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Shimshal Valley

Shimshal 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 the district. It is in the valley of the Shimshal River, a tributary of the Hunza River. Shimshal is a border village that connects the Gilgit-Baltistan area of Pakistan with China. The total area of Shimshal is approximately 3,800 km2 and there are around two thousand inhabitants with a total of 240 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 from June to October of the year (when the water isn’t frozen). Non availability of electricity for seven months is a major problem of the local community because during this period they have had to rely on kerosene oil, firewood, solar plates and Compressed Natural Gas in cylinders as alternatives. A small hydro electricity power station of 0.200MW is under construction at Kuk area of Shimshal that is scheduled to be complete in 2017.

The village was inaccessible by motor road until October 2003, when a new road from the Karakorum 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 became successful because of hard work, dedication and self-help. It became possible to connect Shimshal with rest of the world by mutual cooperation of the Aga Khan Rural Support Program, Government of Pakistan and the local community. It now takes maximum three hours to reach Shimshal by jeep from Passu. Self-help is the major factor for infrastructure development in Shimshal.

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 joins the Indus Rover 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.

Shimshal has produced several well known mountaineers for Pakistan; among those Samina Baig is the first women climber from Pakistan to scale 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 karim have received Presidential Award for Pride of Performance in the field of mountaineering. In fact Shimshalis are to Pakistan as Sherpa are to Nepal. Some people call Shimshal, The Valley of Mountaineers in Pakistan.

Shimshal is the largest village of Hunza Valley. Its extensive pasture lands include; Shimshal Pamir, Gujerav, Yazghail and Loopghar. The Shimshal Pamir lake attracts many tourists to it.

The Lok Versa Museum of Shimshal has some antiques, artifacts, musical instruments, and daily life items made from wood and showcases the creativity and rich history of local community.

Two books by Pam Henson are 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.

Shimshal River is formed from three sources: Khurdopin Glacier, Shimshal Pass and Zardgorban. The river also receives from other water sources before flowing into the Khunjrab River and then the Passu River before ending in Attabad Lake.

History: Khurdopin glacier and Shimshal River, 2017. Several glaciers flow into the Shimshal Valley, and are prone to blocking the river. Khurdopin glacier surged in 2016-17, creating a sizable lake.

The village of Shimshal was founded almostly 1450 years ago by Mamu Shing, he was a person from hunza and a member of the Wazir’s family, means he belonged to the prime-minister’s family  He was sent to Sarikol with his wife Khodija who was also a wakhi person .He was sent there  as an ambassador, but because of some worst situations between Sarikol and hunza  he ran away from Sarikol with his wife . They were chased till the upper hunza ; they made their home for several years before migrating into  the Shimshal Valley . When they reached to shimshal  it was such a remote place that his wife got angry but later on the starting developing that area.

There Mamu Singh built up his flocks of sheep and goats, and explored up the Shimshal Valley, he  discovered  a hole in the ground, whose mouth was covered with a great piece of slate. When he succeeded in removing the stone, water came out  from the hole and flowed along the remains of a channel that had been built by earlier travelers who had pass. He made a channel from which he could made a village

Sooner, Khodija gave birth to a son and they named him Sher, and then they started teaching him important things  ; specially hunting

When he grew up he did go for hunting and one day while his way for a hunt he met some strangers in the Pamir . strangers and Sher both said that the Pamir is theirs’ .So they ended up saying that the winner of the polo match that they will be playing will have  the Pamir .The bet was if Sher drove the ball over Shimshal Pass toward Shuwert, he would win all territories  from Shimshal to Raskam. after winning the area Sher started to explore it and on the other hand his family thought that he was lost somewhere in Pamir forever .

After year he returned to shimshal and he found out that his parents were dead . After a while he founded a Wakhi women and married her and she gave some sons too him and then the generations goes on and the three main lineage groupings of Shimshal: Gazikator, Bakhtikator and Baqikator were there.

Then after some time they started ruling with the hunza rulers and Mirs then countries  got independences, it is to be said that shimshal was the part of china before but Pakistani government made some deals with china and gave kashgir part of Pakistan to china and took shimshal and some territory in Pakistan and draw a boader line at shimshal pass.

But it was till under Mir and hunza kingdom until in 1974 when Zulfiqar Bhutto abolished Pakistan’s last remaining princely kingdoms.

MIR:- 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.

Shimshal Pass: Shimshal Pass (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 Young Husband 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 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 Sherpa to Nepal 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 Musa, 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 joshi, 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. 

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