National Geographic : 1953 Oct
At World's End in Hunza 485 This Strange Shangri-La Near the Himalayas Has Few Laws or Taxes and No Army; Bridegrooms Take Mother on the Honeymoon BY JEAN AND FRANC SHOR With Illustrations from Photographs by the Authors HIGH up under the roof of the world, where the towering Himalayas reach eastward to Tibet and the rugged Karakoram Range stretches west to Afghani stan, lies the remote and mysterious land of Hunza, peopled by a race whose origins are lost in time. Hunza's boundaries are indefinite; its pop ulated area lies along the Hunza River Valley, which is seldom more than a mile wide. Its 25,000 inhabitants are taller and fairer of skin than their neighbors; their agricultural meth ods are superior. They irrigate the rocky soil with water from melting glaciers by a system of canals which is an engineering wonder. These people have a well-ordered and stable economy. A famous British physician has de scribed them as the healthiest people in the world. They are, as my wife Jean and I found, certainly among the most hospitable. Tribal War Causes Detour We first stumbled into Hunza accidentally. Crossing the Pamir Plateau on yaks with a tribe of Afghan Kirghiz, we had found the border of Chinese Turkistan blocked by tri bal warfare. Our military escort and inter preter had deserted us, but a Kirghiz chief lent us horses, yaks, and a guide he said would take us to Turkistan by another route. We were weary, ill, and unsure of our where abouts. But our guide led us over snow-capped 20,000-foot Dehli Sang Pass, down steep slopes into a narrow valley where green fields and orchards lined terraced cliffs. Villagers brought us food and gave us a bungalow in which to rest. We were in Hunza.* The Mir, or King, of Hunza, Mohammed Jamal Khan, made us welcome. "I think you will like our country," he said. "Our lives are simple but pleasant. We have few laws, almost no taxes, and no army. No one is rich, but neither is anyone in need. We are, I think, the world's happiest people." The Mir urged us to remain and get better acquainted with his country. But the first snows were threatening to block the passes, and we had to leave. We accepted his invi tation to return, but with little hope that we would ever again see his terraced valley. In the spring of 1952, however, we visited Pakistan on assignment for the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE.t Pakistan controls Hunza's foreign relations, communications, and defense, though the little mountain coun try is independent in internal affairs. We asked for permission to visit the Mir. "I'm afraid there is little hope," a Pakistan official told us. "Hunza is a highly strategic area. It borders Chinese Turkistan and Afghanistan and is only a few miles from Russia on one side and India on the other. Technically it's part of Jammu and Kashmir. Some people might be suspicious if we per mitted Americans to travel there." By good fortune the Mir himself came to Karachi a few days later on one of his infre quent visits to the outside world. He assured the Pakistanis we would be welcome. Finally we found ourselves in the office of Kazim Raza, director of Pakistan's Intelligence Bu reau. "Do not think us rude," he said, "but people who want to visit strategic places are often not what they claim. After we have studied some of the articles you have written, we shall decide." Toward Earth's Highest Peaks In a week permission was granted. We sent a radio message to the Mir and flew north to Rawalpindi. From there a freight plane flew us to Gilgit, Pakistan's most important north ern outpost (map, page 493). Syed Faridul lah, political agent for the area, told us of developments since our previous visit. "Hunza is still hard to reach," he said, "but now there is a jeep road to Chalt, first village in the Mir's domain. That 32-mile trip once took two days; now it takes three hours. Eventually the road will go all the way to Baltit, Hunza's capital." I was upset by the prospect. "Isolation has been Hunza's salvation," 1 said. "Its people are healthier, happier, and better off than most in this part of the conti nent. The road might ruin the country." "Don't worry," said Faridullah. "The Mir * See "We Took the Highroad in Afghanistan," by Jean and Franc Shor, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGA ZINE, November, 1950. t See "Pakistan, New Nation in an Old Land," by Jean and Franc Shor, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGA ZINE, November, 1952.