Peaceful Gulmit

We were woken at 5am by water gushing out of the tap. All the hotels had water issues and amid many apologies our bathroom bucket had been being filled for us with big bottles of water. The water in Karimabad comes from the glaciers so what comes out of the taps is black/grey and we were definitely not going to complain about having clear water to wash with.

The cold water had come back on the night before but this was the hot tap bursting into life that rudely woke us. We got up and watched sunrise on the mountains and valley from our terrace. We also discovered that with no one else up we had a great mobile data signal so uploaded our videos at the same time. Then we dived back in to use the hot water in case it was short lived. Having had none since Skardu a hot bucket bath, even with grey slightly gritty coloured water was bliss.

With little sign of life our early morning was spent waiting around for the naan bread man to open so we could get breakfast, the shop so more toilet roll could be acquired and the local cafe that has wifi so we could upload photos off our tablet. Pakistan does not rise early, it stays up late.

After the acquisition of breakfast bread we decided to head down the hill to Ganish on the Karakoram Highway. The oldest village in Hunza it has been recognised by UNESCO twice.

We started our trip downhill on foot hoping for a Suzuki minivan or something else we could flag on the way. About a kilometer down and with the road narrowing (making stopping much harder) and knowing it would likely be tough to get transport back up we asked a Jeep driver cleaning his Jeep if he would take us, wait and bring us back. We wanted to head out of town before lunchtime and make our further north to Central Hunza .

After seeing the village around Altit Fort, Ganish was a bit of a let down but because it was early the kiosk we had heard about that issues ‘tickets’ was not open and we wandered around it for free before getting our ride back up.

On the way down to Ganish the Jeep driver had pitched a deal to also take us our next destination, to the village of Gulmit, an hour away. Public transport north this high up the Karakoram Highway is not frequent and when it goes it tends to in the morning which didn’t work with our plans to spend part of the morning in Karimabad. We knew it was going to be tough to find transport but were relatively confident that being near a confluence of small towns and villages we’d find something.

The jeep driver said he’d show us the sights on the way and we added a side trip to Aliabad a little way back down the Highway for an ATM (the two in Karimabad wouldn’t work). We agreed a price but made him wait an hour before leaving; the cafe near our hotel has good wifi and we knew it would be our best chance to upload our photos. We caned the wifi while having chai, then headed to the hotel to check out.

After several attempts we finally found an ATM in Aliabad that worked. When we hit the road properly our first stop was at some sacred rocks covered with inscriptions.

Next we stopped at the tunnels for old ruby mines in the hillside, we ventured in only a short distance. Apparently they are an entire maze through the hillside but we were not keen on venturing too far in these small tunnels even with the temptation of finding rubies. We were happy as we would not have seen either if we had waited for public transport. Knowledgeable about the area our driver also pointed out the villages and mountain peaks.

Further north on the Karakoram Highway we could see more clearly the huge engineering work it takes to keep the road open, massive landslides were visible that had clearly taken the road out. Then we entered the first of 4 tunnels built by the Chinese to restate the Highway after it had been lost to a massive landslide in 2010 that created Attabad lake over a 19km stretch of the Highway. About 6000 people were displaced and 20 killed as the newly created lake covered Attabad village. The tunnels took 3 years to build and are an engineering feat with 2 of them around 3kms long.

The remnants of the old Highway entering the lake now look like goat tracks.

We stopped twice at different lake viewpoints. It is 21km long in total and more than 100m deep and lovely blue in colour. It’s a tourist attraction now with jet skis and small boats to take tourists across it, with the large wooden boats used to move vehicles and people while the tunnels were being built, still on the lake. We declined the offer of going on a boat ride.

Gulmit sits not far past the lake. The driver suggested a guesthouse to us. We had no specific plans so agreed to take a look.

Emma did a deal and we found ourselves in the cleanest and quietest place we have stayed in Pakistan. The room and bathroom were immaculately clean and there was hot water. Even the sheets were fresh and clean, a first since Sri Lanka.

