The Kha Basi Café is a unique restaurant located under the shadow of Altit Fort in the ancient royal garden called “the Kha Basi” – a gorgeous and very well-kept-up fruit orchard full of apricot trees – located on the edge of the Altit town in Hunza Valley, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan.
The café has in the past served as a summerhouse of the royal family of Hunza. It was a nice piece of simple old-fashioned architecture almost falling to decay. It was recently renovated and turned into a classic restaurant. Standing at the verge of the royal garden, overlooking the majestic mountains of Hunza/Nagar and the Karakoram Highway running along the Hunza River, the Kha Basi Café has both majestic views and a traditional taste.
For the tourists visiting the town and the fort, the Kha Basi Café is the top choice that proudly presents traditional Hunza cuisine as well as light snacks and refreshments. Although the range of choices is quite extensive, the real specialities indeed are the top of the line local traditional dishes. Dawdo, Chap Shuro, Burus Shapik, Diram Phitti, Berikutz, and Tumuru Chai are some of the recommended food choices that one must taste at the Kha Basi Café.
The café is run solely by local women and remains open 7 days a week. The staff is trained by Serena Hotels and the property itself functions under the administration of Serena Hotels. The cafe has a small indoor dining space and an “L” shaped veranda providing majestic views of the orchard and surrounding mountains. There is no better place to enjoy traditional Hunza food and relax and enjoy the atmosphere before or after visiting the nearby Altit Fort.
The Kha Basi Café is not only a place to eat local food in a serene atmosphere, yet it is a place truly representing the traditional warmth and cultural beauty of the Hunza Valley. For tourists seeking to soak into local tradition, there is a group of trained young artists to entertain guests on special occasions. There is also a small traditional house, a unique piece of architecture, offering exclusive accommodation for tourists who wish to enjoy their stay in a traditional house with modern facilities. It was a successful pilot project of CIQAM – a social enterprise of local women – particularly built using indigenous material. The facility provides a serene and sophisticated atmosphere not many had the pleasure to enjoy.
The orchard has a repute for being one of the gorgeous places for photography. During the blossom, the entire garden emanates the romantic fragrance and presenting an exquisite look; during summers, it is lush green and cool; in autumn it turns as a place must visit to see the diverse colours and it wears a white blanket of snow during winters.
Location and Access
There is a single entrance gate to visit the Kha Basi and the café itself, the traditional house, and the Altit Fort. Kha Basi is accessible at the end of the streets of Altit town. The Altit Town is located across Karimabad, on the Ahmedabad road approachable from the Karakoram Highway.
Call for booking during the business hour at (0581) 3457012
For further information about the Kha Basi Cafe, Hunza, please visit http://serenagilgitbaltistan.com/altit-fort-cafe/
Pakistan is a unique and blessed state made up of Asia’s most remarkable landscapes. It has diverse geography blended with rich cultures and a long tradition of hospitality mirrored by the people of its country. There is no other country in the world presenting more prospects to trace roots of modern-day humans than Pakistan.
The territory that constitutes today’s Pakistan has for centuries been a cradle of ancient civilizations and home to ancient cultures and dynasties. Tracing its history back from the 9000 years old Neolithic Mehergarh civilization followed by the 5000 years old bronze age Indus Valley Civilization, the 3000 years old Buddhist Gandhara Civilization, the 16th century Mughal Era, the brief Sikh rule, and the 200 years British occupation, until independence in 1947, Pakistan has seen unprecedented events that no other independent sovereign state might have gone through.
Officially the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is the world’s 6th most populous country in South Asia housing more than 212,742,631 people (as per 2017 census). It is the 33rd-largest country encompassing 881,913 square kilometres (340,509 square miles). The country has four provinces – Sindh, Baluchistan, Punjab, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – and three territories – FATA, Kashmir, and Gilgit-Baltistan – surrounding a well-planned modern capital city, Islamabad, located in the heart of the state.
Pakistan is strategically placed on the crossroads of Asia and divided into three major geographic areas – the northern highlands, the Indus River plains, and the Balochistan Plateau. The country is bordered by the 1046 km coastline of the Arabian Sea in the south, India to the east, China to the northeast, Afghanistan to the northwest, and Iran to the southeast. From the mighty glaciated mountain ranges in the north (Gilgit-Baltistan) to the coastal areas of the south the diverse landscape of Pakistan is rich in alluvial fertile planes, vast deserts, dense forests, plateaus, jungles, flora and fauna, rivers, and lakes.
Pakistan is abundant in tourist attractions.
