If you are a nature lover and keen to explore the utmost beauty and experience the beautiful adventures, then the best thing that can happen to you is a visit to Hunza Valley. A place where Nature reflects itself in its all-absolute ways. The mighty mountains, touching the sky and kind of speaking to you their hearts out about their remarkable history and the events that they have witnessed for decades. The soothing sound of flowing streams that is just enough to purify the most reckless of the hearts one could ever find elsewhere. In addition, a breathtaking sight of the crystal-clear lakes definitely would not leave you unimpressed. For these reasons in particular and many more in general, Hunza is known as the heaven on earth.
Enclosed in the grand Himalayas and the Karakorum Range, it shares a border with the Gilgit city in the south, in the East with the maligned states of Nagar, Xinjiang (China) to the Northeast and in the Northwest with Afghanistan. The valley is situated to the North of the Hunza River, at an altitude of around 2500 meters (8,200 ft.). Hunza spreads over an extended area of 7,900 square Kilometers (3,100 sq. miles). Karimabad is its capital, which is well known for having the ancient Baltit Fort.
Hunza valley is located at a distance of 100 Kilometers from Gilgit city. Hunza, also known as Kanjut, was a significant state in a subsidiary alliance with the Bristish India from 1892 to August 1947. It remained so, for three months and then from November 1947 until 1974 was a princely state of Pakistan. In the early 1890’s, the British embarked upon a mission to annex Hunza and Nagar. Hunza was an independent principality for centuries. The Meer’s of Hunza, who took the title of Thum, ruled it.
In the late 19th century, Hunza became involved in the Great Game- the battle between the Britain and Russia for control of the Northern parts of India. In 1891, the British established the Hunza-Nagar campaign, hence gaining control of Hunza and the neighboring valley of Nagar. The then Mir, Safdar Khan fled to China and in turn Mir Mohammad Nazim Khan, the younger brother of the former Meer was made the new ruler of Hunza in September, 1892. With the passage of time, the growing interest in Hunza increased due to which the Republic of China strived hard to restore its previous relations with Hunza. However, due to the outbreak of the Indo-Pak war of 1947 over the dispute of Kashmir, the Meer of Hunza agreed to Pakistan making this land of rich culture and beauty a permanent part of Pakistan.
Hunza proves to be a first-hand choice to travel to because of its mild climate and moderate temperature all year long. Every season has its own fascinating colors spread all over the valley. With the arrival of the warm spring, thousands of blossoms (Cherry blossoms) garnish the valley with eye-catching beauty and fragrance. Moreover, the months of September, October, and November bring along the magnificent autumn. If you ever wish to see the beauty of autumn, you cannot find a better place to see the mesmerizing autumn than Hunza. The winter takes along the magic charm with lots of snow showers, and the snow peaked mighty mountains have their own magic. Hence, Hunza is certainly a dream place to visit during any season of the year because you will get to admire beauty and charm just the same all year long.
Ethnicities and Languages
The people of Hunza are known as Brushos, Hunzukuts, and Brushaskis. They are mountain people who live particularly in the Hunza and mostly live in deep valleys and gorges cut by the Hunza River and its tributaries.
The present inhabitants of Hunza are all Muslims, chiefly of the Ismaili sect, with a few Sunnis and Shias. The main tribe lives in Hunza valley is known as Shinn. The Shinns said to be the descendants of Arabs. They have come via Afghanistan from either Persia or Turkey.It is interesting to note that before embracing Islam the Shins, resembling the Hindus, disliked meat, milk or even made from cow’s milk. Furthermore, if a Shin had taken two wives, one of his own tribe and the other of the Yashkun tribe, the children of the shin would be Shins and those of the latter would be Yashkun. The Yashkun are an Aryan race, arrived from Central Asia via, the Hindu Kush. Being stronger, they succeeded in conquering these districts, made the original inhabitants their servants and named them “Kramins” (attendants).
The main languages spoken in the valley include Shina, Burushaski andWakhi. The Wakhi speaking usually known as “Gojey”reside in the upper part of Hunza locally called Gojal. The Shina speaking people live in the Southern part of Hunza.
of Hunza are joyful, happy, active and full of life. They eat fresh fruits,
breath the clean mountainous air due to which they look youthful and they
hardly get sick.
Most of the Brushos are associated with subsistence farming. The major crops grown by them include potatoes, beans, wheat, barley, millet, buckwheat, fruits and vegetables. They also raise cattle, goats, sheep, and chickens and they continue to hunt to supplement their diet.
They eat plenty of fresh fruits like mulberry, cherry, Apple, peach etc. In addition, they grow their own organic whole wheat, which is later converted into flour to make bread.The Brushos are hardworking. That is exactly why the people of Hunza have an estimated longevity.
Shalwar Qameez is the formal dress of the people of Hunza as is the case in rest of Pakistan. However, old aged women wear a special type of long and loose frock with a traditional woman cap while old men wear woolen chogha in winters.
