Ghizar,

Punji Pass

Duration 4 days
Distance 40. 3km
Standard demanding
Season July-September
Start Darkot
Finish Ghotulti
Zone and Permit open, no permit
Public and Transport yes
Summary This traverse of the Hindu Raj Range, through unspoiled traditional valleys with spring- fed meadows and superb alpine vistas, crosses a straightforward pass with opportunities for climbs and first ascents.

 

Punji pass (4680m) links Darkot at the Yasin Valley’s head to Ghotulti in Iskhoman. The pass is named after a distinctive cairn (punji in Burushaski) 2.25km west of, and 350m below, the pass, marking the highest possible camp site on the west side of the pass. The pass is also called Iskhoman Haghost by Darkot villagers. It’s also occasionally called the Iskhoman Pass (as is the Asumbar Haghost to the south). This trek is often preceded by the Asumbar Haghost trek (p).

Planning  

Maps

The US AMS topographic maps Baltit (NJ 43-14) and Mastuj (NJ 43-13) cover the Trek. The map calls the pass Iskhuman Aghost. What appears as a second pass is confusingly marked Panji Pass. The Iskhoman Haghost and Punji Pass are the same; there is only one pass. Gemelti is incorrectly shown on the river’s south side, but it’s on the north side east of Gartens and west of Alam Bar. Nyu Bar is labeled as Neo Bar and Hanisar Bar as Anesar Bar.

Guides and Porters

Porters occasionally use donkeys to carry loads. Porters, however, must unload the donkeys to cross the pass itself, which takes time. Darkot porters seem happy to work for a flat rate of per day, including payment for food rations. This stage system isn’t fully instituted on this trek, although some parties pay by stages. Look for porters at Darkot’s New Tourist Camping Garden run by Muhammad Murad. If you can’t find any, walk up to Gartens and the surrounding villages and ask there.

GETTING TO/FROM THE TREK

Gilgit- Darkot jeeps (nine hours) depart from a shop run by Bahadur off Gilgit’s Shaheed-e- Millat Rd. Gilgit- Darkot special hires. Alternatively, take the 8am daily NATCO Gilgit- Taus bus (eight hours), from where you can walk along the road in two days to Darkot or look for transport. It may be easier to find Gilgit- Taus jeeps.

From the finish of the trek, Ghotulti- Gilgit jeeps and are infrequent. Jeeps start from Ghotulti and go through Iskhoman village, so it’s better to wait for one in Ghotulti rather than walk down to Iskhoman and risk them being full by the time they gets there. Special hires. Alternatively, walk a full day downvalley to Chatorkhand and get on the daily NATCO bus to Gilgit.

The Trek  

Day 1 : Darkot to Boimoshani

5- 6 hours, 9.6km, 1200m ascent

If you’re not previously acclimatized, cover the 1200m elevation gain from Darkot to Boimoshani in two days. Ascend from Darkot to Sawarey or Mardain (camp sites for large trekking parties are limited) the first day, and then to Boimoshani the next day.

Climb the obvious trail that snakes its dusty way up the hillside east from Darkot (2760m). In 1½ hours reach Gartens (2880m) and then Gamelti (3139m). Cross Alam Bar and walk along the willow- lined path through Sawarey in 15 minutes reach the sturdy footbridge over the Gasho Gol. Reportedly a difficult, seldom- used two- day route goes up Gasho Gol and over a 5700m pass via the Chiantar Glacier to Shuwar Sheer in Broghil.

Continue through a cultivated area called Mardain 45 minutes. Pass the last trees and reach the confluence of the Nyu Bar (nyu means ‘big’) from the north- east and Hanisar Bar from the south. Local people refer to Nyu Bar as Tshili Harang, which is the name of the main summer settlement upriver. Beyond Tshili Harang lies Atar Pass (see Other Treks in Ghizar,). Pyramid- shaped Garmush (6243m) rises above the head of the Nyu Bar; the snowy peak with the distinctive glacier west of Garmush is unnamed. Farther west is the wide, flat, snowy pass between the Gasho Gol and Broghil.

Cross a footbridge (3270m) to the Nyu Bar‘s true left bank just above its confluence with the Hanisar Bar. A short way ahead the trail divides. The left branch follows the Nyu Bar’s true left Bank to Mamutshil. Take the right branch up the steep spur between the two rivers 150m to the fields and huts of Gawat Kutu. Like their northern Wakhi neighbors, Burusho women here tend the livestock. They wear tall pillbox hats, with their hair in multiple braids on the sides of their head. Relatives and friends are greeted in traditional fashion by kissing the top of one another’s hands. From Gawat Kutu (3450m), traverse high above the Hanisar Bar on a level trail to the small settlement of Hanisar Bar. Hapey, a large cultivated area with several huts, lies across a footbridge above the true left bank.

Beyond, both sides of the valley are barren scree slopes. The narrow, rocky trail stays on the true right bank and ascends gradually for one hour. Around a bend to the south- east, grass appears and the pass is visible. Continue along the river bank 30 minutes to Boimoshani (3960m), a small camp sit amid willows near a spring. The name Boimoshani means Boi’s vegetable garden. Larger trekking parties camp in the grassy areas along the river. Porters need shelter as there are no huts and nights get cold. Across the river are two reddish mineral springs whose waters reportedly cure upset stomachs and headaches. Access to the other side of the river is usually via snow bridges.

Day 2 : Boimoshani to Holojut

5 hours, 8.9km, 720m ascent, 810m descent

Follow the trail gradually up through thyme and wildflowers 45 minutes to a deep ravine. Cross the stream in the ravine, which is usually icy in the morning, and climbs 15 minutes to the highest possible camp site (4250m) where a 1m- high cairn, or punji stands. Cows share the grassy well-watered slopes with marmots. Porters need adequate gear to camp here. The views downvalley are superb, especially the peaks and dramatic icefalls south of Darkot An above Rawat. South of Punji Pass rises the distinctive snowy Pyramid of Punji Peak (5800m).

