AdventurePakistan

The Road to Shimshal, Pakistan

The road to Shimshal is one of those unpaved, rocky, dirt, sand, winding, mountain roads. But what it lacks in guardrails it makes up for in river crossings. The approximately 60-kilometer road, a turnoff from the Karakoram Highway, was completed in 2003 after 18 years of construction. Shimshal is the highest settlement in the Hunza region and the last village in Pakistan before the Chinese border.

This past May, with six other cyclists and two four-wheel drive jeeps hauling drinking water, backpacks, and our Pakistani guide, I navigated the road by bicycle. Traveling the road by motorized vehicle is bumpy and scary. Pedaling a bike on it was one of the most incredible, heart-racing, grip-the-handlebars-so-hard-my-hands-cramped, I-really-really-hope-these-brakes-don’t-give-out, experiences of my life.

And I’m so glad I did it.

Shimshal is sort of magical. Almost all of the approximately 250 houses use solar panels to generate electricity. They also have cell service, solar powered too, through the Special Communications Organization, a GSM service provider in the Gilgit-Baltistan region. There are green fields of crops, well-maintained mud and stone houses, a school, and dirt roads lined with hand-constructed rock walls.

Shimshal may be one of the most remote villages in the world but when it comes to community involvement and hospitality, they are an admirable model for well-connected civilizations across the world.

They don’t get many visitors in Shimshal and we were greeted by small clusters of curious children. The adults we passed on our way in smiled and waved. Ours was a planned visit, so they were obviously expecting us. An older man, tending a garden with a shovel, gestured for us to stop. He shook hands with each and every one of us (even me, a woman) and welcomed us to Shimshal.

There’s one hotel/guesthouse in Shimshal, near the school and the soccer field. The Shimshal Valley is surrounded by mountains like Distaghil Sar (7,885m) and Lughar Sar (7,200m), and gigantic glaciers such as the Yazghail and Khurdopin. The valley is one of the biggest adventure areas in the Hunza region, and has produced many well-known mountaineers, including Samina Baig, the first Pakistani woman to scale Mount Everest.

While hanging around waiting for dinner, I heard the sounds of children playing nearby. I walked out to the edge of the guesthouse yard and climbed atop a rock wall to get a view of the field next to the school. There was a full-on soccer match in progress. I couldn’t quite figure out how to differentiate who was on which team, but everyone involved seemed to know and the game was extremely lively and fast paced.

The Road to Shimshal, Pakistan

Shimshal Pass, Pakistan. Photo: Mare/Flickr

Young girls watched from both ends of the field, as well as adults who gathered near my perch. My cycling cohorts were all soon drawn out from their naps to watch. Towards the end (well, I think it was the end), the match was interrupted by a herd of yaks that plodded slowly into the midst of the action. The game was abandoned then, and all the kids worked together to steer the direction of the yaks.

The herding was just as interesting to watch as the game. We, the seven Westerners present, were enthralled.

The people of Shimshal adhere to a unique social self-help philanthropic system known as Nomus. What this essentially boils down to is that the wealthier members of the community sponsor something like a bridge, trail, or building for the whole village’s benefit, providing resources for the project. Nomus is carried out to honor a relative’s memory (whether they are alive or dead) and to generate blessings from God.

Shimshal receives little (if any) financial aid from the government or the private sector. It is only through the idea of Nomus that the Shimshal community has accomplished many of its infrastructure projects and developments.

Towards the end, the soccer match was interrupted by a herd of yaks that plodded slowly into the midst of the action. The game was abandoned then, and all the kids worked together to steer the direction of the yaks.

While out walking, we came upon a man and his wife making bricks, of a sort: pouring a concrete mixture into metal frames laid out on the ground. They said they were fabricating the bricks to build a shop where the community could bring their wares to sell and trade.

Everyone I encountered in Shimshal spoke English and seemed genuinely happy and proud to be part of their community. Plus, they were eager to tell us all about it. Every villager we met seemed to go out of their way to make us feel welcome, stopping to inquire about our journey and asking if we needed anything (blankets, water, food).

Shimshal may be one of the most remote villages in the world but when it comes to community involvement and hospitality, they are an admirable model for well-connected civilizations across the world.

Article by Vanessa Nirode.

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