The Hunza Valley and the Khunjerab Pass: a traveling myth of the old Silk Road

The Hunza Valley and the Khunjerab Pass: a traveling myth of the old Silk Road

The Karakorum Highway joins China and Pakistan taking advantage of the crack excavated by the Hunza River.

Villages of mud and wood, friendly people and landscapes are the signs of the introduction of one of the most adventurous trips in Asia

Until practically before yesterday, reaching the mythical Khunjerab Pass was one of the most difficult traveling challenges in the world. Khunjerab is a small crack between the frozen giants of the Karakorum and, also, a true milestone in the history of Humanity.

The caravans of the Silk Road passed through here in that ceaseless transfer of goods, ideas, and legends that the Far East and the European West communicated for almost a millennium and a half. Khunjerab was one of the most important obstacles on the route.

A high mountain pass at 4,623 meters of altitude could only be traveled a few months a year and that demanded high doses of courage and courage. Currently, the highest border in the world (Pakistan and China) only closes when snow blizzards impose it.

In 1986, the work on the paved road that connects the two countries was completed after 20 years of work. To the south of the border, it is known as Karakorum Highway (KKH), and in the north, it was baptized with the most poetic name of ‘friendship road.’

One of the most notable consequences of the paving of this section of the old Silk Road (which required huge engineering displays) was to open the Hunza Valley to the world. Until then, this isolated place between mountains and large ice fields was one of the myths of the Silk Road.

It was known as the Valley of Eternal Youth, and it was said that its people reached prodigiously high ages and remained young and healthy. The Hunza aspect also gave rise to legends and myths that have remained until today: unlike the inhabitants of the area, this town is Caucasian in appearance. Blondes abound, and blue eyes are common.

STRONGS, TERRACES, PEOPLES, ICE, AND MOUNTAINS

Between Gilgit and the Khunjerab Pass, there are 271 kilometers. For western travelers, distance does not say much; but on the road like the KKH, this distance is a true trip to the old way that demands between ten and twelve hours.

Of course, they will be one of the most memorable days of your life. The Hunza River advances among stone giants that exceed 6,000 meters of altitude. Very close to the route are two myths from the list of the eight-eight: the Nanga Parbat (8,125 masl) and the K2 (8,611 masl), considered the most difficult peak in the world.

The landscape is breathtaking. Ice, rain, and wind modeled an austere landscape of bare mountains. In the deepest part of the valley, the Hunza created a true garden from nothing. Each garden is a victory against the elements;

The villages of motley houses and green terraces create an impressive contrast. This is Hunza’s true strength. The imposing nature that excavated a valley surrounded by dramatic mountains.

The willpower of the people who knew how to make this place a hard and demanding home. The main bases of operations to get around the KKH are Gilgit, Karimabad, and Sost. If you can only stay in only one place, the one we recommend is Karimabad.

Karimabad-

First, because it occupies a place of centrality in the route and will allow you to go up and down without problems on trips of a few hours and second because it is the most beautiful town in the entire valley. But in Gilgit there are a couple of interesting things that make at least a small stop. The Kargah Buddha (an imposing relief carved in the rock- or the bazaars of what was one of the basic stops of the Route of the Silk 70 kilometers from the ‘city’ is the Rakaposhi Viewpoint, with fantastic views over the nearby Karakorum and a little further up the small village of Minappin.

The road that leads to Sost and, beyond, to the mythical Khunjerab, is full of places to stop. Like the Husseini Bridge, one of the most famous and, as they say, the world’s dangerous hanging passages or the village of Dassu.

The Batura Glacier or the narrow gorges that lead to the last Pakistani town before heading the kilometers between Sost and the Chinese border. Beyond the limit of the two countries, until reaching the city of Kashgar.

The KKH passes through incredible places like Tashgurkan, another myth of the old Silk Road; or the turquoise waters of Lake Bulunkou. But that’s another story.

HOW TO GET THERE AND HOW TO MOVE

Hunza Valley is located about 500 kilometers north of Islamabad, the Pakistani capital. The easiest option is to take a flight from Islamabad to Gilgit Airport, the Hunza gate. 

Pakistan International Airlines has two direct flights from the capital operated with ATR aircraft. The price of tickets is around 75 euros per way. The most comfortable and safe option by land is to take a  Natco bus to the valley from Islamabad (Northern Area Transport Corporation Bus Terminal -Faqir Aipee Road, 48-).

The tickets are around 15 euros, and the journey takes about 15 hours. To move between villages you can take the colorful local buses or the combis (2-3 euros) that come and go by the Karakorum Highway – between Gilgit and Khunjerab there are 271 kilometers.

They also come and go between the different villages of the valley. Prices are around 15 euros for long journeys (Sost – Karimabad; Gilgit -Karimabad). Another choice is to hire a car with a driver, an option that is possible in towns like Gilgit or Sost.

The prices of a 4×4 with driver are around 30 euros a day. For the brave is the hitchhiking. Pakistanis are friendly and love to take travelers. There are usually no problems, but it is always a risk. On the Chinese side, it is forbidden from the border to Tashgurkan.

WHEN TO GO

In the winter (December – March) forget about going through this part of the world. Snowfall is very frequent and extreme temperatures.

During the month of October and April, most of the high mountain passes are closed. The Monsoon also affects Pakistan. The peak of rains occurs between July and August when small avenues of water and the cuts of the KKH are frequent due to landslides.

The ideal time to stay at this place in May-June and September. Keep in mind that the Khunjerab Pass only remains open between May 1 and October 15.

To cross the border, you must take the previously approved visa and forget to take a photo in the famous landmark: foreigners can not leave the vehicles.

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