This short program is intended for travelers who would like to visit Hunza, Pakistan, around the Karakoram Highway, even if they just have a few days. Though it is adapted for families with children, opportunities for photographers will be developed regarding conditions of light, most scenic spots and local people portraying. It is considered you use a personal car. However, the last chapter presents the possibilities offered by public transportation means.
This story was previously published in Bernard Grua media blog.
Please not that all photos are copyright Bernard Grua. Any use by any third party shoud get his prior written approval.
Table of content
- Immerse yourself in scenic Passu Village
- Have road breaks at Rakaposhi viewpoints
- Enjoy worldclass sunset and sunrise at Eagles Nest
- Relax or do sightseeing in and around Karimabad
- Stay in high Chapursan Valley at the knot of past empires
- Go until Kunjerab Pass and China
- Share Hunza people way of life
- Monitor costs, transportation and time
Immerse yourself into scenic Passu Village
Passu stays in a gorgeous landscape. It is said to be the most spectacular place along the Karakoram Highway (KKH).
Accommodation in Passu
It is better to start with Passu, because it would be a pity to be there in a rush at the end of a journey. It’s worth to stay in the village for a couple of days. Inhabitants are friendly, open, educated and honest. Kids are well raised and very polite. They will not bother you but they will respectfully manage to get in touch. Then, they will proudly introduce you to their parents and to other senior people. Passu is also a perfect place for travelers with children, who freely and safely will not need a close supervision from their parents.
To be able to enjoy this atmosphere, the best is not to stay in a hotel just on the KKH. Instead, you have to be in the village like in Cathedral View Guesthouse belonging to Hassan Sardar Tajik. It is a traditional house with two large rooms. It is simple but renovated and clean. There is a good Wifi, too. In case of power shutdown (like in all Hunza), there are solar panels and batteries but you need to have an electric torch. If you are a group, book early enough. You may have all the house just for you. For breakfast and for meals you can have them in the small Cathedral View Restaurant, also managed by Hassan, and in Passu Inn. Both are extremely close from the guesthouse.
Everybody there is a Wakhi from Hunza. Then, they all know each other. You will not face a person coming from the south and trying to make, in 3 months, the money of the year, like in Naran. Relations are much more sincere and authentic. The only one who is not from the valley is the Passu Inn owner. He comes from Punjab. He is an intellectual, a philosopher, a writer and a former documentary producer. He has an interesting internal and external vision of the place.
You will meet with local people in Cathedral View Restaurant. They come there for tea and to talk. It is not very busy. However, all in all, it is a good meeting point and headquarters as it is just were public transportations stop. For excursions, Hassan can be your guide, or he can find one for you. He is a quiet, soft and discreet person. He never insists even if he is right. Take care of his advices.
All the people who were suggested to stay at Hassan’s guesthouse gave outstanding feed-back and praised this young man who is a good information source for the region including Chapursan, where live numerous of his relatives.
Activities in Passu
- If you did not stop on your way to Passu, you can take your car for a short drive to Hussaini (less than 15 minutes from Passu). Then, you have a 15 minutes walk down until the spectacular Hussaini Suspended Bridge. Up to you to decide to cross it or not. It has been rebuilt and it is not the “most-dangerous-bridge-of-the-world” as “intrepid” travellers like to call it. But it is still impressive. You don’t need a guide.
- To go to Passu Suspended Bridge, it is a medium and beautiful walk from Passu. However, at the end, above the river, you have to make sure the path is wide and stable enough. You can’t get lost but you absolutely need to go with a local person. The mixed sandy and rocky sliding slopes and the almost lack of paths are too dangerous with no proper indications.
- Passu Glacier is to visit. From the village, it is a short walk until you reach the viewpoint. But you have to go farther. From there, go with a guide. It is a bad idea to go alone because some places are dangerous if you don’t know them.
- Batura Glacier is certainly interesting. Ask advices from local people.
