It’s Thursday 3:00 PM December 30th and we three of us sitting in our office discussing work stuff like this week’s deliverables, future strategy, and sales cycles. I like traveling and more than that I like to talk about traveling with this awkward way to start a travel talk ‘ Ok, Let’s go somewhere’, Adil replies, ‘Where’ and I said ‘ Hunza’.
Red Honda City 2019 Model:
We had a Red color Honda city 2019 model and we were not sure about the route – the typical issue of road clearance and stuff like that. But then I searched on the internet and received an ‘Ok’ signal from different people and here we were – with absolutely no planning, we have started our Journey to Hunza. It was also a new year’s eve and we all wanted to kick start 2021 on a positive note. Refueled the car at Total Parco DHA, Lahore, and at around 5:00 PM we boarded on Motorway M2.
Ahmad was not sure of going this far, he kept on saying ‘Let’s go Nathiagali or maybe Shogran’ but Adil had a stance that he would go to Hunza anyway. With unclear destination, we kept on driving, discussing other issues regarding business and future planning, change in business strategy, and stuff like that. Since the only guy sure about where we were heading was Adil, he maintained that he was not going to take too many stopovers over the Motorway and would push as much as we could in the least of the time.
Stop at Bhera:
We reached Bhera around 07:00 PM, all took a cup of tea, had some snacks, used the restroom, and started again. It was dark already and the moon was in full swing, we kept on taking multiple snapshots of the moon view from inside the car, tuned to ‘Paar Channa dey’ song by Noori – the overall scene was eclectic and we were having a good time. From Bhera to Chakri, we hardly spoke to each other, just lost in the moment, the reel of the year 2020 was playing in our minds – the Covid struck our lives hard and we were just thinking what the hell of the year 2020 was. Just thinking about the fragility of life.
We reached Chakri around 08:30 PM. It was really cold here at Chakri. If you have been to Chakri, you would get to know the massive wind crossing South to East. We again had a tea and at the first time seriously discussed where were we heading – Ahmed, this time, insisted, a bit forcefully, to go somewhere near – the proposed Abbottabad at max and Islamabad at the least.
Adil was shocked by these options and it made him more firm that we would go to Hunza which by any means was a drive of 24 hours at the least. I was so unclear as well as where to go but since I was well acclimatized with the journey, I had another proposition that let’s push ourselves and see where could we go. We decided that we would keep ourselves on the Hunza route and see where would our energy ends – that would be our destination. I had a place called ‘Besham’ in my mind that we either end our Journey to ‘Besham’ or would reevaluate the destination from there then.
So once again at around 09: 00 PM, we again started our Journey, exited the M2 Motorway, and boarded on M1- Peshawar Motorway. After driving around half an hour on M1, there is a turn towards Hazara Motorway. I have traveled a lot within Pakistan and Internationally including South East Asia, Eastern Europe, and Turkey multiple times – without any bias I can safely say that I found Hazara Motorway as one of the most scenic routes I have ever experienced.
Although I had been traveling this route in the daylight but in the night beautiful lights on the top of the mountains, reflection of moonlight on a newly finished metal road, well carved green belts, marvels of engineering tunnels – all were so splendid that I just wished to never end this Journey.
We reached Abbottabad within an hour from Hassan Abdal. Hazara Motorway does not pass within the city rather passes the city from the sideways – 2KM long tunnel makes it possible to just bypass the city. There are two exits for Abbottabad, one just 2 KMs before the city starts and one 10KM off the city end, just in proximity of McDonald’s Abbottabad.
It was around 10:00 PM, we had no plan of stopping over at Abbottabad so we kept driving. From Abbottabad to Mansehra, Motorway becomes a two-lane drive which I believe is quite sufficient for such a treacherous and curvy route.
From the motorway, Mansehra is just around 15 minutes from Abbottabad. We reached Mansehra at around 10:30 PM and stopped by a rest area. Again, the motorway does not pass within the Mansehra city and kisses its border sideways. So if you are traveling to Hunza, you do not need to go to a city, just make sure not to leave the Motorway.