Continue up a faint trail, then work south (right) over moraine rubble towards the small glacial cirque flowing from the pass, reaching its margin (4410m) in one hour. Cross onto the glacier’s south (right) side on the 20- to 30- degree slope, rather than lower down to the left, where it’s at a 40- degree angle. The glacier’s north (far left) side is exposed to rock fall from the cliffs above. Contour towards the two cairns visible on the pass. The upper glacier doesn’t have crevasses, so using a rope is optional, as is wearing crampons. Reach Punji Pass (4680m), which has sweeping views of the peaks above Darkot and Thui An, in 45 minutes.

Descend over shale and small snowfields, following a faint trail along the stream’s true right (south) bank. As the stream descends, follow the trail south- south- east along the rocky ridge above the stream 45 minutes. At the end of the ridge, turn sharply back went (right) to avoid a deep ravine ahead. Descend steep switchbacks and a short scree slopes on a trail to a flower- filled bowl below. Cross the meadow in 15 minutes to its west end and a clear stream, which tumbles down into a waterfall below the trail. Cross the stream and descend 125m on switchbacks along its true right bank to a smaller meadow. Recross the stream and pass left to many boulders, one of which is topped by a cairn.

Descend towards the alluvial plain below, traversing grassy slopes along the north (left) side of the valley 15 minutes to a cascading waterfall, which is the stream originating at the pass. Cross the stream and descend 15 minutes across scree to the valley floor. Walk along the river bed 15 minutes to Holojut (3870m). ‘Holo’ is the name of a renowned wazir from Nagyr and jut is a Burushaski word meaning ‘grassy land’, indicating this was a meadow he once frequented. Surrounded by peaks and hanging glaciers, this grassy expanse is a superb camp site with a large bubbling spring of deliciously cold water.

Punji Pass is not visible from Holojut. The eastern approach to the pass, however, is marked by two prominent rock towers and a large light-coloured cliff just north (right) of the pass. The taller or southern (left) tower has a distinctive finger on it. The pass is at the base of these and is obscured by the black rock rib.

 

Day 3 : Holojut to Handis

5½ hours, 17.7km, 940m descent

Descend steeply for 15 minutes. Across the river, three dramatic icefalls meet. Traverse through scrub junipers and tall- stemmed weeds with berries called Laka. After 15 minutes, turn east, with the glaciers and a moraine lake below. Continue 30 minutes to a clear stream and a birch grove. Continue well above the river 15 minutes to Talas, a cluster of wigwam- style conical- roofed huts built of juniper branches. This is the highest of the many summer settlements of Shina- speaking people from Iskhoman village.

Continue 15 minutes through birch to the river, here called the Baru Gah, where the trail divides. A footbridge leads to the true right bank and on to Babusar (3480m), a settlement below a clear pond fed by a spring. Alternatively, stay on the true left side of the Baru Gah, bypass Babusar and cross another footbridge at Dorustar, 15 minutes downstream.

Babusar sits along a side stream. Young girls here may coyly extract a bridge toll to cross the footbridge. The level grassy area along the pond makes a comfortable camp site, but leaves a long walk to Ghotulti the next day. The main trail stays on the Baru Gah’s true right bank two hours to Galtir, passing through pleasant juniper and birch groves. A footbridge to Dajapuk is 30 minutes below the Dorustar footbridge. The wigwams made from birch bark (japuk) here perch on a steep, dry hillside (daj) with no room for camp sites. Springs are on either side of the footbridge on the true right bank.

Cross several side streams, then on through a chir pine forest as the trail climbs gently and traverses high above the river. Pass the huts of Sheramut below. Then pass below four 1m- high cairns and through a mature juniper forest with a small spring. Above and out of view is the settlement of Barbalah. Descend to the river. Galtir (3280m) is a summer settlement with huts on both sides of the river. Cross a footbridge to the true let bank. No water is available between Galtir and Handis, so fill bottles at a clear side stream on the north bank, with a camp site nearby.

The trail climbs and stays high above the true left bank  through juniper and artemisia covered hillside to Kai. Across the Baru Gah is the once- cultivated settlement of Phaiz. From Kai, continue high above the true left bank 45 minutes, then pass through boulders and juniper from where Handis, the first cultivated land in the valley, is 15 minutes ahead. Trails are along both sides of the Baru Gah between Handis and Ghotulti. If continuing to Ghotulti the same day, cross a footbridge over the Baru Gah above Handis and follow the trail along its true right bank two hours to Ghotulti to meet the road just south of the bridge. Otherwise cross the footbridge over the Mathantir Gah, which flows from Atar Lake. Walk through Handis (2930m) 15 minutes to good camp sites in flat, grassy, shaded areas near a large, clear stream.

Day 4 : Handis to Ghotulti

2½ hours, 4.1km, 446m descent

Continue above the true left bank, passing through cultivated fields, then high above the river 1¼ hours. The river becomes a gorge below. Just above the Chiantir Gah and Ghotulti, a large circle of stones enclosed by a square stone wall is a Shrine to a Saint who once visited the area. The saint’s legend is remarkably similar to that of Baba Ghundi, whose shrine is in Gojal’s Chapursan Valley. Descend steeply 30 minutes to Ghotulti (2484m). Camp in the enclosed orchard of Maiun Jan, son of Hussain Ali. The Chiantir Gah, which leads north- east towards the Chiantar Glacier, joins the Baru Gah below the village to become the Iskhoman River. In Burushaski, chian means ‘near’; tir, a ‘valley’. A bridge crosses the Baru Gah just below Ghotulti.

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