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The Discovery of the Hunza River Valley.

A British General and a garrison of solders on horseback investigated the Hunza River Valley in the 1870s. Hunza was a tiny kingdom located in a remote valley 100 miles (160 km) long and only one mile (1.6 km) wide, situated at an elevation of 8,500 feet (2590 m) and completely enclosed by mountain peaks. These peaks soar to a height of 25,550 feet (7788 m) and belong to the Karakoram Range, broadly known in the West as "the Himalayas." Hunza is now part of Pakistan in the northern section bordering on Afghanistan, Russia, China, Kashmir and India. The Kilik Pass leads to Russia and the Mintaka Pass to China.

The pass to reach Hunza from Gilgit, Pakistan was 13,700 feet (4176 m) high, a difficult and treacherous trail. Upon entering the valley the British found the steep, rocky sides of the valley lined with terraced garden plots, fruit trees and animals being raised for meat and milk.

The gardens were watered with mineral rich glacier water carried by an aqueduct system running a distance of 50 miles (80 km) from the Ultar Glacier on the 25,550 foot (7788 m) high Mount Rakaposhi. The wooden aqueduct trough was hung from the sheer cliffs by steel nails hammered into the rock walls. Silt from the river below was carried up the side of the valley to form and replenish the terraced gardens. The average annual precipitation in Hunza is less than two inches.

Ultar Peak rising above Baltit, the capital of Hunza, is spectacular. The Old Palace is on the hill above the village. Click the picture to see an enlargement.

The difficult trail into Hunza kept the people isolated. As late as 1950 most of the children of Hunza had never seen a wheel or a Jeep even though airplanes were landing at the airport in Gilgit, Pakistan only 70 miles (112 km) away. John Clark reported in his book, Hunza - Lost Kingdom of the Himalayas, that he could see three peaks above 25,000 feet and eleven glaciers all at once from Shishpar Glacier Nullah (canyon) overlooking the Hunza valley. See John Clark's book listed below on page 92.

The Hunzakuts, as they are called, had signed a peace treaty with their neighboring communities about 10 years prior to the arrival of the British. They had been a warrior community preying upon the Chinese trading caravans as they traveled the high mountain passes between Sin kiang and Kashmir. The Hunzakuts profited for a time by their thievery, plunder and murder, but they were hated by their neighbors. According to Hunzakut folklore, a peace treaty was signed because the Mir's son convinced his father to end their murderous ways.

Burushaski, the language of the Hunzakuts, is much different from other languages of the region and appears to be a mixture of the languages of Ancient Macedonian and the Hellenistic Persian Empire. However, the people also learned to speak the written Urdu language of Pakistan and other languages of the region.

The terraced gardens were extensive with up to 50 cascading levels. The people lived in communities below. It was a considerable distance to walk for working in the fields. They had no roads or wheeled carts. All the grain and other produce was transported to the homes on the backs of men and animals. Click the picture to see an enlargement.

The original valley was mostly bare rock with a very limited amount of indigenous plant life. The sudden appearance of the vegetation in contrast to the surrounding barren rock earned the valley the description of being Shangri-La or the Garden of Eden. Given the hard work required to tend the gardens and animals, the description of Garden of Eden certainly did not apply to the Hunza River Valley.

Mir Muhammed Ghazan Khan I ruled from 1864 to 1886. Folklore stories say he sent his brother a gift of a cloak impregnated with smallpox and murdered his uncle and other brothers, but the facts are rather unknown. He was murdered in 1886 by Safdar Ali Khan who became the new ruler of Hunza. Mir Safdar Ali Khan is shown in the picture at the left. Click the picture to see an enlargement. In 1891 an expedition of 5,000 men lead by British Colonel Algernon Durand was attacked by the Hunzakut leader, Mir Safdar Ali Khan. The Mir fled to China and was replaced by his half-brother, Muhammed Nazim Klan. Mir Nazim Klan died in 1938 of mysterious causes, and it is highly suspect that his son, Muhammed Ghazan Khan II, was involved in his death. He died in 1946 and was replaced by his son, Muhammed Jamal Khan. Mir Muhammed Jamal Khan was deposed in 1974 by Pakistan although he maintained his property in Hunza. He died in Gilgit, Pakistan in 1976 were he also had a residence. Mir Muhammed Jamal Khan could also speak perfect English because he had been educated by the British as a boy. His descendents maintain their royal titles but have no ruling authority in Hunza.
Ancestry of Hunza Rulers Since the 16th Century.

The Original Hunza People.

The story of Hunza is thought to have begun with Alexander III or Alexander the Great (July 356 BC to June 10, 323 BC), son of King Philip of Macedon (Ancient Macedonia west of Greece). Alexander was a brilliant warrior, more capable than his father. After his father's murder, Alexander set out toward the east to conquer neighboring kingdoms. He conquered Greece in short fashion and continued toward Persia where he eventually burned the capital and the national library in a great defeat of the Persians.