So as we stopped by the Hazara rest area, here we experienced some real signs of winter. Cold wind blowing at a massive speed made it hard for us to stay out of the car. We grabbed a coffee and just started the journey once again.
We were now at the last leg of the Motorway which was Mansehra to Thakot. That is around an hour’s drive from Mansehra and this is where Motorway has been built so far. So we drove on this last leg and reached safely at Thakot around 11:30 PM. From here onwards there was not any motorway but the route was pretty clear with a couple of landslides remains.
Besham & the Karakoram Highway:
Besham is the city in Shangla District, just kissing the Borders of Swat Valley to the east. It’s a beautiful mountainous town known for its temperate weather and alpine trees. Historically, Besham has been a stopover for a day-long journey to Gilgit. Even today, all the major buses and travel operators, do a night stay at Besham.
We did the same, found an economic hotel PKR 3000/Night. The room was clean, washrooms were dry and it was pretty ok. We had two single beds and a mattress. After Checking-in, we just went out to Bazar to have dinner. Only a couple of restaurants were open, we had a simple dinner – Daal Channa, some Rotis, and Kabli Pulao. Food was quite affordable like PKR 470 and the quality was decent.
What to Do Next :
After dinner, Ahmed just whispered ‘ Ok we have now reached Besham and that’s it’ He said he enjoyed the journey, food, companionship but now after a good night’s sleep we would go back. He reiterated that it was not important to reach somewhere but to drive on new year’s eve and we have driven a lot.
Adil just stood up and said that’s ok. When we were having dinner, Adil saw a bus service going to Gilgit.
He said to Ahmed that ‘You and Umar’ go back and I will go to Hunza on the bus ‘Mashabrum’. Mashabrum, named after the large and striking peak with a height of 7801 Meters, is one of the most popular bus services from Rawalpindi to Gilgit, Astore, and Hunza.
Adil was using tactics to convince us to continue the Journey. I was so tired of driving all day and I could not think clearly. All I said was, let’s go to sleep, get up early and we will re-evaluate tomorrow. We were so tired that maybe in the next 15 minutes we were all in deep sleep.
Dasu & Chilas:
The early next morning we were so fresh, it was a beautiful sunny day with a cold wind blowing. We did not talk anything but somehow everyone was agreed to move forward. It’s also a lesson that never decide in the late night or when are you tired. So we had our Breakfast, packed clothing, bought some warm caps, refueled the car, and at around 09:00 AM we started our journey to Chilas.
Chilas is around 7 hours’ drive from Besham with Dasu in the center. The area is broadly divided into two regions upper Kohistan region and the lower Kohistan region. As you leave the Besham city passing within its congested yet traditional bazaar, you cross an old bridge and from here onwards, The Indus River starts side-by-side with Karakoram Highway.
It was all green when we suddenly had a look on the Indus, it was eclectic, charming, and soothing. We stopped for a while, just gazed at its sheer flow. We did not talk to anyone, just kept quiet, watching and feeling the presence of someone much older than the human species.
Dasu is a district in the Kohistan district of Pakistan. It is located in the center of Besham-Chilas Karakoram Highway leg and the border of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province ending the Upper Kohistan region. We reached Dasu around noon, the road was clear, although a bit tricky to drive. We had a brief stopover here at Dasu, got some oranges, some water bottles and that’s it. We left the city at around 12:20 PM.
As you leave the city off to 10 KM, the Dasu hydroelectric power (project of CPEC ) construction site starts to appear. With its 1600MW project in its full swing, you will find Chinese firms everywhere in this area, massive blasting of mountains are also underway – you can expect to have some traffic jams in this area.
Drive from Dasu to Chilas is challenging – the road is broken due to heavy construction and it’s one of the most tricky and tiring legs of the entire journey. It was around 02:00 PM and we were driving hard to reach Chilas.
