Lower Kachura Lake within a tourist resort named Shangrila Resort outside the town of Skardu. PHOTOS: SAUMAN SAEED
By Minerwa Tahir
It takes certain experiences to mold your perceptions. A visit to Gilgit-Baltistan was one such overwhelming experience in my case.
Generally speaking, I have never been a travel person. My father would often drive all the way to rural Sindh and Punjab. As I grew up, I would never accompany him – my number one reason being that I felt like an alien outside of Karachi.
Lower Kachura Lake within Shangrila Resort.
An apple tree inside the Shangrila Resort.
But it was an utterly unique experience in the North. I went on a 10-day trip with five friends.
It took almost an entire day to reach Rawalpindi from Karachi by train. In two cars waiting for us at the station, we set out for Skardu immediately upon arrival.
A yellow rose at Shangrila Resort.
Maple leaves lying about in Shangrila Resort.
Upper Kachura Lake in Skardu district of Gilgit-Baltistan.
Rizwan, a kind Balti friend, received us and arranged a guide, Rahim, to take us along to the various spots in Gilgit-Baltistan. During the course of the trip, we found in Rahim a caring friend with a beautiful heart. After all, the most touching aspect of the entire trip was the hospitality and warmth of the people of the North.
‘Welcome Our Hazir Imam’ inscribed on a mountain in Hunza Valley.
In Hunza, the season seemed festive. This was for two reasons: the year from July 11, 2017, till July 11, 2018, has been designated the Diamond Jubilee Year of the Prince Shah Karim Al Hussaini, Aga Khan IV’s 60th year of reign. Festive year, therefore. Second, the Ismaili spiritual leader is expected to visit the region shortly. He is scheduled to meet his followers in Gilgit-Baltistan on December 10. Moreover, he will stay in Karachi from December 15 till December 19.
A lake in Naltar valley, located at a distance of 40 kilometers from Gilgit.
A lake in Naltar valley.
The attitude of the people in general was very warm and welcoming and this warmth was particularly heightened in the Hunza Valley. An elderly man approached us at Altit Fort in the beautiful Hunza Valley. After exchanging pleasantries, he told us all about the preparations underway in Hunza Valley to welcome the Aga Khan. “His Highness last visited us in Pakistan in 1987,” he said. “He will visit us again in December now.”
A view of Ladyfinger Peak from Eagle Nest’s Hotel in Hunza.
The most heartwarming incident took place when, as we were roaming about in the fort, I saw a two-year-old child, donning a red dress, with an elderly man. She smiled as she saw me. The man and the child walked towards me, and the child shook my hand and kissed it. I was immensely moved. In my entire life, never have I met a child so kind.
Attabad Lake in Hunza.
Similarly, people in general were respectful and caring. At Attabad Lake, a group of young men stopped their vehicle for a while. When leaving, they said to us, “Saib lay lo [Take apples from us]” and gave us bright red apples. Surprisingly, the red apples were soft and juicy. In Karachi, it’s the golden apples that are juicy (but hard) while the red ones are mostly soft and not so juicy.
Nagar District near Hunza.
A view of Rakaposhi Peak from Nagar.
A view of Rakaposhi Peak from Nagar.
Meanwhile, the food in the northern areas was simple and mostly not very spicy. We avoided meat and stuck to daal and vegetables, which were easily available and reminded us of the food at home. Moreover, the food was sold at very reasonable prices along with perks. For example, two naans were given free with each plate of gravy (daal, vegetable mix, etc.).
A stream on the way from Rahimabad to Naltar.
Snow-capped mountains at Pak-China border.
Animals near Khunjerab Pass.
In short, it was a generally exciting experience – one in which I did not feel unwelcome or like an alien outside of Karachi. While the weather chilled us to the bone, the warmth of the people in Gilgit-Baltistan simply melted our hearts!
Story first published: 5th December 2017