The northern mountainous part of the country constitutes some parts of KPK (Chitral, Swat, and the Kaghan Valley), Azad Jammu & Kashmir, and the entire Gilgit-Baltistan (formerly northern areas) – making up the westernmost edge of the great Himalayas – a unique playground for adventure lovers. The region is ideal for adventure sports and is known as a haven for nature and adventure lovers.
Gilgit-Baltistan has the honour of hosting world’s highest mountains and longest glaciers located outside the polar region famous for trekking, mountaineering, climbing, white water rafting, mountain & desert jeep safaris, and paragliding. The junction point of three mighty mountain ranges – the Karakoram, the Hindukush, and the Himalaya – and the Pamir mountain range exist in Gilgit-Baltistan. The region has been the melting pot of Buddhism and remained one of the several trade routes of ancient Silk Route – currently the Karakoram Highway connecting Pakistan and China Pakistan and China at Khunjerab Pass as a trade and tourism artery embellished by more than 100,000 petroglyphs and rock carvings testifying the Buddhist rule, towering mountains with tiny valleys and terraced fields in the backdrop, ancient forts featuring architectural dexterity, and hundreds of years old rich history of the natives.
The central territories of the country feature mostly, dense forests, vast deserts, and fertile lands so abundant in history and culture housing unique landmarks. Its archaeological heritage making up ancient sites such as Moenjo-Daro & Harappa of Indus Valley Civilization as well as Taxila & Takht-i-Bahi of Gandhara Civilization are the spotlights drawing domestic and international visitors in volumes. In addition to these sites, Pakistan boasts a wealth of architecturally significant landmarks, many dating from the Islamic era, Moghul Empire, Sikh rule, and from the British era, located in Lahore, Multan, Bahawalpur, Karachi & Peshawar.
Its southern region constituting Sindh and Baluchistan make up archaeological sites, religious landmarks, architectural heritage, lakes, and some of the world’s best golden beaches stretching along the coastal line. The Makran Coastal Highway from Karachi to Gwadar and Jiwani is a unique highway in the world crowned with exclusive tourist attractions. Pakistan hosts six of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites and several dozens of sites still lined up to be declared the World Heritage.
The country’s major cities reflect historic and modern influences. The people of different colors and creeds having diverse cultural backgrounds living in different parts of these cities belonging to diverse ethnic groups, practicing their own faiths, wearing colorful costumes speaking some of the world’s distinct languages, consuming rich diet, maintaining and harmonious society are known as the most hospitable people present a true image of the country.
Pakistan is accessible by road from China via Khunjerab border, from Afghanistan via Khyber Pass (currently closed), From Iran via Taftan border and from India via the Wahga border. By air, Pakistan is accessible from several countries directly and indirectly. A number of international flag carriers fly to the major airports of Pakistan including Islamabad, Lahore, Multan, Peshawar, Sialkot, and Karachi.
The region’s four distinct seasons, its countless landmarks including the highest mountain ranges and longest glaciers outside polar region, crystal blue lakes, gushing rivers, longest highways, trekking routes, terraced fields, monuments, cuisines, and cultural diversity are what make it a distinguished region and draw tourists in volumes.
Nestled in the lap of mountains, at an elevation of about 15000 ft., the scenic Naltar valley near Gilgit town in Gilgit-Baltistan area of Pakistan is a striking pine pasture and a prominent tourist destination. The highland is a perfect summer retreat and a world-famous winter ski resort in Pakistan drawing national and international skiers every year for ski competitions. The lush green valley is heavily wooded with pine, spruces, birch, rowan, and juniper, the entire valley is guarded by green hills and snow-topped mountains. It is home to the local Gujjar tribe who grow potatoes famous for their taste and size.
Geography and access
The hill station is located about 19 km uphill barren gorge from Nomal Valley which serves as a base and located at the mouth of the gorge. The Nomal valley itself is located at 20 km from Gilgit via the west bank of the Hunza River and about 70 km from Hunza valley along the Karakoram Highway across Rahimabad and accessible by a concrete bridge over the Hunza River.
From Nomal Lower Naltar (Naltar Payeen or Khirini Naltar in local Shina Language) is about 7 km and then it is another 6 km to Upper Naltar (Naltar Bala or Ajeeni Naltar in local Shina language). Altogether, from Gilgit, it takes about 2.5 hrs while from Hunza it takes about 4 hrs to drive to upper Naltar.
