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Summer in Shimshal

Shimshal شمشال (in Urdu) is a village located in Gojal Tehsil of Hunza District, in the Gilgit–Baltistan region of Pakistan formerly known as Northern Areas of Pakistan. It lies at an altitude of 3,100 m above sea level, and is the highest settlement in Hunza Valley of Pakistan. It is the bordering village that connects Gilgit-Baltistan province of Pakistan with China. The total area of Shimshal is 3,800 km2 and there are around two thousand inhabitants with a total of two hundred and forty households. Shimshal is made up of four major hamlets; Farmanabad, Aminabad, Center Shimshal and Khizarabad. Farmanabad is a new settlement that comes first on reaching Shimshal. Aminabad is announced by vast fields of stones hemmed in by dry stone walls, and fortress-like houses of stone and mud. As you approach Shimshal look for a glimpse of Odver Sar (6,303m) also known as Shimshal Whitehorn. Shimshal has hydroelectricity from Odver stream for five months (June–October) of the year (when the water isn't frozen). Non availability of electricity for seven months is a big problem of the local community because during this period they have to rely on kerosene oil, firewood, solar plates and compressed natural gas in cylinders as an alternative .

Silk Route Caravan of Shimshal Valley
Traditional Dance of Shimshal

The village was inaccessible by motor road until October 2003, when a new road from the Karakoram Highway at Passu was constructed. The construction of non-metallic Jeep-able road started in 1985 and completed in 2003. Eighteen years (1985-2003) of handwork finally become successful because of hard work, dedication and self-help. It become possible to connect Shimshal with rest of the world by mutual cooperation of the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme, Government of Pakistan and the local community. It now takes maximum three hours to reach Shimshal by jeep from Passu. Self-help or Nomus ( in local Wakhi language) is the major factor for infrastructure development in Shimshal. Brock University Canada has recently launched a new project A Critical Ethnography of the Shimshal Road.

Shimshalis use numerous seasonal mountain grasslands, located several days walk from the village, to sustain herds of yaks, goats, and sheep. The area was founded by Mamo Singh and his wife named Khudija.They have the only son Sher. According to Shimshal's history and tradition, their first child won the local polo game from Kargiz (Chinese) riding yak while the Chinese rode horses.The Shimshal River comes from this area and then transforms the shape of Hunza River, which mixes with the Indus River below the capital city Gilgit.

The people of Shimshal are Wakhi and they speak the Wakhi language. They belong to the Ismaili sect of Shia Islam.
The entire community is the follower of Aga Khan as their 49th spiritual leader who is the direct descendant of Muhammad. The Ismaili Community

Two books by Pam Henson about Shimshal, "Shimshal" and "Women of Shimshal" have been published by the Shimshal Trust. Henson is a teacher from New Zealand and wrote these books based on her experiences teaching and living in Shimshal. Details about her books are available on Shimshal Trust website. شمشال بے مثال written by مستنصر حسسیں تارڑ Mustenssir Hussain Tarrer is one of the best books on Shimshal in Urdu. For knowing more about his book visit Sang-e-meel Publications website.


Descriptions and references to Shimshal have appeared in various historical accounts, mostly written by western academics or explorers. Shimshalis of course have their own version of their history.It is reported by many that there have been 13 generations since their ancestor Mamusing explored the area of Shimshal and settled there with his wife. There was already evidence of a settlement in Shimshal when he arrived, in the form of man-made water channels. Mamusing's wife was angry with him for bringing her to such a remote place. But a visit to her from a saint served to restore their relationship and they went on to have a son, Sher. Sher was responsible for securing Shimshal's rights over the Pamir pasture area by wining a polo contest against some Kyrgyz herders who also claimed rights over Pamir. Sher chose to ride a yak for the contest, and the yak racing and related customs which take place in Pamir during the summer months seem to echo Sher's victory. Chughbai explains that Sher's three sons are the originators of Shimshal's three main clans: Boqi Kathor, Ghazi Khathor and Bakhti Kathor.

