Along the Ancient Silk Route journey to the land of culture and adventure and the fabled “Shangri-La”. In James Hilton’s lost horizons, a land of peace and plenty where people never aged. Eric Shipton the famous explorers, described the views from Hunza Valley as.
“The ultimate manifestation of mountain grandeur”.
Today Hunza Valley could be reached in comfort by winding Karakoram Highway. The legendary Silk Road now known by its mundance acronym-the karakoram highway (KKH) has footprints of great travellers like Marcopolo, troops of Alexander of Macedonia, Buddhist pilgrims and Babur, the descendant of Gengis Khan and First king of the great mughal dynasty of sub-continental. In the Gilgit Baltistan of Pakistan, trucked away in the abode of the most picturesque mountains on earth, Tupopdan (6106m) known as the mother mountain for having so many habitants and village around its foot hills. Hunza Valley is divided into lower (shina), central (Burushal) and upper (Gojal) regions.
The Valley of upper Hunza Gojal offers the best views of snow capped mountains. A 900 years old Ondra fort overlooking the village of Gulmit makes a fine vantage point to view over 6000 peaks on a clear day, the spectacular sight of mountain and valleys in the range of 120 kilometres gives the feeling of a dream coming true as if witnessing the great open museum of mountains. Gulmit (2500m) the Capitql of upper Hunza valley is the only town in the world, where you can view five peaks over (6000m) in all four directions. Tupopdan peak (6106m), Shisper peak (7611m), Gulmit Tower (6000m), Quroon (7143m) and Distalghail Sar peak reaches in high as Hunza Skyline. The patches of lush terraced fields on rugged mountains if a sample of hard work and irrigation channels worked out by Hunzakuts.
Hunza Valley the land of apricot orchards, peaches, apples. Mulberry, walnuts and grapes. Glacial stream thunder down from distant peaks and sizzle through forests of poplar. Hunza Valley is said to have been inspiration for the imaginary paradise of Shangri-La, immortalize by James Hilton in his classic 1930s novel “Lost Horzon”. Although lost horizon is pure fantasy, a tale of westerner brought to a remote Tibetan valley whose rulers lived to extraordinary ages because they know nothing of greed, fear, anger or competition. Hunza Valley has remarkable parallels with Shanri-La. The mountain people of Hunza valley with Brown or Golden hairs and green, blue or grey eyes, unravel the mystery of their origin. Their ancestors are belived to be to the solders of Alexander’s army who settled down in these valleys with their Persian wives.
The astounding history of Hunza valley is filled with invasions. The Dogras, the Sikhs and the Laddakhis, the Purakis of Chitral and the wali’s and mir’s of the neighbouring states conquered or made unsuccessful attempts to rule Hunza Valley. a paradise for trakkers, mountaineers, photographers and nature lovers.
History of Hunza:
Hunza was formerly a princely state bordering China to the north-east and Pamir to its north-west, which continued to survive until 1974, when it was finally dissolved by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The state bordered the Gilgit Agency to the south, the former princely state of Nagar to the east. The state capital was the town of Baltit (also known as Karimabad) and its old settlement is Ganish Village.Hunza was an independent principality for more than 900 years. The British gained control of Hunza and the neighboring valley of Nagar between 1889 and 1892 followed by a military engagement of severe intensity. The then Thom (Prince) Mir Safdar Ali Khan of Hunza fled to Kashghar in China and sought what can be called political asylum.
Geography of Hunza:
The Hunza is situated at an elevation of about 2,500 meters (8,200 ft). For many centuries, Hunza has provided the quickest access to Swat and Gandhara for a person travelling on foot. The route was impassable to baggage animals; only human porters could get through, and then only with permission from the locals.
Hunza was easily defended as the paths were often less than 0.5 meters (20 in) wide. The high mountain paths often crossed bare cliff faces on logs wedged into cracks in the cliff, with stones balanced on top. They were also constantly exposed to regular damage from weather and falling rocks. These were the much feared “hanging passageways” of the early Chinese histories that terrified all, including several famous Chinese Buddhist monks such as Xuanzang.