- If you are invited to go to school, you should go. You will connect better with the village. The head of teachers, Faqir Ullah Khan, and his colleagues will welcome you.
- One evening you can go on a hill (very short walk) above Passu Inn. After sunset, you will see the night sky with stars above the valley and the village.
- You can have a fine lunch or diner at Glacier Breeze Restaurant on a hill at the beginning of the village (before Passu glacier viewpoint), while coming down from a Passu glacier trip, for example. It is managed by Ahmed Ali Khan.
- Of course, you can also walk in the green picturesque village, see the fields, the irrigation canals, the flowers, the fruit trees, the dry stone walls, the poplars and the jangal. It is a charming mountain oasis, with no car traffic (it is below the KKH), that travellers, focusing on the surroundings or on KKH, most of the time forget to enjoy. It is possible to spend days just sharing the life of the village. However, be very careful when you are close to the mighty river. Large pieces of the bank can (and actually do) fall down into the river. All kids know the dangerous parts. They will tell you.
The best time for Passu glacier is in the morning. In the afternoon, it is in the shadow. In the morning you can also take your car, or ask for a lift, and go back in the direction of Hussaini for very few kilometers. Because the KKH goes up, you will have, from there, a complete view on the sparkling glacier.
In the middle of the day, the light is too strong. Everything is flat and there is too much contrast.
The best time for Hussaini bridge and for admiring the Passu Cones (or Cathedral) is the second part of the afternoon. That’s when the cones are sculptured by the tangential light.
Have road breaks at Rakaposhi viewpoints
Don’t plan a mandatory night there but if you need to stop for the night on your way to Passu, if you are too late for catching the sunset at Eagles Nest, then you can stay at Rakaposhi Viewpoint. It is, right on the KKH, in Ghulmet (don’t get confused with Gulmit) 30 km before Karimabad (coming from Gilgit). The best light on the enormous Rakaposhi wall of ice is on early morning, while at the end of the afternoon part of the summit is in shadow (though it is still a nice view). The place has (too) many domestic tourists. It is a bit noisy but you come for the mountain and it deserves it. You can also just stop to have a drink or a tea with your feet in the cool river, enjoying the powerful scenery before continuing your travel.
On the way to Karimabad and Passu, there is another Rakaposhi viewpoint. It is just before the entrance of Aliabad. It is not so spectacular. The mountain is farther than in the previous spot.
However, the foreground is interesting with the valley, the green patches of the fields and the river. You can stop five or ten minutes for a cool picture.
Enjoy worldclass sunset and sunrise at Eagles Nest
On your way to Passu or back from there, you have to stop for a night at Eagles Nest (Duikar Village, 2,850 m). It is near Karimabad above Altit Fort. You arrive at the end of the afternoon, and you leave the following morning. You have to see both, the sunset and the sunrise (wake up early). It is one of the top scenic places of the world. The Eagles Nest Hotel rooms are overpriced, even with no view. Actually there are, around it, different hotels with probably more interesting deals. By the way, the view is better from outside the hotels.
There is a hill where people go for sunset and sunrise. From this hill, you will get an incredible panorama to the south and to the north of Hunza Valley, on Altit, on Karimabad and the surrounding giant mountains. To go to the top of the hill, there is a very short walk. But don’t forget your torch. After having watched the sunrise you can go for breakfast in Eagles Nest Hotel. You will still enjoy a beautiful view from your table.
While going to Eagles Nest or coming back, you can have a stop to visit Altit Fort (from 9:00 AM to 5:30 PM, closed between 1 and 2 PM). It will be on your way. It is very interesting in term of local architecture and history, even for children, with good explanations from guides.
Relax or do sightseeing in and around Karimabad
Karimabad is bigger than Passu but it is absolutely scenic too. The recommended place to stay is in Old Hunza Inn. It is hidden in a small street next to Serena Hotel. They have rooms with different comforts and prices. Liaqat Hussain Shahab, the manager is a friendly and trustable man. He will take time to talk with you. He will give you good suggestions for walks or excursions.
