Duikar, Pakistan

Photo: gul791 via freeimages.com
Photo: gul791 via freeimages.com

Sunrise has never been your thing. Some people feel energized as they watch the dark sky turn gray, then purple, and then pink, before the orange ball peeks over the horizon. You’ve always preferred a few extra hours of sleep, followed by a strong cup of coffee. Not that you haven’t witnessed a sunrise. Though usually it’s just because you haven’t gone to bed yet. Which is why you’ve amazed even yourself by waking up at daybreak two days in a row.

The first day was—not so surprisingly—unintentional. After a two-hour hike from Karimabad, you reached the Eagle’s Nest Hotel. The former campsite sits on a ridge high above the village of Altit. Completely exhausted, you sipped Tummuro mountain tea, ate cheese and walnut chapattis, and gazed at the jaw-dropping view of the Hunza Valley from the terrace. Then you quickly fell asleep. You slept soundly—and probably snored—straight through the night, until a bright light woke you. The sun seemed like it was rising directly into your room. You hesitantly climbed out of bed and moved to the balcony. Energized doesn’t begin to describe the feeling.

You traveled to Pakistan to drive the Karakoram Highway. The 930-mile road connects Pakistan to China. It’s one of the highest roads in the world, and it passes through the Karakoram mountains and the Khunjerab Pass. The road is filled with snowcapped peaks, terrifying passages, and apricot orchards. Yellow poplars are just beginning to bloom. If this were in any other country, tour buses would clog the road.

Photo: Hunza Eagle's Nest Hotel
Photo: Hunza Eagle’s Nest Hotel

Your detour to the Eagle’s Nest was completely inspired by the gorgeous, dramatic scenery. Visit the forts. The painstakingly restored Baltit Fort stands on a ridge overlooking Karimabad, while the ancient Altit Fort sits beside the glacier-fed Hunza River. Walk to the Hazrat Abbas shrine, which is lined with prayer flags, near Shabbat village. From here, you can see the Karakoram Highway and the snowcapped peaks of Spantik and Rakaposhi. Continue to the Ultar Glacier, but be careful, this is an avalanche-prone area. And if you’re really looking for a challenge, don’t miss Rush Lake. It’s one of the highest alpine lakes in the world. The crystal-clear water and the surrounding peaks may be the highlight of your trip.

There’s one more hike you can’t miss though. From the Eagle’s Nest, climb an hour and a half up to the viewpoint behind the hotel. It’s strenuous, but at this point, you should be used to the high altitude and the crisp air. When you finally reach the top, you can see the Ultar mountains, the Hopar Glacier, and the Hunza Valley, plus an amazing sunset. After watching sunrises and hiking the last few days, you’ve been too exhausted to notice how beautiful the valley looks at the end of the day. Once again, you’ll sleep well tonight. Though it’s doubtful you’ll watch the sun rise again tomorrow.

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