(PAKISTAN IS OPEN FOR INTERNATIONAL VISITORS SUBJECT TO COVID NEGATIVE TEST CERTIFICATE)
Looking out from Karimabad, Central Hunza, on the other side of the Hunza River, the broad valleys of Nagar, once a Princely State, now a district of Gilgi-Baltistan (GB) Pakistan, sprawls 5,000 square kilometers in the high Mountains like Rakaposhi (7788m), Diran peak (7265m), Golden Peak, Rush Peak and boasts Pakistan’s highest alpine Lake – the Rush Lake.
We take off-road from the heritage mountain town Ginesh in Central Hunza passing through some of the 24 picturesque villages and soon after merging with Kara Koram Highway (KKH), we arrive the tourist village of Minapin, at an elevation about 2000 meters, which offers some well-appointed bed downs, restaurants and shops.
A more rewarding experience in Nagar is taking a Four Wheel jeep trip from Minapin, high and deep into the mountains with great views of the surrounding peaks and for a full gamut of Mount Rakaposhi stretching an awesome length of about 20 kilometers. Inhabited by about 90,000 residents, Burushaski and Shina is the local language and old dialect of Burushaski is still spoken in some of the small long-standing villages. Bedaski is also spoken but mostly in proper town of Nagar and Chalt.
I learnt from the local that ironically, there are no remains of old buildings and fort that can trace back the origin of Nagar, dating back 14c AD. However, the local community is keen to restructure a replica of fort building at the original site where it had existed long time ago.
While the main source of living is farming and tourism, the latter involving mountaineering, adventure tourism activities, accommodation and other tourist facilities including transportation and guiding; the mountain people are also involved in education, religious school, arts and craft, mining, livestock, fishery and producing local food and herbal products.
Here we settled down at the Osho Thang Hotel-Restaurant & Yurts and experienced a whole-hearted hospitality extended by Israr Shah, the owner/ Director and his team. As its name, Osho Thang, meaning Royal Guest House in Burushaski language, we are attended with a personal touch of cordiality. The wall of the corridor by the reception is a Gallery depicting history of Osho Thang has pictures of distinguished guests who had stayed at this traditional abode. In the main hotel wing, https://www.facebook.com/Osho-Thang-Hotel-Minapin-Nagar-Valley-1828031220786956/
I am showed to my spacious cozy room, spike and clean and well equipped with a large comfy bed, attached with a bath room with running hot water. Next to the main hotel by the lush garden, there are luxury Yurts, a conceptual eco-friendly accommodation, exquisitely trimmed in luxury with a touch of local colors. At dinner time, I enter the huge, cliquish dining hall, beautifully adorned in traditional trimmings with relic objects and paintings on the walls.
The menu and variety of food here is something to die for. Tonight I had a simple one dish serving, warm and filling the chapchy dowdo soup (or Moch in Wakhi language) – a traditional meat soup of the region.
Other variation of the meatless soup is Tumuru Dowdo (wild thyme soup) or Booqpachy dowdo with garlic and seasonal vegetables used as ingredients – both made with homemade laqsha (wheat noodles). According to an authentic recipe of homemade noodle, it require 2 cups wheat flour, add a pinch of salt and knead while adding water to give form of noodles. Have other ingredients ready including one cup mutton, oil (less than 60ml), sliced onions, 4-5 cloves of ginger, a few garlic bulbs, water (about 700 ml). To prepare, fry onion slices in a pan and cook mutton in water adding sauted onion, ginger, garlic and some salt and as the meat is tender, put more water in the utensil and bring it to boil. Finally add laksha when the mixed ingredients begins to boil and cook for about five minutes. Let it simmer and the dowdo is ready to serve, traditionally in a wooden bowl.
Giyaling (pancake) is the popular local dessert, also made with wheat flour. The main ingredients to make Giyaling requires wheat flour dagowang (self raising flour), desi ghee (pure butter), pinch of salt and water. The method to making a traditional Giyaling is to mix wheat flour, water and salt into a thin paste. Place griddle on the stove and grease it with desi ghee or Zhuway Haneeya Dell (apricot oil). Pour flour past in the center of griddle and with the base of a ladle, smooth paste in circular motion from center to the edge of the griddle. As the paste bubbles, flip it on the other-side and cook for a few minutes until you see it turn brownish. Serve it topping up with apricot oil or mulberry syrup or honey or even roll it up with apricot jam for a typical GB dessert.
