Gojal,

Chilinji An and Qalander Uween

Duration 6 days
Distance 57km
Standard Very demanding, technical
Season Mid-June-September
Start Baba Ghundi Ziarat
Finish Bort
Zone and Permit restricted, US$50 permit
Public Transport finish only
 Summary Cross a challenging glaciated pass along Pakistan’s northernmost border between the dramatic and sacred landscape of Chapursan and the rocky walls and spires of the Karambar Valley.

 

Chilinji An somewhat confusedly refers to two distinct passes linking Chapursan with the Karambar Valley to its west: the true Chilinji An (5160m); and the Chilinji An North, known as Qalander Uween (5220m) to people from Chapursan. (Qalander means ‘an ascetic wanderer’ in Urdu, and Uween, a ‘pass’ in Wakhi.) The east sides of these passes are glaciated, whereas the west sides are steep, generally dry, scree.

Trekkers going from east to west typically cross the true Chilinji An, the pass crossed by early 20th– century explorers such as British archaeologist Aurel Stein, HW Tilman and Wilfred Thesiger. Trekkers going from west to east usually cross the Qalander Uween, although many of them mistakenly think it’s true Chilinji An. (That said, it’s possible for strong parties to cross the true Chilinji An from west to east, although no high camp is set.) The descriptions for both routes follow. Only previously acclimatized trekkers should attempt crossing from east to west.

The Chilinji An frequently precedes the Karambar An and Darkot An trek (p) by crossing to the Karambar River’s true right bank at Chilinji An on Day 5 and heading up the Karambar Valley. The Qalander Uween is often combined with the Broghil and Karambar An trek (p).

PLANNING

What to Bring 

Mountaineering equipment necessary for travelling in roped teams in required (see Mountaineering Equipment, for a discussion of appropriate gear).

Maps

The Swiss Foundation for Alpine Research 1:250, 000 orographical map Karakoram (Sheet 1) covers the trek. The map shows the Chilinji An, but its actual coordinates are 36° 47.7” N and 74° 03’ 51.8” E. It gives inaccurate place names and locations. In particular, Biatar, an important camp, is along the true left bank of the river flowing east from the passes. The glacier on the east side of the Chilinji An, above Biatar, isn’t labeled. In the trek description, it’s referred to as the Biatar Glacier, because the glacier on the west side of the pass is the actual Chilinji Glacier. No maps depict the Qalander Uween, whose coordinates are 36° 48’ 08.8” N and 74° 03’ 41.1” E, nor the route over it.

Permits and Regulations   

This trek is in a restricted zone where a permit and licensed guide are required (see Trekking Permits, for futher information). Bring multiple photocopies of your permit, which you may be asked to give to the army at Baba Ghundi Ziarat and the police in limit.

 Baba Ghundi

Baba Ghundi Ziarat, Hunza’s most important shrine (Ziarat or astan), draws pilgrims from as far as Baltistan. The current shrine, built in 1924 by Hunza’s Mir Ghazin Khan, houses the tomb of the saint and his wife, along with the saint’s sword. Baba Ghundi came to Chapursan from Ghund, a valley in what is today’s Tajikistan. He performed numerous miracles throughout Chapursan, each commemorated by a small shrine. The shrine of Panja Shah, just before Yarz Rich, has many coloured flags. Inside is a rock with three long scrape marks, as though made by claws. The saint is said to have made these marks, and ghee is poured on them as an oblation. Kermin has a shrine, as does Reshit, where a rock bears the imprint of the saint’s fist and horse whip. Baba Ghundi’s main miracle is a tale of sin and retribution, very similar to other legends in Pakistan and Kashmir. When Baba Ghundi first came to Chapursan, it was a fertile, wealthy valley where the people lived in sin. He went from house to house, asking alms, but only one old woman offered him food. Angry at the villagers, but pleased with the old woman’s devotion. Baba Ghundi told here to leave her house and climb the hill. As she did, she saw Baba Ghundi riding at the head of a great flood that wiped out the valley and its people in punishment for their sinful ways. Evidently, a great outburst flood From the Yishkuk Glacier actually did cover most of the valley with boulders and mud as far down as Kampir Dior village, where the remains of the old woman’s house are visible today.

Baba Ghundi is also remembered as a dragon slayer. West of Zood Khun is Ravai Zhui, a lake in which lived a dragon that terrorized the villagers. The saint killed the dragon and ‘dragon’s bones’ are still found today in the dry lake bed. Today, Baba Ghundi’s main blessing is to bestow children on childless couples. The time for pilgrimage to his shrine is late September and early October, when religious songs are sung throughout the night. Goats are offered with prayers, and the meat is distributed, imbued with the barakat, or spiritual power, of the saint. Throughout the year, pilgrims arrive on Thursday to offer prayers on Friday. Close to the main shrine, near the river, is a spring decorated with ibex horns; its mineral water, called ab-e-shafa, bestows health on those who drink it.

