Of Nature, Truth and Glory: A Journey Through Peaks and Valleys of Gilgit-Baltistan

Written By: Tahir Mehmood

Gilgit-Baltistan region defines a Pakistan that is home to high peaks, beautiful valleys, deep gorges, snow-clad glaciers, and above all an abode of people whose survival and industry give meanings to human endurance, resilience, and triumph over nature. There one finds the smiles charming, manners natural, conversations simple, and hearts unaffected by cunning and guise of modern man. Pakistanis are blessed to have a roof-top where they can rise to and converse with nature, the stars and the moons. These high-abodes give meanings to the words of struggle, triumph and glory.

He was a tourist who had wished to escape the mundane routine city life and to find comfort and solace in the bosom of high mountains of Gilgit-Baltistan. He had reached the beautiful valley of Hunza last night. There were flocks of tourists from down-the-hills-lands who had come for peace and leisure. He was sitting all alone on a barren mountain top to see the sunrise. For this he had to wake up early morning, trail through a difficult trek but that provided him the opportunity to listen the whispers of soul-refreshing morning breeze with high mountain peaks. The high barren mountain tops, the solitude and silence were mesmerizing enough to usher him gently in his innermost valleys of heart and soul. Blessed are moments when one can converse with the self; unadulterated soul search is a sublime bliss only to be experienced amidst lofty mountains and serene valleys. He felt tranquil and lost in the magic of moments. The Hunza Valley had all that for him!


ofthenatutre.jpgThere are seven surrounding mountain peaks that are visible from Hunza. These peaks above seven and six thousand meters include Rakaposhi, Ultar Sar, Bojahagur-Duanasir, Ghenta Sar, Hunza Peak, Diran Peak and Ladyfinger Peak. These are barren mountains in the hot summer days yet peaks covered with snow. These are surrounding the lush-green Hunza Valley that seems a magic act of the Mother Nature. The famous Hunza River is a source to the green life of the valley.

The sunrise was magical as it unveiled the naked beauty and grandeur of the mountain peaks. The peaks were looking in to the eyes of the sun with poise and grace. The proud vigorous solitude of the peaks left a deep mark upon tourist’s heart who found a reassuring strength to carry on the fight for survival. These peaks had endured the centuries of weather and climate hazards that had come to raze them to pieces, break them to pebbles and leave them as rolling stones in the path of time and destiny. Yet these were holding on with heads high, a silent calm and with an unwavering firmness. The tourist took few deep breaths, absorbed silent words of faith, resolve, courage and steadfastness against odds of time and fate. Of course, these mountains give the message to the humans to stand tall against all ills of time, suffer in silence, endure with fortitude, fight back with resolve, believe in glory, and celebrate the triumph with grace and dignity. For high mountains do not clap or crumble like boys in the streets.

After that brief yet soul-searching sojourn, the tourist eyes were gazing on the famous Altit Fort and Baltit Fort of Hunza. The towns of Karimabad, Aliabad were in sight.
Altit Fort and Baltit Fort, both nine and eight hundred years of age respectively, overlooking the old Silk Route are the biggest tourist attractions in Hunza Valley. There, one finds the traces of old ways of kings and commons who lived in Hunza Valley. The Mirs of the valley were like other kings of the time – arbitrarily barbaric and benevolent, warriors and majestic sovereigns guaranteeing life and peace for the obedient folks, and dispensing blind justice to the dissenters. The deep-hole like dungeons and bloody rocky edges for pushing down to death are signs that cruelty is inalienable part of human nature, transforming from simplistic version to the latest version of nukes and missiles, yet the quest is on by the civilized world to follow the primeval barbaric and uncivilized!


ofthenatutre1.jpgAliabad and Karimabad are small size towns fully clad in green orchards comprising almost all types of fruit trees. One can just stretch a hand and grapple fine quality apples, apricots, cherries, walnuts, mulberries, peaches, pears etc. One can find these best quality fresh and dry fruits at very cheap rates in local shops. The Hunza Bazaar is not too big; rather a small shingle road defines it but it gives a semblance of calm, culture and tranquility. The local vendors share glances of respect and amiability. There are many shops that sell handicrafts, dry fruits, gem stones, ornaments and above all Salajit (a stone that is used as a medicine for vigor, energy and cure of few other ailments).

