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Gilgit and Hunza


After a good day rest I left Chilas to go back on the Karakoram Highway. Gilgit and Hunza were waiting for me. It wasn't an easy road. Reading back my diaries I can still feel how difficult some parts of the road were.

Hunza valley, Karimabad

Hunza Valley, view on Karimabad with the Ultar glacier in the back

The road to Chilas from Mansehra was maybe long, after Chilas I started to come closer to the Himalaya and Hindukush mountains. This road is probably one of those most impressive roads to cycle. Here you can feel how tiny you are compared to the giants around you. At a certain point you reach the point were Hindukush, Karakoram and Himalaya mountain ranges come together.

At the KKH with Steve Seal
At the KKH on the way to Hunza with Steve Seal

Already in Chilas you can Nanga Parbat, 8126 meter in altitude. The name Nanga Parbat or "Nanga Parvata" means the naked mountain. Its original and appropriate name, however, is Diamir, the king of the mountains.

Bazar in GilgitOne of those magic moments for me was to pass by this incredible mountain. The foot of Nanga Parbat is located right at the Karakoram Highway itself. Numerous legends are known about the mountain which is also notoriously difficult to climb.

After leaving Chilas there are a few places to stay. 60 km after Chilas, there's a government guesthouse where you can stay and eat. There's nothing much in the area. About 17 km further there's a "village": Jaklot. There's some serious climbs on this road. Don't forget you're over 1100 meters altitude. Jaklot has a small trucking hotel. There's the usual dahl bat food and a basic room. During Ramadan it can be quite noisy at night (as I experienced myself).

Gilgit

From Jaklot it's another 50 km to Gilgit, some descent guesthouses and more variety in food. Gilgit is located in a valley surrounded on three sites by mountain ranges.

There's trekking to do in the area, with or without guides. I went to the eastern mountains because I wanted to have a view over the town.

Also, I expected to see a bit of the road going north. After all, to get back to the KKH I had to go back a few kilometers, cross the Indus river and continue from there further north.

Gilgit itself is a small but important trading center in this part of Pakistan. In the town there's much Chinese merchandising to be found as many Pakistanis do business in Kashgar, the main trading center in the far west of China since many centuries.

With some Japanese in the Japanese guesthouse in Gilgit
With some Japanese in the Japanese guesthouse in Gilgit

Even before the KKH was build as we know it now, there was a path from West China into Pakistan, mostly following the Indus river. With this path came Chinese silk and spices into the Indus valley. In return food and other merchandise went to China for further trading north and east. Therefore this path could also be named: The Silk Road!

As said, Gilgit is still a market town. Many people from the surrounding mountains and valleys do their shopping here. Therefore it's not a surprise you can find many hotels and guesthouses though, of course this is also because of tourism.

Vicinity of Gilgit
Vicinity of Gilgit

Karimabad

It's at least two days to Karimabad though it is possible to do it in one. After all, it's 100 km but it's not that easy. In the summer many cyclist like to camp out near Nagir. It has excellent views over the western Karakoram range. The two times I was traveling on the Karakoram Highway I stayed in Gulmet.

Junction of the Karakoram, Himalaya and Hindu Kush mountains
Junction of the Karakoram, Himalaya and Hindu Kush mountains

At the foot of the Rakaposhi there's a hotel. There's no heating nor hot water or even guests (!) in December. The hotel is located along the Indus river and the foot of the Rakaposhi mountain. From the road side the Rakaposhi looks like an easy climb up. Some experts I spoke told me the Rakaposhi is another of the difficult mountains to climb in this part of Pakistan. One feels tiny when surrounded by such mountains.

Karimabad is located a beautiful Hunza valley. Wherever you look, there's all 6000-8000 meter tops around.

A womens project in Hunza (Pasu)

A women's project in Hunza (Pasu)

Ultar glacier, Golden Peak, Rakaposhi, all can be see from Karimabad. It's a magic place. Most of the Muslims here are Ismaelis, contrary to southern parts of Pakistan where they are Sunnis.

The Hunza valley is since long an area for trade and protection. There are the Baltit Fort and the Altit Fort. Both can be visited. The forts quite small but build on strategic points in the Hunza Valley.

Christmas in Karimbad, Hunza
Christmas in Hunza, even Santa Claus was there

By the time you are in Karimabad, you're over 2500 meter altitude. It seems almost unnoticed. The Hunza valley is, to me, one of the most beautiful places I have visited. It's worth to visit it more then once. Different times of the year give it a very different view. In summer, it's lush green while autumn has beautiful brown and yellow colors. Winter is grey with a lot of snow on the mountains. Once I spend Christmas in Hunza which was one of those highlights in cycling and traveling.

Images can be deceiving... these guys pose for a photo session, no music played
Images can be deceiving... these guys pose for a photo session, no music played

Karimabad has quite a few hotels, from basic and cheap to more up-market. The little town is a good place to explore the surrounding villages and hike up the Ultar Glacier. In the summer it can be quite busy while in the winter the village is almost abandoned by tourists. I spend Christmas in Karimabad with 14 people and Santa Claus. We were the only tourists there. Christmas morning we had snow, in the evening a big barbeque.

Visiting the womens project in Pasu, north of Karimbad
Visiting the women's project in Pasu, north of Karimabad

As I tell many people, Hunza is one of those places in the world for what I have traveled where I think that if Paradise ever has existed, that could be the place. Enjoy!

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