Three generals in Alexander's army are said to have married Persian women. The generals betrayed Alexander by giving the Persians his plans. When Alexander heard of the betrayal he sought to take revenge, but the generals, wives and a band of many soldiers fled. The valley of Hunza is thought to have been their valley of refuge because of its remote and secure location.

It is likely that the Hunza valley was already sparsely inhabited when the Macedon generals arrived. Certainly these tough fighting warriors made quick work of slaughtering the ancient inhabitants of Hunza. Though this is purely speculation, it is highly probable. The desolate rocky valley could not have supported the Macedonians unless some farms had been slowly built by others over the preceding centuries.

Hunza became an independent kingdom with a monarchy. The King used the title of Mir. The British disrupted the ruling organization of the Hunza people.

"The Mir, or ruler, of Hunza believed his tiny kingdom to be the equal of China, and likened himself to Alexander the Great from whom he claimed descent. When the British turned up in the 1870s he took them for petitioners seeking to make Queen Victoria his vassal. Not wishing to waste time arguing, the colonial officials had him deposed, replacing him with an amenable brother whom the Mir had carelessly neglected to murder on his way to the throne."
A Kind of Kingdom in Paradise.

The British reported a population of about 8,000 people who were in good health and lived long lives, although their ages could not be verified since the Hunza people had no written records. The people were relatively healthy, especially when compared to the citizens in England where obesity, diabetes, cancer and heart disease ravaged the British due of their high carbohydrate diet of grains, bread, sugar, honey, fruit and potatoes. The Hunza people were slender, healthy and athletic in comparison to relatives of the British solders at home in England who were fat and sickly.

The Hunza tribesmen are shown in the picture. Click the picture to see an enlargement.

The Hunzakuts had lighter skin than the neighboring tribes and appeared to be of Caucasian origin. John Clark reported in 1950 seeing children with black, brown and blond hair and an occasional redhead. They probably chose the Hunza River Valley because of its sheer isolation, but the men took wives from neighboring peoples. Hunza women were said to have been beautiful. This is highly probably since the Persian women taken as captives were likely the best looking. See John Clark's book page 69.

The Original Hunza Summer Diet.

The British General and soldiers arrived in the summer during the 1870s as did everyone who traveling to Hunza. This was the harvest season for the grains, fruits and vegetables from the gardens, and much of the food was consumed raw. Because fuel for cooking was saved to be used in winter for boiling meat and providing some heat for the stone dwellings, very little meat was consumed in summer and vegetable were eaten raw.

The Hunzakuts are said to have cultivated plants included barley, millet, wheat, buckwheat, turnips, carrots, dried beans, peas, pumpkins, melons, onions, garlic, cabbage, cauliflower, apricots, mulberries, walnuts, almonds, apples, plums, peaches, cherries, pears and pomegranates. John Clark did not find green beans, wax beans, beets, endive, lettuce, radishes, turnips, spinach, yellow pear tomatoes, Brussel sprouts or parsley. Cherry tomatoes and potatoes are thought to have been brought in by the British. The long list of currently grown plant varieties should not be a consideration when discussing the longevity of the Hunzakuts and their past diet.

Apricot trees were very popular, and the fruit was eaten raw in season and sun dried for winter. The pits were cracked to obtain the kernel that was crushed to obtain the oil for cooking and lamps. The hard shell was kept for a fire fuel. The kernel and oil could be eaten from the variety of apricots with a sweet kernel, but the bitter kernel variety had an oil containing poisonous prussic acid. Click the picture to see an enlargement.

Mulberries, which resemble blackberries in size and shape, are a favorite fruit. When fully ripe, their flavor is sweet-sour but somewhat bland. The variety grown in Hunza was most likely a golden color.

A large variety of indigenous wildlife including markhors sheep, Marco Polo sheep, geese, ducks, pheasants and partridge provided the early Hunza hunters with meat in addition to their sheep, goats and domesticated Yaks. Chickens were also raised for meat and eggs until sometime in the 1950s when they were banned by the Mir.

The Queen and her children traveled on Yaks while the King and other men rode horses. The Yak is a strong wild animal which they domesticated for for traveling in the mountains as a beast of burden pack animal. In addition to Yaks, which provided milk and meat, the Hunzakuts also had goats, sheep, cows and horses. However, there were very few cows or horses in Hunza in 1950 because they consumed a lot of fodder compared to goats and sheep. The Yaks, goats and sheep were herded in the summer to areas just below the snow line for feeding on sparse grasses and plants. They were milked by the herders who made butter that was delivered back to the people in the villages below. The herders had plenty of milk to drink that valley people lacked. The Yaks were also milked. Cows and horses could not be herded to the higher elevation because the vegetation there was simply to sparse.

The picture is of the Cathedral Peaks as viewed from the village of Ghulmit 23 miles (37 km) upriver from Baltit near the northern end of Hunza. Summer grains are seen growing in the foreground. The Mir's main Palace was in Baltit, but since firewood was more abundant in Ghulmit, he chose this location for his winter residence. Click the picture to see an enlargement.

