Despite having travelled through most of Northern Pakistan, I can safely say that Hunza is one of a kind in every way. Its people are the kind to have impromptu dance parties atop glaciers 5,540 meters above sea level and invite complete strangers into their homes for a warm cup of tea in the biting winds. The wonderland of Pakistan offers an experience and culture which is truly beyond words.
The people of Hunza are a class apart, and they exist in a world so unique it has no comparison. They welcome travelers and tourists with open arms, and are honest, intelligent and hardworking people. With no crime and a 100% education rate, they still have their roots in nature and humanity; they build their homes with their own two hands, and get together for a musical mehfil in the middle of the town every chance they get. When I visited Hunza, I was privy to one of these evenings, where everyone gathers, prince or pauper, to sing and dance, unbridled and completely happy, and where the locals involve visitors wholeheartedly, inviting them to clap and dance along. Usually clad in jeans and a t shirt for the men and shalwar kameez for the women, Hunzais are primarily Muslims, either of the Ismaili sect or the Agha Khani sect. They are a people who speak their minds and stand for what they believe in; resilient, strong – willed, adventurous, daring and unbelievably friendly, they are unlike any you might ever meet.
Hunzai cuisine is simple, natural and healthy, yet undeniably delicious. From their roadside panini style baked breads to the foods they cook and serve in their homes, their palette is as tied into nature and simply beautiful as the people. The menu is designed to be nutritious, chock-full of energy and fulfilling due to the climate and trying terrain, and it more than fulfills on this promise. Our local friends insisted we join them for a home cooked meal, and, alongside delicately cooked meat and divine pulses or vegetables, they refuse to let anyone leave without dessert (usually a dense fruitcake made and jam preserved at home) as well as tea (chai or kewa, a unique herbal green tea). A single Hunzai meal is enough to last you a day full of hiking across glaciers, picking your way through lush greenery, and taking a dip in one of the many lakes.
One of the traits of the culture of Hunza which always stands out is the people’s ability to find a way to make things work; they terrace houses on sheer mountain faces, and, if your jeep breaks down in the middle of a barren nowhere, they’ll find what they need from nearby and fix it themselves. It shocked and bemused me to see an 86-year-old woman sitting comfortably (and dancing!) at Khunjerab Pass, at an altitude where athletes and sportsmen may find it hard to breathe. Football is as integral to their routine as music, and they have tournaments rivalling Fifa level – skill,
with beautiful traditional lyres and drums celebrating the finale.
Hunzais are modern and liberal, yet deeply respectful of their history and traditions. Walking the hallowed grounds of Altit and Baltit fort, and listening to the experts speak on the history surrounding the existence of Hunza, I honestly felt as if I had walked into a place out of time. Dressed in jeans and t shirts, these guides were speaking of the Agha Khan as if it were yesterday that he had contributed so much to the valley; this same essential value, of modernity and freedom, accompanied by deep respect for the traditions and history that built them to this level, permeates throughout the people.
Why You Should Visit Hunza
Hunza is a land out of a fairytale, and the culture and people only further this notion; kind, brilliant, welcoming souls come together to make a nation interlaced with nature, music, happiness and true liberation. It is the kind of place that offers a once in a lifetime experience, with everything from cherry blossoms and melodious evenings, to sheer cliff faces as hike routes and museums showcasing, frankly, ridiculously cool pieces of history! Easily the best vacation spot possible (if you’re up for a bit of a drive or a flight, that is), is Hunza valley, a place truly magical in its very essence.