The hotel, on a slope, is on different ground levels. Then, from everywhere, there is a gorgeous view on the valley, Rakaposhi Peak, Diran Peak and Golden Peak. If you are tired, just drink tea on the terrace or on the balcony and enjoy the scenery with some fresh apricots.
At night, there is a hotel roof which is perfect to take pictures of the valley and of the mountains.
Very close is the Serena Hotel roof which is very convenient to take pictures of Baltit Fort at the beginning of the night when lights are just turned on. From there, added to the Baltit Fort, you have a good view on Ultar Peak, Lady Finger Peak and Hunza Peak.
There are many things to do and to see in and around Karimabad. No need to enter into details. You can rely on Liaqat or on his father’s advices. They will never push you to buy something. They will help you to build an interesting program. They can also organise urban car or jeep transportation and guide you for treks.
During previous summers, the music festival, FACE Mela, was hold in Karimabad (2019) and Passu (2018 & 2017). Date are communicated on the Facebook page. It is of high quality. The music and the artists are very good. From babies to old people, everybody goes there. Although tourist are not very much informed about it. Book in advance your accommodation if you go to Karimabad at this period.
I personally experienced, with two other French people, a “taxi” between Karimabad and Sost that was ordered by Liaqat. The price was absolutely reasonable. The driver (his cousin) was friendly, spoke a good English, gave explanations, stopped at all interesting points without being asked and spent all the required time in every places without any kind of pressure on us.
I asked Liaqat about indications for Ultar Glacier. He told me there was a landslide and the meadow was then not so beautiful. He recommended me to wait for Passu Glacier, saying it will be easier and more scenic. Note that doing so, he knew I will have a shorter stay in his hotel.
Stay in high Chapursan Valley at the knot of past empires
If you have time for Chapursan (Chipurson) Valley, don’t miss it. First, you have to go to Sost. If you need to sleep in Sost, don’t go to the crowdy, not perfectly maintained and overpriced Riviera Hotel, go to Pamir Serai Guesthouse. It belongs to the famous Alam Jan Dario from Chapursan. It is simple and quite basic, but it is convenient. If you have a car, you will have to leave it in Sost, probably in Pamir Serai closed yard because Chapursan dirt road is too hard for urban cars. It is also better to have a local driver fully informed about the road conditions. The road is accessible for motorcycles.
There is a cargo jeep leaving daily at 2:30 PM from Baba Ghundi Cafe. It is just next door from Sost Pamir Serai. If you are numerous people, book your place early to make sure you will have enough seats. Then, try to stay on the right side of the car. The cargo-jeep returns from Zood Khun at 5:30 AM. Like Passu, Chapursan is also a good place for travellers with children.
If you prefer to arrange a personal transport, it is better to go to Chapursan on the morning (by the way, there is nothing to do in Sost), while the valley is oriented east-west, The sun will be on your back. Then, returning to Sost, the light is at its best during the afternoon.
From Sost, after two hours, you will be in Reshit. You can decide to stop at Hilltop Guest House owned by Haider Badakhshoni. He is a dynamic man. He loves his valley. He has interesting conversations. He is friendly. He is a good photographer. He also makes cultural videos. He would be extremely pleased to show them to you. Of course, he knows many musicians. His young daughter, Sidra, is a talented Wakhi singer. She is a local celebrity.
After one additional hour (i.e. three hours from Sost), you will be at the last village of Chapursan, Zood Khun (also spelled Zuwud Khoon). There, the place to be is the other Pamir Serai guest house which is part of Alam Jan Dario’s family home but has an independent entry. There is a lot to say about Alam Jan, a mountaineer, a poet, a singer, a legend. He has numerous relatives in the village, which is full of life. But it is peaceful and totally safe. It is clean and beautiful. If you can’t join Alam Jan (no internet and no phone in Zood Khun), just arrive at his guesthouse (in Sost or in Zood Khun). He or his family will welcome youo anyway. A lot of more information about Chapursan is available in the article. “At the knot of past empires: Zood Khun, a Wakhi village in the high northern mountains of Pakistan”.