The Naltar valley is highly recommended for a day excursion from Gilgit for anyone looking to spend a day out of hustle and bustle or to enjoy the absolute serenity. One can also plan an overnight stay or two. There are accommodation facilities in the valley and one can go camping. Major attractions in the valley are:
Naltar has now established itself as a prime winter sports destination and now international ski competitions held here. Being at a fair elevation, Naltar receives a good spell of snow every year. There are ski lifts operational under the ‘Ski Federation of Pakistan’. The annual ski competition draws national and international sportsmen every year in February.
The valley also serves as a base for two medium category beautiful treks; one across the Naltar Pass (about 4,600 meters) eastward to Ishkoman valley and the other across the Daintar Pass (4,636 meters) westward to Chalt. Naltar is a two-hour drive and about 47 kilometers from Gilgit via the west bank of the Hunza River to Nomal Village.
From Upper Naltar to the Lakes is about 13 km jeep-able road. However, it also serves as a beautiful walking trail particularly when the road is blocked or washed away. By foot, it takes 2-3 hours while the downhill walk is less than 2 hrs. The rough jeep track runs along the rivulet all the way to the lakes. The colorful lakes are named as Bashkiri Lake – I, Bashkiri Lake – II, and Bashkiri Lake – III, located fairly close to each other at the end of the gorge. Naltar Lakes are also locally known as “Chimo Bari (fish Lake)”, ” Chakar Bari (Multi Ends Lake)’ & “Bodolok Bari (Turbid Lake)
The lakes are surrounded by dense pine forests. Winters are harsh and the lakes are hard to reach because of the snow that usually piles up to 10 to 15 feet. Summers attract a huge number of local and international tourists and trekkers.
The glacial waters originating from the end bordering the Wakhan Corridor collect to make a rivulet which flows through the center of the gorge till it meets the Hunza River. Camping, cooking, and other fun activities along the water is an added beauty for the visitors.
Camping and outdoor activities
There are plenty of camping sites and one can plan overnight/weekend camping. The valley is safe and one can find fresh veggies at a reasonable price. There are hiking trails leading to scenic points. The valley is well known for its flora and fauna and splendid medium range mountains.
Weather in Naltar Valley
The weather in Naltar is always romantic. Even during peak summers, the Lakeside at Naltar receives light spells of rain several times a day. The fluctuating romantic weather and scenery in the surrounding make the trip worth of it.
Light refreshment (tea and cookies) for tourists can be had at the Lakeside, however, tourists willing to spend the whole day at Naltar are recommended to make personal arrangements.
Naltar valley is only accessible by 4WD Jeeps being the road nonmetallic, narrow, rough and tough. Transport can be arranged from Gilgit. There is a camping facility and one can stay overnight in tents.
The Karakoram Highway (KKH) is the highest paved international road and a major trade artery linking China and Pakistan at the Khunjerab Pass at an elevation of 4,733 meters. The highway is also a legendary tourist attraction encompassing a rich blend of historic landmarks, cultural diversity, and natural beauty – a thrill for adventure lovers.
Starting from Hasanabdal in Punjab province of Pakistan, the Pakistani section of the highway culminates at the Pak-China border at Khunjerab Pass. The entire highway passes through the rugged terrain of KPK, twisting northeast along the bank of River Indus, and glides through the Karakoram and Pamir Mountains until it meets the Chinese section at Khunjerab Pass. The Chinese section of the highway continues further along the Pamir Mountains to Kashghar. The Karakoram Highway is called the Friendship Highway in China. Yet, due to its rugged terrain, high elevation, and hard conditions in which it was forced through, it is sometimes referred to as Eighths Wonder of the World.
The total length of the KKH is approximately 1300 (810 mi) km, with 887 km in Pakistan and 413 km in China Though the new route does not follow exactly the old silk route but the track follows mostly the same region so it can be said as revive of the old Silk Route. It is estimated that each kilometer constructed cost a labor, both Pakistani and Chinese. The Chinese workers who died during the construction are buried in the Chinese cemetery or China Yadgar in Danyore near Gilgit.
Historically the Karakoram Highway was a caravan trail – one of the several branches of the ancient Silk Route that has hosted traders, pilgrims, warriors, and common men for several centuries whose movement along the route brought about tremendous changes in social, cultural and economic aspects of the lives of residents.
Construction of the Highway
Long before the Karakoram Highway or the KKH was constructed the northern areas (now Gilgit-Baltistan) were attracted by the Russians, Chinese, and the British merely due to its strategic importance yet the access to the region was a sheer challenge. The British being in power during the 1800s decided to sustain their authority by building an all-weather communication infrastructure along the Indus. Materializing the idea was not an easy task though. The British simply improved an old Srinagar foot track into a mule track at the initial phase and later another seasonal passage was devised through Chilas over the Babusar Pass to connect to the Kaghan valley which hardly remained open for 3 months a year during summers.
