Monday, November 8, 2010

Gilgit – the China Town of Pakistan

It was awhile ago that I along with my family decided to see Khunjrab Pass – it was a rather hasty decision and hence we did not cater for the hurdles en route and the total length of journey and the leave that I have. And we just left by road. Although, Gilgit is connected by air with Islamabad but due to uncertain weather, road travel is much preferred.. Though some tourists choose to travel Gilgit by air since the road travel between Islamabad and Gilgit by Karakoram Highway takes nearly 18 hours, whereas the air travel takes a mere 45-50 minutes. 

We took the N-5 and stayed a night at Abottabad. Early next morning we reached Mansehra and from there we headed towards Pattan – where a Road Maintenance Battalion of the Frontier Works Organization is stationed (the unit is responsible for the repair/maintenance of the Karakoram Highway – the KKH).  Next morning our journey resumed and soon we were on the right bank of the roaring Indus river with its gushy muddy water ( far different from its rather bluish water at Attock). At Thakot, we crossed Indus and now we started moving on the left of the river. The small town en route were Chilas, Dasu, Besham.

Near Gilgit, the KKH branches off and continues to head towards Khunjrab Pass through Hunza (Karimabad) and Sost. We finally reached Gilgit in the evening – which is the hub of various valleys to the North Hunza and China. To the South, Diamar, Kohistan and Swat. To the East Skardu and Kashmir, and to the West Ghezir and Chitral.  Here we were told that the air service had been suspended for the last five days and while thanking our stars for choosing to travel by road, we had a pity on tourists stranded for days altogether in hotels and messes.

The Gilgit bazaars are infested with Chinese good, decoration pieces, cloth and what not – it looked like a mini China Town. While my wife got busy in looking for Chinese cloth, we window-shopped for Chinese decoration pieces and carpets. By the time we came back, we had loads of small decoration pieces and naturally ladies garments.

There is much to be seen other than Chinese stuff in and around Gilgit. There is a monument to commemorate the fact that the boy scouts of Gilgit were the spark that set the flame in the battle between Pakistan and India for supremacy over Kashmir.  Two miles out of town there are a pair of Buddha's carved in to a high rock. They go back to the 5-th century. From where we parked our car, the path up to the rocks was a nice hike – and the carving looked really awesome. I admired those who did this.

One bright sunny day morning, we kicked off towards Khunjrab Top – but luck was not in our favour. Near Hunza, we were told that the road ahead was blocked and wont be open for days. So the trip ended in a mere flop and we could only visit Karimabad and the Baltit Fort – something one mustn’t miss when in Gilgit. This wooden fort is a class of its own. The fort is said to date back around 700 years. The architectural style is a clear indication of Tibetan influence in Baltistan at the time. The Fort is also listed as one of the UNO sponsored world heritage architecture. On our way back, we stopped to eat some of the most delicious apricots in the world – fresh from the apricot gardens. When we asked the garden owner to pack us a few kilos as souvenir for relatives back home, he told us that those apricots were so delicate that they would not withstand the heat even out of Gilgit – still we insisted and true to his words, those melt hardly a few hours out of Gilgit.

The best lunch that I ever had was at a  place from where the mighty Raka Poshi is seen rising from the ground and reaching its pinnacle. The Raka Poshi View Hotel was a small hutment but served us sizzling hot “parathas” with scrambled eggs and hot tea. A feast I would always cherish.

The beautiful valley of Naltar – some 35 kilometers to the south east of Gilgit has lush green pastures and green carpeted ground make it a jewel of the Gilgit. It is a forested (pine) village known for its wildlife and magnificent mountain scenery. It also houses the Skiing School operated by Pakistan Air Force. We were offered a helicopter ride to Naltar but having reached the helipad, we were told that due to extra load, we could not be accommodated – so a golden opportunity was missed out.

Well then we finally returned. En route we also encountered a road block due to falling rocks and had to wait for 4-5 hours till the road was cleared.
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S A J Shirazi said...

I feel lonely at Khunjrab. Nice narrative man.

Anonymous said...

i am planning to visit gilgit and naltar (very much interested in skiing) in end of december. can i go there in ordinary car or i need a 4x4 jeep.

Jalal HB said...

Thank you Shirazi and Anonymous.
Road up to Gilgit is good and can be travelled in car. Although a new road to Naltar has been built, I think you may need 4x4 to go to Naltar top. Please check up from local tourism office.
Have a nice journey and memories.
You may send me details of your tour and photos on which I can publish another post.