Trousers or Shalwar(Tumbun)
The traditional shalwar of Hunza is very similar to Turkish Salvar. It is loose, long baggy trouser. Traditionally silk, cotton and valvet fabric is used. The Shalwar is loose but narrow and fitted around the ankles. The ankle part of the trousers are sometimes tucked into colorful traditional hand knitted punches.
Kameez (Kurtani, Sheelo, Pirhan)
Traditional kameez is loose, fitted and long. For bridal dresses and young girls dresses , colorful embriodered bands are stiched around collars and the lower end of the shirt and seleeves.
The traditional cap of Gilgit Baltistan has assumed a remarkable part to characterize the identity of the people of the region. The cap has typical names in the significant local dialects. In Shina language, it is called Khoi, in Burushaski Phartsun or Pharsen and in Wakhi the Sekeed.
Made by local artisans from wool, this unique headwear of Hunza is available in different colors. It is considered as a piece of formal traditional dress for men. The most striking component of the cap is the peacock plume stuck in front or in side of the cap. It gives an exceptionally attractive look to the cap.
One of the norms of Hunza valley is to stuck money into the cap while someone is dancing. This symbolizes the love and respect to the dancer from his friends, relatives and fans. The dancer gives this money to the musicians once the dance is finished.
Hunza has immense variety of foods. People cook special kinds of food for the various festivals that the people celebrate over the year.
- Ishpiri: It is prepared from wheat flour and served with butter. It is commonly cooked for especial occasions like weddings, and birth celebrations.
- Gooley: It is a special kind of bread and is served with spreading butter on it. It is usually served for special guests as a token of love and welcome. People make it on a traditional occasion known as “sheesho got” (cropping season for wheat) and send it to homes of married daughters and sisters reminding them of the family and relatives’ love.
- Dang Diram: It is usually prepared for festivals like Nouroz (New Islamic Year Celebrations) or when a newborn have the first haircut. It is made from sprouted wheat flour that develop a natural sweetness. It is served with mixing butter, almond and apricot oil.
- Mantu:Mantu (dumpling) are the steam boiled dumplings (made from rice flour), filled with chopped meat of lamb or beef, onion, green chili, pepper and garlic. The dumplings steamed for several hours in a multi-layer steamer and served with vinegar and sauces.
- Sharbat: Sharbat is one of a very healthy and easy to prepare dish, compared to others traditional cuisine of Gilgit Baltistan. It is prepared from wheat flour, mixed with water and butter and cooked for few minutes. It is served on wedding celebrations and birth of a child. It is especially prepared at home for mothers who are supposed to feed their newborn babies. It is assumed that this provides with extra nutrition and energy required by women in such situations.
- Chupatti/ Phiti: Chupatti (bread) is usually cooked for daily breakfast almost in every part of Gilgit Baltistan. This traditional bread is made from wheat flour and served with salty tea.
Moreover, there are variety of traditional food like; Makai Taltapo (Maize bread), ShayeeChupatti (slow heat cooked bread), Shapik (thin layered difficult to cook, a kind of bread), Diramtiki (bread prepared from the naturally sweetened flour of Diram), Mayil (drink prepared from home-made yogurt), Chaka (kind of especially processed yogurt), Qurut (home-made dried cheese), Buruss (boiled yogurt), Phulai or harisa (prepared from crushed wheat and cooked in mutton or beef soup), Dishao (grape nectar boiled for hours and taste like a chocolate), Mulida (blend of milk and butter and bread pieces), Dou (dried cooked wheat mixed with candies and dry fruits).
Architecture/ Archeological/heritage Remains/sites
Hunza is famous for its remarkable architectural heritage and archeological sites. Well-known heritage sites are Baltit Fort in Karimabad, Altit Fort in Altit village of Hunza. Famous archeological site is Sacred Rock carvings discovered in Ganesh village of Hunza. Batura Glacier and Attabad Lake are also a famous site in Hunza.
Batura Glacier is one of the largest glaciers outside the polar region. It lies in the north of Passu village of upper Hunza, 7500 meter above sea level. It feeds River Hunza which flow west to east. The Gilgit joins river Hunza and Naltar Rivers before it flows into the Indus River.
Attabad Lake, also known as Gojal Lake, is a lake in Gojal valley created in January 2010 by landslide dam. A massive landslide buried the village of Attabad, destroying 26 homes, killing 20 people and dimming up the Hunza River and a newly formed Attabad lake was created.
This breath taking architectural site is in Altit, Hunza.Rulers of Hunza titled as ‘Meer’s of Hunza in 11th century AD built this magnificent fort. For centuries, it withstood the consequences of natural disasters like earthquakes and the heavy rains that makes it a wonder for archeologist, architects, historians and the tourists visiting this site each year. Built on a top, the fort presents an eye-catching view of the Hunza valley and its attractive landscapes.