List version of Pamir Serai website for travelers with poor connection.
Go until Kunjerab Pass and China
If, by accident, you have some time to lose in Sost, don’t stay there, go to the China border via the KKH until Kunjerab Pass (distance is 83 km). There are good views on high mountains and close glaciers. During the last kilometers, the climbing of the road from 3,000 m to 4,700 m is quite impressive. Kunjerab is more Pamir than Karakoram. The pass is a large flat meadow. Yaks graze on the Chinese side. The summits around it are not sharp like in Karakoram but round ones. It is an excursion fitting within half a day. If you hire a taxi to go to Kunjerab Pass and to return, it should be around 2,000 rupees.
Share Hunza people way of life
The high litteracy rate of Hunza
Children, including girls, have an amazing level of education. Among older people, there are numerous high profiles, with university diplomas. Although some have simple jobs because they want to stay with their family and because they love their mountains. Then, Hunza inhabitants should not be underestimated. Moreover their home language is Wakhi, Burushaski or Shina, in addition to Urdu. But they also speak English while this is the language used in schools. It can frequently be a better English than the one of their visitors, foreigners (especially French and Spanish people) or Pakistani. In comparison, trilingualism, which is said to contribute to the brain development, is extremely un-frequent in western countries. The multilingualism, in Hunza, is probably one of the reasons why the inhabitants are so open and so fast to understand people with different cultures. Though the society is based on respectable family traditionnal values, of the other reasons is the tolerant Ismaili religion practiced in the valley. It is free of any extremisim.
Hospitality and unspoiled relations
In contrary to almost all tourist places in the world, local kids and people will never ask you for something. On the opposite, in Passu, they offer you apples and apricots from their garden to open a discussion. In Chapursan they will give you sea buckthorn berries they will pick for you from thorny bush. Even kids will invite you for tea in their home. If you talk with adult people, or if you help them, they might tell you: «come to my home for lunch.»
Don’t “buy” kids attention or friendship with candies. You would spoil them and damage their health. Instead, listen to them, show attention to their lives, answer to their questions, show them pictures of your family, of your country or of places you have visited (prepare a selection on your mobile phone, before your travel). You will probably observe they will be even more interested in landscapes or people having a life similar to their own one. I noticed they liked pictures of villages in Pamir (Tajikistan and Afghanistan), of mountains, of Kirghiz herders, of Siberian yaks, of horses etc. If you need to make small presents, mangos (that you can buy on your way in Manserahbazar, where NATCO bus stops) are precious in Hunza. In most of Chapursan Valley, which is too high for fruit trees, apricots and apples (from Passu for example) are highly appreciated. Moreover they are a healthy vitamin complement.
And, of course, be a clean visitor. Don’t dump your trash into the nature. Instead, if you see some plastic waste, collect it and dispose it in a proper container, in the closest village. That’s what do the school children of Passu.
As already noticed by the first English explorers in the middle of the XIXth century, Hunza inhabitants are beautiful people. They are photogenic, and most of them will agree with being photographed. However don’t “jump” on them. Do it with respect, on the same way you expect foreigners to behave, in your country, with someone of your family. Spend time with them, get to know each other, make friends, and, subsequently, always ask before taking pictures. Ask for Facebook accounts to send the pictures you have taken. If you are just with kids, write a paper for their parents giving the way they can contact you and saying you made photos of their children that you propose to send them.
Don’t forget that unless they are paid models with a contract, pictures are also the property of the people whose image has been captured. Be respectful while sharing on social medias or on your blogs. Never make any commercial use of portraits without a written contract.
Monitor costs, transportation and time
Except for Rakaposhi Viewpoint and Eagles Nest, prices are much lower than in Kaghan Valley. Moreover, you will not be cheated. You will not be under the stress of tough bargaining. In Passu, while leaving, I was told: «I don’t know how much you should pay. You decide.» In Zood Khun I was told: «You are like part of our family. You don’t have to pay.» Then, you have to find, by yourself, how much money you have to give in order to be fair and to match the hospitality received.
