A region defined by its breathtaking mountains, Hunza Valley has called to adventurers for years. Its unrivaled landscapes offer up a trove of hidden valleys and historic forts just waiting to be discovered.
Within the Gilgit-Baltistan region in northern Pakistan lies the magical Hunza Valley, made up of three distinct areas: Upper Hunza (Gojal), Central Hunza, and Lower Hunza. Hunza was an independent princely state governed by a ‘Mir’ (prince) for around 900 years, up until the British took over with its military might from 1889 to 1891. In 1974 the then Government of Pakistan annexed and abolished the princely state status, making Hunza Valley its own region once again.
Believed by many to be the best place to visit in Pakistan, Hunza is a valley of undeniable beauty, with a landscape ready to capture the hearts of all who visit. Its rich traditions and diverse culture have been molded over the centuries, not only by those who’ve called it home but also those who’ve passed through on their journey along the ancient Silk Road.
Visit Hunza and you’ll find no crowds of tourists. This relatively undiscovered region is as authentic as it gets. Uncover the valley’s story as you wander markets and cafes that line winding streets, visit the Altit and Baltit Forts, both past homes of the royal family of Hunza, and chat with friendly locals whose traditions are so innately tied to the region.
Everywhere you look, Hunza’s Karakoram mountains embrace you, their snow-capped peaks disappearing into the midst of the clouds. The mountainsides sweep down into the valley floor, covered in green and intersected by the flowing Hunza river.
Breathe in the crisp mountain air. Let your eyes follow the river’s curving journey. Take in the intense blue of the water, speckled with white as the flowing water collides with the rocks in its path. This is the magic of Hunza Valley, and it’s ready for your visit.
Hunza’s towns are the perfect window into the region’s vibrant culture and Baltit is no different. The town boasts a close knit community and traditional architecture inspired by Central Asian design. Wander the zigzag pathways through the town’s mud houses, then try your hand at haggling as you shop the market for local treasures. If you’re up for a hike, leave the main town behind and walk to the Queen Victoria Monument that stands in honor of Queen Victoria. And, of course, no trip to Baltit is complete without a visit to Baltit Fort.
Not many places can rival Hunza Valley’s hiking terrain. The Karakoram mountains offer up a landscape full of breathtaking trails. One of the best ways to experience the mountains for yourself is to hire an experienced local guide who will lead you along some of the best mountain trails, including Ultar, Whisper, Shisper and Gulkin glaciers. If you’re up for a challenge, why not take the two to three day hike to Rakaposhi Base Camp? One of the most beautiful hikes in Pakistan, the route will take you 3,500 up Rakaposhi, the 27th highest peak in the world and one of the most beautiful.
The Gilgit-Baltistan region is well known for its biodiversity. The Khunjerab National Park encompasses some of the region’s most awe-inspiring wildlife. Set up in order to allow the area’s incredible wildlife to flourish and to protect the indigenous Marco Polo sheep, the park is accessible from the Karakoram Highway and sits near the Pakistan-China border. It’s the perfect spot for experiencing the valley’s flora and fauna. Look out for some of the other endangered species that make the park their home, including the Himilayen Ibex and the snow leopard.
Near the town of Nagar Khas is Hoper Valley. It’s quite a drive to the valley, with plenty of breathtaking views along the way. At an altitude of around 8,000 feet, Hoper offers truly spectacular scenery. Breath in the fresh mountain air as you stand surrounded by soaring peaks, including Golden Peak and Bwaltar Peak, see the glistening water of Rush Lake and walk across the hissing ice of Hoper Glacier.
Hunza Valley has a reputation for its adventure-ready terrain. Not only does the Karakoram Highway offer incredible views of the mountains it winds through, it’s also known as one of the most dangerous roads in the world. The high mountain road offers a tantalising prospect for cyclists and bikers alike. Or perhaps you’d rather explore less trodden paths as you hike mountain trails or traverse the valley’s stunning glaciers. Whatever kind of adventure you’re after, Hunza Valley might just be the perfect place for it.
Undoubtedly one of the best places to visit in Hunza Valley, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Baltit Fort stands atop a sheer precipice overlooking the town of Karmabad. This stunning fort was built by Hunza’s royal family over 800 years ago and was their home for many generations. Today, over 70 years since the royal family left it, the fort maintains its sense of history. Step inside and you’ll find a museum of its past, showcasing intricate wood carvings, old utensils, carpets, armory and dresses.
