Gojal,

Kilik and Mintaka Passes

Duration 6 days
Distance 88.4km
Standard moderate
Season June-September
Start/Finish Misgar
Zone and Permit open, no permit
Public Transport yes
Summary For more than 1000 years, Kilik and Mintaka were the Silk Route’s primary passes between China and Hunza, and today these broad valleys and extensive alpine meadows, once closed to foreigners, are again accessible.

 

Kilik and Mintaka, two historic passes on Pakistan’s border with China, have been off limits to foreigners since 1947. Now open since 1999, the 1m- to 3m- wide trails to these gentle passes are easy to follow, springs and trees are abundant, and camp sites are grassy, making this one of northern Pakistan’s easiest treks.

PLANNING

Maps

The US AMS 1:250,000 topographic map Baltit (NJ 43-14) covers the trek except the area between Shireen Maidan and Kilik Pass. The only map to depict this area is the US DMA 1:500,000 topographic map TPC G-7A, but the scale renders it useless for trekking. The U502 map doesn’t show the road to Kalam Darchi. The trail beyond Boi Hil to Gul Khwaja Uween is shown on the Mintaka River’s true left bank, but it’s along the true right bank all the way between Murkushi and Gul Khwaja Uween.

Guides and Porters  

The system of portering and stages was first introduced to Misgar in 1999. Most village men Know Kilik Valley, their primary summer pastures, but few know Mintaka Valley beyond Yatumgoz Harai. They’re unaccustomed to carrying loads and don’t have metal-frame carries. Misgar men typically use donkeys to transport their own loads to the pastures, and prefer to do the same with trekkers’ loads. One donkey carries up to two loads, but is slow. Start out with donkeys from Misgar because you cannot rely on finding any available donkeys upvalley.

Misgar’s nambardar Ataullah and village elders set porters’ wages at a flat per stage, including payment for food rations and the clothing and equipment allowance. Misgar also has yaks, but during summer yaks don’t go below Murkushi. Additionally, Misgar sets a rate of per load for yaks, which carry two loads.

Stages 

These stages were set during a July 2000 meeting in Misgar attended by this book’s authors and Misgar’s Board of Governors, which included the nambardar, religious leaders, representatives of the Pamir Cattle Breeding Farm and village political leaders.

The entire village agreed to and accepted these stages: Misgar to Arbab-e-Bul (ie, it’s half a stages between Misgar and Kalam Darchi plus half a stage between Kalam Darchi and Arbab-e-Bul); Arbab-e-Bul to Murkushi; Murkushi to Sad Buldi; and Murkushi to Gul Khwaja Uween.

The trek described covers a total of eight stages not including the side trips. When you hire a vehicle between Misgar and Kalam Darchi, subtract half a stage for each direction that porters ride and don’t carry a load.

The village prefers Gurgun Pert as the overnight place and stage in Mintaka Valley as opposed to Gul Khwaja Uween, which they feel is too cold and too high for porters to sleep. At the time of research, however, there was no usable porters’ hut at Gurgun Pert. It’s in the interest of trekkers to camp at the more scenic Gul Khwaja Uween, which is a far superior site for the Mintaka Pass side trip. But, it’s in the interests of porters to camp lower at Gurgun Pert so they don’t have to walk as far with loads. (It’s 8km or 2½ hours between Murkushi and Gurgun Pert, and 3.5km or 1½ hours between Gurgun Pert and Gul Khwaja Uween.) Time will tell how this will work out. Meanwhile, it’s important to discuss this and reach an agreement before starting.

When you visit either pass on a day trek and your porter accompanies you with no load, you pay one stage for each day trek. Therefore, you pay one stage round trip when you go from Sad Buldi to Kilik Pass and back, or from Gul Khwaja Uween to Mintaka Pass and back. When you do both side trips to Kilik and Mintaka Passes as day treks, the trek becomes a total of 10 stages.

The side trip to Hapuchan Valley is also done as a single-stage day trek. When porters carry a load to the head of Hapuchan Valley, it’s one stage. A final wrinkle is that if you have porters move your camp above Sad Buldi or Haaq to Luto Harai, it’s one stage.

 

The Last Outpost of the British Empire

Misgar is the farthest village in the upper Hunza Valley. Settled in the 19th Century by Burusho from Hunza who were sent by the Mir of Hunza to guard against Qirghiz raiders from the Pamirs, it’s toady one of Gojal’s few Burushaski-speaking villages. The Mir’s distant outpost became, after the British conquest of Hunza in 1891, the empire’s farthest outpost. From Misgar, British sportsmen travelled across Kilik Pass (4827m) to the Taghdumbash Pamir in China in search of game and to learn of the movements of Russian travellers as part of the Great Game, the 19TH-century Anglo-Russian rivalry in Central Asia. Misgar was linked to Gilgit by a telegraph line, and later by a telephone line. The British employed men as mail runners to carry weekly British dispatches between Misgar and the British consulate in Kashgar. The mail runners reached Tashkurgan is six days from Misgar, via the Mintaka Pass (4726m), which was the standard route prior to the 1986 opening of the Karakoram Highway over the Khunjerab Pass. Today’s trekkers can also visit Kilik Pass where Lord Curzon, later viceroy of India (1899-1905), stood in 1894 at the outermost edge of Britain’s empire.               

