Breathtaking view of Hindukush Valley, the Passu Cones, and snow-clad mountain peaks struck passengers in awe

Our party of eight had their fingers crossed at the Islamabad International Airport   as the scheduled take-off time for the flight PK605 to Gilgit was inching close.

The ATR took off at 08:00am, right on schedule with all visible chortles to one of the most difficult but adventurous and spectacular country sights of Pakistan. The pilot in the cockpit carrying around thirty passengers also performed the duties of a tourist guide apart from navigating in one of the most difficult terrains. Passengers would jump from their seats on his command to the left and to the right to have a closer look at the world’s ninth highest mountain on earth, the Nanga Parbat also called the ‘Killer Mountain’.

Breathtaking view of Hindukush Valley, the Passu Cones, and snow-clad mountain peaks struck all the passengers in awe and so the flight of one hour and fifteen minutes ended in a blink of an eye before the wheels were on the ground.

We had two choices , either to hire two four-wheel  jeeps and split the party into two groups or either go for one eight-seater big van  which might not be able to take us on all the sight scenes due to the rocky terrain but at least will keep us all together. So, we went with second option.

The drive from Gilgit airport to Serena resorts in Hunza was about two hours approximately. Although none of us were early birds, still nobody wanted to miss the sightseeing on the way to the valley. So, we kept flooding questions to the driver and requesting him for pit stops after every 15 minutes.

Serena hotels or resorts are located right under the arms of Altit Fort. The vicinity was recently acquired by the Serena hotels in addition to the main 80-room hotel which is under construction and will be operational within the next two years at Kareemabad, Zero Point. Another jewel in the Hunza crown will be added by Serena hotels management in the Gulmit region where 98 canals of land have already been acquired. The other one is in Susst with 54 rooms.

Altit Fort is the oldest monument in Gilgit-Baltistan.  It was renovated between 2005-2009 with the funding from Norway and the management of Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN). Built by Tibetan architects, the place is so cold in summer that it gives a feeling of air conditioning. “Altit Fort’s earthquake resistance post-renovation is 8.5 rector scale minimum and in 1,100 years since its construction, the fort has stood unscratched at a place which is considered the fourth most dangerous earthquake zone in the world.

The topography in Gilgit-Baltistan calls for something different and unique which can match the taste of the environment in the region. Outdoor glamping is the answer which Serena Management found to cater to the demand of the rising tourism industry in Hunza. The overall structure of the glamping tents is simple and they can be re-used in other places. The frame is made of aluminium and the structure is corrosion-resistant and strong. These 17 glamping rooms are resistant to wind and water ensuring no combustion and ventilation impact due to various weather conditions, sometimes -15 in winters.  It is very much in line with the concept of green tourism which is a priority of Serena hotels. These 17 rooms have been manufactured with transparent PVC so that one can see the outside scenery in the glamping tents.

The design provides visitors with the best view of the valley and patios with each room to breathe fresh morning Hunza air and feed the eye with mesmerising scenery. “This retreat employs over 40 staff members from the local community on daily wages to cater to the needs of the guest,” said   Serena Resorts’ caretaker   , Asghar Khan.

It is pertinent to note that most of the corporate organisations,  based in Gilgit-Baltistan either work in partnership with the local community or engage them one way or the other to provide financial assistance and integrate with the locals. Serena hotel management is no exception. They have taken the lead in areas like preservation of cultural heritage, gender equality, start-ups, and rejuvenating economic lifeline amongst the denizens of Hunza.

“There are more than 350 members of honey bee associations in Gilgit-Baltistan. We select the most deserving ones and buy honey from them after verification from the laboratories in Lahore. In 2018, we started this partnership initially by purchasing two tons of honey. It was eight tons in 2019, and it has been steadily increasing since then year by year. Same is the story with the purchase of locally produced figs, apricot, mulberry, apple, cherries, and even local butter,” informed Asghar Khan beamingly.

Gilgit-Baltistan’s magnum opus is the majestic peaks to track, ibex and snow leopard to spot, and yak meat to grill.  Although there are plenty of valleys to see, Naltar Ski Resort and Attabad Lake steal the show.

The time in Gilgit-Baltistan passed in a flash and it was time to say au revoir.  Our last meal in Gilgit-Baltistan was a local delicacy, invited by a friend from Gulmit. The food was in abundance and it was very difficult to decide where to start.  Chapshoro, dao dao soup, mumtu, and prapu (wheat handmade noodles with walnut paste) were served as appetizers followed by balay with goat meat, aab gosht, and kurba. However, the showstoppers were yak meat and quruth moch (meat and noodles soup).

 

 

Photos by Mustafa Tariq Awan

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