Day 4: Passu to Hunza

Given the length of the journey and terrain we had to cover, we had broken up the bulk of the trip from China to Pakistan into two days. Our first night in Pakistan was spent in Passu, a small village by the KKH. The next morning we continued south down the road towards Hunza, our first real “destination” in Pakistan where we would spend a few days.

The drive from Passu took us past numerous villages and the occasional Indiana Jones-style cable suspension bridge over the river, rudimentary structures with some gaping gaps between the wooden boards. At one point we reached a section of the road in pretty bad shape because the snout of the Ghulkin Glacier has been inching downhill in recent years, bulldozing everything in its way. Quite eery peering up from the cars at the terminal moraine of boulders and dirty ice!

After an hour or so from Passu we reached the end of the road at Attabad Lake. In 2010 a monstrous landslide dragged down a sizable chunk of mountain and blocked the river, killing 19 people in a village which was buried/wiped out. There were two major consequences from this event. Firstly, the landslide took out the KKH and no traffic was able to get up or down the highway – this explained the lack of traffic and belching trucks on the highway, and our guide told us that since then the volume of traffic has been only around 5% of normal.

The other major consequence from the landslide is that it blocked the river, forming Attabad Lake in the months that followed. The Chinese are presently building a new road and extensive set of tunnels to bypass the lake and reopen the KKH, but for the time being (next year or two) the only way to continue down the valley is to use one of the boats now on the lake to ferry from one end to the other.

The boats plying the lake turned out to be some surprisingly large home-made timber structures, with two tractor engines mounted on planks out to the side and long propellers affixed to the shafts and a driver in the cockpit above the stern. We loaded on to one of the boats with our gear, and once the two engines were hand-cranked to start we were on our way.

The first part of the boat trip was down a fairly rapid section of the river, and we were told the old KKH was about 100 feet below the waterline beneath us (extending to around 400 feet at its deepest point). The grey silty water if the river was soon replaced with quite brilliant turquoise water that took me back to some alpine lakes in Switzerland. The scenery for the next hour was spectacular, with the water color contrasted by the soaring cliffs and snow-capped peaks visible above the side valleys. For me, this was one of the highlights of the entire journey!

At the other end of the lake a makeshift harbor was in full swing, with boats being loaded and unloaded and bright, colorful Pakistani trucks waiting on the steep dirt tracks for their turn. I was able to rattle off a few quick photos but we were in a hurry to find the Toyota Land Cruisers we would be using for the remainder of our time in Pakistan. In a convoy of four vehicles we drove up over the enormous mound of rocks from the landslide blocking the valley and rejoined the old KKH just a few kilometers away from the upper end of the Hunza Valley and our hotel in Karimabad.



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