With hot sun and a line outside we started by doing our laundry. A French woman turned up not long after us and checked into a room on the other side of the reception room. There would be just us. It has been common for most of our hotels/guesthouses to have few guests and they are almost always domestic tourists when there are. The owner of our Gulmit Guesthouse told us that after 9/11 no one came for 7 years, it destroyed the tourist industry. Then when people started to come it was domestic tourists. We’ve been told that 3 years ago there were still no foreigners visiting Pakistan, but slowly people like us are now coming.

The garden was peaceful with rose bushes and fruit trees and stunning views, so we hung out there for a couple of hours while Marie’s stomach complained. She had been managing it by only eating dinner (which resulted in her being up multiple times every night) but having only eaten a little bread for breakfast and no lunch this was a new development and after 11 days of issues, we decided this was not just travellers diarrhoea and got the medical info out. We’re carrying 3 types of antibiotics so selecting the right one can be tricky but we picked one targeting bacterial stuff as that is most likely and she started the course.

After a rest in the garden and some re-hydration, we ventured out to head to the Hussaini Suspension Bridge, a well-known metal rope and slat bridge crossing the Hunza River.

We walked through small shaded village lanes and up the Highway a little way to the fews shops to see if we could find transport. It was a really enjoyable walk.

On popping into the shop we asked about transport, and he called another local guy over who promptly quoted 1000 rupees to take us, wait and bring us back. That is at least double even a high foreigner price

We rolled our eyes and said it’s ok we will walk, it’s only 3km. Then off we went. The Highway is very quiet, not like you’d expect at all, we kept walking but hopeful we could flag a ride. The fourth car that passed stopped. Heading to a wedding two guys were chatty and happy to help. Either by chatting or something lost in translation we ended up about a kilometre past the bridge. Luckily Marie had clocked a sign for the bridge and asked them to stop.

We now had a nice downhill walk on the Highway which suited us just fine. We were feeling great about travelling under our own steam and having got a free lift.

The Dutch guys and Hamish in Kabluie’s Jeep went past us at some point, they waved after they went past but didn’t stop to offer us a lift.

We found the path down to the bridge and were welcomed by the guy running the chai hut at the top.

As we started down the path a rough-shaven guy in western clothes came running up behind and shouted. We stopped and waited. We were the only ones on the path at the time. He asked if we are from the Netherlands so we said no. He then asked where we were from and where we were staying, the questions continued with us giving nondescript answers. He eventually asked for our passports. We were friendly as we calmly asked him who he was and he said a policeman, so we asked to see his ID. We got the feeling he wasn’t used to that but he got it out and yes he was a policeman, part of the Special Branch. Our interaction with him immediately shifted and became quite buoyant, Marie said we have copies of our passport would you like one (standard procedure here for every police checkpoint is to give them a copy of your passport and visa, so you need many copies). He asked us again where we were staying and in absolute synchronicity we replied. We apologised for our checking his ID and explained that usually we see police at checkpoints and hotels and he seemed to understand.

Husseini suspension bridge is long, like 394m long! It’s a test of bravery given it crosses the roaring Hunza river and it would be easy to fall through the wonky slats. A sign warns of a max of 7 people on it at any time, next to a crossed out 8. A bunch of guys were at it, only some were intending to go on it, the others were watching. Marie queued for a turn but not wanting to cross the whole thing only to have to cross back again she went out part way and back again. It is very disorienting as you look at the slats to place your feet while the river rushes underneath and the bridge swings up and down and side to side with the movement of (too many) people on it.

The evening was starting to wear on so it was time to get back to our digs. As we got back to the road from the bridge a small truck was coming, Emma put her hand out for a lift and they stopped. The guy in the passenger side kindly got out and climbed in the back of the truck so we could both squeeze in the cab. The driver spoke no English but was very smiley and friendly and seemed to enjoy the ride as much as we did. When we got them to stop where the dirt road to our guesthouse left the Highway we had grins from ear to ear.

The light started to fade and it was time for dinner. Learning we now need to give more direction (else you won’t get asked about dinner until some time around 9:30pm at the earliest) we seized the chance whilst the owner was filling the generator with fuel to order some dinner. He was a great cook, we had dahl mash and flatbread (which is the usual fare) and chatted to the French woman that was also staying until it was past bedtime.

click on any photo to enlarge and scroll through

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