Up until the royal family of Hunza moved to Baltit Fort, the nearby Altit Fort served as their home and protection. The buildings fell into disrepair but have lovingly been restored in more recent years. In 2011, it was awarded the UNESCO Asia Pacific Heritage Award for Cultural Heritage Conservation. Further renovations were also made in 2011, all carried out by female artisans. Inside the fort, guests can explore the fort’s history, its old customs and traditions, and its architectural marvels. At the foot of the fort, the Kha Basi royal garden calls visitors to enjoy its natural splendor and cafe.
Attabad Lake is a relatively recent addition to the landscape. In 2010, a landslide hit the village that once existed where the lake sits today. Hunza River was blocked and flooded the village creating Attabad Lake. The tragedy caused 13 locals to lose their lives and the livelihoods of the local people were heavily disrupted. Despite the sad tale of its creation, Lake Attabad is a truly beautiful sight. Watch the shimmer of the blue pool that follows the contours of the mountain sides that cradle it and allow yourself to soak up the water’s serenity, or explore the lake on a speed boat or boat safari.
The Hussaini Suspension Bridge is one of the best tourist places in Pakistan. Stretching over the Hunza River, it’s the main route between the Zarabad hamlet and Hussaini village and is used by locals going between the two. The bridge’s wooden planks are spaced precariously far apart and on windy days the bridge sways from side to side. A favourite with adrenaline lovers, crossing the bridge isn’t for the faint hearted.
High up in the mountains on the northern border of Pakistan sits Khunjerab Pass. Once an important gateway on the Silk Road, the high mountain pass is still an important connection between Europe and Asia, linking the Karakoram Highway in Pakistan into China.
Thanks to the Karakoram Highway, which stretches 1,300km from Pakistan’s Punjab province to the Khunjerab Pass in Gilgit-Baltistan, Hunza Valley is easily reachable. The best way to reach Hunza Valley is to fly to Gilgit then travel by road to Hunza. Whether you opt to rent a car and drive yourself or take a bus, Hunza lies just 100km from Gilgit and takes between one and a half to two hours along the Karakoram Highway.
On the 21st of March each year, many counties across Central Asia celebrate the beginning of spring as according to the Persian calendar. Thanks to Hunza’s Central Asian influence, the festival of Novroz is celebrated here too. As the frost starts to lift at this time of the year, the celebration is all about the rejuvenation of living beings and offering prayers to God for His bounties and wishing for a happy and abundant year ahead.
Ginani is a crop harvesting festival, celebrated on the 21st of June each year, when the first crop of wheat is nearly ready for harvesting. Before the Hunza monarchy was suspended, the Mir of Hunza would lead the celebration. Following the Mir, locals would gather near a field of wheat and the Mir would spread butter of a wheat stalk. A few of the wheat stalks were collected then mixed with buttermilk, before being eaten by the Mir and his family, then passed around the locals. Later, everyone celebrated with traditional music and dancing. Nowadays, Ginani is still celebrated in Hunza. Locals flock to their fields and prays for a season of good crops. Each village organises its own event, with one main event that’s usually held in Karimabad. It’s a vibrant affair, with special Ginani tunes played by musicians, traditional dancing and a bounty of local cuisines.
Salgirah is a religious celebration, enjoyed across Hunza Valley. There are also other religious festivities on the 23rd of October and the 13th of December, but the 11th of July sees the biggest celebration. Each community decorates its village, homes and religious places with lights and candles and celebrates with joyous traditional music.
On the 21st of December, Hunza commemorates the death of the last Buddhist Cannibal Raja of Gilgit. Locals light a huge communal bonfire in the evening, dance around the fire and sing chants.
Molida is a traditional Wakhi food. It’s a special dish, reserved for local festivals and special occasions, such as engagement parties at the bride’s home. Buttermilk is warmed up, then mixed with bite size pieces of freshly made chapati bread and a dash of salt, then enhanced with the taste of apricot oil.
Typically prepared for the ploughing season, Ghilmindi is a unique blend of bread, yoghurt and apricot oil. Fresh roti bread is made and yoghurt or curd mixed with salt and red chilli powder. The yoghurt or curd mixture is then poured over each roti, along with a good helping of fragrant apricot oil.
For locals, Booros Tzapick is a special treat reserved for special occasions and family gatherings. It’s made up of two components – the Booros and the Tzapick. Booros is a yoghurt, strained to remove the whey, then seasoned and mixed with fresh coriander and mint pasta. Tzapick is a large and very thin flat bread. For Booros Tzapick, the two are combined, with the Tzapick at the bottom and covered in melted butter and Booros.