The fort is over 1,000 feet above the Hunza River, and its only tower known as the Shikari Tower (hunters’ tower) was built strategically to keep an eye on the entire land, especially during war. The Hunza valley used to be under constant threat of Russian and Chinese of that time.
Five kilometers away from the Altit Fort, Baltit Fort was also built by Meer’s of Hunza and served as Secretariat for managing the States’ affairs. Built almost 700 years back, this fort was turning into debris of the history when Agha Khan Trust started to rebuilt and restore its original architectural model as was built by Meer’s. This took them years to complete. Today Baltit Fort is one of the most prominent and most visited tourist attraction.
Sacred Rock of Hunza
Located near Karimabad, the Sacred Rock is on the top of a hill to the east of Hunza River. The rock is 30 feet high and 200 yards long and used to be residence and worship place for Buddhist monks in times when Buddhism was the religion of the valley. The inscription on rock date back to the 1st century AD. There are number of stories and folklores associated with these rocks popular amongst the local population and call it the historical ‘guest book’ of the valley.
The Fabled Ondara Fort Gulmit
There are many Forts and Fortresses in Gojal Hunza such as Qalanderchi Fort in Misghar valley, Rashit fort in Chipursan valley. However, Ondra Fort is the most prominent. This fort is hanging on Ondra hill, which overlooks Gulmit and Ghulkin villages. The fort is believed to have been built by one QutlugBaig in the 16th century. He was the first Wakhi ruler to establish rule in Gulmit, threatening the Meer’s of Hunza.The height of the fort’s walls ranges from 6 to 13 feet above the ground. There were many living quarters inside the fort. The Ondra fort reflects the power of the Wakhi ruler Qutlug who was never defeated by the Meer’s of Hunza. He was famous for his gentility and swordsmanship in the battlefield. Meer’s of Hunza were scared by the rising power of Qutlug. They never dared to cross his territory. This fort is still a destination for domestic and international tourists.
It is a wonderful symbol of Pak-China relationship. Sost is a village in Gojal upper valley of Hunza. Being the last village inside Pakistan before the China border, it proves to be an important place in the highway as all traffic passes through this town while crossing the Pak-China border.
The village being the capital of Hunza is famous for its rich history as it was the home to the formers of the Royal family. Surrounded by the snowcapped mountain peaks such as the Ulter and Deep Gorges, Karimabad is accessible by the KKH (Karakorum Highway) from Gilgit. Snow leopards, Markhors, Ibexes, Yaks, Ducks and Marco polo sheep also inhabit the region.
According to the locals Gulmit means “the valley of flowers”. Gulmit, also known as Gul-e-Gulmit, is a town that is the headquarter of Gojal, well known as the Upper Hunza. It is a very historic town with various mountains, peaks and glaciers. It is surrounded by many mountains namely the Tupopodon in the extreme north, the Ghawush in the south, standing tall in the east is Mount Pulpul and in the west is the Gulmit Tower. Due to its many historic places, shops, and a museum Gulmit has remained a crowded tourist spot the whole year.
This immense mountain is situated in the Nagar Valley. It is a part of the Karakoram Range and is 7,788 meters high. It can be spotted from any where in Hunza and is indeed a spectacular sight. The peak is surrounded by some of the famous glaciers like the Barpu, the Biro, the Bagrot, and the Pisan.
Music and Dance
The cultural and typical music of Hunza is known as Hareep. Other famous types of musical tunes in Hunza are Dhani, Saus, Galawar, Tambal and Dhanyal. Each of these musical forms are associated with a special occasion. For example, Galawar is played while initiating anything. There is a special type of music, which is played on the arrival of groom along with bride.
The folk music instruments commonly used in Hunza are
Dadang (Drum), Damal (Percussion), Duff (a circle framed drum) Suranai (a kind of flute) Gabi (Flute) Sitar and Rubab.
There is a music school, in Gulmit village of Gojal Hunza known as Bulbulik. Interested youth, tourists and music lovers come here to observe and learn from the seasoned Ustatts (Masters of Music/Hareep).
Two famous forms of dance performed by the people of Hunza are the one by old men in-group and the other by young boys with a unique display of swords’ moves. Old men use to dance first on ceremonies, tournaments and wedding occasions while the young boys and women dance later after the old are done.
Crafts and Textile
Hunza has strong traditions of creative industries and handicrafts, embroidery, wool, carpets, woodwork, stonework, metal, gems, jewelry and beadwork. People make Chogas (long cloak made of wool), sweaters and traditional caps (for men and women) made from Ibex fur and sheep wool. Moreover, woolen socks are also prepared locally from the sheep wool.
One thing that strikes you upon visiting this amazing part of the world is the beautifully decorated homes. On interior, most of houses are sites of finest art and woodwork. The roof, windows, pillars and doors are specially designed to facilitate movement of fresh air and light.
So, the next time you plan to go out and have a break from the hustle and bustle of your busy lives, consider the drop-dead beautiful valley of Hunza atop the list.