HISTORY OF HUNZA
Human’s 30,000 inhabitants have been ruled by the same family for 1960 years. They long believed themselves the equals of the great powers, years. Probably because of their impregnability. A legend states that the Hunzakuts, as the people of Hunza are known, are descended from five wandering soldiers from Alexander’s army. It is true that some of the people are fair- haired with blue or green eyes. In central Hunza the people speak Burushaski, Wakhi and aboriginal language.
Hunza retained its isolated independence until the British conquered it; on the fruits of caravan raids slave trading and attacking it’s neighbors. It did not become par of Pakistan until 1974, and even now the Mir of Hunza retains much of his traditional importance. The society is co-operative rather than competitive; there is remarkably little difference in the people’s weather, each family growing enough corn, apricots and walnuts for its own use. The economy used to be entirely self-sufficient, but this is rapidly changing as the Karakoram Highway opens up the valley.
Hunza was the likely model for the Shangri-La of James Hilton’s novel ‘Lost Horizon’ where he describes it as a country of peace and contentment where the people do not ago. The myth of the longevity of the Hunzakuts probably stems from the fact that it was selected by the National Geographic magazine as the kingdom where people loved longest, free from social stress and succored by their high intake of apricots and low intake of animal fat. Fruit was, and is, the staple diet. During the summer the people used to eat nothing else; in order to conserve fuel and precious cereals cooking in the summer months was forbidden. In winter the people ate flour made from apricot kernels and drank brandy distilled from mulberries, and wines from the grapes that used to grow everywhere, smothering the poplars and roofs.
You see in Hunza a large number of old people, most of them apparently in good health, but few, if any, live to be 120. Life is as hard in Hunza as it is elsewhere in the northern areas, particularly in the early spring when the supplies of stored food are running low.
The Burusho, also known as the Burushas, are known to inhabit three rugged mountainous areas of northern Pakistan known as the Hunza, the Nagar, and the Yasin Valleys. However, most of the Burusho live in the Hunza Valley. No one seems to know the exact origin of the Burusho but according to a legend, three soldiers from the army of Alexander the Great came and settled in the Hunza Valley around 300 BC. Another legend that says that the Burusho were driven from northwestern India into Pakistan by Indo-Aryan invaders. For hundreds of years the territory of Hunza was ruled by a prince. Then from 1892 until 1949 the British ruled this territory. In 1949, Pakistan gained control of Hunza when a truce made by the United Nations brought an end to the fighting between Pakistan and India. The Burusho are a proud people and they are very warm and friendly. Most of them are farmers but some are involved in tourism and trade.
Some of the Burushas serve in the military or work for the government. The family ties of the Burusho are very important. The husband is always the head of the household. The Burusho usually do not intermarry with other ethnic groups in the area, not even the Hunza or Nagar Burusho. Their houses are built of concrete or stone and are not very warm during the winter months. Kerosene is often used for heating because wood is scarce. The Burusho eat mainly fruits, grains, and vegetables. Some of their favorites are peaches , apricots, and nuts. They raise sheep, cattle, and goats for milk and wool. Their chief industries are production of woolen cloth and dried apricots.
The spoken language of the Burusho people is “Burushaski”. It is their primary language but is not yet a written language. Qualified workers are needed to develop a written language for the Burusho . The Hunza, Nagar, and Yasin Valleys all have a distinct dialect. Most similarities are found between the Hunza and Nagar dialects. Urdu is the national language of Pakistan and is also the secondary language of the Burusho.
Traditionally, the Burusho were animistic, believing that non-human objects have spirits, but Islam is now their primary religion. The Burusho differ from valley to valley as to which faction of Islam they follow. Most are Ismailis, while others may be Shia or Sunni Muslims.
HISTORICAL PLACES OF HUNZA Valley
Bultit Fort Karimabad Hunza
The setting of the Baltit Fort is arguably unrivalled in Pakistan. It is set at the head of the Hunza Valley in the Northern Areas amongst some of the highest mountains of the world, overlooking the valley settlements which it was built to protect. While it has lost its defensive role in modern times, the Fort remains a symbol of the region's history and culture. It is a synthesis of the architectural form, domestic lifestyle and belief systems of the region, providing insight into the values of the Hunza people.
The Fort has expanded with its increasing importance over the centuries and been adapted to changing needs and functions. Carbon dating tests indicate that some parts of the structure existed as early as the 13th century, with the last major modifications made at the beginning of the 20th century before conservation was undertaken in 1989. It is currently being re-used as an ethnographic museum.
Altit Fort Hunza
Altit Fort is situated in the village of Altit, about 3 km from Karimabad. It has been built on a sheer rock-cliff that falls 300 meters (1000 feet) into the Hunza River, and is much older than the Baltit Fort.
View of Altit fort, with the central town to the right and below the fort. The extreme gullies, sharp drop-off, and location high above the river made this settlement highly defensible and an older settlement than many in the central valley.
