Karimabad – Shangri-La of Pakistan

Karimabad has been said to be the inspiration for the mystical Shangri-La. We don’t wonder. Karimabad is a town built on a hill, surrounded by over 7000-metre-high mountains, facing the beautiful Hunza River. At sunset time, sitting on our porch, watching the snowy peaks and listening to the mosque’s prayer calls echoing all around, it felt like the place is full of magic.

The view from our porch
The view from our porch

From Passu to Karimabad

In Passu, we had to stand only a few minutes on the road until a minibus stopped next to us. It was headed to the next town after Karimabad, Aliabad. We stuffed our bags and ourselves on the backseat. Here we go.

Our ride to Karimabad
Our ride to Karimabad

On our way we drove by the Attabad Lake. The turquoise lake was gorgeous, but it has a sad story behind it. The lake was formed in 2010 due to a massive landslide, covering villages and a part of the Karakorum Highway. Because of that also the road was cut for a few years and the cars had to pass this section of the highway transported by boats. Luckily, we didn’t have to get on a boat. Later Chinese workers have blasted their way through the rock, and we got to drive through a long section of tunnels. 

Attabad Lake

Otherwise the 1,5 hours drive was the usual Karakorum Highway stuff. Stones on the road, goats on the road, cows on the road, psychedelic colorful trucks and breathtaking views. Nothing can beat the views of the Karakorum Highway. 

Our guesthouse

We went straight to the oldest guesthouse of Karimabad, the Old Hunza Inn. Mr. Akbar from Passu had recommended it to us. As we saw the views from the porch of our room and the price was okay, we didn’t bother to start asking around. The guesthouse and its owners were nice, but we faced the same problem as on the last days in Passu. It was warmer than in Passu, but still cold at night. There’s no heating in our room or in any other of the guesthouse areas. There was supposed to be hot water, but it worked only if the electricity had been on for long enough. And as the electricity was working only from time to time, we managed to get a hot shower only once. 

Johanna doing some weird looking exercise to keep herself warm
Johanna doing some weird looking exercise to keep herself warm

We stayed for four nights and during that time there were many nice travelers coming and going. So mostly in the evenings we all hung out together at the common room, wearing all our clothes including gloves and beanies, talking and drinking tea to keep us warm.

The town of Karimabad

The Old Hunza Inn was located a little bit before the town, so we didn’t even realize how surprisingly touristy the place was before we entered the centre. There were numerous guesthouses, many restaurants and some souvenir shops. But it was nice to be in a place like this for a change, like being on a holiday.

Karimabad town
Karimabad town

Mostly we enjoyed cheap, local food like dal or curry with chapati or rice, always served with a small salad. Our favorite restaurant there was called the Rainbow Café. But one evening we went for pizza – we don’t think we will find pizza again anytime soon.  

Lentils and vegetable curry in Rainbow Café
Lentils and vegetable curry in Rainbow Café
Pizzzaaa with lots of cheeese
Pizzzaaa with lots of cheeese

Getting to know the friendly locals

Our favorite day in Karimabad was our last day there. We didn’t have anything planned but we ended up having spontaneous meetings with the lovely local people. 

We had been trying to buy a local sim card, but it turned out that none of the shops in Karimabad are selling those to foreigners because of legal restrictions. Therefore we had to visit the provider’s official service center in Aliabad. The owners of the Old Hunza Inn were just about to go there, so we got a ride from them. We got the sim card business sorted, managed to withdrawal some money (after trying three ATMs with three cards) and had a lunch. 

Aliabad
Aliabad

We were supposed to take a shared taxi for our way back to Karimabad. While we were looking for it, an old man came to us. He wanted to invite us for a tea. We drank the sweet milk tea and had a nice chat with this retired English teacher.

The nice man who invited us for chai
The nice man who invited us for chai

When we were finished with the tea, we asked if he knew where we could find the car back to Karimabad. A man from the next table overheard our conversation and told he’s just headed back there and offered us a ride. As the old man wanted to pay for our teas, the guy who offered us a ride ended up paying them all, as he said that you have to respect the old teachers. This is how things work in Pakistan. Everyone seems to be so overly nice towards each other and towards us tourists.

The man who offered us a ride was called Aziz. He had recently opened a guesthouse in Karimabad. His guesthouse was not far from the town’s most important landmark, the Baltit Fort. We had wanted to visit it anyway, so we decided to do it on the same go. He told us to stop by on our way back, if we felt like having a cup of tea. 

