BASICS OF GHULKIN Aug 18, '07 10:02 AM
Ghulkin Village is located in Gojal, upper Hunza. It is reached by following the Karakoram Highway (KKH) 140km north of Gilgit. This trip takes 3-4 hours by van. From a turn-off just beyond Gulmit, a winding jeep track leads upwards for 3 km, until the ground flattens out and the first houses of the village come into view.
Ghulkin occupies the site of an old glacier fed lake, which has been silted up by continuous sedimentation. Many of the 140 traditional dwellings that constitute Ghulkin village are arranged in a circular form, facing the one-time shores of the lake, creating a wonderfully communal atmosphere. The central area now supports several dwellings and fields, including a strip of land often used as a cricket pitch.
There is no accurate historical record of the origin of the village, though it is estimated to be around 600 years old. According to local folklore, there were settlements here while the lake was still in existence, this area being used as pastureland in summer. The name is derived from two words of the local Wakhi dialect, 'Ghulk', meaning 'well' and 'kin', meaning 'whose'.
Being an area of low rainfall, the most vital requirement is water for irrigation, livestock, drinking and domestic use. Khawaja Ahmed, and Ismaili Muslim who came here with the Mir of Hunza, asked him for land. After the Mir agreed, Khawaja Ahmed mobilised the people of the area to construct a water-channel to irrigate the land. This made cultivation possible and the Ismaili settlement flourished. Now small scale health and educational institutions, electricity and water-sully facilities are available in the village. Through the involvement of capacity-building NGOs, there is also a handicraft production centre and opportunities for other vocational training.
The Jammatkhana, the central religious institution for all Ismaili Muslims, holds a strong position in the community. Apart from its religious functions, it provides a central location for community meetings, festivals, celebrations, resolution of disputes and much more.
In Upper Hunza, winters are long and can become bitterly cold, though the seasoned winter traveller will see a world of immense beauty at this time of the year. Snowfall brings with it the Himalayian ibex, descending in search for grass breaking through the covering snow. Summers are hot in the north, though more pleasant than the harsh temperatures in summer are around 30 degrees Celsius. In winter the temperature remains below freezing point, further dropping at night.
Places of Interest
Approximately 2 km to the north of Ghulkin lies Borith Lake, a saline body of water occupying a small hollow at an elevation of 2500 meters. The lake can be reached via a 2 km unpaved jeep route from Hussaini village, which lies adjacent to Ghulkin village. It is also accessible by a 2-3 hour trekking route directly from Ghuylkin, across the end of the Ghulkin glacier. The site is an important sanctuary for migrating wildfowl and is a must to be included in the itinerary of bird-watchers and nature lovers. To witness the large number of ducks arriving from the warmer parts of southern Pakistan, one should visit between the months of March and June. The birds rest here on their way northwards to the cooler waters of central Asia. Similarly, from September - November, the spectacle occurs in reverse with the onset of winter towards the north.
A short trek of one hour each way will bring you to Ghulkin Glacier. Just follow the trekking route towards Borith Lake as far as the edge of the glacier, and return by the same route.
For the more adventurous, a longer walk to Passu Gar Glacier is another attraction, crossing both Ghulkin Glacier and Borith Lake. Having crossed Ghulkin Glacier by the same route, continue on the southern side of Borith Lake past the settlement of Borith Bala and the now deserted settlement of Shahabad. The lack of a continuous water supply led to the desertification of this village many years ago. On reaching Passu Gar, one finds a spectacular view of all the icy crenellations along its length. The walk takes about 4-5 hours form Ghulkin to Passu. From the glacier, a path leads down to the KKH and the Shisper Hotel.
Alternatively, transport can be obtained locally, enabling the exploration of many routes around this area from different starting points, such as Gulmit.
Ghulkin and its surrounding areas provide wonderful opportunities for trekking. One, two or three day treks exist, as well as long hikes for the more adventurous. Visits to the summer pastures such as Patundas, provide excellent short treks, with stunning views of the nearby glaciers. The proximity of three major glacial valleys, Ghulkin, Pasu and the mighty Batura glacier, provides plenty of choices for the accomplished trekker.
An important point to note here is that the forests of Ghulkin wood for fuel by trekkers and mountaineering parties. All visitors to this area are requested to arrange for alternate cooking fuel such as kerosene for their trekking group.
Both the surroundings of Borith Lake and the summer pastureland of the Patundas are recommended camping grounds, set in magnificent natural surroundings.
