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The Hunza Valley



Hunza Valley is a mountainous valley near Gilgit in the Northern Areas of Pakistan. The Hunza valley is situated at an elevation of 2,438 metres (7,999 feet). The territory of Hunza is about 7,900 km² {3,050 mi²). Karimabad (formerly called Baltit) is the main town which is also a very popular tourist destination in Pakistan because of the spectacular scenery of the surrounding mountains like Rakaposhi, Ultar Sar, Bojahagur Duanasir II, Ghenta Peak, Hunza Peak, Darmyani Peak, and Bublimating (Ladyfinger Peak), all 6,000 m (19,685 ft) or higher.


The Thon (Prince) Mir Safdar Ali Khan of Hunza and Tribesmen, 1891. E. F. Knight

Hunza was formerly a princely state bordering China to the North-East and Pamir to its North-West, which continued to survive until 1974, when it was finally dissolved by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. The state bordered the Gilgit Agency to the south, the former princely state of Nagar to the east. The state capital was the town of Baltit (also known as Karimabad).

Hunza was an independent principality for more than 900 years. The British gained control of Hunza and the neighbouring valley of Nagar between 1889 and 1892 followed by a military engagement of severe intensity. The then Thom (Prince) Mir Safdar Ali Khan of Hunza fled to Kashghar in China and sought what can be called political asylum.

Although never ruled directly by neighbouring Kashmir, Hunza was a vassal of Kashmir from the time of Maharaja Ranbir Singh of Jammu and Kashmir. The Mirs of Hunza sent an annual tribute to the Kashmir Durbar until 1947, and along with the ruler of Nagar, was considered to be among the most loyal vassals of the Maharaja of Kashmir.

First Muslim Thum

‘The ruling family of Hunza is called Ayeshe (heavenly), from the following circumstance . The two states of Hunza and Nager were formerly one ,ruled by a branch of the Shahreis , the ruling family of Gilgit , whose seat of government was Nager . Tradition relates that Mayroo Khan , apparently the first Mohommedan Thum of Nager some 200 years after the introduction of the religion of Islam to Gilgit , married a daughter of Trakhan of Gilgit , who bore him twin sons named Moghlot and Girkis . From the former the present ruling family of Nager is descended . The twins are said to have shown hostility to one another from birth . Their father seeing this and unable to settle the question of succession , divided his state between them , giving to Girkis the north , and to Moghlot the south , bank of the iver .


The traditional name for the ruler in Hunza was Thum which is also a respectful appellation used by people of both Hunza and Nager who belong to the caste of Boorish . The Shin use the term Yeshkun for the Boorish .

‘Both Thums are still addressed as Soori, as a title of respect . This appears to be the same as Sri,an appellation of Lakshmi, the Hindoo goddess of wealth , commonly prefixed to the names of Hindoo princes in India , to denote their honour and prosperity. The Thum’s wives are styled ganish which is almost identical with the original Sanscrit word for mother, and their sons are called gushpoor


Baltit Fort, the former residence of the Mirs of Hunza

The Hunza is situated at an elevation of 2,438 metres (7,999 feet). For many centuries, Hunza has provided the quickest access to Swat and Gandhara for a person travelling on foot. The route was impassable to baggage animals; only human porters could get through, and then only with permission from the locals.

Hunza was easily defended as the paths were often less than half a metre (about 18″) wide. The high mountain paths often crossed bare cliff faces on logs wedged into cracks in the cliff, with stones balanced on top. They were also constantly exposed to regular damage from weather and falling rocks. These were the much feared “hanging passageways” of the early Chinese histories that terrified all, including several famous Chinese Buddhist monks such as Xuanzang.


The temperature in May is maximum 27 °C (81 °F) and minimum 14 °C (57 °F) and October maximum is 10 °C (50 °F) and 0 °C (32 °F). Hunza’s tourist season is from May to October, because in winter the Karakoram Highway is often blocked by the snow.


Today, the famous Karakoram Highway crosses Hunza, connecting Pakistan to China via the Khunjerab Pass. Travelling up the valley from the south, Hunza is the land to the left, and the former state of Nagar to the right of the Hunza River. Regular bus and van services operate between Gilgit and Central Hunza (Aliabad and Karimabad) and also between Gilgit and Sost Gojal. PTDC Office at Gilgit,Sost and Islamabad arranges tours and transport for visitors.

Spectacular scenery

Hunza is one of the most exotic places in Pakistan. Several high peaks rise above 6,000 m in the surroundings of Hunza valley. The valley provides spectacular views of some of the most beautiful and magnificent mountains of the world which include Rakaposhi 7,788 m (25,551 ft), Ultar Sar 7,388 m (24,239 ft), Bojahagur Duanasir II 7,329 m (24,045 ft), Ghenta Peak 7,090 m (15,631 ft), Hunza Peak 6,270 m (20,571 ft), Darmyani Peak 6,090 m (19,980 ft), and Bublimating (Ladyfinger Peak) 6,000 m (19,685 ft). Hunza Valley is also host to the ancient Baltit Fort and Altit Fort. Baltit Fort stands on top of Karimabad whereas Altit Fort lies at the bottom of the valley.

The valley is popularly believed to be the inspiration for the mythical valley of Shangri-la in James Hilton’s 1933 novel Lost Horizon. As one travels up on the Karakoram Highway, the beautiful sceneries keep on revealing themselves. On the way one can witness the 65 km long ‘Batura’ glacier, the second longest in Pakistan, surround by Shishper, Batura and Kumpirdior peaks. On reaching Sost one can continue the journey up to Khunzhrav or turn west to witness the mystic beauty of Chipursan (also Chapursan) valley. Chipursan valley has some of most exotic tourist spots in the area. In Yarzerech (also Yarzirich) you can have a look at the majestic Kundahill peak (6000 m), or trek along the Rishepzhurav to the Kundahill to experience the soothing sceneries. Beyond Yarzerech you can travel further to Lupghar, Raminj, Reshit, Yishkuk up to Bobo Ghundi (Oston), the shrine of Baba-e-Ghund, a saint from Afghanistan near the border between Pakistan and Wakhan region of Afghanistan.

People of Hunza

As much as the valley is famous for its beauty, the people of Hunza are noted for their friendliness and hospitality. The local language is Burushashki, and Wakhi and Shina are spoken as well, but most people understand Urdu and English. The literacy rate of the Hunza valley is believed to be above more than 90%, virtually every child of the new generation studies up to at least high school. Many pursue higher studies from prestigious colleges and Universities of Pakistan and abroad. When they were first discovered, the average age of the Hunzas was reported to be 160. The more contact they had with the outside, the more their life-span dropped. Today their average age is about 90.

Most of the people of Hunza are Ismaili Shia Muslims, followers of His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan IV. The Hunza region is home to people of three ethnicities:

• The Lower Hunza area – (from Mayun to Nasirabad) is mainly inhabited by the Shinaki people who are Shina speakers;

• The Central Hunza area – (from Murtazaabad to Ahmed Abad)) is mainly inhabited by Burushiski speakers.

• The Upper Hunza area, known as Gojal – (from Shiskat to Khunjerab) is mainly populated by Wakhi speakers;

The Burushaski language is understood throughout Hunza. It is a language isolate. In addition to Burushaski, there are also speakers of Wakhi, Shina, and Domaaki.

The people of Hunza are collectively termed Hunzukuts, while Burusho refers only to the speakers of Burushaski.. The majority of the people are Ismaili Shia Muslims who are followers of the Aga Khan. The present Aga Khan IV has provided a lot of funding for the area to help with agriculture and the local economy through the Aga Khan Development Network


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