A delicious combination of bread and spinach, Hoi lo Gurma is full of flavour. Spinach is cooked in a broth to add deep flavour, then thin roti bread is added to the pan. As the mixture thickens, it’s ready to be served with a delicious topping of butter and spring onions.
Enjoyed across the Gilgit-Baltistan region, Giyaalin is a type of pancake. The pancakes are made from either wholewheat or buckwheat flour and covered in walnut or apricot oil. If you want to enjoy it like a local, try it alongside a cup of salted tea for a warming breakfast.
Qurut zay Dawdo is a soup with cheese sauce. The Dawdo (soup) is made with fresh tagliatelle cooked in a tasty meat broth, while the Qurut (cheese sauce) takes a little longer to perfect. It begins life as buttermilk, left to ferment over the course of a few days. It's strained, then molded and dried out in the sun until it becomes a solid, tangy cheese. It’s later boiled in water until dissolved and added to the Dawdo, combining its tangy flavour with the deep, meaty flavour of the broth.
Take fresh Phitti or roti bread and rub it together with butter or walnut oil until it has the consistency of breadcrumbs and you have the delicious, comforting dish of Chamuriki. The dish is best seasoned with your choice of salt of sugar – it’s a classic local comfort food.
Traditionally a breakfast food, Phitti is a type of round bread. In years past, it was commonly cooked in a cast iron skillet that was buried beneath hot coals to cook. Today, you’ll more frequently find Phitti cooked in the oven. The bread’s thin crust and soft centre is created from wholewheat flour, sourdough and water. Despite being a breakfast food, it’s often enjoyed throughout the day. If you want to try Phitti like a local, take a cup of tea, season it with a little salt and stir in a little butter, then add small pieces of the bread to the tea and enjoy.
● Time Zone: Pakistan Standard Time.
● Language: Wakhi in Upper Hunza, Burushaski in Central Hunza and Shina in Lower Hunza. Urdu and England are also widely spoken and/or understood.
● Religion: Muslim. The majority of the local population are Ismaili Shia Muslims and some are Asna Ashri Shia Muslims.
The best time to visit Hunza Valley is from May to October. Winter can be extremely cold in Hunza and the weather unpredictable. Summer days are often very warm but the summer evenings bring with them a breeze, making it the perfect time of day to stroll Hunza’s streets and visit the region’s attractions. Spring and autumn are particularly beautiful. These magical seasons turn Hunza’s ever-beautiful landscape into a paradise of colour. In spring, cherry blossoms and stunning red, pink and white flora cover the valley, while autumn welcomes a whole spectrum of colours as the leaves change colour and fall to the ground.
Hunza Valley is located in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan. It sits in the extreme north of the country and borders China and the Wakhan Corridor of Afghanistan.
There is internet coverage in Hunza Valley in many places, but it can often be unreliable.
Hunza Valley is incredibly beautiful whatever time of the year you visit. The winters tend to be extremely cold and the roads can become particularly dangerous, but spring, summer and autumn all have their own charm here.
In summer, Hunza’s homegrown fruits are harvested, which is truly something to experience. In spring and autumn, the valley is covered in vivid colours and stunning foliage.
Visiting Hunza Valley is a truly captivating experience. As well as being home to many of the famous tourist places in Pakistan like the treacherous Hussaini Suspension Bridge and historical forts of Altit and Baltit, it also showcases some of Mother Nature’s most breathtaking work.
Sampling Hunza’s delicious local cuisines and meeting the warm, friendly locals is also a magical experience in and of itself.
Winters in Hunza are often very harsh, with extremely cold weather. Facilities and hotels are also largely closed for the season. It’s therefore not advisable to visit Hunza in winter.
Hunza Valley is thought to be the inspiration behind the Shangri-La in James Hilton’s novel, Lost Horizon. Translated, Shangri-La means earthly paradise, which describes Hunza perfectly. With its wondrous mountains, the turquoise water of the Hunza River, pristine lakes and warm locals, Hunza is as close as a place gets to being the perfect land.
The people of Hunza Valley have extremely long life expectancies, with most living long past 100 years old. This is thought to be due to their healthy lifestyles. Away from the bustle of modern life, they live connected with the stunning nature that surrounds them and their close-knit communities. They’re diet is healthy; with no processed foods, they eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and grains, and drink glacier water.