Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Shimshal: the elusive pass

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By the middle of the 19th century Britain had dug in well and settled for a long rule in the Indian subcontinent with eyes on Central Asia. The primary British interest was to tap the vast commercial potential of the marts on the far side of the mountain barrier formed by the Hindu Kush-Karakoram-Himalayan chain.

As early as the 1820s, British agents had explored and discovered the main artery for such trade: the route north from Srinagar and Kargil through Leh and over the Karakoram Pass to Karghalik and Yarkand. By about the middle of the century when British and Indian trading caravans were busily streaming back and forth along this ancient road, a periodic irritant came into the notice of the authorities.

Robbers known to the people of Kashgar and Yarkand as the Kanjutis were on the prowl along this route. Fortunate were the caravans that did not come within the gun sights of the bandits who were never shy of shedding innocent blood before the plunder. Those who escaped the bullets were taken prisoners and seldom saw their homes again for they were sold into slavery.

Now, Kanjut was the name by which the people of Kashgar knew Hunza. For the Raj authorities this was a great vexation: this lawlessness needed to be brought to an end if the trade was to thrive. Between the mountain fastness of Hunza and the great Leh-Yarkand trade route, there lay an immense jumble of high, barren peaks, glaciers and narrow river gorges that were all but impossible to negotiate when in flood. So how did these doughty mountaineering robbers reach the trade route? This was the question that rankled the authorities for close on forty years, a question that many worthy men exerted to their utmost to answer.

In 1889, the explorer Francis Younghusband, after many struggles finally put the issue to rest by discovering the Shimshal Pass. East of the Hunza Valley, the narrow gorge of the Shimshal River stretches eastward a full seventy-seven kilometres where the river, a mere trickle, spills down a wind-swept rock wall. This is the Shimshal Pass, 4730 metres above the sea and snow-bound for the better part of the year.

Today, as for the past at least three hundred years, the Shimshal Pass is a summer retreat for the herders of Shimshal village. Every year from May until the middle of September, the summer settlement of Shuwert becomes alive with families and their yaks, sheep and goats.

Geographically, Shimshal Pass is unique in that it is one of only two passes in Pakistan that straddle the Great Asiatic Watershed: waters on its south and east run into the Indus River and eventually to the Indian Ocean; those on the far side empty into rivers that slake the sand deserts of Chinese Turkestan. Geographically speaking, the Shimshal Pass separates Central Asia from South Asia. Consequently, Shuwert is the one and only summer pasture within the geographical bounds of Pakistan that lies in Central Asia.

How to get there: Gilgit, the start point, is connected with Islamabad by road and air. The formation of the landslide lake of Atabad now entails a two to three hour boat ride in order to reach Passu. Jeeps can be rented here for the three-hour ride to Shimshal village which has two basic and inexpensive hotels. Thence, it is a three-day trek over Shimshal Pass to Shuwert. The shingle slopes of the Shimshal Gorge are very difficult and should only be attempted by an experienced or young and strong walker. The people of Shimshal, cultured, suave and very friendly are a delight to be with.

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1. Gilgit to Passu via Hunza and Atabad Lake by car/boat. About 8 hours.
Day 2. Passu to Shimshal village by Jeep. 4 hours.
Day 3. Shimshal to Uch Furzin. 6 hours of very strenuous walking up and down scree slopes.
Day 4. Uch Furzin to Shujerab. 8 hours of strenuous going.
Day 5. Shujerab to Shuwert over the Shimshal Pass. 6 hours relatively easier going.
Day 6-8. Return the same way.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 7 May 2013 at 09:48, Blogger Sajini Chandrasekera said... made me see the paradise through this lovely post

At 8 May 2013 at 09:29, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

The going from Shimshal village to the pass you see in the image is pretty tough. It's all the way up or down sheer talus slopes with a roaring stream at the bottom. But the pass and the summer camp of Shuwert are truly a prize.

At 1 September 2013 at 16:10, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is like a Narration to the gateway to Heaven. Truly awesome. Let me pray the God to give you more energy and Health to explore more identical areas and get us the details of those places which are breath taking for viewing.
- B. Srinivasa Rao

At 1 September 2013 at 16:23, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Rao Sahib. Grateful for the appreciation.

At 22 June 2017 at 17:58, Blogger Suhail Ahmed said...



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Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand

Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

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