Hunza is a small state in the Himalaya region of Gilgit Agency. It may be regarded as the real focus of Central Asia, as it occupies a narrow wedge-shaped corner in the far north of Pakistan, where it is bordered by Afghanistan, Russian Turkestan and Communist controlled Chinese Turkestan. The population is almost entirely confined to small villages along the deep valley of Hunza river, which commence near the Chinese Turkestan border, and flows south through gorges in the Hindu Kush and Karakorum ranges to join Indus river near Gilgit. The Capital of state comprises as cluster of villages of the same name, with the population of 216,760.
The Climate in the Hunza being one of extremes, plays a very important role in the life of the people and limit the periods when travel is possible. In the winter months, the valleys are buried in snow and the villagers are focused to hibernate in their small stone and mud dwellings, with little else to do but make warm winter clothing and care for their sheltered stock. In summer, a dry heat prevails and the snow recedes from the valleys and mountain slopes to a height of about 15,000 feet. The melting snow and ice swell the rivers into surging torrents.
The journey commenced at Gilgit, which is nested away in a steep gorge surrounded by mighty mountain ranges of the north-west Himalayas. Now a days, there is an air shuttle service from Rawalpindi into this politically important center and this eliminates the long and tedious, trek over high mountain passes which was necessary until recent years, and was only possible during a short period in summer.
Chalt Village is one of most beautiful area in Hunza Valley. This village is surrounded by very large area of cultivation. It is perhaps the best remembered as the place where one gets one’s first glimpse of the glorious Rakaposhi rising elegantly to a height of 25,500 feet within only a few miles of the Hunza Valley. This magnificent snow-clad peak dominates the landscape.
An interesting feature seen for the first time along this route but generally common in Gilgit Agency is the locally made swing-bridge across the river to the small village of Garesh. The ‘rope bridge’ is actually made of four lengths of plaited green brich twigs, two of which are lashed together to form a narrow foot-walk and the others used as guides on each side. They are of limited life as the twigs become brittle on aging and are generally replenished during winter of each year when the river is low.
Fruits trees are abundant in these villages and when in season, the traveler can be assured of being met at the way-side with gifts of apricots, plums, peaches, apples or mulberries. Although the trees are allowed to grow to enormous sizes without pruning or care of any kind, they bear prolifically of tasteful fruit which is unusually free of blemishes. The fruit seasons naturally varies with elevation and a variety of fruit diet is assured as one travels from one village to the next.
While at Chalt, one should detour from the main track and visit beautiful Chaprot Nullah which enters the village from the north. The whole valley is lush with fields and pastures and from a high point at the approach to Chaprot village a splendid panorama of snowy peak is presented in all directions. Supereme of these in Rakaposhi to the south-east.
Beyond Chalt, much cooler conditions prevail in the Hunza Valley as it is nearly seven thousand feet above the sea level. The view of Rakaposhi from Maiun is something that will never be forgotten. The completely snow covered pinnacles which have defeated the attempts of Tilman and other mountaineers.
Massive white hanging glaciers extend down the nullahs to well below the snow-line. Here and there small aqueducts lined with trees diverge from the streams and follow around the slopes to irrigated fields in the valley.
Hasanabad we are confronted with a magnificent panorama of an unusually broad and fertile part of the valley wherein lies the Capital of Hunza State. Richly colored terraced fields and tall fruit trees extend up the slopes of the valleys to a considerable height and provide a picturesque foreground to the surrounding peaks of the Karakoram and Rakaposhi ranges.
The traditional sport of Hunza people is Polo and each village devotes a long and narrow strip of its valuable land and playing field.
The people are of Muslim faith. Farming is the only real occupation, the main crops being wheat, barley and oats. Another possible source of income is gold-washing in the streams but a legend persists that this is a dishonorable profession. Embroidery work is a common art of the women folk and although their work is of a high standard, they do no more than satisfy their own needs.
North of Hunza
The old trade route into Sinkiang and Russian Turkestan follows along a steep and narrow gorge which the river has cut through the heart of the Karakorum range. The picturesque surroundings are once more hidden by the precipitous walls of the valley. Travel is slow and hazardous due to the frequent necessity of stream crossings which can only be managed in the early morning or late evening. In the heat of the day the streams are impassable barriers of surging icy water fed from the snow, rolling along with them a procession of huge boulders at terrifying speed.
Approaching Pasu, The large Gulmit and Ghukin glaciers which terminate near the edge of the Hunza river and enter into the much broader but extremely barren part of the valley the real central Asian desert.
The traveler does not become fully aware of the hardship and primitive way of life of the Hunza people until he has ventured with them into the mountains and has seen the rugged terrain where they graze their stock and search out wood supplies.