 

Guides and Porters

Chapursan porters ask for a flat rate per stage, including payment for food rations. They also ask for the clothing and equipment allowance. Hire someone from Chapursan who knows the route if your guide doesn’t know it. When you trek from east to west, you use Chapursan porters. Having Wakhi porters opens doors for you in areas where their relatives live. When trekking from west to east, you mostly likely use Chitrali porters who are allowed to carry loads to Baba Ghundi Ziarat, from where they walk back to Chitral.

Some trekking companies have set a precedent to pay ‘drop’ fees to porters who travel by vehicle from their village to Baba Ghundi Ziarat. Since the porters carry no load and you already pay for their transportation, it makes no sense to pay an additional ‘drop fee.

Stages

It totals eight stages from Baba Ghundi Ziarat: (1) Yarz Yarz; (2) Biatar; (3) Chilinji An Base Camp; (4) Chilinji An; (5) Jungle Camp; (6) Maturamdan; (7) Yazben; and (8) Bort.

When travelling with Chitrali porters over Qalander Uween, the stages between Jungle Camp and Baba Ghundi Ziarat are: (1) Qalander Uween High Camp; (2) Biatar; and (3) Baba Ghundi Ziarat.

GETTING TO/FROM THE TREK

To the Start

Chapursan is beyond the Afiyatabad check post, so immigration officials ask to see your passport. The 70km drive between Afiyatabad and Baba Ghundi Ziarat takes four hours, three hours to Zood Khun, and another hour to Baba Ghundi Ziarat. Usually several jeeps, vans or pick-up trucks depart Afiyatabad every afternoon, shortly after the daily NATCO bus from Gilgit arrives. Most vehicles go only as far as Zood Khun. Afiyatabad- Baba Ghundi Ziarat special hires; Afiyatabad-Zood Khun, Zood Khun- Baba Ghundi Ziarat. Alternatively, it’s two stages to walk the 10km along the road between Zood Khun and Baba Ghundi Ziarat. When you take porters in a vehicle, pay them only for Stages over which they carry a load.

The grassy expanse at Baba Ghundi Ziarat offers ample room to camp. Spend one or two nights here to acclimatize and visit with Wakhi and Qirghiz from Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor who come to Baba Ghundi Ziarat to trade livestock for supplies such as flour, tea and salt. Springs are across the footbridge in the river’s true left bank.

From the Finish

The road goes as far as Bort, but in summer high water may block the road at Bilhanz. When it’s blocked, walk along the road, fording side streams as needed. It takes four hours to walk between Bort and Bilhanz. One stage is fixed between Bort and Bad Swat. You may have to pay for an additional partial stage between Bad Swat and Bilhanz.

Jeeps to Gilgit from Bort, from Bilhanz and from lmit. Special hires from Bort, from Bilhanz and from Imit. Alternatively, you can take a jeep to Chatorkhand or Gakuch and get on a NATCO bus to Gilgit there.

THE TREK

CHILINJI AN Day 1 : Baba Ghundi Ziarat to Yarz Yarz  

2 hours, 5.4km, 140m ascent

From Baba Ghundi Ziarat (3660m), cross the footbridge and walk one hour on a good trail to the footbridge over Sekr Zherav (red stream). Across the Chapursan River to the south are the huts at Shpod Kut (rhubarb on the roof), labeled Shikarkuk on the Swiss map. Continue another hour to Yarz Yarz (3800m). This once-fine juniper (yarz) stand has been decimated for firewood and timber. Huts are on either side of a small clear stream with room for a few tents.

Day 2 : Yarz Yarz to Biatar

3 hours, 7km, 220m ascent

Twenty minutes along the alluvial fan, reach the base of a reddish cliff called Besk Rui. A small camp site here is called Besk-e-Ben. A large camp site called Targeen is below, along a clear stream lined with tamarisks (targ) just before the Kuz Glacier’s terminus. The trail works up the cliffs 45 minutes, easing off near the top of (3900m), then contours 15 minutes to Jamal Ilga (3810m), a livestock pen and several huts below the trail to the south. From here, another trail leads north to Zhui Werth (mill-stone by the lake) and Irshad Uween, a pass on the Afghan border.

Thirty minutes beyond Jamal Ilga, a stream bars the trail where a footbridge washed away. Descend onto the Kuz (shady) Glacier and cross the lateral moraine to avoid fording the deep, swift stream that disappears under the glacier. The trail continues along this stream’s true right bank another hour to the huts and livestock pen at Biatar (4020m) with large, clear springs and grassy camp sites amid boulders.