Accommodation is available both at Borith Lake and in Ghulkin Village. A small hotel at Borith Lake has three guest-rooms. Small, simple hotels and village guest-houese in Ghulkin are also available. Food and refreshments are available at both locations.
Main Tourist Season
Tourist season starts in June and ends around mid October. This in largely because of could winters in Hunza and the fact that most visitors are en route to China, via the Khunjerab Pass, which closes in winter. For the intrepid traveller, however, the area offers many rewards to the winter visitor. As the winter snows cover the mountain slopes, the scattered villages are surrounded in vibrant while. The mountain monarchs, the Himalayan ibex, decend in search of clumps of grass on which to feed, and every the elusive snow leopard becomes less wary at this time of year in its desperate search for prey. Attacks on livestock are not uncommon nowadays, due to population reduction in its major prey species, the ibex. Unfortunately, these starvation induced attacks do nothing to help this beautiful but scarce creature and it is often persecuted as a result.
Navroze on the 21st of March, is both a religious and a cultural festival. There are dances and festive gatherings to welcome spring. Prayers are offered for a good harvest season. Navroze is also the beginning of the Ismaili new year. People gather at the village Jamaatkhana to celebrate and pray for a happy new year. The celebrations take place in theoutdoors.
Wingus-tue (Marriage of the Sparrow) falls in March. Villagers gather together to eat and pray. Kitdith is an additional event to Wingus-tui. Dried meat left over from the winter season is eaten on this occasion and people pray for a productive planting season.
Cheneer is a local event which marks the beginning of the harvest season, extending from July-August.
Taghum is a two day event, taking place in the ploughing season during March.
Sharma and Pattu are the traditional local handicrafts of the area. Pattu is a hand-made product, made form sheep's wool. It is used to make local caps, sweaters, gloves, waistcoats, blankets and a variety of jackets and coats, all of which are available locally. Sharma is also made locally from wool spun from goat hair. Sharma is used to make local carpets of an extremely durable nature. The production of handicrafts is an important area of development as it supports financial equity and empowers people. Purchasing such items directly benefits these communities. All these products are hand made.
For a small fee, visitors to Ghulkin Village may have a look at the oldest house in the settlement, know as Busing House, named after one of the original settlers. This small museum packed with artifacts of varying degrees of antiquity, is a fascinating journey in time. The house itself is known to be over 700 years old. Your small contribution will help the owner in his task of restoring the building, which has suffered the ravages of time. Nearby in Gulmit, those with an interest in the rich cultural heritage of this area, can pay a visit to the old residence of the local Mir.
The Mirs were the rulers of the micro kingdoms found along the Hunza River until as recently as the early seventies. The Gulmit Museum is still home to many possessions that tell the story of those years. Intrepid travellers from Central Asia arrived bearing gifts for the Mir such as carpets, swords and traditional brass teapots, which lie amongst the exhibits.
Flora and Fauna
The trees that make up the depleting forest mainly belong to the juniper species. In other areas, wild rose, willow and birch add their soft beauty to the landscape. In spring many fruit trees blossom, transforming the harsh look of winter into a utopia of delicate scents and pastel whites.
The mountainous areas to the west of Ghulkin and Gulmit are home to the snow leopard, Himalayan ibex, wold, red fox and hares. Red foxes and hares are common sights on the walks and treks outside the village, especially at dawn and dusk. Longer, high altitude treks offer increased chances of spotting the Himalayan ibex, although keen eyesight and binoculars are essential possessions. The ibex are relatively common in this area; the best time to visit in order to see them starts from January through to May, in the nullahs near Ghulkin. You are fortunate if you spot the elusive snow leopard. Look out for its footprints as you move on. Locals report having seen two snow leopards in the Ghulkin catchment area on the same day, at two different locations.
Common birds of the area, which a trekker would stand a good chance of seeing during a week around Ghulkin, include: Wagtail species, the beautiful Golden Oriole, House Sparrow, Hoopoe, both Red-and Yellow-billed Chough (or Rock Partridge), Ram Chukkar (Himalayan Snowcock), Snow Pigeon and Magpie.
Ghulkin is a small village with a few facilities This does not stop the local community from happily taking part in games such as volleyball, football and cricket. These games are played in the central area of the village, agricultural fields or in gardens. Children can sometimes be seen improvising upon a game of polo, but without the all too expensive horses!!