Shimshal was part of the royal state of Hunza controlled by the Mir until 1974 when Zulfiqar Bhutto abolished Pakistan's last remaining princely kingdoms. Many narrators can remember life under the Mir's regime. The Mir is reported by some to have held his people back by limiting education and making it difficult for people to gain permission to travel outside Hunza. Shimshal, like other communities in Hunza, was required to provide the Mir with certain agricultural and livestock products as tax payments. In addition, because of Shimshalis' access to rock salt, Shimshal had a special salt tax. These taxes were carried by Shimshalis to Hunza. Baig Daulat provides a very detailed account of the taxes that Shimshalis paid to and carried for the Mir and how this was organised within Shimshal: "Those who possessed livestock and more family members and those on whom God had bestowed wealth were called lopan. They were required to pay yeelban (taxes)… Those who were poor were called borwar (literally, having load; those who carried the Mir's taxes)." However it is important to note that these positions were not fixed statuses. Someone with plenty of livestock and physically strong men in the family could choose to be borwar rather than lopan.

At the village level, certain individuals would act on behalf of the Mir in a range of positions including: arbob (the Mir's representative in the village); yarpa (responsible for the Mir's livestock); chorbu (public announcer). Several narrators suggest that the Mir accepted bribes from those in such positions or those who wanted such positions. Having a female relative who had breast-fed one of the Mir's family members could also ensure one obtaining a position: "My uncle Momin Shah was the first yarpa of Shimshal, because his mother's sister had [breast] fed Mir Nazeem Khan's son. So on the basis of this relation my uncle got the yarpagi for the first time".

Although the Mir's tax system came to an end in the 1960s, Shimshalis were still not entirely free from carrying loads for others. The Pakistan army came to Shimshal in the late 1960s and was posted in Pamir because of border disputes with China. Many Shimshalis worked as porters for the army. One narrator (Pakistan 20) explains: "we had to take their ration, ammunition from Passu to Quz (a pasture)… the government didn't pay our daily wages directly to our own hands. They had contractors… And these contractors were not honest enough to pay our wages. Sometimes they gave us a piece of cloth instead of the amount and most of the time they paid nothing." Today many Shimshalis work as porters for trekking and mountaineering groups and expeditions.

What is Shimshal famous for?[edit]

  1. Shimshal has the distinction of producing well known mountaineers for Pakistan; among those Samina Baig is the first women climber from Pakistan who scaled Mt.Everest and all highest peaks in seven continents around the globe. Rajab Shah has the honor of scaling all five highest peaks in Pakistan. Both Rajab Shah and Mehrban Shah have received Presidential Award for Pride of Performance in the filed of mountaineering. In fact Shimshalis are to Pakistan as Sherpas are to Nepal. Some people call Shimshal,The Valley of Mountaineers in Pakistan.
  2. It is the bordering village located at the frontier of Pakistan and China. The border of Sino-Pak remains peaceful always because of the peace loving nature of local community of Shimshal.
  3. Shimshal is the largest village of Hunza valley. Its mighty mountains, gigantic passes, amazing glaciers, fertile landscape, and lush green fields are comparable to none. The largest herds of yaks, sheep and goats in its vast pasture lands; Shimshal Pamir, Gujerav, Yazghail and Loopghar are a major fascination for tourists. The beautiful Shimshal Pamir lake attracts many tourists toward it.
  4. The rich cultural heritage, unique historical background, peace loving people, hospitality and smiling faces are self explanatory.
  5. The Lok Versa Museum of Shimshal has some rare antiques, artifacts, musical instruments, and daily life items made from wood show cases the creativity and rich history of local community. Don't miss visiting this heritage museum whenever you are around.

Shimshal Pass (Ṣ̌ʉw Wʉrt)[edit]

Shimshal Pass (Ṣ̌ʉw Wʉrt) (4,735 m) rises above the village. It lies on the watershed between the Indus River and Tarim River basins, and leads to the valley of the Shimshal Braldu River, a tributary of the Shaksgam River on the border with China. Francis Younghusband was probably the first Englishman to reach the pass (1889). At the time it was used by raiders from Hunza to attack caravans traveling between Leh and Yarkand. There was a fort manned by Hunza soldiers, or raiders, or both. The pass is not part of Khunjerab National Park, but the Shimshal community has set an organization called SNT (Shimshal Nature Trust) which oversees the entire region and takes care of its own land. It is a community-based organization and is registered with the Government of Pakistan.

