Some things are beautiful in their simplicity; others in their intricacy.
In the north of Pakistan lies an absolutely stunning district; Hunza Nagar, previously known as Brushal, this place is a lakeside paradise. Hunza and Nagar used to be separate princely states parted by the River Hunza which marked the border between the two states.
The small states of Hunza and Nagar were notorious for looting trader caravans that would come from China.
The British wanted to expand their trade to Russia from here, but the states wouldn’t allow them to. Thus in 1891, Nagar was invaded by the British Army led by Colonel Durand. British surrounded the Nagar’s Nalt Fort, and eventually seized it six months later.
Soon power was transferred from the British to the Maharaja of Kashmir, but owing to the long distance, locals continued to live freely. Dongs, the capital of Nagar, was in Nagar Khas where royal courts and palaces of marble still exist. It remained the capital till the last royal of Maghlot Dynasty, Mir Shaukat Ali Khan, was in power.
Hooper is the most beautiful place in Nagar, a land of snow-clad mountains, but the sheer power of glaciers to carve out new landscapes makes them intricately gorgeous too. In Gulmit valley lies Rakaposhi Mountain whereas the Diran Peak stands tall in Minapin.
Heading towards Hunza through the Karakoram Highway, I notice a long line of vehicles standing in queues due to a massive landslide blocking the road near Minapin. My driver takes an alternate route through the Minapin village, as I watch the stunning scenery race past. From the precariously narrow and bumpy route my driver takes, I lookout for the Karakoram Highway.
After a two-hour drive, we finally manage to get back on the Karakoram Highway. While the engine accelerates briskly on our way to Hunza, for the first time ever, I see Nagar.
Luscious green grassland with Golden Peak in the backdrop, I see happy faces peering out, local children playing, women stretching their backs into the sunshine amid work, and animals grazing fields — Nagar is known for its serene village life.
As soon as one leaves Hunza and crosses the river bridge after Ganesh village, a road turning right leads to Hooper. Before Hooper is Nagar Khas, which used to be the centre of Nagar. The area is flecked with fruit trees including cherries, apples, and apricots.
Nagar Khas is full of hard-working, soft-spoken people with small homes and shops. A road from the Nagar Khas Bazar leads to the last village of north, Hispar, and another towards Hooper, which houses glaciers and the Rush lake. There is no human settlement after Hooper.
Going to Hispar, I see open-air courtyards built around homes of stones where children and domesticated animals play and live together. Just staring at the bright courtyards makes me want to spend a night here.
A little after the settlement is a waterfall with water as pure and sweet as honey. The people here are heart-warming and like to offer walnuts, apricots and other delights to tourists.
Children play outside their homes as I photograph them. A huge pear tree stands tall in the courtyard, laden with pears. Crisp copper leaves tumble from the trees and sway gently in the Autumn wind.
“Hey, get me some pears, won’t you please?” I jokingly ask. Unaware that someone inside the house can possibly hear me.
Just a few minutes pass and a young woman appears from behind the door, hiding her face behind a red dupatta she hands me a basket full of pears. As I thank her, she laughingly points at a leaf in my hair and disappears behind the door.
The pears are extremely sweet, I must share them with my driver!
I reach Hispar at sunset. The village does not seem like it belongs here. It looks as if it’s cut off from the rest of the world. A strange silence and coolness surrounds the air. I decide to stay here for the night.
As I stand in the valley shaking with cold, I see a shooting star. Scared, I close my eyes as I sense it approaching towards me, as if it’s going to drop any second but the next moment, it’s gone. It was frightening, but I long to see it once again.
In the wilderness, close-calls to death are a thrilling experience too. These ditched lands are not only filled with beauty and serenity, but also with terror and fear.
It’s a chilly morning up in the north. To get to Gojal’s village Hussaini, I have to cross the Attabad Lake.
The bank of the lake is crowded and everyone seems to be in a hurry to get to the other side. One side of the bank plumbs a lake formed due to a landslide blockage that holds back the flow of the river. On the other side lie black mountains. But I’m curious about the depth of the lake.
As I see my jeep being loaded onto the boat, I take a seat. The ancient-looking boat makes me dread the voyage even before it began. The life jacket is of poor quality and looks scarier than the boat.
While reminiscing my childhood days, I zone out. Back in the day, on one of our family trips to River Jhelum, mother refused to let me go on a boat ride. I cried and cried, but there was no way she was going to let me sit on a worn-out boat. While I sat down by the river Jhelum and wept, the others enjoyed their ride.
I snap out of my bizarre memory as the journey comes to a halt. With children of the Hussaini village warmly waving at me, I leave behind my dejections, my fear of wrecked boats and the lifeless life vest.
Translated by Bilal Karim Mughal from the original in Urdu here.
The writer is a network engineer by profession, and a traveler, poet, photographer and writer by passion. He can be reached on Facebook.