It was in 2002 while sitting in Café de Hunza and looking at the magnificent snow capped Rakaposhi, I noticed the friendly owner Shafqat Ali running around in his small café serving customers. Little I knew that over years we shall become close friends. But perhaps it was not just me, whoever met Shafqat had a similar feeling. I had my first taste of Hunza Musli at the café, a dish made of cereals, fruits and yogurt and the recipe was a fusion of local and Swiss recipes. Musli was a full breakfast in itself and coupled with aroma of brewing coffee, a perfect start for your day in the sleepy little mountain resort. I wrote an article in DAWN when I returned home and sent a copy to Shafqat. The article adorns the wall of the café to this day, a testament to our lasting friendship.
Hunza kept on calling me again and again and I had no option but to yield to this romantic call. Every time I would go there and Shafqat would welcome us with his trademark smile. While I graduated from bachelors’ trips to family trips every other year, Café de Hunza also expanded but never lost its original charm. While we normally stayed at Serena, our day would start at the café. The kids would go for cherry juice and their favorite walnut cake and brownies while the elders would try assortment of omelets, musli or coffee. It was a treat to just sit and watch Rakaposhi in all its glory from café’s windows. Shafqat would make friends with all his customers and would always give discounts on listed prices. I remember him once saying ‘Omar bhai, I am like a termite (Deemak), I eat slowly and surely and make sure that you keep coming back to me’. He was right in the sense that he became a family friend for us who we would call for anything and everything. He was wrong in calling himself a termite, he was just an amazing human being.
Over years, Shafqat expanded his business and started dealing in his own branded pure honey, apricot oils, almonds and soaps. We would always buy loads of this stuff on our way back as we were sure of the quality of his products. The ground floor of the café was dedicated to rugs, carpets and local handicrafts. I would ask Shafqat why he does not use the ground floor for the café as well. Shafqat with a sheepish smile would tell me that a single sale of carpet in a day is better than the whole day sale at the café.
Lately Shafqat added mountain bikes to his services. We would rent his bikes and roam around Karimabad except that the rent was seldom demanded or paid. He recently took ‘critical mass’ cycling initiative to Hunza and I can sadly see the uploaded registration forms on his face book page.
Café de Hunza also got featured on Trip Advisor as a favorite spot to be at while in Hunza. The cafe was essentially run by Shafqat and his son Nawazish, and he would often talk about plans to expand his business to Islamabad or Lahore.
On 3rd June, I got a call from a friend from Hunza breaking the sad news of Shafqat’s untimely death due to a heart attack. He was apparently being shifted to Gilgit but the one and a half hour journey became too long for my friend. I remained in a state of disbelief and reconfirmed the news before finally accepting that the worse has happened. Hunza shall never be the same and I dread telling my kids that Shafqat uncle is no more. Shafqat and Café de Hunza were part of an ecosystem along with Baltit fort, Altit fort, Eagle’s nest or Rakaposhi, the ecosystem worked like a Swiss watch in complete harmony but on 3rd June, the machine lost a critical part and failed, at least for me.
But then we all friends of Shafqat have a responsibility to keep the Cafe running and the best way to do it is by visiting it or recommending it to friends and family. I know it is difficult for many of us to imagine the café without Shafqat being there but it is the best memory of our dear Shafqat and Café de Hunza must go on. We shall miss you Shafqat Ali. Rest in peace my friend.