Day 3 : Biatar to Chilinji An Base Camp   

3½-4 hours, 4.6km, 600m ascent

Ascend the rocky pasture directly above Biatar 45 minutes to the base of a large cliff on the valley’s east side. The Biatar Glacier, which descends from Chilinji An, fills the valley. Follow a faint trail 30 minutes to the top of the Biatar Glacier’s lateral moraine (4260m). Cross the glacier over terminal moraine, fording a glacial stream flowing over ice. Reach the ablation valley on the glacier’s west margin, where yaks graze, in 45 minutes. Late in the season, water is scarce. Ascend the ever-narrowing ablation valley 1¾ hours, climbing steadily to reach Chilinji An Base Camp (4620m), with four tent platforms and five rock circles. Water comes from a nearby snow bank. This camp site has same rock-fall danger.

Day 4 : Chilinji An Base Camp to Jungle Camp  

5-6 hours, 7km, 540m ascent, 1560m descent

Walk up the crest of the moraine to a large cairn, which marks the high camp for trekkers coming from west to east. Follow the lateral moraine one hour along the glacier’s north margin. As the moraine diminishes and bends right, cross on to the level snow-covered glacier. The pass is directly ahead. Head towards the yellowish crag that marks the north side of the pass. Some medial moraine descends from this crag. Follow this moraine a short way, until one hour after coming onto the glacier you encounter black moraine and the slope steepens to 30 degrees. From this point, travel in roped teams. Head up the middle of the glacier towards the pass, zigzagging to avoid numerous crevasses. Reach the tall cairn marking Chilinji An (5160m) in one hour.

Put away your rope and head down scree, traversing north (right) to a small ridge. Follow the crest of this ridge 10 to 15 minutes until you can descend right on scree to the valley below. A few small tent platforms (4560m) on rock are near a clear stream. The 600m scree descent takes 45 minutes.

Follow the stream over very steep, loose scree. Be careful of rock fall. It takes one hour to descend almost 1000m of scree to the gentler slopes and forest below. Head for the lateral moraine of the Chilinji Glacier 15 minutes ahead through dense willow and birch. In this lovely ablation valley, stop near the obvious bend in the clear stream. This forested site is called Jungle Camp (3600m).

Days 5-6 : Jungle Camp to Bort

2 days, 33km, 872m descent

Follow the stream through the forested ablation valley, crossing it several times. Tall junipers grow farther down this enchanting sheltered valley, and a waterfall cascades from cliffs above. After one to 1½ hours, you reach the Gujar settlement of Chilinji (3450m) along the Karambar River’s true left bank.

Head down the Karambar Valley camping at Maturamdan on Day 5 en route to Bort (see Days 1-3 of the Karambar An and Darkot An trek, for details in the reverse direction).

THE TREK

QALANDER UWEEN Days 1-3 : Bort to Jungle Camp   

3 days, 33km, 872m Ascent

See Days 1-3 of the Karambar An and Darkot An trek (p) for details, but on Day 3 leave the Karambar Valley above Waraghut by crossing the cable to the river’s true left bank at Chilinj and continue 3km to Jungle Camp (3600m).

Day 4 : Jungle Camp to Qalander Uween High Camp

3-4 hours, 3.4km, 1110m ascent

The trail heads up the vegetated slope dotted with blue salvias and other wildflowers. Continue past the highest willows and after 30 to 45 minutes head right into a steep, narrow canyon. Follow the stream bed, using the boulder as irregular stairs, one hour to the top of the ravine, where the angle eases (4560m). A clear steam flows across black scree on the right, and the trail from the true Chilinji An is visible on the scree above. Continue upvalley, working left onto light-coloured moraine, another two to 2½ hours to the valley’s head. A cairn, tent platforms and stone porters’ shelters mark the Qalander Uween High Camp (4710m). A small stream provides water.

Day 5 : Qalander Uween High Camp to Biatar

7-8 hours, 8.2km, 510m ascent, 1200m descent

Ascend a faint trail up the obvious steep scree slope 1½ to two hours to Qalander Uween (5220m). Near the top, pass the right of a large rock outcrop. The angle approaches 50 degrees as you near the pass, necessitating use of a trekking pole, taking care to avoid knocking rock onto those below. A small cairn marks the pass. Descend right to rock at the edge of the névé. Travel in roped teams as you descend the centre of the 10- to 15-degree névé field, working left towards the rock wall on the glacier’s left margin probing for hidden crevasses. Exit the glacier’s left margin into the rocky ablation zone 1½ to two hours from the pass. Descend steeply on the left side of the massive icefall from the upper glacial basin into the Biatar Glacier. Looking back, it’s hard to imagine a relatively easy route exists above the imposing icefall. Continue down the Biatar Glacier’s left margin. The route to the true Chilinji An is clearly visible back up the centre of this glacier. Pass the Chilinji An Base Camp and continue another hour down the ablation valley. Then cross the glacier above its terminus, fording its outwash stream to its true right bank. Follow a trail down to Biatar (4020m).

Day 6 : Biatar to Baba Ghundi Ziarat

5 hours, 12.4km, 360m descent

See Days 1-2 of the Chilinji An and Qalander Uween trek (p) for a description in reverse.

 

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