Himalaya 1993, 1995

Descendants from mythical creatures

(Extract from the diary)

In the late afternoon hours – the sun’s long disappeared behind the mountains rising up to 8000 metres – Tanja and I stroll around through the charming mountain village called Karimabad. It feels good to move about amongst these extremely amicable people. The mentality of the people up here in the Hunza valley completely differs from the rest of the Pakistani. Some of the aristocratic leaders of Hunza even claim to be descended from mythical creatures, whereas many lesser mortal Northern Pakistanis boast to be direct descendants from Alexander the Great, locally called Iskander, who once upon a time crossed the Hindukush on his way to India. The clear blue eyes and pale skin of many people here might even confirm the theory that one or the other soldier out of Alexander’s army had actually stayed in this area. On the other hand, there are plentiful differing ethnic groups and languages in the North, which makes this theory appear somewhat daring to me.

The art of canalisation
To us this tiny mountain village feels like paradise. We’ve been here for weeks now, writing a book on our expedition through Pakistan. Some of the people living here already know us by now, and wave and laugh at us. Small cornfields border the winding path. In a great effort, the farmers had constructed narrow terraces which they now cultivate. The fresh green colour of the fields reaches up to the steep faces of the six to seven thousand metres high mountains. An ingenious aquifer system ensures the supply of the vital wet element even to the most remote corners of each and every field. In the course of centuries the Hunza people have developed great skills as architects for canalisation and terrace construction: every possible spot, however tiny it may be, is fertilized by them.

The fertile green fields bear a great contrast to the gigantic mountain area. The brilliance of the Hunza’s performance when establishing this aquifer system becomes more and more obvious. Not too long ago, they developed a canalisation ensuring them a permanent supply of fresh water. Falling rocks killed at least ten of them during construction works. Yet, the farmers wouldn’t give up on their project, and thus finished building this so vital canalisation. At parts its incline can hardly be made out, making it difficult to say which way the water is flowing. This architectonical piece of art snuggles along Nullah’s almost vertical rock faces, routing the melt water of the Ultar glacier down to the valley. It passes alarmingly steep slopes, and often enough its way is abridged by tunnels. At places, even simple wooden channels are needed to reroute the water. Retention basins have been set up at regular intervals in order to have a better control over the water. The amount of water flowing depends on the weather and the season, but the retention basins guarantee a constant water level, and prevent the villages from being flooded.

Like most streams, channels and snowmelts, all water runs down the valley into the wild Indus, turning its water body more and more mighty. Today, modern Chinese style bridges arch across the Indus. Previous to the Karakorum-Highway, however, these bridges looked completely different. At that time people had to cross the river with the help of three ropes made out of birch twigs which were spanned over the torrential waters. The bottom rope was used to balance on like a tightrope dancer, whereas the two upper guiding ropes were used to hold on to, one on each side.

Centenarians are no rarity here
The village of Karimabad is built on the side of the yet unscaled Glacier Ultar which has a height of 7.399 metres. In good weather, its two snow-capped main peaks can be seen poking out of the clouds. On the other side of the valley, the grand Pakaposhi majestically forms the border of the valley with its height of 7.780 metres. In Karimabad itself, fertile land is such a rarity that there is hardly any space for livestock. Humans often share their houses with goats, sheep and cattle. The little land the Hunza dispose of to cultivate is used to sow corn and maize, or for fruit orchards. They are famous for their delicious apricots, and to this day, despite the ban on alcohol, they grow wine which is left to ripen in the one or other cellar, maturing to become “Hunza water” (fruit wine). Fruits are dried as a stock for the severe winters, and the apricot stones are ground and used as food for the livestock. The interior of the apricot stone is extracted to gain oil for heating and for skin protection. In the spring time, there is hardly anything left to be bought in the shops. Infant mortality used to be very high here, especially prior to the completion of the Karakorum Highway.

Thanks to their wholesome diet, the pure air, the vitamin-packed apricots, the glacier water, rich in minerals, and the permanent peacefulness, the Hunza were known to become very old. Centenarians were no rarity here. However, the penetration of coke and hamburgers even to this corner of the world has managed to put an end to this…


Himalaya 1993/1995

On their overland route to China, Tanja and Denis Katzer came across the Karakorum Highway. The impressive and rugged mountain range of the Hindukush, the Karakorum and the Himalaya altogether counts more than 120 peaks with an average height of 6550 metres.