Sipping on a cup of chai on the balcony of the Raikot Sarai lodge while gazing at Nanga Parbat, the ninth highest mountain peak in the world (8126 m) — I’m looking back at the highlights of the trekking expedition to Hunza. While Pakistan was not on my bucket list of places to visit, the trip description from the 1818 Society caught my eye, and I signed up eagerly. The trip exceeded all expectations.
Northern Pakistan is a hidden gem. It has some of the most spectacular mountains in the world. The Karakoram range dots the blue skyline, the snow-capped peaks provide a nice contrast to the sparkling blue lakes and flower-filled lush valleys. We set out on the Karakoram Highway on an early June morning. Along the way we get views of Rakaposhi, one of the highest and widest mountains in the world (9245 meters, 20 kilometers), also known as the Dumani (Mother of Clouds). In Passu village we board jeeps for the ride to the starting point of the 57-kilometer trek of the Batura Glacier, the fifth longest glacier outside the polar region. We trekked for miles daily, camped in desolate and stunningly beautiful settings at the base of majestic mountain ranges, or on the edge of a river. Much of the terrain consists of endless miles of huge rocks and large amounts of gravel, which can be tricky to navigate. We crossed rivers on a slab of wood propped up by a few rocks by our wonderful porters. No huge crowds, we had this lovely place completely to ourselves. Except for few hummingbirds, the only sound in the distance was an avalanche or mud slide!
The crossing of the ‘white glacier’ was one of the highlights. All eight travelers were connected to each other by a rope, slowly inching our way in tandem along the glacier. The final 12-hour descent was challenging, at some point the guides carved a path for us to come down a narrow ledge overlooking a deep canyon. We arrived back late in the evening as the sun was setting, relishing in our successful crossing, happy everyone made it safely.
This was my first exposure to the Himalaya-Karakoram mountains. The former kingdom of Hunza is one of its most fabled centers which some believe inspired James Hilton to write the “Lost Horizons” a modern fable where people never aged in a land of peace and plenty. Some of us write articles about healthy longevity, while the people of Hunza show us how it can be done with their diet of apricots, low intake of animal fat, and active lifestyles, looking after herds of goats and sheep.
Along the Karakoram Highway we discover other hidden gems. We were fortunate to have a trip leader, Anis Dani, with deep roots in the region. In Gilgit, an old tribal town and resting place for travelers on the Silk Road from China to the Arabian Sea, we climb up a hill to discover a Buddha etched on a wall, we taste sweet mulberry from trees, and dream about what life was like in the old days. In Gilgit, we hear about the benefits of community-driven development approaches, we learn of the remarkable investments supported by the Aga Khan Foundation which has left its mark on the region. We visit several innovative projects and interact with local experts.
We also discovered the wonderful Pakistani cuisine. At roadside cafes we soak our tired feet in the stream running under the table while delighting our palates on fresh trout. In Karimabad, we visit one of the oldest forts in Pakistan, shop for colorful shawls, and sit on the floor of a local organic eatery run by an entrepreneurial woman having one of the most delicious meals of the trip. On a star lit evening we savor ‘Taka-tak’, a minced meat Pakistani specialty. Back on the Karakoram Highway, goats and sheep block traffic, colorful houses adorn the Himalayan countryside, and children sell papayas at roadside stands.
Besides the majestic views and fascinating local culture, I reminisce fondly about our gracious Pakistani friends. Farman, our gourmet chef produced amazing meals while camping. Our 30-man team of guides and porters from Adventure Center Pakistan who held our hands as we descended into the abyss, down slippery, narrow paths. Everyone we met on the trails was incredibly friendly, eager to take photos with us. All the Pakistanis were gracious, welcoming, and hospitable. At the Fairy Meadows lodge, we hear tales and see photos of the mountaineers who conquered Nanga Parbat or who perished while summiting, we take photos with the majestic mountain in the background, we relish in our own small successes. We remember fondly the trekking of the Batura glacier and the fun-loving Pakistani team that made it all possible. Northern Pakistan is indeed a hidden gem for intrepid trekkers and travelers, others should consider adding Pakistan to their bucket lists.
To see the photo album of the 2023 Hunza – Batura – Fairy Meadows Trek click here.
KEYWORDS Batura glacier, Himalayas, Karakoram peaks, Northern Pakistan, trek