Peaks in Hunza Valley
Apparently we led too luxurious and easy life the past few days and to counterbalance today was full of hardships. As soon as we prepared to leave the hotel the owner said we owe him 500 Rupees (5$) for the tent, but we refused to pay him. Later the hitchhiking was slow but after waiting for a while a guy took us to Battagram (around 20 km.), he treated us to tea and cookies at his office and it was hard to explain to him that we want to continue hitchhiking.
We noticed that Battagram is quite different than Mansehra because here all the women in the streets were dressed with burkas or had their faces covered. We start hitchhiking again at the end of the town but nobody stops. Almost 2 hours pass like this and finally the police arrives accompanied by other people. Everyone crowds around us and the nightmare begins.
One policemen starts waiting with us for a minibus and screws our hitchhiking plans. The minibuses are full to the max and at the end a policeman forces us to take rickshaw taxi to the bus-station. There they put is in a minibus to Besham. The good thing is that the minibuses cost around 1 or 2 euro per person depending on the distance.
The so called “highway” is still a narrow road that winds up the mountains. Besham is a small town and all the men here wear enormous beards. We befriended with a guy who had studied in China and he helped us to find the next minibus to Dasu which is 100 km. away.
One doesn’t have the slightest idea what 100 km. means in this region – terrible bumping along above vertiginous chasms, where the minibus goes at furious speed like it participates in a rally and passes all the cars on the road – all this goes on for 4-5 hours till at the end we become nearly catatonic. The most important thing for any driver here is to overtake every car or minibus in front of his vehicle even if this has to happen at the hair-pin bends with a 500 m. abyss next to it.
We are now traveling along the Valley of Indus River, the slopes are vertical, there is almost no vegetation and the nice hills and pine trees give way to steep, rocky slopes. Below us we see an abyss and at the bottom is the river – black and turbulent.
It is good that we took the minibus because we don’t see any private cars. The road to Patan is OK, but from Patan to Dasu is a real nightmare – the asphalt is heavily broken and every now and then there are rivers on the road.
The Karakorum highway has been built and is still maintained by the Chinese. Usually we see a Chinese boss and few Pakistani workers along the road always guarded by a military patrol. The highway connects China and Pakistan, the border is at Kunjerab pass (4700 m.).
We reach Dasu at 6 p.m. – we traveled 8 hours to pass 150 km. Dasu looks quite wild and I don’t know how a woman could travel here by herself – to me it seems impossible. We walk through the whole town and we don’t see a single woman (!!!) and there are quite a lot people on the street.
Some policemen see us again and take us to the famous hotel “Pakistan”. One would think that a hotel bearing proudly such a great name will be normal at least, but this is top 3 misarble hotels I had ever stayed at.
(This reminds me of a hotel in Morocco with even greater name – “Milano” where the room was 2 m. away from the toilets. The toilet walls were 1,5 m. tall and the room smelled terrible because it had a hole above the door. The room’s window was facing the wall of some inner stairs and the blankets were sticky because of the dirt accumulated in the years.)
But I digress. Hotel “Pakistan” is obnoxious, the sheets are covered with stains and there are many fags on the floor as well as other garbage. I think this is the first time a foreigner stays here and this encourages everyone to start sweeping and cleaning. They even put soap bar in the bathroom!
The policemen install themselves in front of our room to guard us, they speak loudly all night and we couldn’t sleep well.
We get up and we put ourselves in front of the hotel pretending we are waiting for a bus and we try hitchhiking in the meantime. But the policemen appear again, stop the first minibus that passes by and tell us to get in. There is a terrible stink inside but at least the driver drives normally. It turns out that it doesn’t go to Chilas – the place we intend to reach today. It stops somewhere in the middle and after 3-4 hours ride (we passed only 50 km.) we find ourselves in the nothingness. The place is called Shatial bazaar – it is an ancient bazaar where people from the mountains go to shop and it looks like it appeared here from an ancient age.
It results that there is no transportation, except taxis, with which to pass the next 50-60 km. We decide to try hitchhiking again but our plans are spoiled again by the coming policemen. After talking to them for a while they decide to transport us with their cars. We hop on and we change the cars every 5-10 km. – the type of traveling we already experienced in Balochistan. At least we register at check-points only two times here.
