“We don’t want to hear anything, we just want to go to Hunza.” This was the sentence that I had been hearing for the last two years. Every time I would get away with it in one way or another.
“Let’s go to a different place this year, such as Naran and we’ll check about Hunza next year”
“A whole week of holidays are required for Hunza and right now, that is next to impossible.”
“The weather isn’t really great to visit Hunza. One must go in the season to truly appreciate the beauty of the valley”
These were the sort of excuses, albeit not so lame which I had been presenting to delay the inevitable. Demands had already soared higher. The revolt had started to make inroads in the tones. Dialogues had started to reach the level of reproach and taunts. “You go out at your will with your friends but all issues surface when it comes down to us”. Sensing the severity of the matter, I decided to give in. Meetings started to take place and it was decided that we were all going to Hunza. There was a group of around 25 to 30 people including kids who were going to visit the valley.
Home to many species of Flora and Fauna, the valley of Hunza, Gilgit Baltistan is located in the far Northern territory of Pakistan. Surrounded by mighty peaks of Karakoram Range, this valley offers beautiful and high landscapes, historical forts, natural orchid farms, amazing traditional food, rivers and much more. Every year thousands of local and foreign tourists visit the valley. Hunza Valley is very famous among locals as well as international tourists. There are many beautiful places in Hunza. The Karakoram Highway is the major highway of Gilgit-Baltistan. Being the highest paved road in the world, it is sometimes termed as the “8th Wonder of World.
Some of the famous places and top attractions of the valley are as follows
1. Rakaposhi View Point
Rakaposhi is a mountain in north of Pakistan in the karakoram mountain range. It is situated in the Nagar valley in Gilgit Baltistan Attabad lake is also situated in Hunza Nagar.
It is the capital of Hunza and has many shops where you can traditional clothes and jewelry and much more.
3. Altit Fort
An old medieval fort located near Karimabad. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
4. Baltit Fort
An old medieval fort located in Karimabad. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
5. Attabad Lake
Attabad lake is one of the most beautiful lakes in Pakistan. A major lake of Hunza Valley. It was created following a landslide at Hunza River near Attabad village on 4 January 2010. The resulting damming of the river caused the lake to slowly form, submerging several villages and displacing up to 6,000 people.
6. Hussaini Bridge
Hussaini Suspension Bridge – A long wooden suspension bridge over Hunza River near Hussaini village. It is sometimes referred locally to as the “Indiana Jones Bridge” It is termed as one of the most dangerous bridges in the world.
7. Passu Cones Village
Passu Cones are a few pointed peaks in the Karakoram Range that are located East of KKH in Passu / Husseini village areas.
8. Nagar Valley
Nagar is a former princely state and one of the ten districts of Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan. The valley is along the Karakoram Highway on the way north of the city of Gilgit. The valley is home to many high mountain peaks including Rakaposhi (7788m), Diran Peak (7265m), Golden Peak and Rush Peak.
9. Duiker Eagle Nest
A high altitude viewpoint offering beautiful scenery and a birds-eye view of the Hunza valley
10. Khunjerab Pass
At 4,693 meters, this is the highest border crossing in the world. It is also the only modern crossing on the China-Pakistan border. Most tourists visit on a day trip from Hunza to see the border and then leave. The surrounding area is also a part of the Khunjerab National Park, which was set up to protect local, endangered wildlife, specifically the Marco Polo sheep.
11. Hoper Glacier
It is about 10 km away from Nagar Khas, the principal city of the Nagar Valley. Hopar Valley is home of the Spantik and Hopar (Hopper) glaciers.
Why was I hesitant in the first place?
Now you might be thinking why I was so hesitant in going to such a rich and diverse place. Let me reveal this.
- Traveling to Hunza from Lahore by road is not a child’s play, especially when you have kids and a family to take care of. The distance alone is around 1000 KM. There are mountain ranges that you have to cross and you need to manage your time in such a way that you should be driving mostly in the daylight.
- I have been to Hunza in the past and I would prefer to go to some new places instead. Hunza is definitely worth visiting multiple times, however, if there are places that are on your list awaiting your blessings then that changes the whole scenario.
- Going with a bigger group poses so many management challenges. Keeping a consensus in the midst of so many different thoughts and choices is next to impossible.
- Budget is another factor that needs careful consideration. With family, you need better accommodations and other facilities which you may compromise otherwise while visiting with friends or alone.
Preparations were in the full swing. We got our homemade food tin-packaged as well to carry along. It can be a little overwhelming at times to eat from outside especially when you are not so used to it. Secondly, it can be hard to find good food from far-off places so carrying your own food with you is not a bad idea at all. We had tins of Palak gosht (Spinach with Mutton) cooked in Desi Ghi (Clarified Butter), Mutton Karahi, Red Beans, Black peas, Chicken Handi, Tawa Chicken, and Chicken Karahi. We also kept winter clothes such as jackets and sweaters to combat the cold weather. We had also completed our costing, planning and estimations but the government gave us a big shock by increasing the fuel prices to a whopping 30 rupees per litre. That was one of the highest price hikes at one time in the history. The fuel prices were raised because of the soaring prices of petroleum in the international market. Additionally the IMF had dictated to remove all subsidies on the petroleum products. This price hike warranted us to increase our budget and do the replanning.