My local friend-guide Danish is unavailable and so my humble host Shahji guides me for the next day excursion to Kho, the viewpoint high above Minapin village for a full view of Mount Rakaposhi at its base 3500 meters, alongside Minapin glacier. He also introduced me to a local family that has a crossed-breed Ibex at their farm. Shahji at Osho Thang can also arrange to provide jeep and guide and even porters if you choose to hike on foot, though this would be physically demanding. It was time to retire after a beautiful day and I wrap myself in warm blanket soon after our chat at dinner.
We rise with the sun early morning and proceed to the Mount Rakaposhi base viewpoint by jeep on shingle road, maneuvering occasional steep sharp bend and stretches of rocky terrain. The higher we gain the elevation – a total of 1400 meters from Minapin to Rakaposhi Viewpoint at Kho; the more the scenery spelt a spectacle of mountain grandeur. Ultar Sar with the prominent Ultar peak (7388m), Lady-Finger Peak (6000m), and mountains towards Hunza dominates as we move deeper into the wilderness.
We had past inhabited villages painted in autumn hues and as we gain height, the mountain landscape changed into alpine forest dotted with a few houses and no sight of Rakaposhi and Dhiran peaks. Ironically our 4XDrive not in order, and slippery snowy at steep turnouts, the jeep refused to climb and we had to turn around, just about a kilometer short reaching the Hapakun campsite. Rakaposhi and Dhiran mountains opens up at the viewpoint ridge. In disappointment, we had to make a U turn to descend.
By this time the sun is up, early morning rays lit up the trees and looking down, the valley shimmers in the shades of gold, ruby and emerald. We stop often and intermingle with raw nature, watching simple lifestyle in the mountains – folks sending children to school, some mending the roof of the house, others doing daily scores of work.
Back to Minapin, we experience dining at Diran Guest House, more like a boutique hotel founded in a guise of modern and contemporary appeal. At the lively lobby, I meet my host who showed me some of the well furnished rooms of 4-star standard and an exquisite meeting hall. Here, at the state-of-the-art restaurant dishes out regional, Pakistani, continental and a few Chinese favorites. Here we try the local delights: Dowdo soup, Chap Shuru and the homemade rose tea. The perfection in taste, proficient and friendly service, the chef is a professional in his field of work and has a passion to create a future fusion menu based on regional and Pakistani cuisines. https://www.facebook.com/DaltasDiran I spent the night at Osho Thang.
Early next morning, my host Shahji takes me to a vintage point by a local school in the backyards of the hotel for a breathtaking view of Mount Rakaposhi (7788m), Dhiran (7265m) and Mirshikar peaks (5450m). At breakfast, I had my first taste of local style organic egg omelet called Tiyan Shoro, and Giyaling with rose tea, made with passion by Shaji, from home grown roses.
Today, we explore the local village and visited a new found friend, Shabbir at his wedding. The family farm has a rare Ibex – a bred between a goat and ibex. I joined in cooking a local dessert made with wheat flour and desi ghee (organic butter). I tried this over a hot cup of tea, surrounded by children attired in colorful local clothes and village elders, gathered at the wedding.
It was time to move on, but unwillingly to leave this heavenly place, we could wish for a lifetime stay. Unlike some other valleys in the GB, Nagar community has facilitate the villages with better supply of electricity and winter tourism can be made possible. Back on the KKH, we stop frequently to capture autumn beauty and taking tea-breaks enhancing the fun of traveling the KKH. Near Chilas, we depart KKH and take the road to Babusar Top to drive back to Islamabad via Naran and Kaghan.
After an overnight at the Kunhar View Hotel located in the main bazar, Naran, we started early next day toward Islamabad via Kaghan. Kunhar View Hotel Naran A pleasing coffee break at Arcadian Riverside Kaghan we continued towards Mansehra and finally at Abottabad, we hit the Motoway to arrive back home in the late evening.Faisal Movers, the new luxury Bus Service operates regularly from Islamabad to Hunza via Babusar Pass.https://faisalmovers.com/
Words & Pictures: Saifuddin Ismailji
Fouder: e-Travelers Club travel update.
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