Following the partition of the subcontinent in 1947, the Srinagar road was blocked permanently. It was the time when the northern areas were divided into several states functioning under the local rulers. In the year 1958, to build an all-weather road link between Swat and Gilgit, Indus Valley Road (IVR) was conceived. Its construction was started as a joint venture of the two governments in 1959. In 1966, under a Sino-Pak agreement, the government decided to develop the IVR into the Karakoram Highway. Near the completion phase, the construction work was discontinued due to financial constraints when the war broke out between Pakistan and India in 1971 but the valuable assistance from China made it possible to carry on.
At the initial stage, the KKH was to construct from Thakot to the Khunjerab Pass and then to be linked to the highway on the Chinese side. But later the entrance was shifted from Thakot to Hasan Abdal and the project was completed in 1979. The highway was opened to the general public in 1986. During the course of construction, about 800 Pakistanis and 200 Chinese workers lost their lives, mostly in landslides, yet the unofficial toll is believed to be much higher.
Reconstruction of the Karakoram Highway
In June 2006, a MoU was signed between Pakistan’s NHA and China’s CRBC to upgrade the KKH with overall width expansion from 10 to 30 meters to accommodate heavy-duty vehicles even in extreme weather conditions. However, the construction was carried out but the width remained almost the same as the original.
During the course of construction, the Attabad incident took place on 4 January 2010 when a section of the highway was damaged by a massive landslide in the Attabad valley of Hunza, about 19 kilometers upstream from Hunza’s capital of Karimabad,. The landslide shaped the 23 km long Attabad Lake, interrupted the flow of Hunza River and general travel along the Karakoram Highway. Construction of the tunnels through a revised 24 km long route began in July 2012 and was completed in September 2015. The realigned route through newly constructed 5 tunnels and a bridge restored the road link between Pakistan and China.
Socio-Economic Significance of the Highway
The entire region being mountainous the highway slashes through the collision zone between the Eurasian and Indian plates where China, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan come within 250 kilometers (160 mi) radius. Essentially because of the enormously complex Kashmir conflict between India and Pakistan, KKH has strategic and military significance to these nations, particularly Pakistan and China. The construction of Karakoram Highway has not only enriched trade and tourism between Pakistan and China but has contributed significantly to the improvement in living standards of the local population. CPEC is expected to bring enormous economic gains to the region but China and Pakistan are planning to link the Karakoram Highway to the southern port of Gwadar in Balochistan through the Chinese-aided Gwadar-Dalbandin railway, which extends to Rawalpindi.
Tourism Potential along the Karakoram Highway (KKH)
The Karakoram Highway has sought to receive international recognition and is now ranked as a niche adventure tourism destination. From Hassan Abdal (about 50kms from Rawalpindi city) the dual carriage asphalt ribbon leaves dusty plains of Punjab and enters through the lower Himalayas of Hazara district while heading north winding through several interesting natural and historic sites until the Pakistan section of the road meets the Chinese part at Khunjerab border in upper Hunza valley.
The Pakistani section of the highway is connected through more than 90 small and large bridges while making the way through the junction point of three mighty mountain ranges – the Karakorams, the Hindukush, and the Himalayas – and also the high Pamirs in Gilgit-Baltistan. From Hasan Abdal the highway winds through many beautiful spots up to Thakot where it meets the Indus River. The highway further traverses parallel to the Indus River for almost 300 km to the junction point and joined by the Gilgit River. The highway then passes through Gilgit after almost 40 km, the capital of Gilgit-Baltistan, where Gilgit River is joined by the Hunza River and continues through the valleys of Nagar and Hunza for another 280 km before it climbed to Khunjerab border.
The entire 887 km section of the Karakoram Highway in Pakistan from the plains of Punjab to the culmination at the Khujerab border, the land is extremely diverse and rich in tourist attractions – from the272 BC edicts of Ashoka in Mansehra to the world’s highest metal border at Khunjerab Pass encompassing a blend of attractions including rocky and snow-crowned mountain peaks, glaciers and rivers, tiny mountain valleys and terraced fields, fruit laden orchards and serene pastures, hiking trails and challenging treks, the junction point of three mountain ranges in the world and the collision point of Eurasian and Indian plate, people with diverse cultural background speaking different languages and dialects, and the four distinct seasons manifesting a diverse range of natural colors. The Karakoram highway is a paradise for cyclists and bikers to explore thoroughly.