Climate of Hunza:
The temperature in May is a maximum of 27 °C (81 °F) and a minimum of 14 °C (57 °F); the October maximum is 10 °C (50 °F) and the minimum ?10 °C (14.0 °F). Hunza’s tourist season is generally from May to October, because in winter the Karakoram Highway is often blocked by the snow.
The temperature in May is a maximum of 27 °C (81 °F) and a minimum of 14 °C (57 °F); the October maximum is 10 °C (50 °F) and the minimum ?10 °C (14.0 °F). Hunza’s tourist season is generally from May to October.
People of Hunza:
As much as the valley is famous for its beauty, the people of Hunza are noted for their friendliness and hospitality. The local languages spoken are Burushaski, Wakhi and Shina, many people understand Urdu. The literacy rate of the Hunza valley is believed to be more than 90%. Virtually every child of the new generation studies up to at least high school level. Many pursue higher studies from prestigious colleges and Universities of Pakistan and abroad.
Most of the people of Hunza are Ismaili Shia Muslims, followers of His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan IV, while in Ganish Village more than 90% are Shia Muslims.
The Hunza region is home to people of three ethnicities:
(i) The Lower Hunza area – (from Khizerabad to Nasirabad is mainly inhabited by the Shinaki people who are Shina speakers;
(ii) The Central Hunza area – (from Murtazaabad to Ahmedabad) is mainly inhabited by Burushaski speakers.
(iii) The Upper Hunza area, known as Gojal – (from Shiskat to Khunjerab is mainly populated by Wakhi speakers.
Spectacular Scenery from Hunza:
Several high peaks rise above 6,000 meters (20,000 ft) in the surroundings of Hunza valley. The valley provides spectacular views of some of the most beautiful and magnificent mountains of the world which include Rakaposhi 7,788 meters (25,551 ft), Ultar Sar 7,388 meters (24,239 ft), Bojahagur Duanasir II 7,329 meters (24,045 ft), Ghenta Sar 7,090 meters (23,261 ft), Hunza Peak 6,270 meters (20,571 ft), Darmyani Peak 6,090 meters (19,980 ft), and Bublimating (Ladyfinger Peak) 6,000 meters (19,685 ft). Hunza Valley is also host to the ancient watch towers in Ganish , Baltit Fort and Altit Fort. Watch towers are located in heart of Ganish Village; Baltit Fort stands on top of Karimabad whereas Altit Fort lies at the bottom of the valley.
The valley is popularly believed to be the inspiration for the mythical valley of Shangri-la in James Hilton’s 1933 novel Lost Horizon. As one travels up on the Karakoram Highway, the beautiful sceneries keep on revealing themselves. On the way one can witness the 65 kilometers (40 mi) long ‘Batura’ glacier, the second longest in Pakistan, surround by Shishper, Batura and Kumpirdior peaks. On reaching Sost one can continue the journey up to Khunzhrav or turn west to witness the mystic beauty of Chipursan (also Chapursan) valley. Chipursan valley has some of most exotic tourist spots in the area. In Yarzerech (also Yarzirich) you can have a look at the majestic Kundahill peak (6,000 meters (19,685 ft)), or trek along the Rishepzhurav to the Kundahill to experience the soothing sceneries. Beyond Yarzerech one can travel further to Lupghar, Raminj, Reshit, Yishkuk up to Baba Ghundi (Astan), the shrine of Baba-e-Ghund, a saint from Afghanistan near the border between Pakistan and Wakhan region of Afghanistan.
