Travel with Ruth – Hunza Valley – Part V
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.
The school is made on a cliff and is comprised of three buildings, holding a different section of the school. There was a small library and a newly added computer lab in the school as well. The older students are allowed to sit outside on the rocks in sun to study and the kindergarten students are allowed to go home early and at almost 11 am we saw them leaving with their bags packed and on their backs. None of the parents came to receive them instead the turned towards their homes in small groups.
I asked Zahida, wife of Wazir Bhai, if ever anything alarming has happened in the village as there are times when everyone attends to the prayer in the Jamatkhana and during that time, the whole place is practically empty. But she told me that everyone here knows each other and every one watches out for the other so nothing bad has ever happened here, then she pointed out at a woman who was going somewhere carrying a bowl. Zahida stopped her to inquire where she was bound and then explained to me that every now and then if someone gets ill in the village, everyone comes to see the person and usually cook something and bring it along for the sick person. She also told me that whenever any wedding or death happens the family do not cook for three days instead, they are fed by their neighbors.
With such happy conversation we arrived at the water fall that is originated from the Ultar Glacier and were amazed to see the grass blades frozen into ice cones. This waterfall is the sole source of water for the villagers. With the support of Aga Khan Development Foundation, water is supplied to each house through pipes and women do not need to carry water to their houses anymore. I could see wishes written with white painted stones far away on different mountains for the Hazir Imam and when we talked about it, I could sense the respect and reverence of these people for their Imam. One can witness a photo of the Hazir Imam decorated and displayed at each house and workplace and I wondered at their faith in him as their benevolent fatherly figure who takes care of them like children and he never disappoints them either.
This coming summer in July the silver jubilee of the community school will be celebrated and there will be a big event in the village. All this joyful time will be a reminder of how long the village has come and how far it remains to go. Every member of the families who is not at home will come back to relive their ways and traditions. Zahida told me that this is a practice of each summer and the best thing I liked about this practice is that people who have achieved their education comes back to teach at the community school and that is how they give back to the community.
It was time for us to move back towards Karim Abad, looks like the journey was coming towards its end. As we checked in in our hotel again, my thoughts kept turning to the fact that the dream is moving towards its end and this is our last day here. But as we had much left to do so we just dumped our things in our respective rooms and after a little went to visit the Baltit Fort. The uphill walk to Baltit Fort is very tiring and for my poor legs it happened to be a great challenge. I let my friends move ahead while I walked slowly up the hill. Some college girls were coming back and they greeted me. I greeted back and complimented them on their easy walk. They laughed and asked me where am I from. Meanwhile they surpassed me and went ahead towards a bench and gestured to join them there. Their names were Farihana and Shazia.
I told them that I am from Lahore and had a class fellow from Gilgit-Baltistan whose name was Farihana too. These girls were very friendly and it was amazing to see how freely they were communicating with a total stranger. Another contrast from a woman’s life in the southern provinces. She invited me for tea at her house which was on the next turn but I declined by mentioning that I should be moving as with every passing minute the distance is increasing between my friends she very carelessly told me that it will be completely okay and there is nothing to be worried about that I will be alone as everyone here will only help you and no one will misguide you. She was right, I completed rest of my walk alone and every now and then when there was a fork I asked people for guidance and the directed me to the right one.
I must confess that this uphill walk left me breathless when finally I reached the fort and there I met my friends coming out of the ticket house wondering how much longer they might have to wait for me. We found a good guide in the Baltit Fort who explained the history and architect of the fort very elaborately. Baltit fort has many of its touches inspired from Tibetan Architecture and is quite larger and better preserved than the Altit Fort. The fort is taken care by the people of Hunza who are self-sustaining it with the revenue generated by tourism. Mohammad Isa, our guide remarked that tourism is boosted in recent years and there was a huge increase in the number of tourists coming from the southern provinces especially from Lahore.
As we walked around the different rooms we saw the kitchen utensils, the food storage cupboards, and the room in which the mother and new born babies were kept for safety sake. Then there is the summer throne which is on the roof of the fort and from here one can have wonderful view of the whole Hunza valley. Inside, we saw many galleries of clothes, weaponry and ancient maps gifted by several important figures. The Baltit Fort was last inhabited by the Mir’s family till 1945 when they moved to another house downhill and still reside there. In 1990’s the fort was donated to the Baltit Heritage Trust after which it was renovated by the Aga Khan Development Foundation. Today, an active website gives all the updates and details of the fort’s past and present to its seekers. It is indeed exemplary how the people are so keen to improve their life and how vigilant in conserving their culture and history likewise.
The photos used in this travelogue are contributed by Ruth Naymat Gill.