This is fairytale-ish. Tucked away in the northernmost tip of Pakistan is a dreamy valley called Hunza, where people live for as long as 120 years and the literacy rate is as high as 90%. By Shikha Pushpan
Decade after decade, the valley has managed to keep itself unscathed from the violence and extremism in mainland Pakistan. People here drink water that directly flows down the glaciers and eat organically grown fruits and vegetables – a practice that is believed to be the secret to their longevity. They are also considered to be among the happiest people on Earth – no wonder Hunza is believed to be the inspiration for the mythical valley of Shangri-La in James Hilton’s 1933 novel, Lost Horizon.
A former princely state, Hunza lies in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan. The valley is divided into three geographical subdivisions – Gojal valley, Lower Hunza and Central Hunza. It can be reached by road via the picturesque Karakoram highway, and is barely 100 kms from main town of Gilgit.
Tourism was a hit here until 9/11 happened. It was a popular off-the-grid destination for American and European backpackers in the 1990s- most of whom came in search of the idyllic Shangri-La. But tourism has almost vanished now and it’s seldom that you see any foreigners here, which is also one of the reasons that the place has managed to keep its charm. According to reports, the tourism department now records only a few thousand foreign visitors every year.
Visit Hunza during spring, and the landscape almost seems like a painting. Snow-covered mountains touch the clouds, turquoise river water cuts through vast valley, pink and yellow flowers envelope the entire scenery – it cannot get more beautiful than this.
The native inhabitants of Hunza are Burusho people, also called the Hunzas. It is a popular belief that they are the descendants of Greek soldiers who came to the region with Alexander the Great’s army in the 4th century BC. The saying “you are what you eat” fits them best. The community is believed to be largely cancer-free and has been the subject of study by medical experts for decades. Hunzas eat a lot of home-grown apricots, which researchers say is the secret to a cancer-free life, as the fruit is rich in Amygdalin (vitamin B-17). Once a year for a period of two to four months, Hunzas take a break from their regular diet and solely live on the juice of dried apricots. It is an old tradition that they still follow during the time when apricots are unripe.
Also, they look very youthful and are believed to be able to conceive even at the age of 60!
Hunza was described as “the epitome of mountain grandeur” by legendary Himalayan mountaineer Eric Shipton. And rightly so! The pristine beauty offers a plethora of activities like camping, swimming, hunting, hiking and trekking, mountaineering, mountain biking, horse riding, skiing, safari tours, fishing, gliding and eco-tours to nature lovers who reach this hidden gem in Pakistan.
So, the next time you turn down Pakistan as a tourist destination, do remember this mystical valley in the heart of Himalayas.
Best time to visit: May to October; Karakoram highway is blocked in winters.