Annually, in the last week of July or the first week of August, there is a festival at Shimshal Pass, where locals partake in a yak race, followed by singing and dancing. In Wakhi language it is called Woolyo. This yak race is the only one of its kind, and is a unique event organised at high mountain settlements of Pakistan .

Shimshal Nature Trust[edit]

Shimshal Nature Trust is a community-based development organization.
Shimshal Nature Trust - Fifteen Year Vision and Management Plan (1994-2009) The Science and Practice of Ecology & Society Award (SPES) was granted to Shimshal Nature Trust in Pakistan. Details available here, SPES Award to Shimshal Nature Trust also see Report on Shimshal Nature Trust

Navbahar Educational, Welfare and Development Organisation (NEWDO) is the most active organisation working for the educational development in the valley by constructing educational facilities. Navbahar Secondary School, Shimshal is one of its kind educational institution in the village .

Shimshal Health Care Center was recently constructed with the financial help of German donors.

Shimshal Mountaineering School (SMS) is the best mountaineering school in Hunza valley. It is owned and managed by Shimshali mountaineers.

Nomus (Self-Help Village Development Programme)[edit]

Nomus is a Wakhi word commonly known in Shimshal valley. It is a unique social philanthropic( showing concern for humanity ) system of the local community. Details are available here Nomus and Oral testimonies from Shimshal It is one of its kind model of participatory community development in Gilgit-Baltistan area of Pakistan.Self-Help Village Development Programme

Vibrant Colours of Autumn in Shimshal, Hunza Pakistan

Who is Samina Baig?[edit]

Samina Baig hailing from Shimshal valley is the first Pakistani women to scale world's highest mountain Mt.Everest. She has also the honor of scaling all highest peaks of seven continents. Pakistan Youth Outreach website contains comprehensive information about Samina Baig and her brother Mirza Ali's climbing history, achievements and future plans.

Tourism in Shimshal[edit]

Shimshal in Winter
Shimshali Mountaineers

Shimshal valley has its largest adventure area in Hunza and is a major attraction for tourists. Its mountains like Distaghil Sar (7,885 m), Shimshal White Horn (6,303 m) Minglik Sar (6,150 m), Lupghar Sar (7,200 m), Yazghail Sar (6,000 m), Kunjut Sar and others are well known among mountaineers. Gigantic glaciers include Malangudhi, Yazghail, Khurdopin (5,800 m), Braldu, Odver, Ver Zharav, and main passes are Chafchingoal, Khurdopin, Mai Dur, Braldu, Boi Sam and others. Shimshalis are to Pakistan as Sherpas are to Nepal. More than twenty well known mountaineers from this valley have made Pakistan proud in the field of tourism. Some people call it " The Valley of Mountaineers". Some of them are Rajab Shah, Mehrban Shah, Shambi Khan,Aziz Ullah, Qudrat Ali, Sarwar Ali, Shaheen Baig, Ali Mussa, Amr Uddin Shah, Amin Ullah Baig, Sajjad Karim, Aziz Baig, Qurban Muhammad, Tafat Shah, Farhad Khan, Wahab Ali Shah, Fazl Ali, Hasil Shah,Yousaf Khan, Muhammad Ullah, Ezat Ullah, Muhammad Bari, Shafa Ali, Muhammad Abdul,Saeed Ahmed,Jalal Uddin,mehrban karim and others. Rajab Shah has the distinction of scaling all five peaks more than eight thousand meters located in Pakistan. Rajab Shah and Mehrban Shah have received Presidential Award for Pride of Performance in recognition of their extra ordinary achievement in the field of tourism and mountaineering.

Useful Links[edit]

Some useful links that provide detailed information about Shimshal are;

  1. Way to K2 Adventure Tours
  2. Shams Alpine
  3. Shimshal Mountaineering School
  4. KET Pakistan
  5. Pakistan Youth Outreach
  6. IUCN_MACP_Brochure_ Shimshal
  7. Voices from the Mountain_ Shimshal_ Panos London

See also[edit]

External links[edit]