shimshal

Picture perfect Shimshal Pass Trek: all you should know

History of Shimshal Valley Hunza

It was chosen as a settlement by Mamu Singh, the ancestor of the Shimshal people, to get away from the overbearing rulers of Hunza, 700 years ago.

The Hunza rulers kept banishing their prisoners to Shimshal to keep them far from civilization – Mamu Singh was a renegade too.

Shimshal village and Shimshal pass called the Pamir Mountains provided an alternate route to China’s Xinjiang region.

There are remnants of Kyrgyz people all along the Shimshal Trek in the way of demolished settlements and stone roads.

Which language do Shimshal people speak?

Shimshal people speak the Wakhi language that is heavily influenced by Persian phrases.

I am assuming Wakhi must have Kirgiz/Turkic words as well – but that is just a hunch.

Francis Younghusband is the first Englishman to have recorded his trip to Shimshal in the early 1800s.

The road to Shimshal

The road to Shimshal has always been dangerous right up to the Malangutti glacier, which completely blocks the path toward Shimshal.

It is only after you pass the Malangutti glacier that the valley starts opening up till you reach the foothills of Yazghil glacier.

In summers, when a glacial lake bursts, Shimshal is cut off from civilization for several days.

Shimshal is still remote and the road is narrow.

Some people call it one of the most dangerous roads in Pakistan.

Shimshal Valley Map

How to reach Shimshal Valley?

To reach Shimshal, in Gojal Gilgit Baltistan, you must take a right turn at Passu, just after Husseini Bridge, Hunza on a dirt track.

How much time to reach Shimshal from Islamabad?

It takes 4 h on a jeep to reach Shimshal from Passu.

And it takes 16.5 h to get to Shimshal from Islamabad on the Karakorum Highway, over Babusar Pass.

If you take the Besham road to Hunza, it will take 20 h to reach Shimshal from Islamabad.

PRO TIP 1

Faisal movers and NATCO buses are not allowed over Babusar Pass, so plan your trip accordingly.

Jeep ride to Shimshal Valley

Don’t try taking your own 4×4 there as the road requires experience to navigate.

The jeep guys of Shimshal charge Rs 5000 per person from Gilgit to Shimshal.

When you get close to Shimshal village, the valley opens up wide with Shimshal River flowing on the Northside.

Shimshal Valley runs on a West to East Axis.

Shimshal Weather

In winters, which start around the second week of August, most of the inhabitants, especially young kids leave for better education and economic opportunities south.

Try to get to Shimshal pass before the second week of August, or else the weather window becomes narrower.

Shimshal village stays pleasant until the start of September, after which the temperature becomes chilly.

Hotels at Shimshal

We stayed at the Shimshal Tourist Lodge, Gojal Hunza.

  • Phone 03554167177/03418883053

That is mostly reserved for foreign tourists.

They charged us Rs 3000 per person per night and the rooms were clean, with running water and electricity available

Now that the USA has eased travel restrictions, try getting your booking from

  • Hasil Shah 03554167177/03555022205,

He is the owner, so book before the foreigners’ book in advance.

The other option is

  • Minglik Guest House and
  • Shimshal Embassy Ph.: 03554103911

Both these charges Rs 2000 per night minus the food, which costs Rs 500 per day.

Beauty of Shimshal

Shimshal is at 3100 m altitude and the major sign that you have reached Shimshal is the

  • apricots,
  • plums and
  • wheat fields

In full bloom in the summer months.

And did I mention the ladies of Shimshal are beautiful and well dressed as well?

Who said you should dress less colorful if you aren’t rich.

Shimshal Pass Tour Company

I went to Shimshal with Rock Valley Tours ph: 03474598096/03316768414 with their headman Manzoor Hussain ph: 03454354348 as our Guide.

The charges for a 12-day tour from Hunza to Shimshal Pass, climb to Minglik Sar, and Back to Hunza are Rs 100,000 for Pakistanis.

Do not forget to read the fine print of the travel program they send you, there may be hidden charges.

This guide is a hardworking person and tries to cater to everyone’s requirements until the last.

The alternative is Shams Alpine tour ph: +923445289842 in case you want to try something new.

Where to get good hiking/trekking/climbing equipment?

To get quality hiking equipment at a reasonable price, call Hasil 03554167177/03555022205 and book your used high altitude hiking and climbing equipment with him.

He has imported equipment leftover from expeditions.

You can also get new stuff from Shimshal Adventure Shop ph: 03070043805

Transportation for Shimshal from Islamabad?

Firstly, to get to Hunza, I booked a seat on a Toyota Corolla Car for Rs 4500 from Rawalpindi.

Sarfraz 03452786855 is the guy who drives all the way to Hunza because he lives there and you can get your recipe for the famous fermented grape juice of Hunza called Hunza water.