Ganesh Valley Hunza
Six kilometers (4 miles) beyond Aliabad, the KKH makes a sweeping S-bend down past Ganish village to the bridge across the Hunza River. Ganesh, on fertile flat and above the river, is guarded by an old watchtower and fort. The old craved mosque is also worth a visit. In the pool in front of the tower all the local children learn to swim. Until this century boys had to swim across the Hunza River to prove that they could escape or attack across the river when necessary. Until the British came in 1891, the men of Hunza used to keep a sword, gun, shield and a loaf of bread (which was replaced every eight days) beside their doors; when the drums beat the alarm from Altit fort, heralding the approach of raiders, each man would grab these things and run for the fort. (Presumably his family went too.)
Like Gilgit Hunza was an important staging post on the Silk Route and was heavily travelled for thousands of years by traders going back and forth between China, India and the west over the Kilik, Mintaka, Parpik and Khunjerab passes.
The most convincing proof of this lies in the inscriptions on the Ganesh rock, a sort of Silk Route guest book. The rocks are immediately beside the KKH, between the road and the river, a few hundreds metres past the bridge across the Hunza River.
The inscriptions are in Khraoshthi, Brahmi, Gupta, Sogdian and Tibetan. Among them is a portrait of the first-century Kushan King of Gandhara, Gondophares. Another inscription reads ‘Chandra sri Vikramaditya conquers’; the date of the inscription corresponds to AD 419. Chandra sri Vikramaditya was Chandra Gupta II, the greatest of the Gupta emperors, who ruled our most of India in the already fifth century AD.
Most of the drawings are of hunting scenes with horses and riders shooting at ibex, ibex surrounded by horsemen, and men dancing around ibex. The ibex was extremely important to the people of Hunza, Afghanistan, northern Pakistan, and northern India, as it was believed to be the pet animal of the mountain fairies and symbolized fertility and prosperity. In the more remote parts of Hunza the people still perform ritual ibex dances: a holy man dons an ibex headdress and drinks ibex blood (or nowadays the blood of ordinary goat), then falls into a trance and proceeds to tell fortunes and answer questions about the future.
Gulmit (2,500 metres or 8,200 feet above the sea level), eight kilometers (five miles) past the bridge, is a fertile plateau with irrigated fields on either side of the road. Halfway between Gilgit and the Khunjerab Pass, it is a good place to spend a night or two.
The small museum belonging to the ex-ruler, Raja Bhadur Khan, is full of interesting ethnic artefacts--wooden bowls, spoons, and farm implements, woolen coats and embroidered hats and shawls. The Raja shows you round with charm and enthusiasm.
There are many walks along irrigation channels in the area, and the people are very friendly. One recommended walk in across Ghulkin Glacier to Boreet Lake, then across Passu Glacier and down to Passu village. For a longer walk continue from Passu Glacier across the Husseini Ridge to Yunzbin, at the bottom of Batura Glacier.
Passu, 14 kilometres (nine miles) beyond Gulmit, is a village of farmers and mountains guides. This is the setting-off point for climbing expeditions up the Shimshal Valley and Batura Glacier.
For non-trekkers there are two easy walks from Passu. It takes about 20 minutes to scramble up through the rocks to the Passu Glacier, or an hour to follow the irrigation channel up to the Batura Glacier. Or you can wander through the small village of Passu, watch the villagers at work in the fields, and see yaks and dzos (yaks-cow hybrids).
The road to Shimshal leaves the KKH six kilometres (four miles) past Passu. Shimshal is an isolated, unspoiled valley, three to four days’ walk away through a narrow barren gorge. You need a guide to lead you in; once there you can take several different treks up to the surrounding glacier. The villagers of Shimshal currently building an access road from KKH.
The KKH passes through four more villages before reaching the immigration custom post at Sost, 34 kilometres (21miles) from Passu.
The souls that paved the way for the modern tarmac road named the Karakoram Highway still seem to flicker amongst the sharp moving shadows of the unstable rocks and the almost countless but crumbly lucent glaciers that constantly threaten it's existence. There has always been a long pass into, and out of China over what is sometimes called the 'roof of the world' but in ancient times it was a very perilous pathway.
Extant writings, etched in a fourth century A.D. Chinese travelers diary, record ' The trail was very precipitous, and vertigo accompanied us as we edged along it...' The path was certainly narrow, and often clung to the sheer faces of the many deep resonant gorges that still confine their turgid, animated rivers. Even today, one can still see vestiges of an old crumbling trail high up above the present road. Although it is not the same trail that this particular merchant scrabbled breathlessly along, if one scrambles up to it and edges along it for a few meters, one can experience the same feelings of dizziness and danger that the diarist wrote about.
The new wide metal led road also winds along high palisade like cliffs in some places, and sometimes short sections of the tarmac rumble down into the river below or become buried under tones of rock and mud. However a modern traveler on this modern road will not experience the same fear or vertigo as the ancients.