We reach a station 30 km. from Chilas and the policemen want to leave us here. Luckily there is a family with a jeep traveling North and they agree to take us with them.
Somewhere in Hunza Valley
The situation in Chilas resembles those in Quetta – they take us to a hotel and don’t let us walk freely in the streets. We try to ask the owner of the hotel if we can pitch our tent in his backyard but he refuses. Then we negotiate the room and manage to bargain it for 6 instead 15 $ – this was possible only because the owner was a really good man.
We go to the bazaar in order to buy food, accompanied by a guard that all the time urges us to go back to the hotel. While we eat our dinner we notice that more and more policemen come and four of them even accommodated in the room next to us.
All of the fuss is because in 2013 ten people, camping at Nanga Prbat’s base camp were shot. Since then the tourism dropped to an unprecedented low. Now there is a checkpoint on the road every 10 km. Here I want to emphasize that this is one of the very few accidents with tourists in Pakistan.
Around 8 a.m. someone starts knocking on the door like crazy – he almost breaks the door. We open and a policeman hastily says that the bus is here, then he corrects himself that the change of the police guards is here and finally states that they found us transportation.
We barely manage to prepare ourselves and half an hour later, without even having breakfast we find ourselves in the jeep of some German guy who travels to Gilgit with his driver and two local guides. One of the policeman enters in the trunk of the car and we are off. Our new companions didn’t charge us for the ride
The road is still terrible and goes like this to Raikot Bridge – here starts the road to Nanga Parbat (or as they call it “The Mountain Killer”). We couldn’t see the top because it was hidden behind clouds. After Raikot Bridge the road becomes a real highway and there are much less bends. From here on we do not need guards and we can travel freely.
The scenery around us is indescribable – it is a raw valley with no vegetation, it is very rocky and below is the mighty Indus River forming beaches with silver alluviums. We feel like we are at one of the most remote places on Earth.
We reach the point where the three huge massifs meet – Karakorum, Hindukush and the Himalayas as well as the rivers Indus and Gilgit – one of them has green color while the other is brown.
We reach Gilgit in the afternoon – this is the main city of the province. It took us only 3 days to get here from Islamabad (500 km.) which is terrific. The fastest buses travel this distance 20-24 hours and they are not allowed to travel at night. The city is quite big and it has an airport. We haven’t seen civilization in days and to us it look enormous.
This is the main hub in this mountain region. From here one can go in three directions – in the North is Hunza valley and the road that leads to the Kunjerab pass and the Chinese border, in the East is Skardy and the base camps of K2, Gasherbrum and the area with most peaks above 8000 on Earth, West is the Chitral valley where the kalash people live and it is one of the least visited places on Earth. We want to visit all these places but our visa is expiring so maybe we will see only two of them.
The rivers Gilgit and Indus confluence
Our jeep continues to Upper Hunza, direction North and we decide to stay with our new friends. We have lunch at Gilgit and we continue our journey. We have 50-60 km. to the village Gulmit our companions want to go.
The place where we are at is indescribable. Neither words nor photos can tell what we saw today. I won’t even try to. I wish that everyone at some point of his/her life could see this. It is still hard for me to believe that on planet Earth exists a place like Hunza Valley. We passed by Rakaposhi (7800 m.) – this is gigantic snowy peak that stops your breath. We are surrounded by enormous mountains and the view is like taken from the moon.
At some point we reach one muddy river that flows down the mountain and takes with it rocks and mud that block the road. Everyone rushes and starts cleaning the dirt. After one hour, in which many cars and trucks gathered behind, the stronger jeeps manage to cross and soon the road is cleared.
The road is free!
We drive some more and we reach Attabad Lake that formed in year 2010 when there was a big landslide that blocked the Hunza River’s bed and destroyed an entire village. The road of course disappeared under the lake. Now one has to take a boat to cross the lake. The Chinese are building another road and it should be ready in a few months.
The lake is very beautiful. We put the jeep on two planks in the boat. The whole process of doing this looks suicidal to me.
Loading jeep on a boat
The new road built by the Chinese
We drive ten more kilometers and we arrive at Gulmit – the last village before the Chinese border. Our friends invite us to sleep at their hotel and pay whatever price we think is reasonable for the room.
Crossing Attabad lake with the German guy Stefan