Pakistan's Hunza Valley
Rare is the traveler who knows the allure of Pakistan, a deeply fascinating country with tremendous Silk Road history and sensational natural beauty—particularly in the Hunza Valley. Journey on the legendary Karakoram Highway from the desert to the snowy Pamirs, we delve into peaceful hidden corners of the old kingdom of Hunza, meet amiable locals, witness polo matches, and drink in galactic Karakoram peaks.
Read Bill's article entitled The Ultimate Road Trip: Traveling To Pakistan here.
August 26 - September 13, 2023
A 19-day journey to discover Pakistan's Hunza Valley - where three empires meet.
Pakistan Hunza Valley
|Day 1 - Arrive in Islamabad, Pakistan||Arrive Islamabad where you'll be met and transferred to your comfortable hotel. Islamabad Serena|
|Day 2 - Drive to Naran||Today we start our journey to the town of Mansehra, driving through Margalla Hills, the foothills of the western Himalayas. At Mansehra, we visit The Edicts of Ashoka. The collection of more than thirty inscriptions on the pillars, as well as boulders and cave walls, attributed to Emperor Ashoka of the Mauryan Empire, who reigned from 268 BC to 232 BC. These inscriptions were dispersed throughout the areas of modern-day Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and provide the first tangible evidence of Buddhism.
From Mansehra, we travel along the River Kunhar, which starts from the glaciers of Kaghan and flow deep down in Mansehra. The Naran Khaghan Valley is lush and green and the weather is pleasantly cool.
On arrival in Naran (7,900 ft), we check-in at the Grey Walls Hotel, which is nicely located and surrounded by pine forests. Grey Walls
|Day 3 - Naran to Gilgit||Today we enjoy some of the most scenic landscapes, dramatically changing along the way, and get our first glimpse of Nanga Parbat (the Naked Mountain), the highest western Himalayan mountain located in Pakistan.
We drive over Babusar Pass (13,690 ft.) on our way to Gilgit (5,000 ft) where we spend the night. Gilgit Serena
|Day 4 - Gilgit to Hunza||Gilgit is an ancient tribal town at the southern reaches of the infamous Mintaka Pass. Practically untouched by the conquerors who preyed on the adjacent valleys throughout the centuries, Gilgit has flourished. Today it’s a thriving, energetic town, a sort of organized chaos and a mix of old and new.
We see the Kargah Buddha, thought to have been carved in the 7th century and explore the famous Hunza Chowk.
Leaving Gilgit, we stop for lunch and a photo opportunity at the Rakaposhi viewpoint. Continue driving south through the narrowing gorge. The Karakoram Highway (KKH) has made this a safe drive, but in the old days, it was famously frightening.
Finally, we reach Hunza (9,000 ft) and our home for the next three nights. Hunza Serena Altit Fort
|Day 5 - Karimabad||Karimabad’s charms extend to its architecture, a unique blend of form and function (cultivated terraces, cobbled walls), and the mighty Baltit Fort reflect the area’s heritage as much as its distinctive geographic position. We’ll no doubt encounter the unmatched friendliness of the local Hunzakuts—astute, obliging, and proud people who are Ismaili Muslims. A society deeply rooted in land ownership and well served by the charities of the Imam, Hunza is refreshingly prosperous. Karimabad offers the opportunity to shop for rubies and local crafts, and because of its strategic position of about 9,000 feet, we’re given extraordinary views of the surrounding valley.
We venture to the imposing Baltit Fort, where the successive Mirs of Hunza lived for more than 750 years until the present palace was built in 1945. It was restored in the late 20th century but maintained the original earthquake-proofing techniques used by the fort’s original builders.
We pay a visit to KADO (Karimabad Area Development Organization) Workshops, specifically created to support local women. We continue with a visit to the Aga Khan Academy, one of the first non-governmental education providers in the region. We also step inside a local carpet workshop, where we see weavers at their looms, learn about the traditional motifs, and possibly see the wool being dyed with natural dyes. Our lunch is in the delightful home of our wonderfully hospitable guide.
