PAKISTAN – CENTRAL HUNZA FESTIVAL OF COLOURS

FESTIVAL OF COLOURS

CENTRAL HUNZA

(PART 3 OF MY JOURNEY: HUNZA & BEYOND – A NATURE LOVER’S ULTIMATE PILGRIMAGE)

Falling leaves in the breeze

Adorn the earthI soak in Nature’s Festival of Colors

I look up high Summits at Wuthering heights

Sprinkle First Winter Snow

Mountain Grandeur in Ultimate

Expression Ribbons of Emerald

Meander down the floor

I sip hot Hunza tea In a comfort zone

Mesmerized

An empyreal sight

A wonderland

Fully pacified with a treasured experiential travel, we packed up and sallied forth from Upper Hunza, Gojal towards Central Hunza. Instill in moments of amazement we come across stretches of ancient Silk Road that connected the East with the West since 130BC, founded by the Han Dynasty in China. Then an ardent terrain, the Silk Road was taken up by traders of the East and the West selling their merchandise in exchange of western products and Chinese silk.

Historians says Marco Polo among the first few westerners to have crossed the route from Venice, entering China and into the then Chinese-Mangolia. Polo’s prison in-mate compiled and narrated Marco Polo’s 25 years of travel, first circulated in 1299, titled: Il Milione (meaning, the exaggerator) in medieval Franco-Italian language. The book later translated to English: The Travels of Marco Polo, considered the world’s first best-selling travel book. Not to miss, a head-turning recent documentary on Marco Polo travels with a debate if Marco Polo actually visited the places, or a work of fiction by the writer! What do you think? Do some research and let me know. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kIe1pby6_jQ

Moving on, we arrived Karimabad, the main tourist hub of Central Hunza, now a congested mountain village, carrying an urban mien with high rise hotel buildings; the main strip queued up with restaurants and souvenir shops. The place has totally changed since my last visit some 20 years ago. Then a tranquil village, renowned as the Land of Centenarians, now the local folks, more involved into commercial activities, friends say this place has lost the aforesaid character. Back then, there were few hotels – I remember a hotelier friend, close at heart (Subedar), no more with us, and some unable to meet, No more can be seen the sights, as and I recall, of young students taught in a class in open-air, abound high summits. But the surrounding natural beauty of this broad valleys, over-looking Nagar, still intact especially at this time of falls; the hues of yellow, red, rust and green dance away the valley floors in nature’s festival of colors.

We meet our old time friend and host at Kara Koram View Hotel, the first hotel upon entering Karimabad at the cross road to Altit village and downtown. Having checked-in, I settle here for a few days in a spacious room with a comfy bed, attached bath with running hot water. The hotel also caters for family and suite rooms, each with eye-level view of the valley in the shadow of Dhiran (7,266m) and Rakaposhi (7,788m) peaks. The kitchen provides breakfast with tea and coffee in the restaurant. Next year, the hotel will have a new eco-friendly boutique lodge, just down the road a few minute walk, which will comprise of self- catering facility in spacious accommodation. https://www.facebook.com/Karakorumhotel/

We extended one more night and stayed at the Old Hunza Inn, located in downtown area but in a quiet narrow lane. The restaurant area with large panoramic glass afford a 180 degree view of the Nagar valley and soaring Karakoram peaks with lofty peaks of Dhiran and Rakaposhi. There is a small library in one corner of the restaurant where guests spend leisure time reading over tea or coffee. The room I had stayed in the back side was basic, ideal for a back packer bed down. The new block at the front offers the views of the mountains. The evening I had stayed, guests were treated with BBQ in the open sky with live local music and dancing around bonfire. My host – a good dancer, joined the guests and moved his steps in traditional Hunza-style dancing fused with break-dancing. https://www.facebook.com/OldHunzaInn/

Unable to try the menu at the Old Hunza Inn kitchen while the chef was on leave, there are some restaurants nearby including Osho Marak Restaurant at Serena Hunza (try the regional favorite: yak nihari) and Mountain Cup – a Place to Be for delicious walnut cake with coffee and snacks. https://www.facebook.com/mountaincup/

Along the many hotels by the downtown stretch of Karimabad, Mulberry Hotel offers an appealing view on both side of the valley looking towards Nagar (Dhiran peak, Mount Rakaposhi) and Hunza (Ultar peak 7,388m). www.mulberryhotel.com.pk