Pakistanis after surviving and winning through the dark evil shadows of terrorism have found a new expression of their freedom in travel and tourism. This is evident on the jam-packed roads leading to Gilgit-Baltistan. The roads and streets of Hunza are filled with tourist flocks from all parts of the country. Few foreigners are also seen who are mostly trekkers and climbers. There is a boom to hotel industry, yet much scope is there for new investors. The locals are very happy on this surge of tourists but sometimes they complain of garbage throwing and of noisy crowds. The local populace is proud of their calm life, peaceful culture and amenable conduct.

There is need to educate the tourists to respect the local values, maintain cleanliness, and preserve the natural texture of this beautiful valley.
Attabad Lake and border town of Sost were his next destinations. Attabad Lake is about half-hour drive along Karakoram Highway (KKH), upstream on Hunza River and stretches over 28 kilometers in length and 100 meters in width. Those who are not familiar with the history of origin of this lake which looks beautiful on surface, take it as a source of aesthetic pleasure and natural charm. In reality, this lake is result of a catastrophe and natural calamity. It was fateful night of January 4, 2010 that a massive landslide took place and the rolling mountains completely blocked the water flow of Hunza River. Despite early warning, twenty people died on that day but thousands were to be displaced and leave their ancestral homes in days to follow. Two unlucky villages, Ayeenabad and Attabad located on the ridges were completely submerged in the water, and now traces of the habitation are visible once water level goes down. Gradually the upstream rising level of the water gulped many houses built along riverbanks by the poor people. The landslide also swept away a considerable portion of the KKH and cut-off the population up-and-down-stream. The soldiers of Pakistan Army then carried out massive relief and engineering work and reconnected the road and the people. Many of the soldiers and civilian workforce lost their lives in this effort to rejoin the badly affected local population. Those not knowing the tragic origin of this lake happily do boating on the surface of calm water that once gulped dreams of thousands without remorse. There is a need to build a monument in the memory of this tragic incident, and those visiting this lake first need to observe silence and pray for the lost lives. But alas! Nothing is as transient as human memory of tragedy and strife, and its proclivity towards fun and amusement on every dawn that follows nights of blood and evil.


ofthenatutre2.jpgFor every red rose of beauty and color does keep in its bosom many stories of love, union and separation.

Sost is the last border town on KKH before it enters famous Khunjerab Pass. The town has a population of around one thousand inhabitants. It has a Dry Port where Pakistani customs and immigration staff regulate the trade flow between China and Pakistan. It is very easily observed that those living in such a remote area of Pakistan are no less in their spirits and love for Pakistan. On almost every shop and house symbols of Pakistani nationalism are visible. The last Pakistani check post which is a usual destination of all tourists is almost eighty seven kilometers from Sost Bazar, therefore it is advisable to replenish all human needs at this place. Then onwards is all lone, twisting and ever gaining altitude of KKH that is captivating but bit scary with no signs of human dwellers except those travelling on the road.

