I first arrived in Hunza some twelve years back and it was love at first sight. The peaceful environs of Karimabad, the hospitable people, the magnificent Rakaposhi, the gushing streams flowing through terraced fields, star studded nights and the shooting stars all together made me believe that if there is heaven on earth, it is indeed Hunza – the Shangri-la in Lost Horizon, the 1933 classic novel by James Hilton. After that first visit, I would find myself in Hunza every other summer and this love affair continues like one’s first love.
It was in 2002 that I entered Café de Hunza for the first time and had wholesome Hunza Musli and cherry juice. The friendly owner Shafqat told me about the history of Hunza Musli which is a breakfast dish full of fresh fruits and yogurt. He considered it a traditional dish of Hunza and a reason for longevity of Hunza people and told me that there is similar Musli dish commonly used in Switzerland and Austria. I later wrote an article on Hunza duly mentioning Café de Hunza and its Hunza Musli. The article is proudly displayed on one of the café’s walls till to date. Shafqat also has his brand of pure honey, olive oil, almonds etc and now his son helps him in running the café during summers.
Last summer, I was in Hunza and decided to go to Gojal after crossing the Attabad Lake on a boat. We had a sumptuous lunch at Marcopolo hotel followed by a cherry plucking spree by the kids. One of the heirs of yesteryears Gojal royalty, a friendly Raja Sahib took us to show the Gojal museum which is personally owned by him. Raja Sahib started with’ this is dinner set, this is telephone, this is photograph, this is stuffed Markhor trophy etc’ and I instantly remembered listening to the same Raja Sahib with the same script a decade back. At times, life goes on at a very slow pace in these small mountain towns.
At the Marcopolo hotel, we barged into a very graceful couple which we later found out to be Mir and Rani of Hunza. Mirs of Hunza were once the most powerful dynasty of the area and have a history spanning over more than eight hundred years. Mir Ghazanfar, the current Mir of Hunza, donated 800 years old magnificent Baltit Fort to Agha Khan Heritage Foundation and this act in itself speaks volumes of the benevolence of the man. Rani of Hunza, again a very elegant lady is from Lahore and married to Mir of Hunza for almost forty years and has completely transformed herself into Hunza culture. It just bewilders me how difficult it would be forty years back to come and get settled into a totally different though amazing culture. Mir and Rani of Hunza have their palace in Karimabad but live most of their time in a beautiful villa ‘Hunza House’ in Islamabad.
And then there is friendly Deedar who owns one of the best rugs and shawls shops in Karimabad. He has authentic antique central Asian rugs, hand made rugs, pashmina and Shahtoosh shawls all under one roof however he is never in a hurry to sell and is a very satisfied soul. Sitting at his aesthetically decorated home, Deedar gave me a lesson on Beethoven and Mozart and a virtual tour of Salzburg. Furqan, Deedar’s eighteen year old son on the other hand is an astronomy geek and showed my kids various star formations on his IPAD with the help of some star gaze software.
Again Mobeen is a young IBA graduate who after spending sometime with multinationals arrived back in his home town to serve as Chief Executive of Karakorum Development Organization promoting local handicrafts. He oversees a rugs manufacturing unit run by special and disabled people besides supervising a Gems and jewelry business run by local women. While his class mates may be job hopping in corporate world, Mobeen chose public service as a career and he is without a doubt, a satisfied soul.
My list goes on and on with Khushnood the lively manager of Baltit Inn, Shifa-ullah the high lands game expert, Ain-ullah my local driver who checks if I have arrived home safely, and I am sure to miss many of my wonderful friends.
It feels like in Hunza, every one knows every one and every body is a near or distant cousin. They are in no hurry and appear very content with their lives, always smiling, soft spoken, and peaceful. It is the local people who have made Hunza beautiful and for me, these friends are the real assets, I have made during my travels over years.