Mountains, mountains and more mountains. It’s a good job I can’t get enough of them as I am surrounded by them in the Hunza Valley. As you cast your eyes upwards you are engulfed by the massive snow capped peaks set against a brilliant blue sky. It’s just breath taking.
Whilst I had expected mountains I was surprised to find there are so many glaciers here too and forts and blossoming trees and the most welcoming and hospitable people. It has all made for a fantastic week in the Hunza Valley.
So where did I start. First I thought it would be useful to learn a little history of the place. The Hunza Valley used to be the home to a number of Princely States. In Karimabad they have restored two of the forts from one of these States. One of the forts, Altit was over 1100 years old and the other Baltit was nearly 800 years old. The forts or palaces were small (certainly compared to the grand Maharajah palaces in India) but showed how the States royalty used to live. Life revolved around one main room, where people sat around, cooked, ate and then slept. A fire was kept in the middle to keep everyone warm and to cook on. Baltit fort had two such rooms, one for the summer and one more enclosed for the long hard winters. The views from both of the forts across the valley and to the mountains was magnificent. You could also see the Karakoram Highway skirting along the valley floor. After the Chinese rebuilt this road a few years ago it’s a wonderful smooth ribbon of tarmac.
On the way down from the forts I thought it only made sense to buy some of the produce of the local valley. So I returned to the truck with walnuts, pistachios as well as dried apricots and cherries. Both Alisha and Lucy love these so I only need to stop myself from eating them before we all meet up again.
For the next couple of days it was time to put my hiking boots on and climb further up into the mountains. First I headed to Eagles Nest a small settlement with great views up the valley. I had thought about driving the truck up and at the start of the walk saw no reason why I couldn’t but as I got further up the road it narrowed significantly and at the tiny villages wires were strung across the road that the truck certainly would not have got under. This week I have really appreciated both the advantages and disadvantages of our truck. Each day after been out it has been wonderful to come back to the sanctuary and comfort of the truck with my own space. The disadvantage has been it’s too big to take on the winding roads into the side valleys.
My second hike was much tougher. I had seen a sign on the way up to the fort that said path to a meadow and a base camp for one of the nearby mountains so I decided to tackle it. It was 1100m uphill along a boulder strewn “path” but it was worth it. The views back across the valley to the mountains on the other side were fantastic. Unfortunately the tops of the mountains on my side were covered in cloud. Most of the walk was up the side of the glacier that had carved the deep valley I was walking in. Arriving at a flatter area I was able to admire the glacier up close and right in front of me.
I left Karimabad the next day and headed further up the valley. A few kilometres further up I came to Lake Attabad. This is a very new Lake in that it was formed by a landslide blocking the Hunza River a number of years ago. Up until recently the only way further up the valley was to put your vehicle on a small boat to get across. Now it is easy, the Chinese have built some wonderful tunnels and you can just drive around it. Shortly thereafter I found a quiet place to camp. It was lovely been completely on my own. I took a short hike in the hills overlooking where I had parked the truck and didn’t see anyone all day.
The next day I continued further up the valley and before I knew it I was in the border town of Sost. I say border town, it’s actually over 80kms from the border but this is where all the border formalities take place. Whilst been in the town was useful to be able to get my washing done I still had a number of days to kill. Fortunately I received an email from some other travellers who had done the same route a couple of weeks ago and this contained some great suggestions.
So for two reasons I drove 80kms back down the valley to Karimabad. The first reason was that internet is not great in the valley and also my phone didn’t work in Sost. As I needed to pick up some emails and also buy some insurance for further on in our travels it made sense to head somewhere to where this was possible. Not that the internet is any good in Karimabad it’s just that it’s bad as opposed to very bad in Sost.
The second reason was to take up one of the recommendations from the travellers email and to take a car to explore the Hoper Valley. Like many of the side valleys around here the valleys are set deep between wonderful high mountain peaks but on the valley floor at this time of the year it’s green and the villagers are busy planting crops. It’s also tree blossoming time and the apricot, cherry and apple trees were in full blossom giving the valley a riot of colour. The villages we passed through were very friendly with people waving, stopping to chat , asking to have their photos taken and a number of invites to stop and have tea and discuss the cricket.
At the end of the valley at the last village a guide took me down the valley side to walk on the glacier that gave the valley its name. As you walked on the black moraine you could hear it creaking and cracking under your feet. Occasionally there was a loud bang as pieces of rock or ice crumbled. The view staring up the valley was magnificent you could see all the way to the mountain tops and where the ice you were standing on had started its journey many years before.
I slowly wound my way back towards the border town, stopping to admire the views along the way. I decided to stop on a gravel patch and spend the afternoon and night by the river. It was quiet but I was visible from the road although traffic was very light. In the evening I had two visits from plain clothes “security” and a policeman. They were very friendly, just wanting to know what I was doing, where I was from and slightly confused I did not want to stay in a hotel. It was all very friendly though.
Arriving in Sost on my last full day in Pakistan I again decided to hire a jeep with a guide to head up the Chapursan. Valley. The trip almost never started as at the checkpoint I was told I needed a special permission to head up the valley as it led to the border with Afghanistan some 50kms away. After a number of calls I was allowed to proceed up the valley to the last village about half way to the border.
This valley was much starker and as we entered it the steep mountain sides were devoid of vegetation. The road was narrow but my guide and driver was from the valley so was used to driving his jeep along it even accelerating to avoid the stones falling from the mountainside above. The guide spoke excellent English so he was able to tell me about life in the valley. He seemed to know everyone so as we went along we would stop and give people lifts between the small villages dotted along the valley floor.
From the border town of Sost it’s over 80kms and a two hour drive up the Khunjerab Valley to the actual border with China at the Khunjerab Pass. The pass is famous for been the highest tarred road border post in the world. After quickly clearing Pakistan customs it was a pleasant drive up the valley. As I reached the top of the valley the road started to twist up hairpins and I entered the snow line. Fortunately the road had been cleared so I could enjoy the views as I drove.
The pass is at about 4,700m and there is a big entrance gate as you cross into China which makes for a great photo opportunity. All had gone well leaving Pakistan, as for entering China, well let’s just say that’s a story for another day.
I am really looking forward to meeting up with Gilly, Alisha and Lucy again but I am also going to miss this part of Pakistan. It’s astonishingly beautiful and the people are wonderfully friendly without been intrusive. I have felt really safe all the time. I know we were been prudent in just having me drive the truck through Pakistan on my own but having experienced it I think if I was making the decision now we all would have come. I definitely think we will be back.