DAY 1: The Journey Starts – Lahore to Naran/Borawei
Finally, the day came. Kids were over the moon and so were the ladies. Men were also excited, however, I could see a slight bit of pressure of responsibility on their faces. We started our Journey from Lahore at around 12 AM on a Saturday night. In fact, since it was after 12 AM. so it was Sunday already. We had decided that we would drive as far as we could without stopping unnecessarily on the way. Our aim was to do the breakfast at Balakot at some restaurant by the riverside. We were travelling as a caravan of 4 cars, one Honda BRV, Suzuki Cultus, Suzuki Wagon R and one Toyota Altis. One car, Toyota Corrolla was to join us from Islamabad which is around 4 to 5 hours drive from Lahore. We refuelled our cars from the Hakla Service area, an interchange near Islamabad where we were to be joined by my cousin in his car. We also offered Fajr prayers at the mosque at Hakla service area. After the sun was out, we continued with our journey. We moved towards Mansehra and Abbottabad on Hazara Motorway. Hazara Motorway offers beautiful scenery and a wonderful driving experiencing. As you reach closer to Abbottabad and Mansehra, there are some beautiful tunnels on the road. The road is a very high quality metallic paved road built in cooperation with China under the CPEC program. You have to get off of the Karakoram highway to go towards Balakot. The road from this point onwards is a winding road where you are basically crossing a couple of mountains to reach the Balakot city. Balakot is a town in Mansehra District in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. The town was destroyed during the 2005 Kashmir earthquake, but was later rebuilt with the assistance of the Government of Pakistan and Saudi Public Assistance for Pakistan Earthquake Victims, a Saudi relief organisation. Balakot also serves as a hub for tourists visiting Northern Areas. Balakot is now an expanding city and centre among distant northern parts of Pakistan. Smaller hamlets are located in the terraced mountains around it.
Balakot is located on the right bank of the Kunhar River. There are many restaurants along the river bank. We found a restaurant on the riverside for the breakfast. We ordered omelets, fried eggs, chickpeas, parathas, and bread for breakfast. We took pictures and had fun on the bank of the river. After spending around an hour we continued our journey. We got to see the Balakot bazaar, a busy bazaar with shops on both sides. You can find shops for the tourists offering traditional clothes, antiques and gifts from this bazaar. We passed through Kiwaei along the way. Kiwaei is also a hub from where people take jeeps to go to Shogran and Siri Paye which are very famous tourist attractions of this area. A few kilometers from Kiwaei, you reach Paras. You can also take a Jeep ride to a relatively newer tourist attraction, the Sharan forest, a beautiful jungle where you hike to the scenic Manshi top. We kept on driving and reached the Kaghan Valley. Kaghan Valley above Balakot City is cold enough to turn the whole area to freezing in the winter. Kaghan valley is a pleasant summer destination. Its upper part from Naran upstream lacks the monsoon but the lower part gets it well and so is forested. After another hour of driving we reached Naran. Naran welcomes thousands of tourists every year. It is very cold and receives a lot of snow in winter. Naran serves as a base camp for Saif ul Mulook lake and Ansoo lake treks. You can take a jeep or rent a horse or a mule for a ride to Saif ul Mulook lake. Jeeps are not an option if you wish to go to Ansoo/Ansu lake, however horse or mule ride can be availed up to a certain point. Ansoo lake trek is not an easy trek and can be quite daunting because of the lack of oxygen on a very high altitude.
We refuelled our cars at Naran and decided to have a cup of tea with snacks to regain our energies. It was around 4 pm by this time. The fatigue was evident on the faces because of the sleeplessness caused by overnight driving. The next uphill task was to find a suitable place to stay overnight. We did not consider Naran for overnight stay because a) it was quite expensive b) we wanted to go as far ahead as we could so that the next day we could reach Hunza in the daylight. So we kept on driving and reached Batakundi. To my astonishment, Batakundi had developed into a very busy tourist places. One of the reasons behind this was that Naran was unable to cope with the heavy influx of tourists every year. Batakundi is around half an hour drive away from Naran. There are big hotels constructed in the Batakundi town. We kept on driving and reached the next town Borawei. It was raining there and quite cold outside. Luckily we found a very reasonable option to stay at Borawei. We booked four rooms in a guest house at a price of 5000 PKR. After checking in at the guest house, we went out for the dinner. There was a big restaurant nearby that we chose for the dinner. We ordered chicken Karahi as the main course and also some daal for those who were not so fond of eating Chicken or meat. French fries were also ordered for kids. It was raining quite heavily and was very cold. After the dinner, most people had tea and some opted for coffee. A family who had come from Karachi and was not used to that much cold were shivering and finally resorted to their car and switched on the heater to get back to normalcy.
After the dinner, we got back to the guest house and asked everyone to go to their early because we were supposed to leave very early in the morning the next day. A time of 5 AM was announced. Deep down in our hearts we knew that 5 AM was not possible to meet, however, we thought if 5 AM was announced people would be able to get ready by 7 AM at least. Extra mattresses and blankets were arranged by the guest room staff. We were hoping that the rain would stop so that we could travel safely in the morning. One, the rain can cause slippery roads and land sliding in the mountains, secondly it can hamper you from taking out your drone cameras and phones to take photos and make videos.
Whether the rain stopped or not and how did our journey turned out the next day? I will cover in my next blog…. [to be continued…]
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Watch the Vlog covering this journey
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