Central Hunza history is etched on its iconic Baltit Fort (Karimabad) and Altit Fort (Altit). Located atop a saddle, access via a steep, narrow cobbled road at the end of the down-town strip of Karimabad, on the way to the Baltit Fort, the Ultar mountain range (7,388m) express its eminence in the backdrop. I stop by, with a curiosity of a cat, what they sell at the souvenir shops. Made in Hunza product ranges from Hunza designed garments, hand knotted carpets and rugs made of yak fur; locally made jewelry and semi-precious and precious stones found locally to dry fruits and health food. Ultar Sip Café & Organic store (Ultar Sip ) at a bend in the corner is a place to refresh after a vertical climb. Treat yourself with fresh cherry, apricot and apple juice and off season, they make juice from these dried fruits. They have in stock, health giving preserves of fruits and roots found locally.

A UNESCO World Heritage historic site, Baltit Fort was founded in 8cAD and has been rebuilt with additional features over the time span of more than 700 years. The present look of the fort is said to have taken shape after the local prince married with the princess of Baltistan. Balti masons and artisans were employed to re-build the original building and transformed into a strategic fort and a palace. However, after 1945, the fort was abandoned by local Mirs (rulers) of Hunza and the building dilapidated like some tatterdemalion prince until a restoration plan initiated by the Agha Khan Trust for Historic, Cities Support Program. Completed in 1966, the Fort todays stands majestically and transformed into a museum that echo the history, culture, and lifestyle of the ruling elites of the region.

From higher ground of Baltit Fort, I have an eagle’s view of the Altit Fort dominating the quaint picturesque village, at this time of the year, the view from up here appear like the village is painted by nature in earth tones. There are home-stays and comfortable guest houses in Altit village and at Safina’s Café, pamper yourself with local dishes including the signature dish: Chaap Shuroo. In downtown Karimabad, there are a few restaurants that serves authentic Burusho cuisines.

Altit is the earliest settlement in Hunza after Ganish and the oldest historic building in the Gilgit-Baltistan – the 1,100 years old Altit Fort perched high up on a steep cliff above the Hunza River served as a defense strategy, looking over activities of visitors and opponents gaining access via the then Silk Road. The stone, wood and mud structure has stood the test of times, however when abandoned, it had been is a dilapidated state until the restoration of Altit Fort initiated by Agha Khan Trust for Culture, Historic Cities Support Program, and soon after, received an Award of Distinction at the 2011 UNESCO Asian-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Preservation.

Recipient of the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Award for Cultural Heritage Conservation in 2011, the Fort, now a Museum, is under the supervision of AKCSP. The back gardens of Altit Fort is beautifully nurtured with fruit orchard and a café serving refreshment to visitors to the Fort. My host, the Director at AKCSP kindly offered me a tour of Altit Fort. On course, taking the stairs to the top platform by the tower, I am fascinated with the various features of the Fort and the view of the old village from the tower platform. Some of the houses in the old village age up to 400 years and is preserved in the original setting.

After few days in Karimabad, we drive about 700 meters higher up from Altit village. Duiker – once a vintage point, where eagle’s dared, now accessible at ease even in a regular city car. Some of the hotels on the top are nicely designed in harmony with the nature. We bed down at the Hard Rock Hunza Resort and Villas, very nicely done by a visionary, an experienced traveler; local residents from Altit. The spacious room with a balcony, with 180 degree view of the mountains spell luxury. There are heaters in the room for a warm comfy sleep and my room had a brilliant view of the mount Rakaposhi. The creator has tastefully decorated the rooms and common areas, which has rated this friendly abode a 5-Star serviced resort. The Roof-Top Sky Bar-Cafe has the menu serving Pakistani and some favorite local and Chinese selection. In the pipeline, more villas accommodation will be added. Not to miss, early morning hike up the saddle for an absolutely dramatic 360 degree view of the Kara Koram Mountains. hardrockhunza@gmail.com, https://www.facebook.com/hardrockhunza/

The journey, so far, with so many precious moments that will linger on in the mind’s eye till eternity – undoubtedly, one of the best travel experiences in life. And so, it was time to retreat and we make a descent and head towards Nagar, saying good-bye for now to our new and old time friends in this lovely Central Valley of Hunza, a mountain lover’s ultimate dream.

Dream on and contact us for a tour of this Out-Of-This-World wonderland.

Content/ Photos (c) Saifuddin Ismailji Founder/ EIC: e-Travelers Club travel update

Note: No part of content nor any image for use without the permission of the publisher.

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