Towards the end of summer, my family headed off to Hunza for a much needed vacation. We had been planning the trip for a while and there was one aspect of the trip that caused some indecision.
One option was to go by road, eliminating the uncertainty of flight delays and cancellations. The second option was to fly to Gilgit, and then make the two-hour drive on to Hunza.
In the end, we decided on the scenic route. Though the drive is a long one (we broke the drive by stopping in Naran for a night), it’s worth every second, as the views at every turn are stunning. I have been to Skardu a few times, but always by air.
It’s a completely different experience when you drive right through the mountains along the Karakoram Highway. This region is ridiculously beautiful and the pictures really don't do it justice. Just know that if it looks impressive in a picture, it's ten times more picturesque in real life.
We stayed at the Hunza Serena Inn, which has beautiful views of the surrounding valley and mountains everywhere you look, and a gorgeous view of Baltit Fort in the distance. At night, there is none of the noise and pollution of the big city, the clear skies are full of stars and music carries over from nearby villages.
Here are some of the things you should definitely check out if you’re in Hunza:
This fort is about 700 years old and is influenced by Tibetan architecture, bearing some similarity to the Potala Palace in Lhasa. Over the years, various Hunza-Nagar rulers have made additions and changes to the original structure. In 1945, the Mir of Hunza abandoned the fort and moved into a new residence closeby. More than forty years of neglect left the fort in considerable disrepair and a four-year restoration programme, completed in 1996, was supported by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture’s Historic Cities Programme.
Tickets cost Rs250 and buy you a 45-minute guided tour, complete with a narration of the fascinating history of the fort and how its inhabitants used to live over the years.
Getting to the fort is about a 20-minute steep uphill walk (from Hunza Serena Inn) along a cobblestone path, so comfy shoes are essential. The magnificent view of the the Hunza valley once your reach the top is well worth the exertion.
Restoration of the Altit Fort began in 2004 and was completed six years later. The fort is now open to the public and the grounds include the KhaBasi Cafe and the Leif Larsen Music Center.
Tickets cost Rs300 and here too you get a guided tour of the fort, which is a bit smaller than Baltit but just as fascinating and with equally remarkable views all around.
Kha Basi Cafe
This charming and unique cafe, run solely by women, has a small indoor dining space, but the best spot for a cup of tea is the veranda overlooking the adjacent valley. Stop by after touring the Altit Fort to sample traditional Hunza cuisine, like the Chap Chrro (flatbread with a meat filling), Brustz Shapik (flatbread filled with local cheese, seasoned with herbs and apricot oil), and Diram Phitti (a wholesome dessert made with wheat and apricot oil).
It’s a 40-minute, steep uphill drive to the Eagles Nest Hotel from Karimabad. Right next to the hotel is a popular viewpoint, frequented mostly at sunrise and sunset. We managed to get there just before sunset and the views all around were breathtaking as the light changed and faded.
Cafe de Hunza
This little cafe is a five minute walk from the Serena Inn. A particularly popular item is the Hunza walnut cake, which is a dense pastry-like cake with a caramel walnut filling. I’d also highly recommend their huge, fluffy pancakes, available with a variety of toppings like Spinach and Cheese and Nutella.
It was mostly cloudy and rainy during our drive to Hunza, but I’m really glad it was clear and sunny the day we went to Attabad Lake. The water is a striking shade of blue, surrounded by mountains, and it's crazy to think it didn't even exist until 2010, when a devastating landslide led to its formation.
The lake is a 40 minute drive from the Hunza Serena Inn. Boats rides are about 50 minutes long and cost Rs2000 per boat.
Glacier Breeze Restaurant
I hadn't had a satisfactory cup of tea of coffee since we left Islamabad. After Attabad Lake, we headed on to Glacier Breeze Restaurant (near the Passu village) for their famous apricot cake, and I was beyond excited when I saw filter coffee on the menu. When I inquired, I half expected the man taking our order to say they didn't have any. When he finally brought out a huge French press filled with coffee, I couldn't quite contain my joy.
You have to climb a lot of steps to get to the restaurant, which is pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Once you reach the top though, there’s a great view of the Passu Glacier and Cathedral Ridge from here and you’re only about a two-hour drive away from Khunjerab Pass.
All photographs by author.