Day 1 at Shimshal Village to Gharsar

After a night’s rest, we gathered our courage to start the tough hike of the next day.

Early morning, we set out in the Easterly direction upstream of Shimshal River and toward the Yazghil glacier.

Short of the glacier, we took a sudden left turn and climbed about 200 meters on the first gravel mountain to reach Gharsar’s camping site.

To reach Gharsar, we covered about 9 km and completed it in 4 h.

Camp Gharsar is at 3400 m altitude.

Gharsar is not that cold in August, but you still should cover yourself with fleece or a jacket at night.

This camping site has running water, but no one wants to bathe the first day.

Preen Nasser

Day-2 Gharsar to Preen Nissar

The next day, without warning, we were told to march to the Pass Farzeen camping site.

This leg took 10 h and we covered around 26 km this day.

Pass Farzeen is at 3900 m.

Not only was the distance difficult to handle, but the dizzying heights that we had to navigate along the way were scary.

I have never trekked along a mountain trail, so narrow and so high above a ravine in my entire life.

At some places, there is no track and you must hold on to the rock and foothold to jump across.

Then, there are spots with loose gravel rock sliding down.

Here you should kick into the gravel to get a foothold.

There have been incidences of travelers falling off the track, so be careful.

I managed because my hiking boots had good stone grip and I walked slowly, making sure never to slip.

Dangers at Preen Nissar

At certain places, especially Preen Nisar (two-door) climb, there is no room for mistakes or slipping.

The porters find our antics laughable since they are used to walking these routes and know where to place their feet.

In any case, the porters and guides pore their attention on the hapless girl in the group and leave guys like me to the elements.

At Preen Nissar, the difficulty level suddenly increases when gusty winds at more than 30 knots try blowing you off narrow mountain ledges to the abyss below.

Then, the steps made with make-shift tree trunks have become slippery and you can see the river several hundred feet below through the gap in the steps

This does not give you a reassuring feeling

But this excitement is also what you do not get elsewhere and is the highlight of the tour.

We stopped overnight at Preen Nisar Campsite at 4000 m, but you must climb all the way from the river bed below.

There was running water here as well.

Someone has done a wonderful job trying to make this place tourist-friendly.

                                                                PRO TIP 2

The temperature at Preen Nisar drops to close to zero degrees Celsius in August, so you must have a 1200 g duck down sleeping bag, thermal inner garments, and a wooly cap.

There is no light in any of the campsites, so do not forget to bring your headlamp and solar tent lamp.

You would want to go out at night to take a leak.

Exceptional High Altitude porters of Shimshal

We had two porters with us who had climbed two 8000 m peaks of Pakistan.

One of them, Izzat Beg developed progressive cerebral edema after completing Gasherbrum II twice and had to quit high altitude.

The other, Jalal who had summited Nanga Parbat, G-II, told me firsthand about the story of how Muhammad Ali Sadpara died in the 2021 K-2 summit attempt.

The real story of John Snorri and Hassan Sadpara

According to Jalal, the Nepali Sherpa had warned John Snori that the weather is ominous and they will not be able to summit K-2, which is known for its killer winds above camp 4.

Instead, John Snori decided to take Muhammad Ali Sadpara, Juan Pablo along.

Muhammad Sadpara sent his son back saying his oxygen gauge is faulty, instead, he knew full well that it was a suicide walk.

As expected, all three climbers were discovered a month later hanging on to the same rope 50 meters apart, frozen to death, trying to climb back.

Then, he mentioned how Pakistani mountains are full of false ropes that have killed champion climbers and need to be cleaned.

Pakistani climbers need international accreditation

He suggested, and I concur, that Pakistani climbers need certification from accredited alpine high altitude bodies like Nepali Sherpa have.

This way they will be able to claim due share for their hard work.

This is only possible if the Government, Pakistan Army that have alpine training institutes open up their doors for climbers of

  • Shimshal,
  • Hunza,
  • Sadpara 

Most of the high altitude climbers already know how to fix ropes, hooks, screws, and pitons – it’s just the certification that they lack.

This way Pakistani climbers will be able to get the foreign exchange that the Nepali Sherpa are collecting from Pakistani mountain expeditions.

One Shimshal climber gave me a matter-of-fact account of his one-hour stay on top of K-2.

He said that he voluntarily stayed up there in grave danger, and re-assessed K-2s correct height.

The Italian supplied a 2 kg GPS meter and found it to be 2 meters short of the official 8611 m.

Wildlife on the Shimshal Pass Trek

If you are lucky, the experienced porter in the group will show you

  • Blue Sheep,
  • Ibex,

Up in the mountains.

  • Snow leopard,
  • brown bears and
  • wolves

Are elusive creatures and do not appear during the daytime.

