Travel Diaries: Gulmit

Nestled between a narrow valley, Gulmit is a small village, located roughly 7900ft above sea level. Geographically, Gulmit is situated in Upper Hunza (Gojal) which up till recently was cut off from the rest of the country due to the formation of Attabad Lake after a massive Landslide.

Gulmit is literally an ancient town with a history of centuries under its belt and served as the winter capital to the then Sovereign state of Hunza, linking all the trade routes from central Asia to the rest of the Sub-continent. The local Language spoken in Gojal (upper Hunza) is Wahki which is quite different from Brushaski which is spoken in central Hunza. If you get a chance, try to pick up a few words, it’s not that difficult.

The economy of this region was propelled primarily on tourism and agriculture. During peak tourist season, this little corner of Pakistan would transform into a wonderland, filled with a diverse range of tourists from every corner of the world. In a single glance, this heaven of a place could not be distinguished from a European city. Under the star lit sky and a campfire, locals would mingle with the tourists, exchanging thoughts and giving insight to their respective cultures. Due to this interactions, the locals were exposed to a plethora of opportunities to express themselves in front of these guests which in turn led to a heightened sense of cultural awareness and the confidence to nurture their expression.

Tourists would flock to Gulmit - Hunza for sightseeing and trekking but all that changed after 9/11. Embassies blacklisted Pakistan and advised its citizens to not visit. Lack of infrastructure ensured that only true enthusiasts ventured into this remote region. Slowly, this small quiet tourist haven, transformed into a ghost town! Businesses closed down, the inflow of tourists dwindled and eventually even the infrastructure started crumbling.

After a lot of economic and administrative setbacks, things started to turn for the best after China started its work on the new Economic corridor. Chinese decided to link its border and create a trade route and access our warm waters. As a result, development picked up its pace, cottage industries started to boom and once again, tourism started to pick up!

Gulmit (Hunza) received a record amount of local tourists these last few years (2015 onwards). This whole region was booked to the point where people resorted to sleeping in tents, enjoying the mesmerizing night beauty of stars and the reflected moonlight off the snow capped mountains!

Cars upon cars, busses, vans, jeeps and motor bikes passed through Gulmit, entering this region via the newly reconstructed KKH and the famous landmark tunnels, traversing the beautiful blue Attabad Lake. Campsites were a frequent feature this season in all remote locations and the locals had a fun time being hosts.

 

 

How to Reach:

Gulmit unfortunately does not have an airport. However, one can take a plan to Gilgit and from there onwards travel the infamous KKH. The drive to Gulmit from Gilgit is one of the most scenic routes you will ever come across. On a clear crystal day, you’ll have a bright blue sky and get to witness the mighty Rakaposhi (7788m above sea level) and the Indus River by your side.

It takes roughly 2 hours to reach Central Hunza from Gilgit and after that another 30-40 mins to reach Gulmit (Gojal/Upper Hunza). You can travel in the local transport or rent a vehicle from Gilgit. One can easily hire a vehicle from the main transport hub. If you are feeling adventurous, try sticking your thumb out for a lift and you’ll be surprised to see how helpful the locals are. One often encounters tourists on motor bikes or bicycles even. Conversing with such people is always insightful. Everyone has a story to tell! This may sound like a cliché, but traveling on this route for the first time, will change your perspective on life.

Accommodations:

Ever since Our Chinese brethren helped fix up the KKH and on top, completed the awe inspiring Attabad tunnels, tourists have been flocking to this region to witness this construction marvel. Apparently seeing is believing. It will be wise to get your bookings sorted way in advance or you will end up sleeping in your vehicle (yes! It is way common than you think). Luckily, if in case you do not get bookings in the local setup, Karimabad is just 45 mins behind you.

