Karimabad is the administrative centre of the Hunza district and clings to the steep cliffs on the north face of the Hunza Valley, giving it stunning views of the mountains opposite: Rakaposhi (7790m), and Diran (7270m). Directly behind Karimabad is the Ultar glacier leading to Ultar (7390m).
Hunza valley is famous for lots of different food. Hunza bread is a delicious, heavy bread with an almost nutty flavour. Walnuts and apricots grow prolifically here so walnut and apricot cakes are a local delicacy. In fact, apricots are a major industry. As well as yielding the fresh and dried fruit, the kernels are crushed to produce an oil that is used in widely in soaps, shampoos and other products. And Hunza muesli is very popular with the trekking/mountain-climbing fraternity.
Those that did remain open, like the Old Hunza Inn where I was staying, struggled to remain viable on the small trickle of foreign tourists or the occasional families from the big cities further south in Pakistan.
When I arrived at the Old Hunza Inn there was only one other guest – a young Pakistani named Zoheb, recently returned after living in the US for many years. The guesthouse was obviously struggling to stay afloat and to say that it was dilapidated was being kind. The 3 inch foam mattress on the bed had been compressed to 1 inch of solid rubber by the untold number of guests it had supported over the decades. And the power situation was more erratic that anywhere else I had experienced in my travels so far.But, the Old Hunza Inn did provide an astonishing first. One evening when there was power I decided to have a shower while I could. I turned on the hot water tap and out came lots of steaming hot water. Far too hot, in fact. So I turned on the cold water to moderate the temperate a bit. Nothing! I tried turning the hot water back but to no avail. It was either scalding hot or nothing. Too much hot water – hitherto unimaginable!
One afternoon, I walked up to the historic Baltit Fort. Parts of the fort date from the 13th century and it was the home of the Mir of Hunza right up until the 1940’s. The fort is perched on a rocky outcrop high above Karimabad and gives uninterrupted views of the entire Hunza valley including Nagar, on the opposite bank of the Hunza River, which was home to the traditional enemies of Hunza for many centuries.
Much of the time I spent talking to the staff and the locals about how the decline in tourism affected their life. It was odd to see shops selling the whole range of specialist trekking or mountain-climbing gear and not a person in sight to buy it. And this was the peak (no pun intended) of the trekking/mountain-climbing season. Occasionally a new guest would check in to the guesthouse but they were mostly overnight stays only. If Zoheb was around, we would occasionally discuss the current state of affairs in Pakistan. It was interesting to hear the viewpoint of a Pakistani who had spent so long abroad in the US.
Apart from filling in my days with sight-seeing, eating walnut cake and idle chatter, I had one small administrative task to complete while in Karimabad. Before I could get myself and the bike onto the boat at Lake Attabad I had to get a permit called an NOC (No Objection Certificate) from the District Commissioner. Unfortunately, the DC spent more time out of his office than in it and, for several days, each time I visited his office I was told to come back tomorrow. Eventually the Assistant DC gave in and signed the NOC himself, and I was free to continue my journey north to the Chinese border.
Finally, it was time to move on again. I said farewell to the friendly staff of the homely, if not entirely comfortable, Old Hunza Inn and headed further up into the massive peaks of the Karakoram Range. Next stop was the small village of Passu.
But first, I had a lake to get across.