The present highway is also popularly called the 'Silk Route' by many romantics because it approximates the trail of what was once one of the many silk, jade and spice carrying caravan trails that congregated somewhere near Xian, in China, and terminated in the vicinity of modern Syria on the Mediterranean sea coast. Like long lines of exploring ants, determined traders, merchants, and adventurers wore a path through narrow gorges, high grass sheathed valleys, across waterless deserts, around 6,000 meter - and higher mountains, and over raging rivers in pursuit of barter.
The passage of time hasn't altered any of these geophysical conditions, nor were the reasons for building this new road (apart from its obvious military significance) any different from the ancients reasons for undertaking such a hazardous journey. The new road was built to facilitate trade between China and Pakistan.
Tourist literature published by the Pakistan Tourist Authorities states that the road took twenty years to build. The pamphlets also mention the amount of earth moved, rocks blasted out of the way and more poignantly, the number of men and women, both Pakistani and Chinese who died in this great joint engineering feat.
Although the brochures write that it 'took twenty years to build', the road is in fact never finished! Because of the uniqueness of it's geophysical surroundings, constant natural activity frequently destroys sections of the highway. A small army of workers are on hand to reroute the road and join the new sections to the ends of the undamaged highway. The road in other words, is constantly being moved!
Put very simply, the road meanders through an area where highly active tectonic plate pressure is causing mountains to grow faster than the elements can wear them down! Swift flowing rivers and the measurable movements of glaciers crush, undercut and wash away the sides of these same mountains contributing to the constant rock falls and landslides that changes the face of the land almost daily! This uniquely accelerated geological activity can be felt, seen, and heard if one sits quietly on any high vantage point for a few hours. The road is in fact an observable reflection of man's incessant, but unequal struggle against nature's transcendental power.
Starting near Rawalpindi, the bitumen sealed motorway winds through gently rolling, sandy foothills for approximately one hundred and twenty kilometers before intersecting the Indus river. (Called the 'Sind' by the Urdu language speaking Pakistanis) it then twines along the Indus's arc north eastward to within forty kilometers of the town of Gilgit.
Between these two points, (about four hundred kilometers) the road sometimes takes on a 'roller-coaster' aspect as it dips into, and out of the Indus's wide river bed. The final dip is at this forty kilometers point when the road joins the Gilgit river and continues to within twelve kilometers of the town of that name, then swings North, crossing the Gilgit river to join the Hunza river. The town of Gilgit is twelve kilometers off the actual Karakoram highway and is reached by a fairly smoothly laid and slightly inclined tarred road.
Although the Karakoram Highway inclines upwards the whole way to the pass it's not until you get close to Gilgit that you begin to feel as if you are in mountains. Even so, the town is only at one thousand, five hundred meters (approx. five thousand feet) elevation and there is still a feeling of being in desert. The barren, dust laden and tan colored hills that surround the area give the impression of being made from sand, however, it only takes a ride of a couple of kilometers north from Gilgit for one to get the impression of being in 'real' mountains - very high, and very sheer mountains.
This is not to say that the actual road itself is steep - it's not, it's just that the demarcation between the almost sand dune like foothills, and the seemingly abrupt line of six to eight thousand meters high glacier and snow plaited mountains is almost overpoweringly awesome.
The road then accompanies the Hunza river through these mountains, climbing gently almost all the way to the 4,700 metre high Khunjerab Pass. Only during the last twenty-odd kilometers from the top of the pass will you find short stretches of consistently steep road gradients of six to fourteen degrees. At the top of the pass, two tall memorial stones show that this is the convenient dividing line between political Pakistan, and political China. Both countries respective customs and immigration posts are some kilometers away on their respective sides of the pass. Sust, the Pakistan customs post is ninety kilometres before the peak. Tax organ, the Chinese customs post and town of that name, is one hundred and thirty kilometers from the peak.
The pass also separates two differently named mountain ranges, the Karakoram range (on the Pakistani side), from the Pamir in China. Within these two massive ranges, there are other named but smaller clusters of rugged mountains, and a quick glance at a map can confuse one as there is no illustrated way that one can separate one range from the next.
On the Chinese side of the pass the road is given a different name by the Chinese, who call it, loosely translated, 'The Big Pakistan/China Friendship Road'. This continuation of the Karakoram is also smoothly finished and well graded. It scrolls up and down through generally wide valleys for approximately four hundred and fifty kilometers to the camel market town of Kashgar, which is in the mostly Taklamakan desert filled Chinese province of Xingjian.
As most travelers consider the Karakoram highway and the Big Pakistan-China Friendship Road to be one and the same, I have done so in this guide, with the exception that I refer to the Chinese road's by their route numbers. All Chinese roads have designated route numbers and periodic 'kilometer' markers tell you what numbered road, or track you are on at any given time, for example, the Chinese side of the Karakoram road is route number 314, and you can stay on this route half way across China.
The actual kilometer numbers on the stones don't seem to make any sense, and they certainly did not usually reflect accuracy as compared to both of our cyclometers, which always came out to within a hundred or so meters of each another at the end of every day. The numbers on the stones often showed a ten or fifteen kilometer difference to our daily total.
Hunza Peak (6200m)
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