Gulmit Continental - Gulmit

Marco polo Inn - Gulmit

Village guest House - Gulmit (my personal Favorite)

Nearby Attractions:

Gojal Valley is Pakistan’s final frontier before crossing international border at Khunjerab and entering China. The international border is roughly 136 KM from Gulmit, which takes roughly 2.5 hours. Tourists from both side of the borders flock at the Border, exchange words and take pictures, a lot of pictures! Once in Gulmit, travelers can get to choose to visit remote villages like Shimshal, Chupursan , Baba Ghundi (Ziarat) or one would take small leisure indulgences like trekking (or by car, if not feeling adventurous)  to  Kamaris, ruins of Ondra Fort, Borith Lake or even the Passu Glacier. Gulmit has it all, it caters to everyone’s need, may it be serious adventure loving adrenalin junkies (hint: try crossing the Hussani suspension bridge) or the relaxing book readers. The serene tranquility provided by nature has no comparison. Nature lovers love to take their photography equipment and start clicking away where as casual tourists enjoy the long walks this village has to offer.

Food:

Hunza region has been blessed with a wide range of seasonal fruits. Apricots, cherries, apples, plums, walnuts are just a few of the delicacies that one can eat in multiple forms (cakes, juices or as it is). The Local dishes are simple to make and consist primarily of bread baked at homes (Phitti/ Urzuk) and vegetables grown locally. Goat/yak herders take their livestock high up on the pastures for grazing and only come down once the cold sets in and the food for the livestock become scarce. Do try to indulge in some local tea with salt as a substitute for sugar!  Some more foods that you simply cannot get enough of:

Dawoudo – Thick broth reserved for cold weather

Giyalin – Desi Pancakes (try it with honey! You welcome!)

Weather:

Gulmit is a relatively colder region as compared to other areas primarily because of its high altitude and the unique terrain. The narrow valley acts like a wind tunnel thus, making Gulmit extremely windy (especially in the winters). The border to the north gets closed by excessive snow while Attabad Lake freezes in the south. Ideal time to visit would be anytime between June to mid-October. Just remember, if it rains, it “will” get cold no matter which season!

Festivals:

Gulmit comprises mostly of youth, most of whom are studying in far away cities like Islamabad, Lahore, and Karachi. Summer time brings everyone together and the spirit of festivities is in the air. The youth of this region are extremely organized. The local Boy Scout chapter is efficient at organizing and executing public functions. The whole community joins the festivities without any prejudice and segregation. Event like the annual Gulmit Premier League (GPL) is the talk of the region. Teams from nearby villages register their respective football teams and play against each other. The locals recently participated in the first ever swimming Gala held at the saline Borith Lake in the summers where as in the winter, the locals took advantage of frozen water bodies and tried their hand at Ice skating. Rare events include Polo matches which occurred in 2014.  Last year was concluded by the Khunjerab Festival which included guests from China.

Some of the Local festivals:

Boo fawo – Seeding festival

Ginani – Harvest Festival

Nouroz – Spring celebration

Traveling tips:

Respect the local culture! The locals are amazing host and are always welcome to travelers. One should repay the kindness by respecting the by-laws of the community. Never litter and take care of the local flora.

Travel very lightly. We are not on a fashion show, carry only the essentials. This will give you ample energy to carry around your luggage.

Whenever possible, befriend locals. The locals can be amazing guides and can possibly tell you amazing sights to see which the regular tourists might miss.

Always keep a jacket handy in your luggage. As mentioned earlier, it does get chilly in the evening especially if it suddenly rains.

Cellular reception is not consistent in this region, do check beforehand if your network is operational in your intend area of visit. (If I were you, I’ll just use my cell to take pictures. The world can learn to live without me for a few days)

Do not insist on bringing your own culture to this exciting place. For a social experiment, try blending in with the locals and adapt to their life style for the duration of the visit. It will be a unique learning experience.

Take a good camera! Make memories

Rent camping equipment and make a campsite in the meadows or maybe even next to Borith Lake.

DO NOT LITTER!

Lastly, Enjoy your trip!



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