A cool breeze blows sweet, serenaded to its destination by towering peaks and deep-running valleys. You sip chai tinged pink and peppered with almonds; your eyes watch the cascading clouds of fog roll and cover mountain and river alike. A landscape more akin to a painting is all the entertainment you need for your evening meal; crystal blues and greens dapple the browns and greys of stone, and you are at peace.
No, it’s not heaven; but you certainly couldn’t be blamed for thinking so.
This picturesque fantasy is a reality in the mountains of northern Pakistan, where the Hunza Valley is situated. One of the most beautiful places in the region- and perhaps even in the world- the vale is but one of many gems that Pakistan has kept hidden, a well-guarded pearl in a cloister of towering mountains and threatening pathways. Getting to Hunza is no easy feat; leaving, however, is even harder.
Why Hunza is famous for?
Certainly, one of the reasons the valley has drawn traveller after traveller to it like a magnet is its history. Hunza has been populated since the 3rd century BCE, and its history is not one that is content with simply being observed; it demands your full and rapt attention, flowing into the food you eat, the trails you traverse, and indeed, the very air you breathe. The Buddhists of old Hunza have long since left, but their mementos- such as the Sacred Rock- have remained. The original Mirs no longer lord over the valley, but their homestead remains, and you would be hard-pressed to find a Pakistani who has not heard of the legendary Baltit Fort. Yet, perhaps you would find few who know about the small village of Ganish; its size belies its importance. Its name means ‘gold’ in Brushaski, and gold indeed flowed through it when the Silk Road was at its peak- after all, Ganish was the first settlement that a traveller would arrive at when he came to Hunza on that route. Our neighbour, China, had a role to play in its development as well; all of which leads to a unique strain of history in Hunza that simply cannot be found anywhere else.
Perhaps you don’t notice the history; you’d certainly notice the food, which many claim is the secret behind the people of Hunza’s legendary lifespan. The Chapshoro is the perfect meal to have if you need warming up, and is well accompanied by a bowl of Daodao. It’s Hunza’s take on the Chapati, however, which is said to be their secret to immortality; each bite of the apricot paste-filled, walnut-garnished pastry is claimed to add a year to your life. With the combination of such fresh food, hardy mountain air, and a geography that simply refuses to let its denizens remain sedentary, perhaps there is some truth to this claim.
But perhaps neither the ancient history of the famous Hunza, nor its delightful food was able to persuade you; if that’s the case, your heart is surely made of ice. Yet, it will be the warmth of the people that will melt that away, and in this regard, there can be no debate. The people of Hunza are even more beautiful than the fairy-tale world in which they live in, and their beauty is not one of appearance; theirs is a beauty that shines through their warm smiles and gestures, the way that they will happily go out of their way to accommodate strangers and entertain guests under the time-honored traditions of hospitality. Expect to be treated by their juiciest apples and sweetest apricots as they regale you with stories and conversation. A region as unique as Hunza is not one where everyone has the privilege to live in, but those who do are unlike anybody you’ll meet. Everybody in Hunza has a story; whether they share it through smile or word, you will know it to be true. Legends are passed down from father to son; stories, from friend to friend, and experiences, from old to young. When you sit with a cup of chai and find yourself transfixed by the enchanting tale of Chipursan Valley’s nine-headed dragon, and its defeat at the hands of the Dragonslayer Baba Ghundi himself, you’ll wonder why you ever needed a TV. To speak at length about Hunza would be to spoil its treasure; the joy of buried gold comes not from finding its location, but from its excavation. What you have just read is but a mere coin from the coffers of Hunza Valley, and in order to experience its shining glory, you’ll have to go and see it for yourself.