Major Attraction along the Karakoram Highway (KKH)
To begin with, the historic 4-yard thick and 16 yards high fortress in Haripur (Now serving as police station); then Major James Abbott’s historic city – Abbottabad; the 272 BC edicts of Ashoka of Maurya dynasty inscribed on three large boulders in Mansehra; more than 20,000 pieces of rock art and petroglyphs dating back to between 5000 and 1000 BC concentrated at ten major sites between Shaital and Hunza; access to Fairy Meadows and Nanga Parbat BC, stunning views of Nanga Parbat (The Killer mountain and 2nd highest in Pakistan 8,126m high); Junction point of three mountain ranges; Kargah Buddha and Henzal Stupa near Gilgit town; attractions in Gilgit city; Chinese Graveyard and ancient rock carvings in Danyore; Monument in Rahimabad; Collision point of Eurasian and Indian Plate near Chalt; Sections of ancient silk rote along the highway; Rakaposhi View Point; Altit Fort & Baltit Fort; Duikar; Karimabad town, Altit old settlements, and ancient village of Ganish; Haldikish; Attabad Lake and Borit Lake; Passu Cathedrals and Batura Glacier; scenic views of Rakaposhi, Diran, Golden Peak, and Lady Finger; Hoper valley and Hoper Glacier, Passu valley and glacier, and the tiny terraced valleys along the gorge leading to Khunjerab, and the Hunza River, Gilgit River and Indus River are all part of this beautiful journey.
The KKH was ranked as “third best tourist destination” in Pakistan by “The Guardian”. It provides mountaineers and cyclists easy access to the attractions along the highway including mountains, glaciers, and lakes and also to interact with people. The highway also provides access to the two major tourist destinations –Gilgit and Baltistan – which host the highest mountains and longest glaciers outside polar region besides manifesting wealth of attractions.
For travelers along the KKH, there are sufficient food and accommodation arrangements. The major stopovers recommended are at Besham, Chilas, Gilgit, Hunza, and Sust where tourists can find standard accommodation at a reasonable price. There are also several short excursions to the nearby mountains, glaciers, and valleys one can carry out between Gilgit and Khunjerab. The best time to travel along the KKH is between April and November. The border at Khunjerab remains closed from the end of November until the start of April every year.
Passu Cathedral or the Passu cones are the jagged spires rising from a set of mountain peaks located to the north of Passu Valley in the Karakoram mountain range of Pakistan. Located to the other side of the Hunza River, the cones present a majestic view from different points along Karakoram Highway passing through the Gulmit and Passu Valleys.
The sun-drenched mountain peaks are known by several names including Passu Cones, Cathedral Spires, and locally called Tupopdan but are still prominent among the tourists as Passu Cathedral. Passu Cathedral is the most photographed peak scaled for the first time by the British in 1987.
The origin of the name “Passu” is still ambiguous but there are several attractions associated with it. Notable among them are the stunning Passu Village, Passu Glacier, Passu Peak and of course the Passu Cathedral. All these attractions can be seen from the Karakoram Highway.
The Passu Cathedral is located near the Khunjerab border between Pakistan and China in upper Hunza, about 50kms from central Hunza valley, and some 150kms from Gilgit town. The elegant mountains can be seen from Attabad Lake while driving along the Karakoram Highway. The jagged rocky peaks thrusting skywards from the rest of the Karakoram Range present breathtaking views from Shishkat, Gulmit, and Passu.
A major reason the gorgeous Passu valley is famous for is the 6,106m (20,033 ft) pyramid shape Passu Cathedrals bearing a striking beauty. The Passu Valley is located at 2,400 metres, but from their base, the gleaming cones are almost four kilometres, straight up, and are inspired by its unique structural attributes.
The gorgeous mountain begins to glow when the first rays of sun shined over the jagged cones, particularly, it glitters when it has layers of snow on. And as the day’s last rays shimmer off the cones it turns golden-bronze – a panorama worth observing.
The Cathedral range is surrounded by renowned peaks including Passu Sar, Shishpar, and the 56km long Batura glacier which is the seventh longest non-polar glacier making edge near the KKH. The Passu valley itself serves as base and kick-off point for trekkers heading for diverse treks surrounding the valley.
For the people travelling along the Karakoram Highway in the upper part of Hunza, trekking up Batura glacier, visiting the remote Shimshal valley, or driving further to Khunjerab Pass, the Passu Valley is an ideal base to acclimatize, enjoy the breathtaking views, and taste some traditional organic food. Particularly, to feast the eyes with the early morning sun rays hitting the jagged peaks of glowing Passu Cathedral.