Our local guide will give a presentation on the history, culture, and religion of the region, after which you will have an opportunity to ask questions. We also take a short walk through the Karimabad bazaar before sitting down to a local barbeque dinner in the hotel gardens (weather-permitting). Hunza Serena Altit Fort
|Day 6 - Karimabad||This morning, enjoy some further explorations in the area and visit the Sacred Rock of Hunza at Haldekish. The site is on top of a hill at the left bank of the river Hunza. The rock is 30 feet high and 200 yards long and features ancient inscriptions in Sogdian, Kharosthi, Brahmi, Sarada and Proto Sarada languages, as well depictions of ibex.
We cross the river to the Nagar Valley. Nagar and Hunza engaged in a spirited feud for hundreds of years. This Karakoram version of the Hatfields and the McCoys came to an end when the present Mir’s mother, daughter of Nagar’s Mir, married his father.
We see the Hopper glacier with its fine views of Ultar Peak and Barpu Glacier.
Return to Altit for dinner and overnight. Hunza Serena Altit Fort
|Day 7 - Karimabad to Duikar||After an invigorating morning walk, we explore the very first fort and the birthplace of the Hunza Kingdom, Altit Fort and its surrounding settlement of Altit Khun. We enjoy traditional Hunza food in the ancient Kha Basi Café, which is abundant with apricot trees.
Drive to the small village of Duikar (9,000 ft), where rows of tidy crops line terraced hillsides. We enjoy tea on the rooftop terrace of our Eagle’s Nest Hotel, located at 10,500 feet and affording sensational vistas of the surrounding peaks including 25,500-foot Rakaposhi and the 19,600-foot rock-spring Bublimotin (also known as Lady Finger). Eagle's Nest Hotel
|Day 8 - Altit Fort, drive to Duiker||Today we continue to ascend through the high, wild, and magnificent scenery of Pakistan up to the Khunjerab Pass (15,400 feet). We’re near the Wakhan Corridor, a snaky bit of Afghanistan created at the turn of the last century by the British and the Russians to keep their hell-bent imperialists apart.
Retracing our steps, we wind back down the mountains, through Marco Polo sheep and snow leopard country, spiralling dramatically past looming peaks and tumbling glaciers, down to Passu (7,500 ft.) in Upper Hunza, one of the oldest settlements in the region and a great place for hiking. Eagle's Nest Hotel
|Day 9 - Drive to Gilgit||Outside of Passu, we visit the famous Hussaini hanging bridge and have a chance to cross it. We also visit Attabad Lake, formed almost overnight in 2010 when a landslide created a natural dam across the robust Hunza River, displacing more than 25,000 people, and take a short and scenic boat ride on the lake.
Back in Gilgit, the remainder of the afternoon and evening is at leisure. Gilgit Serena Hotel
|Day 10 - Skardu||Today, we drive to Skardu (7,300 ft) following a narrow, winding, paved road constructed by the Pakistan Army Engineers in conjunction with the Chinese. Thankfully, this 152-mile-long roadway, completed in 1982, is visually stunning. Our constant companion is the mighty Indus River, Pakistan’s longest-running river. It cuts through the country on its southerly course, commencing in Tibet and bound for the Arabian Sea. We’ll stop to stretch our legs from time to time and appreciate the suspension bridges, waterfalls, villages, and valley that punctuate the landscape.
Tonight we stay in a resort founded by Brigadier Muhammad Aslam Khan, the First Commander of the Northern Scouts of the Pakistan Army, who liberated the Northern Areas in 1948. The resort is built around the small heart-shaped Kachura Lake. Shangrila Resort Hotel
|Day 11 - Khaplu||This morning, we continue to Khaplu, stopping en route to visit the Skardu Bazaar and the K2 Museum. Our accommodation for the next two nights is in a historic palace-turned-boutique hotel, the Serena Khaplu Palace (also known as Khaplu Fort Palace), restored under the careful supervision of Agha Khan Cultural Service Pakistan.