On his way from Sost to Khunjerab Pass, the tourists do come across Pakistani soldiers from Frontier Works Organisation (FWO) who are found continuously on watch, well equipped and ready to open the road due to any landslide blockade. They are the custodians and carry proudly the memory of those who sacrificed their limbs and lives while cutting a road though the bosom of mighty Karakoram Range to unite the people of two friendly nations, Pakistanis and Chinese.
He had just reached at the border check post on Khunjerab Pass. The majestic gate flanked by barbed wire demarcates the boundary line between two friendly countries, Pakistan and China. An ambience of friendship and heart-to-heart relation surrounds this highest paved international border-crossing with height above 15000 feet. Across the border on Chinese side lay the towns of Tashkurgan, Upal and Kashgar that serve as trading and transit hub on the old and new Silk Route. He felt absorbed in thoughts of friendship and love. It was month of June and suddenly started heavy snowfall. He was not properly clothed for this sudden change to cold weather and started shivering. His teeth rattled a bit and he looked confused to escape the situation. Then the girl standing next to him in a Chinese group of tourists stepped towards him offering a cup of coffee. She smiled and he could not refuse. The milieu changed from cold shivers to warmth of human relations based on universal values of sharing and caring. She was a professor of Sociology in a university in capital city of Chinese Xinjiang province, Urumqi. They started chatting like they had known each other for years and went on a small errand in the engulfing mist, thick snowflakes, and nature at its best. Suddenly she asked him of his views on love. His eyes darkened for a moment, shadows of deep sadness appeared on his face and then his eyes twinkled with love and he replied, “Love is more of giving than asking. Love is honesty and truth. It is a deep rooted respect that overcomes all evils germinating from human ego and vanity.” She too slowly muttered, “Love is not a grant on demand, it sprouts without spoken words in a language that needs no ornamentation. It often sows the seeds of happiness in all seasons of spring but in a field that grows the crop of deep melancholy and loneliness in remaining autumn seasons of life.” “Why so,” he enquired. “I live with my fourteen years old son who lost his father in the war,” she said in a bit acidic tone. He held her hand softly and spoke slowly, “The fate or destiny is shaped more by chance and accidents and humans are to endure, survive and carry on the journey.” With these words they both looked at their watches and realized the moment of saying goodbye had come. The snowflakes were still thick reducing the visibility to few meters. They both shook hands warmly, did manage to hold back the words that could drive them to blind alleys of tenderness. She moved swiftly and joined her group that had already crossed towards the Chinese side of the border. The visibility further reduced due to mist in the eyes of both these strangers who felt very close for a brief period of time due to universal empathy of humanity. The snowflakes grew thicker and thicker.

He had to reach back to famous Naltar Valley to spend the night.
The Naltar Valley was as captivating as Hunza Valley, or other valleys and peaks spread over ten districts of Gilgit-Baltistan region. Today the ten districts include Gilgit, Astore, Skardu, Kharmang, Ghanche, Nagar, Hunza, Ghizer, Chilas and Diamer. These areas of Baltistan were occupied by Sikh Raja Gulab Singh in 1840 and made part of his Kashmir state; that was given legality through Treaty of Amritsar 1846 between the Raja and the East India Company. The brave people of Gilgit-Baltistan revolted against barbaric rule of Sikh Raja in 1947 after creation of Pakistan, convincingly defeated the forces of Sikh Raja, stood valiantly against Indian Army and voluntarily joined Pakistan. From those days onwards, every individual living in Gilgit-Baltistan lives and dies for Pakistan. The love for Pakistan is part of their DNA. Pakistan and its colors are visible on every shop, every house and every building in Gilgit-Baltistan. A cursory talk on any aspect of Pakistan is enough to tell the zeal and fervor of every individual to see Pakistani flag always fluttering high. These Pakistanis living amidst the high peaks know the actual meanings of loyalty, courage, survival and glory.
Gilgit-Baltistan region defines a Pakistan that is home to high peaks, beautiful valleys, deep gorges, snow-clad glaciers, and above all an abode of people whose survival and industry give meanings to human endurance, resilience, and triumph over nature. There one finds the smiles charming, manners natural, conversations simple, and hearts unaffected by cunning and guise of modern man. Pakistanis are blessed to have a roof-top where they can rise to and converse with nature, the stars and the moons. These high-abodes give meanings to the words of struggle, triumph and glory.
In the human spirit to explore; and, to lose, to find, lies the future.


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