I saw the paw marks of Snow leopard following a herd of Ibex as they had come down for a drink from the mountains close to sunset.

Up ahead at Shujrav Camp (4250 m), there were clear signs of a brown bear tearing up the thatched rooftops of Summer Cottages of Shimshal people, to get to their rations.

August is the last month for bears to get their fats in before the long winter nap and create quite a nuisance for the town folk.

Interesting facts about wildlife at Shimshal

The guide told me about these facts about the wild creatures in Shimshal

  • The way to kill a brown bear is to let it charge right past you and then you strike its lower back with your full might, this will paralyze the bear long enough for you to escape.
  • Snow leopards have never attacked a human and get scared if you shoo it away with a lot of noise.
  • Wolves hunt in packs and you cannot outrun it unless you have a gun to kill one.

In any case, there were ancient bear and snow leopard traps set by locals, made of stone with bones and carcass still visible down in the pit.

Another interesting thing the porters tell you is that till the 1960s the trek to Shimshal Pass ran on the opposite bank of the river and was a lot dangerous.

The old road from Hunza to the Chinese border is in disuse and unusable now.

You can see signs of the old road standing at Shimshal Village.

Exceptional High Altitude porters of Shimshal

We had two porters with us who had climbed two 8000 m peaks of Pakistan.

One of them, Izzat Beg developed progressive cerebral edema after completing Gasherbrum II twice and had to quit high altitude.

The other, Jalal who had summited Nanga Parbat, G-II, told me firsthand about the story of how Muhammad Ali Sadpara died in the 2021 K-2 summit attempt.

The real story of John Snorri and Hassan Sadpara

According to Jalal, the Nepali Sherpa had warned John Snori that the weather is ominous and they will not be able to summit K-2, which is known for its killer winds above camp 4.

Instead, John Snori decided to take Muhammad Ali Sadpara, Juan Pablo along.

Muhammad Sadpara sent his son back saying his oxygen gauge is faulty, instead, he knew full well that it was a suicide walk.

As expected, all three climbers were discovered a month later hanging on to the same rope 50 meters apart, frozen to death, trying to climb back.

Then, he mentioned how Pakistani mountains are full of false ropes that have killed champion climbers and need to be cleaned.

Pakistani climbers need international accreditation

He suggested, and I concur, that Pakistani climbers need certification from accredited alpine high altitude bodies like Nepali Sherpa have.

This way they will be able to claim due share for their hard work.

This is only possible if the Government, Pakistan Army that have alpine training institutes open up their doors for climbers of

  • Shimshal,
  • Hunza,
  • Sadpara 

Most of the high altitude climbers already know how to fix ropes, hooks, screws, and pitons – it’s just the certification that they lack.

This way Pakistani climbers will be able to get the foreign exchange that the Nepali Sherpa are collecting from Pakistani mountain expeditions.

One Shimshal climber gave me a matter-of-fact account of his one-hour stay on top of K-2.

He said that he voluntarily stayed up there in grave danger, and re-assessed K-2s correct height.

The Italian supplied a 2 kg GPS meter and found it to be 2 meters short of the official 8611 m.

Day-3 Preen Nisar to Shimshal Pass Base Camp

From Preen Nisar, we walked 19 km to reach Shimshal Pass grounds close to the lakes.

Shimshal pass is at 4600 m.

The temperature at Shimshal regularly falls below zero degrees Celsius in August, so proper winter clothing is essential.

There is no wood to burn at Shimshal Pass as well, so take good care of keeping yourself warm, even after the climbing expedition.

Shimshal pass is a several-kilometer-long pasture for Yak or the high altitude cows of the Shimshal people.

High altitude Bulls – Yaks

Yaks were once the lifeline of Shimshal, as their major source of proteins.

I think the furry yak, with their wide heads and their nimble hooves, is one of the gorgeous creatures I have ever seen.

Don’t get me wrong, Yak have quite a temper, so don’t go bullfighting them.

The padded hoof of yak enables them to climb to heights of above 5000 m and you’d be embarrassed to see them chilling in a blizzard at an altitude where you’d be thinking of quitting the climb.

Lakes of Shimshal Pass

We all rest the next day and visited the two lakes of Shimshal Pass

  • Zak Zui
  • Lup Zui

As soon as we reached Shimshal pass, it started snowing and didn’t stop until we got down from the high-altitude pasture.

Bad weather is bad news for climbers.

Climb to Minglik Sar (6050 m)

Minglik Sar is not a technical mountain.

You don’t need harnesses and crampons if the weather is clear.

The porter kept warning us no to climb to Minglik Sar in Bad weather, but we insisted.

Out Guide didn’t set up a high altitude camp at 5200 m, which is a must to break the 1400 m climb to the top.

