Access & Resources: Deep in the Karakoram;
By Sara Corbett
In Pakistan's northeast corner, where blossoming apricot, peach, and cherry orchards proliferate under robust, 25,000-foot Karakoram peaks, the Hunza Valley is nothing short of dazzling. Prime trekking season is June to September, but Hunza's beauty is most acute between March and June, when the orchards bloom, and in October, when the poplars turn rich shades of red and gold.
Pakistan International Airlines (800-221-2552) and British Airways (800-247-9297) fly to Islamabad, Pakistan, from New York, with round-trip fares starting at $1,862. From Los Angeles, take Thai Airways International (800-426-5204) to Karachi, Pakistan, and continue on to Islamabad on Pakistan International Airlines. Together, the flights cost roughly $1,800, round-trip. At least three weeks before leaving for Pakistan, arrange for a visa ($20) through the Pakistan consulate in New York (212-879-5800) or Los Angeles (310-441-5114).
From Islamabad, take the Pakistan International Airlines prop-driven Fokker Friendship to Gilgit. Though one flight is scheduled daily, heavy cloud cover often reduces the number of flights to several a week. On a clear day, you'll need a sharp pair of elbows to work your way to the ticket desk and secure a seat (about $40 one-way) on the notoriously overbooked plane. Hardy travelers may opt for the cramped, 15-hour bus ride (about $6 one-way).
From Gilgit, continue by bus or hired jeep to Karimabad, Hunza's unofficial capital. A minibus system connects most towns in the Hunza Valley, and for about $25 a day you can rent a jeep, with driver, from any number of private companies.
From the villages of Karimabad, Gulmit, and Pasu, Hunza offers some of Asia's most pristine high-altitude trekking routes. For anything more than a day hike, you'll need to hire a local guide or tourist outfitter. Guide service, with porters and food, should cost approximately $50 per person per day. Ask other travelers to recommend reliable guides, or contact Walji's Adventure Pakistan (011-92-51-812151) or Karakoram Tours (011-92-51-829120), both in Islamabad.
Because of frequent landslides, phone lines are often down in the Hunza region, making advance bookings for hotel rooms difficult. Your best bet is to call hotels locally one or two nights ahead of your arrival. Hot water is an uncommon luxury, but rooms are generally clean and comfortable. Expect to pay between $18 and $30 per night.
The Serena Lodge (in town, dial 2330) and the Chinar Inn (2562) are the best accommodations Gilgit has to offer, while Karimabad has several top-quality inns, including the Hill Top Inn (10) and the Mountain View Inn (17). For a few dollars more, you can stay in one of several cramped but stylish rooms at the mir's palace (12).
Inner Asia Expeditions (800-777-8183) leads a 16-day trip from Hunza to Chinese Turkistan and a 21-day romp through Pakistan's several "valley kingdoms," including Hunza. Concordia Expeditions (719-395-9191) focuses exclusively on Pakistan, offering two Hunza-based excursions: a Karakoram Highway jeep trip and a weeklong trek on Batura Glacier. Mountain Travel-Sobek (800-227-2384) takes travelers rafting on the Ghizar River, northwest of Gilgit, and through Hunza on an expedition following the Silk Road from China to Islamabad. Prices range from $2,400 to $4,295, excluding airfare.
Lonely Planet's Karakoram Highway ($14.95) is a solid how-to guide for traveling in Pakistan and western China. Pick up Isobel Shaw's Pakistan Handbook (Moon Publications, $15.95) for detailed descriptions and historical background on Pakistan. An excellent resource for trekkers is Trekking in Pakistan and India (Sierra Club Books, $15.95), by Hugh Swift.