Hunza, known as Heaven on Earth, is a beautiful mountainous valley located in the Gilgit- Baltistan region of Pakistan. Situated at the north/west of the Hunza River, it is surrounded by several high peaks including Rakaposhi, Hunza Peak, BojahagurDuanasir II, Darmyani Peak, Ghenta Sar, Ultar Sar and Ladyfinger Peak.
The valley has different beautiful natural sights which are the attractions for tourists. Among these attractions the Baltit and Altit fort are also well known. The Baltit fort, after renovation, has recently been turned into a heritage museum. In Hunza, the bazaar of Karimbad is famous for its local handicrafts, handmade rugs, traditional embroidered caps, shawls, hand woven cloth (paffu) and its gemstones which are famous all over the world, particularly Ruby. The Ruby mines are famous tourist attractions.
Besides its scenic beauty, tourists visit this valley to have a glimpse of the two most famous forts of Hunza known as Altit and Baltit fort.
The Altit Fort is the oldest fort in northern areas which is located in the Altit village. It is built with great architectural design on a rock of a mountain where the Hunza River flows at its back.
Baltit Fort is another beautiful fort in the Hunza valley which is built at the top of Karimabad. It has won numerous awards including Tourism of Tomorrow Award, Asia-Pacific Heritage for Cultural Conservation- Award of Excellence (UNESCO). The Time Magazine of Asia awarded Best of Asia Award in 2005.
People and Language
Most of the people of Hunza are Ismaili Shia Muslims who are the followers of Prince Karim Aga Khan IV, while in the area of Ganish Village over 90% are Shia Muslims.
The Hunza region is principally home to people of three ethnicities:
- The Lower Hunza area which extends from Khizerabad to Nasirabad mainly belongs to the Shinaki people whose local language is Shina.
- The Central Hunza area which extends from Murtazaabad to Attabad mainly belongs to the Burushaski speakers.
- The Upper Hunza area which is commonly known as Gojal extends from Shiskat to Khunjerab and belongs to Wakhi speakers.
Just like the valley is known for its scenic beauty, the people of Hunza are warm hearted and known for their hospitality. Despite of the fact that Burushaski is the most widely acceptable language among all but majority of the people also understand Urdu and English.
Many cultural activities are associated with this valley and the people of Hunza are fond of celebrating such events. Among all age groups traditional dance is very common and there is a special traditional band for this dance which makes it to be more fun and excitement.
According to a survey held, the literacy rate of the Hunza valley is believed to be above 90%. The valley proves to be a ‘role model’ for Pakistan regarding high literacy rate and school enrolment where every child to a minimum studies up to high school. Of these, many go to prestigious colleges and universities of Pakistan and abroad to get higher education.
The people of Hunza are very healthy and have the longest lifespan in the world. They remain strong and robust even in old age. This is because of the pure water they drink and their natural diet. The people walk a lot on the rugged terrain everyday which serves as physical exercise for them. Among other organically grown food, the most common fruit in Hunza is apricot which is considered to be their Gold. The people there eat fresh apricots in the season, dry them and also puree the dried apricots of which jam and icecream is later made. These people also get nutritional richness of other fruits too that are grown there including apples, pears, black and red cherries, peaches. The number of orchards and trees under cultivation are used to gauge the economic stability of the local people in Hunza.
Hunza chapatti bread is a major component of their diet made from nutritious grains. The Glacial Milk also helps to keep these people healthy.
The Hunza Valley is home to various festivals related to religion, culture and normal life events. These festivals fall into two main categories namely religious festivals and cultural festivals (daily life or agricultural). The religious festivals include:
- Eid-Ul-Meladul Nabi
- Nowroz festival
- Shab-e Barat,
- Eid Ghadeer,
- Salgira-e- Imam Zman Mubar (Birthday of Agha khan)
The traditional Ginani festival is celebrated by the local community with many gatherings organized in Altit, Baltit and Aliabad. This festival is celebrated to welcome the new harvesting season with joy and happiness. The celebrations are made with dance, music and a traditional dish is made to mark the festival known as Dirum Pitti.
Another famous festival is the Spring Blossom Festival which gives the people an opportunity to sit together and enjoy life. Exhibitions, sports programs and cultural shows attract the audience in this festival to celebrate the cultural heritage of the region.
Apart from these other festivals include Baba Ghundi and Shimshal Kuch festival.
The weather from April to September is quite pleasant in Hunza which requires the people to wear light woolen clothes. However, during winters heavy woolen clothes are required.
The women particularly wear colorful, knee-length shirts with shalwars and cover their heads with traditional embroidered caps. For men, the common dress is Shalwar Qamiz and caps made out of hand-woven woolen material called ‘Pattu’. In winters they wear loose embroidered gowns as overcoats.
The local specialty dish of Hunza is ‘fittis’ which is very delicious and worth tasting. These are basically cakes made of wheat flour, milk, butter and salt, baked on a hot stone. Apricots, apples, plums, peaches, cherries and grapes are various fresh fruits grown in this region. As stated before, the Hunza bread is again a nutritious diet of grains. When talking about foreign visitors, Grape extract known as ‘Hunza Water’ is very popular among them.
Pakistan has been blessed with beautiful locations throughout the country and Hunza sure is one of them. It remains very famous, for its scenic beauty and unique culture, with the locals as well as the foreigners. We being the people of Pakistan should protect our land and become the ambassadors of such beautiful places.