of Gilgit tourism, I retired in my comfort zone.

A refreshing new day begins with a breakfast in the lush garden of the hotel. The pleasant exterior and interior ambiance of the abode is complemented with friendly hospitality.

Each spacious room is equipped with a comfy bed, TV, room slippers and a large attached bath with running hot water. The kitchen dishes out Pakistani cuisines and a few local and Chinese favourites on the menu. The hotel also offers meeting and small conference facility in a spacious hall that can accommodate about 100 guests. hotelriveria@gmail.com

A rendezvous with old time friends and colleagues in tourism. We head downtown Gilgit, My ex-colleague at a pioneer travel company, a lifetime friend, Ikram Baig is my host. An experienced tourism expert – guru to new comers in tourism; runs ADVENTURE CENTER PAKISTAN (pvt) Ltd. and offer interesting itineraries, carefully sketched out for an experiential travel. We recall our hey days and later join for a nostalgic dinner at the Riveria Hotel-Restaurant. www.adventurecenter.com.pk

After a rendezvous with old time friends and colleagues in tourism, we spend the rest of the day exploring Gilgit. A narrow road parallel to Gilgit River take us to a narrow lane towards Kargah. Misguided by a signpost wrongly put on the path that led to a village, a chat with a local passer-by put us in the right direction.

In the remote wilderness abound broad chasm, we crossed over Kargah Nala (rivulet) via an archaic-like wooden bridge and at the next bend, and site of Kargah Buddha (Yshani) is right before us. Luckily, the Director, Raja Zaheer Wali Khan was on spot and with his know-how, I explore this historic archaeological site. In his footsteps, I take fleet of stairs to the top of a platform, about 50 feet above the floor, that brought us near to the image of standing Buddha (with right hand raised to his chest in a posture of A Bhaya: No Fear or protection) engraved on a rock-face. Dating back 7c AD, it is probable that notable Chinese pilgrims stopped by to this revered image of Buddha en-route their pilgrimage journey from China to Taxila (then, Taksashila, meaning City of Cut Stones) – the centre of Buddhism. The site has refreshment corner and also houses a museum that portrays local life and agriculture tools used since time immemorial. Concrete structure of huge pomegranate and apple, right in the middle of the site on entry was a sheer disappointment and I have suggested dismantling these with replica of Buddhist stupa, to give the site a better look as an open museum of Buddhism heritage.

I spent one more night at the Canopy Nexus Hotel on the Gilgit River. A refreshingly beautiful abode with a vast garden looking over the river. More like a boutique Resort, the rooms are very well appointed in 4-star ambiance. The Executive Suite, with all the luxurious amenities has a view of the garden and the River. Even the standard rooms are well trimmed with running hot water and for a comfortable sleep.

The menu offers some regional specialties including trout, dowdo soup, a variety of Pakistani and selected Chinese cuisines. Green Tea is made from flowers and herbs found in the  mountains. After expansion next year, the hotel will have meeting rooms, separate public and guest dining areas, additional rooms and more trees within the premises. https://www.facebook.com/canopynexus

 

This is nearly all about Gilgit and therefore it is a staging point for trekkers and adventure seeking souls to fasten seat belts on high road to adventure. For Gilgit to become a more than a 2 to 3 night destination, much work is needed to introduce theme parks and stage festivals to attract long stay visitors. Polo tournament is held on the occasion to commemorate the National Day on 1st November each year. 

Early next day, we continue towards North of Gilgit – in the land f the Burushos and the Wakhis.

Please Note:

No part of the content or any picture (edited or non-edited) not for use or share without the written permission of the publisher.

Happy Travels 🙂

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