Baltit Fort In olden times a number of small independent states existed in the history of Northern Areas of Pakistan. Among them Hunza and Nager were the traditional rival states, situated on opposite sides of the Hunza (kanjut) river. The rulers of these two states, known as Thámo / Mirs (Thάm=S), built various strongholds to express their power. According to historical sources (Ref: Tarikh-e-Ehd Atiiq Riyasat Hunza by Haji Qudrarullah Baig, Pub: S.T.Printers Rawalpindi 1980 Pakistan), the Hunza rulers initially resided in the Altit Fort, but later as a result of a conflict between the two sons of the ruler Sultan, Shah Abbas (Shάboos) and Ali Khan (Aliqhάn), Shaboos shifted to the Baltit Fort, making it the capital seat of Hunza. The power struggle between the two brothers eventually resulted in the death of younger one, and so Baltit Fort further established itself as the prime seat of power in the Hunza state.
The rich beauty of Baltit Fort can be traced to over seven hundred 700 years ago. Ayasho II, Tham / Mir of Hunza in the early 15th fifteenth century married Princess Shah Khatoon (Sha Qhatun) from Baltistan (In Moghul history Baltistan is called Tibet Khurd mean, little Tibet), and was the first to modify the face of Altit and, subsequently Baltit Fort. Baltistan meaning land of Balti people had a very strong cultural and ethnical relation with the Ladakh territory of India then. Consequently, the structure of Baltit Fort was influenced by the Ladakhi / Tibetan architecture, with some resemblance to the Potala Palace in Lhasa. Then additions, renovations and changes to the building were being made through the centuries by the long line of rulers of the Hunza that followed.
View of the Hunza Valley from Baltit Fort A veritable treasure house for ancient forts, the Northern Areas of Pakistan lost most of its glorious built heritage around the 19th century as a result of the destructive attacks by the Maharaja of Kashmir. However, in this regard people of Hunza were exceptionally fortunate to successfully defend against the invasions of Maharaja Kashmir four times. One of the biggest changes in the structure of Baltit Fort came with the invasion of the British in December 1891. Tham Mir Safdarali Khan, ruler of Hunza his wazir Dadu (Thara Baig III), fled to Kashgar (China) for political asylum with their fellows and families. With the conquest of Hunza and Nager states by the British forces in December 1891, the fortified wall and watch towers of the old Baltit village and watch towers of the Baltit Fort on its north-western end were also demolished as desired by the British authorities. The British installed his younger brother Tham Mir Sir Muhammad Nazim Khan K.C.I.E, as the ruler of Hunza state in September 1892.
During his reign, Tham / Mir Nazeem Khan made several major alterations to the Baltit Fort. He demolished a number of rooms of third floor and added a few rooms in the British colonial style on the front elevation, using lime wash and colour glass panel windows. The Baltit Fort remained officially inhabited until 1945, when the last ruler of Hunza, Mir Muhammad Jmamal Khan, moved to a new palace further down the hill, where the present Mir of Hunza Mir Ghazanfar Ali Khan (Current Chief Executive of Northern Areas) and his family are residing.
With no proper authority entrusted to care for it, the Fort was exposed to the ravages of time and over the years its structure weakened and began to deteriorate. His Highness Aga Khan IV initiated the restoration efforts for Baltit Fort in 1990, when Mir Ghazanfar Ali Khan the son of last ruler of Hunza, Tham / Mir Muhammad Jamal Khan and his family generously donated the Fort to the Baltit Heritage Trust, a public charity formed for the explicit purpose of owning and maintaining the Fort. The restoration undertaken by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture in Geneva in association with the Aga Khan Cultural Service Pakistan (Pakistan), took six years to complete. The project was supported by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture as the main donor through its Historic Cities Support Programme, as well as by the Getty Grant Program (USA), NORAD (Norway) and the French Government.
The restored Fort, resplendent in its regal glory was inaugurated on September 29, 1996 in the presence of His Highness the Aga Khan IV and the president of Pakistan Farooq Ahmad Khan Laghari. It is now operated and maintained by the Baltit Heritage Trust and is open to visitors. Preservation at its best, the Baltit Fort serves as a perfect example of culture restored and preserved for the future generations of the mountain people.