Travel with Ruth – Hunza Valley – Part III
Ruth Naymat Gill is a conservationist, an explorer and traveler. She loves to read and write. She is a storyteller when she shares her own experiences with others. In this six part series, she takes us to a trip to the beautiful Hunza Valley of Pakistan.
Our guide, Muhammad Javaid was a very interesting man. He was competent in Kung Fu and full of knowledge about the fort. He lives in Altit village and boast of travelling to his village on foot daily. We saw him challenging the great fall of the cliff by wonderfully balancing his body while taking our photographs and were convinced of his competence. He is a great believer of the advantages of Apricot and gives credit of his health and every other person in Hunza valley to this particular fruit. In the Royal Garden in Altit Fort, there is a music school too, where many instruments are taught and Muhammad Javaid proudly told us that most of the students here are girls and they are better musicians than their male fellows. The contrast! Yesterday we had passed through a city where women were on house arrest and here women are learning and playing music. When even in our so called modernized world learning music is still eyed as an exotic practice by many. Hunza was surprising us like anything. An old man was playing flute outside a gemstone shop and its melodious tones told us the richness of this place.
With stories like how the Amir of Hunza used to live and traitors of the lands were punished, to the standing grave of a brother who conspired and training practices of soldiers, we ended our tour of Altit Fort and moved farther north towards the Passu Cones. After looking at the great ranges for hours, I must confess that I was not looking forward to it. On our way to Passu cones we witnessed another wonder of nature; the Attabad lake. This lake is a wonder for our generation because we saw it forming in a matter of days as a result of a major landslide and the emergency it created in our country and concerns it raised in the global horizon. This 25 km long and almost 100 meters deep lake is a reminder of nature that its power rests with time, never ending, sometimes it shows its greatness very slowly and generations of species evolve or get extinct before its work gets noticed, and at times, it takes just a blink of an eye to make us realize how small and insignificant we are, among the great works of nature.
Thanks to the Chinese engineers, there are three long tunnels made at the right side of the lake and we were able to cross the six year old lake rather quickly than the four hour long boat ride which was previously the only option for crossing (Yeah, I know that would have been more exciting!) Attabad have become a major tourist spot and people from around the world are visiting it every year and now I know why. Seeing it in pictures never produced the effect it had on us, the indigo color of the waters against the grey and brown rocks. There was no greenery just the rocks and water but such beauty! My memory of this lake is a natural disaster got totally dissolved.
Then came another stop at a traditional carpet house in Gulmit, which is community based effort of the locals for women empowerment. Since it was Sunday most of the women were not there, however, we met the in-charge of the carpet house and one of her colleague they showed us their work and how they do it. We saw pieces from small table cloths to large sized carpets, all so colorful and fine. We asked them for how much they sell those carpets and were astonished to hear that from smallest to the largest each piece ranged from $40 to $4000, we were then told the reason for that too.
Each piece take a horribly long time to finish with a single worker working continuously on it for like six months to three years depending upon the size of the piece and then, when it is finished it has to be send to Lahore or Peshawar for cutting and fine tuning. All of this process requires a lot of time, patience and cost and their pricing is justified. They found their customers in foreign tourists and whenever their work gets sold they money acquired is distributed among the women workers and the middlemen. After getting an insight into the life of these carpet weavers, I have learned to appreciate the skill and effort of these women who were putting their energy into this work.
Out of the carpet house, we looked around and wondered, the village was so near to Attabad Lake and the mountains in the surroundings seemed to be made of mud. Years of erosion had made them look so fragile and loose. God forbid, another earthquake or landslide in the area could seal the fate of all these people. But they were living under the shadow of uncertainty, going about their businesses, trying to survive, making the ends meet and ignoring what they were aware of. Some of the people living there must have moved there from Attabad. They know the difficulties of this place but they chose to live nearby their drowned places because these mountains are the home they have known forever. They have learned to respect and adore its harshness and their bodies are molded to live through those difficulties. With such thoughts and musings, I boarded the van again. Life at Lahore seemed like a life from another world. So many people, so much traffic, noise, smog, everything within reach and like one roam with the world inside his pocket in the form of a cell phone. Here on the road, one hardly see a soul for miles people are living in small pockets scattered in the quiet valley.
On and on one travel and then with a turn, you witness another wonder. Pink, red and pale these cones stood out in the scenery as something that is not a part of all the grey and dark that surrounds it. We were finally beholding the Passu Cones. Another marvel that I had painted out of a photograph on a piece of paper when I was in 5th grade. We stopped to admire the cones and hear the sad story of the receding glacier as well. Our guide Mubashir Azam from WWF-Pakistan, told us that he had seen this glacier when it was over KKH and now it was so far away from the road. We met this other brave man who was selling apples on the KKH right at the point from where one can look clearly at the Passu glacier. Seriously, these people have some hidden agenda it seems, because I really can’t comprehend how many people find their way to this lonely place or is it just a hobby of this man to serve anyone who comes to admire his glacier. He told us that he travel from his village nearby to this spot every day and sell apples here.
After doing some photography we turned a little way back to the Passu Village for lunch at a local restaurant. We walked around for a while in the village and went on towards the river as well. There was a 10 foot fall on the bank and the side was clearly eroded and told the tale of rushing waters. The cook only started when we reached the restaurant so we had plenty of time. I left my group and went a little ahead and sat on the side of the road. The Passu cones were right in front of me and the sound of Hunza River in my ears. I just sat there for a while and was fully enjoying my time when this old woman walked over to talk to me.