A great celebration was held to commemorate the barley harvest, the first harvest of the early summer to break the spring starvation period. The barley was ground, mixed with water and fried to make a pancake style bread called chapatis, and hot stones were used for cooking the bread prior to the availability of steel plate or cast iron griddles. The bread recipe would change to whatever grain was available. Wheat was harvested later in the summer. The Hunza bread recipe found in books and on websites is nothing whatsoever like the various breads of the Hunzakuts. The primitive Hunzakuts ground grains between two rocks much like the North American Indians. They had constructed a water wheel powered stone grinder by the time John Clark had arrived, but many people still ground the grain by hand.

To their credit, the Hunzakuts did developed a double-crop farming method. Barley was the first crop harvested, then replaced by millet. Wheat was harvested later in the summer followed by winter buckwheat. The double-crop planting method was done to make the maximum use of the valuable land, not because grains matured faster in Hunza as often claimed.

In summer meat was conserved for very special occasions and festivals. Livestock were much too valuable to be killed indiscriminately, so animals became a major source of food only during the cold winter when other foods ran out.


Baltit Fort, the former residence of the Mirs of Hunza

The Hunza is situated at an elevation of 2,438 metres (7,999 feet). For many centuries, Hunza has provided the quickest access to Swat and Gandhara for a person travelling on foot. The route was impassable to baggage animals; only human porters could get through, and then only with permission from the locals.

Hunza was easily defended as the paths were often less than half a metre (about 18") wide. The high mountain paths often crossed bare cliff faces on logs wedged into cracks in the cliff, with stones balanced on top. They were also constantly exposed to regular damage from weather and falling rocks. These were the much feared "hanging passageways" of the early Chinese histories that terrified all, including several famous Chinese Buddhist monks such as Xuanzang.

Hunza Four Seasons :

The region just falls outside the moon-soon rainfall system, in a partial rain shadow area, and receives annual precipitation of 100-300 mm mainly as snow during winter. The weather during summer is dry and hot and maximum temperature remains 36°C and minimum 13°C whereas severe cold is observed during winter and the temperature remains maximum 5°C and minimum -10°C. According to variations in climatic conditions and agricultural seasons the climate can be divided into four seasons:


The season starts from mid November and ends up during the end of March. During this period the weather remains cold and chilly. The water freezes during December and January. During this period the valley gets snow fall of an average 4 to 5 inches.


The season starts with sprouting cherry blossoms in the valley. The duration is from April to end of May. A considerable amount of rain is obtained. People start farming activities.


The season starts in September and ends in mid November. The valley receives considerable rain fall and resumes a mosaic of colors due to change is colors of leaves. The end of this season results in start of extreme weather conditions.


The season continues from June to August. The average temperature remains low and the weather dry as compare to the plains of the country. During these months the agricultural activities remains on peak.


The temperature in May is maximum 27 °C (81 °F) and minimum 14 °C (57 °F) and October maximum is 10 °C (50 °F) and 0 °C (32 °F). Hunza's tourist season is from May to October, because in winter the Karakoram Highway is often blocked by the snow.

Place to visit in Hunza valley

Central Hunza

Altit fort:It is situated in the village of Altit about three kilometers from Karimbabd. It has been built on a sheer rock cliff that falls 300 meters (1,000 feet) in the Indus River. The fort is a 100 years older than the Baltit Fort and at one time inhabited by the ruling family. Karimabad is the capital in the Hunza valley : Miles and miles of terraced fields and fruit orchards remarkable. It offers a panoramic view of the Rakaposhi, Ultar and Balimo peaks. It is 112 kms from Gilgit and it takes a jeep about 3 hours to cover the distance.

Baltit Fort: is a kilometer away from Karimabad. It was built 700 years ago by 300Labourers brought to Hunza in the dowry of the Princess of Baltistan when she married Mir of Hunza. The area is named Baltit after those laborers. Over the centuries, it has been inhabited by the ruling family of the Hunza State.

Rock Carving: and inscriptions around Ganesh village give proof of the Buddhist influence in the area. The inscriptions are in four different scripts and the carvings are of human and animals figures.

Ultar peak: known as the Killer Mountain is the only un-conquered peak and lady finger mountian.Nagar People from Baltistan who arrived over the mountains by walking along the Biafo and Hispar glaciers possibly first settled Nagar, the large kingdom across the river from Hunza. Hunzakuts who crossed the river settled it again in about the 14th century. A man called Borosh from Hunza supposedly founded the first village of Boroshal, and married a Balti girl he found there. The legend says the girl and her grandmother were the sole survivors of a landslide that killed all the early Balti settlers.


Passu is One of the oldest settlement sites in Gojal (Upper Hunza), lies between Batura & Passu Glaciers. The people are Ismailies of Tajik origin.the people of passu are very friendly and honesty