Travelling is interesting. It is always an opportunity to learn. But sometimes there is an internal tension. You have to be careful to avoid bad surprises. In Liaqat’s guesthouse, in Passu, in Zoodkhun, no tension. You can be confident and avoid stress.
Public transportations are not expensive. However, buses or minivans are used to charge you with the full trip. If you stop before the final destination, make sure it is correctly understood and check what is written on your ticket. It might be helpful to get the support of a local passenger, who talks English, for buying your ticket.
- All public transportations between Karimabad and other places start and leave from Aliabad. In between, there are regular Isuzu pickups. To go to Old Hunza Inn ask for the close Serena Hotel, which is on the main street and easier to find.
- There is a NATCO bus leaving from Rawalpindi terminal, Pirwadhai Rd, Stand №36, at 5:00 PM, being in Aliabad around 2:00 or 3:00 PM (following day). Don’t get confused while there is another NATCO terminal between Islamabad and Rawalpindi from where buses depart later but stop at Gilgit. It is better for you to download the map to access the terminal on your mobile phone while not all taxis are able to find it. You don’t need to bring food, there are numerous stops in road restaurants. Just prepare numerous copies of your passport and your visa.
- Between Gilgit and Sost, there are numerous public mini-vans. Just ask locally where to catch them. They are less frequent as much as you go to the north.
- You can ask the Rawalpindi NATCO bus to drop you at Rakaposhi Viewpoint in Ghulmet. Then, there are numerous mini vans between this place and Aliabad or Gilgit.
- To go to Eagles Nest, just take an Isuzu pickup in Aliabad for Altit Fort or walk down from Old Hunza Inn until the road fork and catch an Isuzu pickup for Altit Fort. In Altit Fort, don’t take a taxi (1,000 or 2,000 rupees) but walk one kilometer up in the village and stop any car or pickup and propose between 300 or 400 rupees for Eagles Nest. Ask your vehicle to not cross Eagles Nest Hotel gate. Go to a little cafe, have a drink and ask them to keep your bag while you find the best deal for your night. To go back to Altit Fort, don’t take a taxi but use the same procedure than the one you used to come.
- There is just one cargo-jeep per day between Sost and Chapursan. It is explained in the relevant section (see above).
Gilgit to Kunjerab Pass:
Sost to Zood Khun
Treeking, jeep tour and Wakhi culture in Northern Pakistan as Pamir Trails
For adventures in Northern Pakistan, Pamir Trails, the tour company based in Chapursan Valley, can provide you with relevant services, including an introduction to Wakhi culture.
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- Browse the photo album of medium Hunza Valley landscapes and villages
- Browse the photo album of Gojal, Upper Hunza Valley landscapes and villages
- Browse the photo album of Wakhi people from Gojal, Upper Hunza
- Browse the photo album of Passu FACE Mela
List of all stories about the same topic, on Medium, by the author
- How past and present religions built a tradition palimpsest in a high valley of northern Pakistan
- Wakhi mountain houses of Zoodkhun in Chapursan Valley, northern Pakistan
- Portraits, Wakhi in relation with other people of their areas
- Wakhi people and Pamir life ex-libris
- What to see and what to do in a short period of time in Hunza
- The Great Game: Anglo-Russian encounter at the borders of Pamir, Hindu Kush and Karakoram
- Zoodkhun Village in Chapursan Valley preserves a scenic and authentic mountain oasis landscape
- Zoodkhun, Chapursan Valley, a life environment determined by altitude and remotness
- Chapursan Valley, where Zoodkhun nights unveil the universe
- What place for Zoodkhun into the global world?
- Karakoram Highway, a prototype of the new Silk Roads?
- Some reflections about the development of a responsible and community based tourism in Hunza Valley