touring | hunza valley | pakistan - an autuminal mountainous utopia
glacial lakes, golden peaks & awesome locals
this vast relatively unexplored (by foreigners) country stretches from the arabian sea over 1500 km's to the northernmost border set in the himalayas. since the launch of an e-visa in 2019, pakistan has become one of the most intriguing destinations to visit in recent times. the hunza valley in gilgit baltistan, an autonomous region located between the vast mountainous peaks of the himalayas is the most visited area in the country.
history & background
the region of gilgit-baltistan where the hunza valley is located is a region administered by pakistan as a territory. its part of the larger Kashmir region which is a subject of a dispute between India & Pakistan.
this autonomous region is quite different to southern pakistan in culture & heritage. they share more commonalities with their northern neighbours with some saying their ancestors came from the macedonian region of europe.
getting to & around hunza valley
visiting pakistan is not for the faint hearted. while the visa process became easier in 2019, getting to the hunza region can be an adventure.
a direct flight on an old twin propeller aircraft into gilgit or an arduous 16-hour road journey is the only alternative to the one-hour flight. we chose the flight as the long journey by road would have cut into our time in hunza. on the way back to islamabad due to some planning issues on my side we took a private car for (20,000r | $120), a bargain for such a long journey.
it's essential to have a guide & driver as getting around the area would be close to impossible. travellia, a hunza travel specialist took us around this majestic region. our guide, jaffar was from one of the local mountain villages. he was full of information on the sights & culture of the area. so, let's get into it...
day one | arrival
a hairy landing at the beautifully mountainous gilgit airport set the tone for this epic four day tour. after a quick foreigner, registration we met our guide jaffar & our toyota that would ferry us around the area. after a two hour drive north to the main town of karimabad we had a few hours to check in & chill at our hotel, hard rock hunza. perched above the valley at the aptly named eagles' nest this place has the best views of any hotel in the area. with well-designed large suites, 24 hours hot showers (a luxury in hunza) & on-site restaurant it's the only place to stay.
for sunset we took a three min walk to the top of duiker hill to watch the sunset. the 360° panoramic views of the valley & golden peaks were an amazing end to the first day.
day two | attabad lake & beyond
a pakistani omelet & a hot chai in the morning warmed us up from the minus temps of the night. driving thirty minutes east we arrived at the unbelievably beautiful emerald waters of attabad lake. this lake was created as a result of a massive landslide that destroyed the area in 2010, it has since become one of the main attractions in the area. the snow capped mountains in the distance make for awesome shots from the tourist boats that glide along the pristine waters in the morning sun.
jumping back in the car we headed north along the famous karakoram highway built by the chinese, this road is one of the highest paved roads in the world getting up to a height of 4700m (about half the height of mt everest) connecting the chinese border with the punjab in the south. our next stop was hussaini suspension bridge, known as the most dangerous bridge in the world. it takes guts to cross this hand built precarious bridge as it sways in the wind & the wooden foot boards are so far apart it feels like you need to jump between them.
after the adrenaline rush of the bridge, we made of way to the famous glacial breeze cafe. set atop of a small hill on the side of the road with spectacular views of the tupopdan mountain peaks this cafe had the best homemade apricot cake i have had the pleasure of eating.
day three | forts & glaciers
another early start seen us take some perilous gravel roads carved into the side of the of the valley cliffs on the way to bualtar glacier.
the journey itself was the most exciting part of the trip traversing falling boulders & at one point getting stuck behind an ancient ambulance that was stuck as the road had turned into a dangerous ice road from the water run off up the cliff, a mistake here would see you careering down a 50m drop to the river below.
it was surprising to learn that pakistan has more glacial ice than anywhere on earth outside the polar regions with over 7000 known glaciers. as in most regions around the globe they are receding & causing issues for the local northern communities with spring/summer run- off causing mass flooding's.
nature aside, there are some great historical sites in the region. the ancient forts are a great way to get to grips with the history of the area. baltit fort, once the epicenter of the hunza kingdom. taking a tour with the custodian of the fort gave us a great insight into the hundreds of years of hunza history. from the terrace at the top of the fort you get spectacular views of the valley below.
karachi | into the underbelly
our final days were spent in the most populous city in pakistan, with over 15 million citizens (11th largest globally) this can be a chaotic place but an early morning private rickshaw city tour with super savari express managed to miss the rush. we wanted to see the true karachi not just the main tourist sights & oh boy... did this tour deliver from outset we were shown some hidden gems. from the paper market to a local sweet shop, it was a fascinating insight into the heart of the city.
ever since i left europe i craved some vegan raw food & as pakistan is not known for healthy food i was surprised to find evergreen. this health conscious restaurant was by far my favorite place to eat in the city so much, so we came back twice. with its fresh juices & build your own salad bar i was heaven finally eating getting the chance to eat some greens.
while in evergreen i noticed a company called soul food selling organic single origin honey from the north of pakistan. naturally i picked up a few jars along with some moringa powder to build up health antibodies.
another restaurant that we loved was the pakistani, found in the movenpick hotel it was an awesome place to try high quality regional dishes, the tandoori fish & bread were terrific. you can check a few more of our favourite places to eat in the city on the interactive map below.
one final place to mention... mohatta palace was a highlight, for only (30rup | $0.20) this place had wonderful exhibitions from around pakistan. we so happened to be there when they were showcasing embroidered traditional dresses from around the country it was fascinating. a must visit.
security, religion & women's rights
there's are a lot of misconceptions about pakistan being a dangerous country to visit, for us this was absolutely not the case. we only came across kind people that wanted foreigners to know how this country has moved on from its turbulent past. not once did we feel unsafe, especially in hunza. people are super friendly & english is widely spoken. we were shocked one night when an uber driver decided to pay for our ride just because we were foreigners, so kind.
yes, this is a majority muslim country but i find that we are scared of what we don't know & in the end it's just a religion, judge people on their actions, not religion. this brings me onto women rights. while we didn't see many women in general, tourists can dress as they wish & most younger women, we did meet in the cities wore western style clothing.
pro tip: photocopy your passport & visa multiple time as government road blocks keep these while travelling by road, i was told this was for security.
what a surprise... the hunza valley really captured our imaginations, the vast scale of the mountain ranges & valleys where truly awe-inspiring. this place is in its tourist infancy. in a post corona world i believe this area will become one of the top adventure tourism destinations globally.
pakistan is one of the cheapest countries in the world. we were surprised just how inexpensive this place was. from street food for around ($1) to 20 min taxi rides for ($2) & fine dining meals for two costing only ($20). decent hotels range from ($15) - ($200) per night, for those backpacking hostels are non-existent but decent hotels can be found although the communal atmosphere is lacking, best to travel with friends here.
⦿ budget ($40) a day including accommodation.
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country travel tips
atm: only allied bank offers free withdrawals. don't accept the on-screen conversion.
sim card: zong. 10GB is ($3) for 30 days. got an e-sim enable phone try airalo.
transport: bus, private car & taxi (careem app) are all cheap.
taxi: uber? use promo: carlm5078ue for free ride.
accommodation: get ($20) off your first booking.com reservation here