Instead, one of our guys tried to climb from the base camp to the summit at 6050 m, which was a bad idea, especially in fresh snow.

Naturally, he couldn’t make it.

We instead tried climbing the easier Quz Sar Mountain opposite Minglik Sar.

We had to abandon the climb at 5050 m because a lady in our group nearly died of hypothermia.

The weather kept getting worse and we still had 300 meters of steep climb left.

My water and food had frozen solid and the snow was battering me like stones.

I was a little disappointed for not going beyond 5050 m, but at least I am alive.

Shimshal Pass base Camp

We danced, sang, and enjoyed our time back at the base camp.

I had a cold water bath and sunbathed when the weather cleared.

So the lesson is to check the weather before you say yes to Minglik Sar climbing schedule.

Shimshal Pass to Shimshal Village

On the way back, we covered 26 km on one day and 26 km on the second, thereby ending up at Shimshal village by the 11th day of my journey from Islamabad.

Things to see at Shimshal Village

At Shimshal village, I visited

  • the flour grinding mill spun by water pressure,

  • the village museum,
  • Ismaili Jamat Khana and
  • ancient graveyard with Persian script on tombstones and

  • The shrine of Shams Tabriz.

  • Listen to local music instruments Dadang, Rubab, Shehnai.
  • Try local Desi Wakhi Dishes
    • Mantu dumplings
    • Mulida bread crumbs, desi ghee, corn all mashed up

    • Seman, corn, desi ghee, sweetened for Spring festival
    • Pie is Yak Lassi
    • Shalpindok is Yak Chapatti
    • Chap Churro is a meat roll
    • Moch dowdo Soup
    • Gral pancake

You must tell the travel guide well in time to arrange visits to these places as the local people are laid back and find it hard to find the keys to these places at the last moment.

Things to buy at Shimshal

  • Embroider cap
  • Halasho/Niltrik wild green onions
  • Korband tea
  • Katch puke herbs
  • Bozlanj tea
  • Benafshah flower
  • Tumooru tea

Ismaili Jamaat Khana

It is odd that the Shimshal people, who belong to the Ismaili sect of Islam, which is a Sufi-oriented sect, do not allow others to enter the premises of Jamaat Khana.

Sufiism and Ismaili sect were supposed to be less ritualistic.

I find it fascinating that there is a shrine of the famous Sufi and friend of Jalal ud Din Rumi, Shams of Tabriz, close to Shimshal.

Considering the Persian origin of Wakhi people and their Sufi orientation, it is much possible Shams of Tabriz, the wandering Dervish might have visited this place in the 13th century.

Treks around Shimshal Village

I was told, people go to various Yaks grazing pastures

  • Pamir
  • Lubghar
  • Gujrav
  • Yazghil
  • Momail
  • Shpodeen
  • Maidur
  • Khurdopin Pass
  • Dunga Village
  • Goi Ghar Polo Ground
  • Zardkurbain Highest soccer ground in the world
  • Lukpe La Pass
  • Braldu River Crossing
  • Chafchingol Pass
  • Shimshal White Horn Peak 6536 m (Adver Sar)

                                             PRO TIP 3

There is no royalty fee for climbers attempting 6500 m and below,

Charges for Mountain Climbing

To climb peaks above6500m, the charges range from$ 150 – 400 per expedition.

But I didn’t have the energy to do any of these.

Maybe on another trip.

Shimshal to Khurdopin Pass

Some daredevils try to cross over the Khurdopin pass the lies after Yazghil glacier.

I am not that guy yet.

Every 20 years, the Khurdopin glacier blocks the path of Yazghil glacier and lake forms behind it.

When the obstructions suddenly give way, Shimshal is completely flooded, damaging property in the process.

The test ridge near Shimshal Village

As soon as you leave Shimshal, you must climb a narrow ridge just after the village, which is where the guides check whether the travelers are fit enough to climb the rest of the trek.

Mobile Services in Shimshal

There is no Pakistani mobile service active in Shimshal except Special Communication Organization, which has the worst internet ever.

                                                    PRO TIP 4

You must get a 15-day SCO mobile SIM card for the time you are at Shimshal to stay connected with the world.

I hope the government allows regular mobile operators to function at Shimshal so that this hidden wonder is revealed to the world and the people start making real money from their assets.

Return Journey

I came back to Gilgit and found a taxi to take me to Islamabad.

We had to stop for four hours at Raikot where there is a massive mountain slide that has cut off the highway.

Shimshal is for experienced trekkers and not for amateurs.

Conclusion.

I am glad I decided to complete the Shimshal trek as there is no other trek so pristine and quite like it in Pakistan. If you need me to arrange it for you please call 03005111523

As they say in Wakhi, “Chiz Holay” (how are you?)

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