From the Lower Hunza, it’s a quick ride up the valley to Attabad Lake. In 2010 a huge landslide happened at the village of Attabad, which blocked the Hunza River. This ended up creating a 22 km lake. A large section of the Karakoram Highway ended up underwater along with parts of Shishkat, Ainabad, Gulmit, and Husaini villages. Eventually a massive cut was made through the slide and water began flowing. The lake is smaller than what it once grew to in size, but is still huge.
There was a debate in the beginning whether or not to drain the lake or just build the road/tunnel above it. In the end they decided on the later. The new road has been being built for a while and was supposed to have it’s grand opening on August 14th, but got delayed. During the boat crossing a couple of the workers told me that it’s actually finished, but the government is holding back opening it. Apparently there are some people who are making good money off the road being closed and are trying to milk it as long as possible. The landscape leading up the valley to the lake becomes more and more rugged.
You leave behind the last green village set into the brown. Then nothing but rock, river, and bright blue sky fills your vision. You zig-zag up one side of the gigantic slide and over the top to the tropical blue waters of Attabad Lake.
Below, the old clunky colorful wooden boats wait to ferry passengers the hour to the other end.
Since the lake formed this is the only lifeline to the rest of Pakistan for the communities to the north. For anyone needing medical attention it’s a grueling long trip to the nearest hospital, and even then there’s a good chance no doctor will be present. Giant wooden planks are laid across the boats and then people drive onto those from the rough shoreline. It was a bit scary loading a motorcycle onto it, but nothing when you see big SUV’s and trucks driving onto them.
It’s a beautiful ride gliding on the dreamy water through tall rock faces. The boat slowly makes it’s way towards the upper Hunza Valley and it’s glacier covered mountains.
Towards the take-out point the water begins to change color and become more dull. This is where the river begins and brings all the silt and glacial water flowing into the lake. The first amazing views of the sharp golden peaks are right in front of you.
Along with the surroundings, they reflect off the calm lake water.
After the adventure of getting the bikes off the boat, we made the short ride up to Borith Lake. The beauty and immensity level goes up a notch. The large river flows aggressively through one of the prettiest places on earth.
This area is called Gojal, and encompasses Gulmit, Husaini, Passu, and many other tiny villages. The entire population of the Upper Hunza Valley (Gojal) is around 20,000. The gentle kind people who populate the area are the Israelites. Many of them you would never suspect of being Pakistani. Blonde and red hair, blue and green eyes, and light skin are common to see. A small road cuts off the main highway and climbs over a ridge to Borith Lake.
Leaving behind the deep valley for a little oasis tucked in between two glaciers. On one side you have Passu Glacier, which comes flowing out of the mountain tops and melts into a small lake above the village of Passu. The road ends at the bottom of the glacier on a steep drop off with insane views.
A trail leads up the moraine ridge on a skinny track along a rock wall.
As you progress, the beautiful white glacier comes more and more into view. Combined with the colorful surroundings, it feels like you stepped into a page out of National Geographic. One wrong step or a slip would take you on a long drop, but it’s hard to concentrate when nature takes you into a sweet daydream. Looking up on the valley walls you can see how big the glacier used to be. It’s melted down hundreds of feet from where it once was.The first ridge to climb takes you up to where the glacier really presents itself.
Along the sides it carries boulders and debris, which give it a grey color. The middle is filled with bright white spikes of ice protruding up towards the sun, which will slowly devour it. Sitting peacefully looking out over the behemoth your ears are filled with ice cracking apart, boulders tumbling down into crevices, and streams of fresh melt trickling underneath it all. In this rugged rocky landscape mother nature is still able to sprout colorful beauty.
After the first ridge a flat section traverses along a steep slippery slope of loose shale. The most perfect skipping rocks in the world.
Eventually the trail heads up again on a steep ridge. Instead of staying on it, where there weren’t any views until the very top, I cut off and climbed the high lateral moraine right along the glacier. It’s crazy steep and difficult to scramble up, but was nothing compared to the other side. The top is about a foot wide and drops a hundred feet straight down to the glacier. I climbed along this all the way to the top of the ridge. It probably took a lot longer than just following the trail because every step was a bit freaky. Sometimes I had to get down on all fours to get by certain sections. With the cold glacial wind piercing through my bones and trying to sabotage my balance, and rocks coming loose tumbling far below, it was a wild time. The incredible views over everything is well worth it.
From the top of the second ridge you have a perfect view of the glacier flowing from the large mountains. Huge spires of ice with blue hues reach as far as the eye can see. One of the most peaceful places on earth is sitting along a massive glacier. The breeze chills you with icy air. Theres something hypnotic about staring over it, similar to watching the ocean.
Ghulkin Glacier is the second one you can easily make a trip up to. From the hotel a trail heads around the left side of the lake and then starts climbing.
From this point there’s some of the best views over the lake with a beautiful backdrop. The tiny Borith Lake Hotel sits along the shore.
It’s much more of a gray glacier because of all the rock that’s covering it. After not much effort, you have the ability to climb out on it.
The fresh water source for the population below comes from the glacier. They’ve built canals and pipes which collect the melt-water and deliver it down below. It’s some of the best tasting water I’ve ever had. Don’t let the cloudiness fool you. The main trail leads up on the outside of the moraine and passes a few small cabins. You can follow this or take the scenic route on top of the moraine.
Like Passu Glacier, it’s a bit sketchy and you have to watch your footing since the goat trail is about a foot wide and non-existent in some spots. The farther up you go the whiter it becomes. Up where it’s flowing off of the mountain it’s pearly, but as soon as it gets into the valley it becomes gray. Mother nature hard at work sculpting the landscape.
These two treks to the glaciers were the first real test I’ve put the busted ankle up against. It handled it alright, but man was it sore afterwards. The best medicine after a long hike is a swim and soak in the lake. The lake is a bit strange.
It’s not saltwater, but leaves a white crust on you once your dry. It has an unusual taste similar to sulfur. People have different theories, but the most common is that it’s a PH issue. Possibly the water has high alkalinity. Some locals call it a soda lake. Whatever the issue is, there aren’t any fish because they’re unable to survive. It’s something to ponder as you float on your back and look at the mountain tops wrapping around you like a glove. Borith Lake gave me exactly what I needed at this point in the trip. A complete escape from everything. An escape from the internet, tv, phones, honking cars and traffic, light pollution ruining the stars, and riding the motorcycle. A complete change of pace. Along with a few small rooms, Borith Lake Hotel has a couple grassy areas overlooking the lake to set up camp. What a beautiful sight to wake up to every morning. At seven AM is when the reflection of the mountains is at it’s best.
There isn’t a breath of wind yet so the lake is like a giant mirror. Unfortunately the apricots have almost come to an end. There were many bellyfuls of them. The trees were thick with the golden orange fruit, but the last super ripe ones are being finished off. The consolation to this are the delicious apple trees. They’re not quite ready yet, but I still ate about ten a day. The best spot at the hotel was on the roof overlooking the lake and in the canopy of the two massive apple trees. A few times a day I would go up to daydream and eat some apples. To top off all the natural beauty of the place, the family who runs the hotel are legendary. Tasty breakfast, lunch, and dinners are whipped up by the two sons everyday. The dinner is always a family style feast at the long table. Most people only come for one day, so it’s usually a new family each night. Up here in Gojal is an amazing place to star-gaze and we did it every night. The milky way splashed right overhead and some massive shooting stars blazed through the clear clean sky.