Diamer – Bhasha Dam:
After around two hours of drive from Dasu, the construction site of Diamir – Bhasha dam appears. Unlike Dasu hydroelectric, here the construction is a bit stalled however due to its sheer scale, the entire new route of Karakoram highway is under construction in its full swing.
At around 04:00 PM we finally reached Chilas. Chilas is the divisional capital of the Diamir district in the Gilgit Baltistan Region. We had some Jalebis, a cup of tea, samosas, and lots of water, used the restrooms so overall stopped here for like 30 minutes.
Raikot Bridge & NangaParbat Viewpoint:
Raikot bridge is around two hours drive from Chilas. The route is entirely broken, a bit tricky to navigate, and not recommended to drive at night. It was already late so we just started to move swiftly towards the Raikot bridge. The significance of the Raikot is that it’s the starting point for Nanaga parbat base camp& fairy meadows.
People from all over the world visit this place to experience the majestic beauty of Nanga Parbat. To reach nanga Parbat – fairy meadows, it takes around 2 hours of a jeep drive and 6 hours of a trek.
Anyhow, we had no plan to go for fairy meadows. We reached Raikot around 06:30 PM. took a brief stopover, got relaxed a bit. From here onwards we knew the road was all clear and the journey was a smooth drive.
Gilgit is around 2 hours drive from Raikot. It was around 07:00 PM and we started to drive towards Gilgit. The road was clean and clear, we drove around 80KM/hr. Along the way, we also got to see the beautiful Karakoram university campus and the Gilgit scouts training center. Just before 09:00 PM, we reached Gilgit-Hunza chowk. Gilgit Bazaar was 5 minutes from here. As we had to go to ATM so we went to the Bazaar and drew some cash. Gilgit is the capital city of the Gilgit-Baltistan region. Gilgit is also a major touring destination – climbers all over the world gather here to start their climbing expeditions to more than 108 peaks ranging from 6000 meters to 8200 meters in height.
So after a 30-minute stopover, we once again started our journey to Hunza. Hunza is some 120 KMs & 2 hours’ drive from Gilgit. As we were in a rush, so we pulled this last leg of our day fast, we were tired of driving from 08:00 AM, it was the 14th hour of our driving. Along the way we had a brief stop at Rakaposhi Viewpoint, it was really cold out there. We experienced the Magnanimity of this peak and drove again.
Karimabad is the most popular tourist destination in Hunza Valley. You need to take right-off to 2 KMs from KKH to go to Karimabad. We reached Karimabad at around 11:30 PM. We had our dinner from a nearby restaurant, checked-in to our hotel, and went into a deep sleep. It was -11 C’ at the time.
Ranked by the guardian as among the best five tourist destinations in Pakistan, Karimabad is the capital of Hunza district and the 800-year-old seat of the rulers of Hunza Valley. Its Altit and Baltit fort are 800 years old heritage sites listed in UNESCO world heritage sites.
People of Karimabad :
The next morning we got up early around 08:00 AM, had our breakfast, and started to explore the small town. The first thing we noticed about this place was its people. Unlike rest of the Pakistan, they were very polite, extremely clean, educated, and above all very welcoming. When I used to travel the other parts of the world mostly the far east beaches of Thailand or Malaysia or Bali Indonesia, I found this kind of people receptiveness only at those places.
Baltit Fort is 800 years old seat of rulers of Hunza valley. From Karimabad Bazar through narrow streets towards a hilltop, the fort route is a 600-meter steep walk. We walked around 600 meters to reach the fort. From there we could see across Karimabad, KKH, Hunza river, and eclectic Rakaposhi peak, Ladyfinger, and golden peak.
The view was scenic that next one hour no one of us could even talk to each other, Ahmed was constantly gazing at the unclimbed golden peak. We bought 300RS/person guided tour of the fort.
Guided tour of Baltit Fort:
As you enter the fort, there is a central room (Modern Day Lounge you may think of). It is well preserved, renovated multiple times with the last renovation in 1995. From this central room, there is a small alley going to a basement where rulers used to store food. A very small door to the in-built jail where prisoners were brought to capture however historically till data Hunza valley has been known as one of the lowest crime rates regions in the world.