Our stay here gives us the opportunity to explore Khaplu, once the second-largest kingdom in Baltistan thanks largely to its strategic position on the trade route to Ladakh. Serena Khaplu Palace
|Day 12 - Khaplu||Today begins with a walking tour of Khaplu village including the Khanqah (place of religious ceremonies) and two small settlements (Hunduli and Banpi) where old houses are restored by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (Please remember that entrance to Khanqah and the mosque are not permitted, but we will be able to see in from the outside). We also visit the Chaqchan Mosque, originally built in 1370 and one of the oldest mosques, not only in Baltistan, but in Pakistan.
This afternoon, we tour the 19th-century Khaplu Fort. The three-story structure incorporates traditional designs of embellished, carved wood and has an added serenity lent by the surrounding gardens. We end our tour with tea in a beautiful open-air room near the top of the fort. Serena Khaplu Palace
|Day 13 - Drive to Shigar||Drive to Shigar. This morning we drive to Shigar where the Serena Shigar Fort will be our home for two nights. This 400-year-old fort was intricately restored to reveal the 17th-century architecture of the Raja Fort Palace, known locally as Fong Khar (“Palace on the Rock”).
Following lunch, we explore the fort followed by tea in the spacious garden. Serena Shigar Fort
|Day 14 - Shigar||Today we explore Shigar town (7,300 ft) and our first stop is Khilingrong, a delicately constructed wooden mosque. We also visit Amburiq, a 14th-century mosque built by Kashmiri craftsmen and restored by a conservation group in an effort to preserve the Tibetan and Kashmiri architecture of the original structure.
This afternoon, we’ll explore Shigar Valley further and take a picturesque drive (approximately one hour each way), stopping to take photos here and there, to walk through a field, and perhaps pick some mulberries. Serena Shigar Fort
|Day 15 - Astore||Early this morning, we depart for a long day of driving and some spectacular scenery. From Shigar, we start crossing the Deosai Plateau, part of the Deosai National Park, en route. The park is a high plains protection area created to shelter the endangered Himalayan brown bear—though the park is home to snow leopards, Himalayan musk deer, and red foxes, we are more likely to see the industrious and ever abundant marmot. We enjoy a picnic at picturesque Shoser Lake. We then continue into the Astore Valley (8,300 ft). Dinner is in our simple hotel this evening. Rupal Resort|
|Day 16 - Drive to Naran||This morning, you're driven to the Karakorum Highway (KKH) with more incredible scenery as you continue through the Astor Valley. You'll stop to view Nanaga Parbat and Buddhist rock inscriptions on the way to Chilas. From Chilas, continue over Babusar Pass (13,690 feet) into the scenic and lush Kaghan Valley and Naran. Grey Walls Hotel|
|Day 17 - Drive to Islamabad||We continue the drive to Islamabad. The road runs through the green and well-forested western Himalayan spurs in the Hazara district. The area is rich in history with the earliest written accounts dating back to Alexander’s conquest of the region around the 4th century BC. This period was followed by Buddhist rule in the 3rd century BC that left behind some interesting archaeological sites e.g. Asoka’s Rock Edicts at Manshera (dating back to around the 3rd century AD the script is weather-beaten and can hardly be seen).
Pass through the towns of Abbottabad, Haripure Havalian, Taxila and eventually arrive in Islamabad. Islamabad Serena Hotel
|Day 18 - Excursion to Taxila & Rawalpindi||Taxila is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with some of the most important archaeological treasures in Asia dating from 600 BCE to 600 CE. The fortified city of Sirkap’s stupas and temples reveal stages of development on this trade route junction of the Indus River, influenced by Persia, Greece, and Central Asia, surviving the reign of many empires. Jaulian was a center for Buddhist learning, home to dozens of Buddhist monks and graced with Gandharan stone relief and statues.
Rawalpindi, a twin city with Islamabad and commonly called Pindi, is known for its thriving commercial center and diverse cultural heritage. This is particularly apparent in the Babu Mohalla neighborhood, where you can find a thriving Bohra community attending mosque in close proximity to a Victorian church, Hindu temple, and important Jewish heritage building. Islamabad Serena Hotel
|Day 19 - Depart Islamabad||You're taken to the airport in time for your flight out of Islamabad.|