When we were finished with the fort tour, we found him playing a local board game with an older man on the street. We watched as the older man beat Aziz’s ass on that game and then we went to watch a football match on the hill just above the guesthouse. It was quite a nice experience as they were also playing local live music there. 

The game a bit similar to chess but played with bottle caps
The game a bit similar to chess but played with bottle caps
The football match
The football match

After that we went for chai to his guesthouse. He told us that many locals usually don’t drink their milk chai with sugar, but with salt. It sounded weird but tasted really good. With the tea we were offered bread baked by Aziz’s mom. He also gave us a tour inside the guesthouse. The place is not finished yet, there will be a whole new floor and many rooms still built. But we were already impressed of what we saw. Everything had been made with great attention to detail. The materials used were wood and concrete. The views from the balconies were amazing. He even told that he is having some heaters for the rooms and generator for electricity – something that would have made us really happy. The place is called the Himalayan Tiger, and if we ever come back to Karimabad, we will definitely stay there. Johanna got so impressed by the place and Aziz’s hospitality, that she offered to design a logo for them (it‘s not ready yet, though).

Things to see in and around Karimabad

Like mentioned before, we visited the Baltit Fort on our last day in Karimabad. The over thousand-year-old fort sits high up on the mountain, among the narrow, old streets. The entrance price was relatively high on a Pakistani scale, 1000 rupees (5,8 €), but it included a guided tour. We thought it was worth it, because we got to explore the fort’s rooms, saw the great views from the top and learned more about the area’s culture and history.

On the roof of Baltit Fort
On the roof of Baltit Fort

During our stay in Karimabad, besides the Baltit Fort, we also saw the ancient village of Ganish, some sacred stones, a ruby mine and the nearby Hopper Valley and it’s glacier. About this nice day trip we will write more soon. 

At this point of our journey we have gotten a little bit tired of visiting all the attractions and doing so much every day. Therefore, we decided to skip the Eagle’s Nest viewpoint. This might have been a mistake as everyone is talking about the breathtaking views from there. But the thing is, the views are breathtaking, wherever you are in the Karakorum area.

Seri also got a hair and beard grooming (with face massage) in Karimabad
Seri also got a hair and beard grooming (with face massage) in Karimabad
And of course, we had to do some laundry
And of course, we had to do some laundry

Leaving Karimabad

We enjoyed our days in Karimabad. There was everything we could have needed in the town and when we wanted our own peace, we found it from the guesthouse, located in the quiet part of the town. But at the same time, we really wanted to keep on moving towards south, away from the cold. So, after four nights we left. We were spontaneously joined by a funny Czech guy. When you pronounce his name, it sounds like “paska kusi”, which means “shit pee” in Finnish, so it made him even funnier. With Shit Pee, we traveled to a town called Danyor…

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13 thoughts on “Karimabad – Shangri-La of Pakistan”

  1. On kyllä mahtavat maisemat! Ihme, että tuolla on turakaisia, kun tilanne Pakistanissa tuntui olevan veitsen terällä ainakin viime helmikuussa, kun olin Intiassa ja oli terrori-isku Kashmirissa. Intiassa taas join masala teetä. On nuo vuorimaisemat kyllä sellaisia, ettei niihin koskaan kyllästy.

    1. Kiitos Stacy, vuoriin ei tosiaan koskaan kyllästy (tai ehkä siihen kylmyyteen, mutta noin muuten). Joo, Intian ja Pakistanin välinen tilanne on toki ollut jo pitkään valitettavan rauhaton ja Kashmirin raja-aluetta kannattanee välttää. Mutta noissa paikoissa joissa me matkustettiin, ei kyllä huomattu mitään siihen liittyvää. Pakistan on ihan huikea matkailumaa.

    1. Iso kiitos itsellesi Janzu lukemisesta ja piristävästä palautteesta! 🙂 Kyllä, eeppinen on hyvä sana kuvaamaan Karimabadia! 😀

  2. Vitsi, mikä mesta! Jotain niin erilaista ja eksoottista. Noista maisemista saa takuulla kylmät väreet ilman paleluakin. Miten vuorimaisemiin voisi koskaan kyllätyä.

  3. Mielenkiintoista. Minulla kun ei ole ollut mitään käsitystä Pakistanista matkakohteena. Mutta väkisin kyllä vähän söisi tunnelmaa jäätävän kylmä majapaikka. Tuollaiset kaikki kohtaamiset ovat kyllä arvokkaita.

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Hi! We are Johanna and Seri
and this is our blog about sustainable overland travel to offbeat destinations.
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