Although most of the fort has been rebuilt over the years however the roof of the kitchen is still preserved and the last of the remains of 800 years old original construction.
A beautiful terrace at the fort rooftop gives a scenic view and also the strategic view of the entire area from the Karimabad Bazar to the KKH to the south and Golden peaks to Ladyfinger to the east. We got few snapshots, sat for an hour, and enjoyed the history captured in mountains.
After visiting Baltit fort and Karimabad Bazar, we checked out from our hotel and headed to visit Attabad Lake. It was around 11:00 AM, quite a sunny day but a bit cold around -4C’.
Attabad lake is around 45 minutes drive from Karimabad. The 9KM long Attabad tunnels are engineering marvels and a signature monument of Pakistan-China friendship. After driving through these long tunnels, we finally reached Attabad lake.
Parked the car next to now-close sweet tooth café, we had a glaring glance on the frozen Attabad lake wrapped in a bottle green color with an icy white embroidery on its top. It was off-season and we were the only guys so far. Pictures and lots of pictures, we had not seen anything like that first – green frozen lake of a sheer size was an utmost scene. I’m sure you would have noticed that sometimes your cameras won’t capture the beauty your eyes are witnessing – it was that moment.
Our next stop was Hussaini bridge, around 40 minute’s drive from Attabad lake. It’s a historical suspension bridge just next to Hussaini Village. We parked the car on the road and walked down the trek around 500 meters to reach Hussaini Bridge. First, we dared to cross this suspension monument but then unanimously decided not to attempt.
On our way back to the car, small trek side chay cafes were facing Passu cones just in front. We had tea experiencing Passu cones and Hussaini bridge right in front of us in cold, windy but sunny weather. It was an experience like never before. After having a tea we moved back to the car and started to drive towards Sost.
Passu cones, named after a nearby village Passu, are world-famous for their edge cones. Hundred and thousands of years of volcanic eruptions, it is said, have transformed these mountains into cone like edges. Adil wanted to capture the cones from a road in a way Passu cones facing directly his back. The next 30 minutes we spent to find the scene and ultimately did find one. Stopped there and captures lots of pictures. Just a 5 minutes’ drive from there, there was a Passu Glacier and a Passu lake which was all frozen. We spent a few moments there and then headed to Sost.
Sost is just 50KM before the Khunjrab border. We wanted to visit Khunjrab but due to heavy snowfall, we could not move ahead.
Sost is a dry port and the last human settlement before Khunjrabpass (The highest Paved international border in the world ). It was -12 here at Sost. It was around 03:00 PM, we had lunch from a café, lamb Biryani, tea, and some yummy Raita. The guy at the café suggested us another café, Khunjrab café just 5KM ahead for some delicious samosas and walnut cakes.
We headed to the Khunjrab Café, met the owner, experienced the serenity of the place, stunned by the hospitality of the owner – I can not explain the experience in words. We had our Samosas with yummy walnut cakes – everything was so supreme but we had to go back, it was already late and way back journey was long.
Our Way back:
It was already 04:00 PM and we promised Ahmed to drive him back to Lahore on Sunday night as he had to attend an important meeting. So we drove from Sost to Chilas on Saturday and reached Chilas around 11:00 PM. We checked-in to a local hotel, had dinner, and slept.
On the next day, at 06:00 AM, we drove from Chilas to Lahore in one straight leg and reached Lahore around 01:00 AM.
Although it was a very short trip, full of hectic driving its worth the time, effort, and money. Due to the Hazara Motorway, and CPEC road projects in the Gilgit region it is possible to have a weekend trip to Hunza even in the winter.
Pakistan is a home to one of the most beautiful mountain ranges, water channels, landscapes, pastures, and above all loving people. Even though I have traveled to more than30 countries, without any bias, Pakistan tops the chart always.