Hunza People – the friendliest lot ever!
Hunza Valley in Gilgit-Baltistan is famous for its scenic beauty, its fruit trees, its unique location but what strikes most to a visitor is the very friendly nature of its people. My twelve year old daughter wondered how could an entire community be so nice, pleasant and helpful. I thought maybe it was the water of Hunza that sweetened the people and fruits alike.
We reached Hunza late in the night and our hotel, Eagle’s Nest, was right at the top of the hill. The road was narrow and very steep, our car tired and hot after two long days of rough journey. Half way up the hill, our poor car refused to go any further. Stranded in the middle of nowhere, almost at midnight, we were standing on the road, looking very scared. Soon a motorbike passed us and after a couple of minutes it returned. On boy on the bike greeted us and told us not to worry. He then went and brought back water and more help. They cooked down our car and escorted us right to the top to our hotel. And this was just one of the many incidents of the generosity and decency of the local people.
The next morning, I met a gorgeous old lady who was sitting on the front steps of her home. As I passed by her I asked permission to photograph her. She happily agreed, offered me her colourful traditional hand embroidered cap to try on and insisted I get my picture taken in the cap too.
Hunza people are liberal and the women of the region are tough and daring, breaking taboos and training for jobs traditionally done by men, including as carpenters and climbing guides on the Himalayan peaks. We visited a school building entirely built by women carpenters and a cafe run by women.
Many local women are learning ice and rock climbing techniques, getting rescue training and doing courses in tourism management.
The Temple of Apricot Cake and much more!
No, that’s not the actual name of the place. That’s the name I’ve given it because of its location, the reverence with which local people recommend it and the passion you need to reach it. A beautifully serene eatery, at the top of the hill, facing the glacier, right beside the musical presence of River Hunza , aptly named Cafe Glacier Breeze. Eating lunch there was one of the best things that happened while visiting the northernmost mountains of Pakistan, in Hunza, with my family.
The cafe is famous for its apricot cake all over Hunza. But it’s located in the middle of nowhere, and is almost hidden from view from the road, so we drove right past it a couple of times. When finally we realised that the long, steep steps disappearing somewhere near the top of the hill actually led to the cafe. There were a hundred plus steps with slight ascent, kind of a mini version of the Great Wall of China. While climbing, midway I thought, ” this plum cake better be good, people ! ”
Before starting to climb, none of us were really hungry so we decided we shall only have some tea and share a slice of cake to taste. By the time we reached the top, all of us were starving! How clever for their business, right! The cafe was empty because it was time for neither breakfast nor lunch. Ali Ahmed, owner, chef and waiter, at the cafe, welcomed us with a warm smile, a characteristic of the very hospitable Hunza people, and promptly set chairs on the breezy terrace for us. Like many other locals in the valley, his ancestors also came from Tajikistan generations ago and settled in this gorgeous valley.
When we checked the menu, it had many interesting local dishes and we were extremely hungry now. So we ordered a whole big hearty lunch with Dowdo Soup (cooked with chicken mince, mint and handmade noodles), Hunza Pie (whole wheat pie crusts stuffed with tomatoes, local mushrooms and curd cheese) and of course, the long awaited Apricot Cake . He was surprisingly fast in serving all the food. What was the food like? The soup was so comforting that for our entire visit we had it everyday. The pie was amazing, bursting with the goodness of fresh ingredients. We had ordered one slice of cake, that we gobbled up in a jiffy so ordered another to enjoy more calmly with a cup of special Hunza tea, called Tummuro . Still not done with the very moist and apricots loaded cake, we decided to get one whole cake packed for next day’s breakfast. Greedy us!
Apricots were the highlight of our trip, from our hotel garden to the trees on roadside, the place was loaded with ripe apricots that tasted like nothing I’ve tasted before. Plucking them straight from the trees and washing them in cold spring water has become one of the most delicious memories of my life!