It was my friend Mirza Ali Baig, one of the best mountaineers in Pakistan who runs a travel agency organizing incredible expeditions – who a few days later sent me a message asking “why don’t you go to Shimshal for trekking and to discover the local culture?”. I knew that to him it was more than a casual question. Mirza is from Shimshal, and although he now lives in Islamabad, he does anything he can to promote his birthplace – too often overlooked by tourists – and to help locals.
At the time, I had just arrived in the beautiful Hunza Valley, with its lush green terraces where locals grow fruits (apricots, cherries, apples and more) and vegetables, and circles by majestic mountains. On the map, Hunza is not far from Shimshal; only about 110 km (68 mi). The idea was surely tempting. The issue was that since there’s no recent travel guide for Pakistan (the latest Lonely Planet dates back to 2008 and is nowhere to be found, except at exorbitant prices that don’t make any sense), I had no idea how to get there, and how long it might take me.
Mirza suggested that he could ask his best friend, who lives in Shimshal and works with him as a mountain guide, to come and meet me in Hunza. From there, we could head together to what I already knew would be a beautiful and extraordinary place. I couldn’t have thought of a better plan, and the following morning I met with Arshad, in lovely Karimabad.