 

NEAREST VILLAGE

Misgar

Sitting high above the Kilik River’s true left bank, the sunny village has its own electricity supply, telephone and post office. Misgar (3075m) was once populated by Wakhi speakers who abandoned the valley due to intense raiding by Qirghiz nomads from Wakhan. The village was resettled in the 19TH century by Burushaski speakers from Hunza, who give their own pronunciation to the area’s many Wakhi place names. In Wakhi, mis means ‘nose’ and gar means ‘rock’, a description of the shape of the rock inside the flag-festooned roadside shrine (astan) in the village’s centre. Legend has it that butter used to drip from the stone until a greedy villager attempted to gather too much, and the blessed butter ceased to flow.

Places to Stay 

The 90-year-old British customs house on the village’s east side has been revamped into the small Kilik Guest House by its owner, Shifaullah.  A small grassy area surrounded by a pretty flower garden has space for two tents. The old officer’s bedroom inside bed and the camping on fee. The welcoming family serves good food on the attractive covered porch. Other villagers offer rooms in their homes at comparable rates and, at the time of research, plans were afoot to build commercial hotels in the village and a camping area on its outskirts.

Warning

Trekkers can go to Kilik and Mintaka passes as far as the large concrete border markers, erected by the Survey of Pakistan in 1964, but should not enter Chinese territory. Chinese guards patrol the border area and will arrest anyone attempting to illegally enter China. Any such incident would likely result in the immediate closing of Misgar to foreigners. Misgar villagers have no interest in seeing their earnings from tourism brought to a premature end. Therefore, they justifiably insist that no foreigner should visit the pass areas unless accompanied by a villager. Respect their legitimate concerns and cooperate in keeping this fascinating and historic area open.

 

Getting There and Away

Misgar is beyond the Afiyatabad check post, so immigration officials ask to see your passport. The 16km well-maintained Misgar Link Rd leaves the KKH 15 minutes north of Afiyatabad. Wagons to Misgar depart Gilgit’s Jamat Khana bazaar directly for Misgar at 7am, Stopping in Afiyatabad at 1pm, and arriving in Misgar shortly after.

From Afiyatabad, the 30-minute ride to Misgar, and special hires. Daily Wagons depart Misgar for Gilgit between 6 and 6.30am.

GETTING To/From THE TREK

The road continues north to Kalam Darchi. Misgar-Kalam Darchi special hires 7km, 20 minutes.

THE TREK

Day 1 : Misgar to Murkushi       

6-7 hours, 21km, 584m ascent

It takes 1½ hours to walk 7km along the road between Misgar and Kalam Darchi. Follow the Kilik River’s true left bank past several springs. Fifteen minutes before Kalam Darchi, the road crosses a bridge to the river’s true right bank. At the base of Kalam Darchi Fort it crosses another bridge over the Dilisang River back to the Kilik River’s true right bank. Here a sign posted by the Pamir Cattle Breeding Farm shows a ‘Y’ with the left fork pointing north-west to ‘Dilleson’ (Dilisang) and the right fork pointing north to ‘Kilik/Mintaka’. The road ends and the trail begins near the abandoned riverside army barracks. Kalam Darchi, locally called KD, was built as a Gilgit Scouts post in the late 1930s on the site of an old Hunza watchtower, and was manned by the Pakistan Army until 1994. Now only caretakers occupy the post.

The trail follow the Kilik River’s true right bank a few minutes and crosses a well-built footbridge to its true left bank. In five minutes is the grassy area of Khan Wali (3205m), above which are the remnants of a British check post. Soon the trail goes along talus at the base of a scree slope as it parallels and then crosses a clear tamarisk- lined side stream called Bahadur Khan-e-Bul (Bahadur Khan’s spring). Fifteen minutes farther is a faint trail junction. Veer left on the trail that drops and crosses the river on a footbridge. Called Phari Bridge, it was built to replace a footbridge farther upstream that washed away in a flood.

Once on the river’s true right bank, climb a short rough bit to the level sandy area where the footbridge used to be. Here the Kilik River is broad and shallow in contrast to the swift-moving River downvalley. Thirty minutes farther is Arbab-e-Bul (the arbab’s spring). Mature birch trees and willows line a clear stream through this grassy area. Across the river is a black terminal Moraine from a side glacier. The trail stays along the Kilik River’s true right bank all the way to Murkushi, passing through a series of inviting level grassy birch groves about every 30 minutes, named Rung Hil, Put Hil and Lup Jangal. Between each grassy area is a stony section, but the Well-made broad trail is easy to follow and allows you to enjoy the towering cliffs on either side of this broad, well-watered valley.

Murkushi (3659m), the last and largest of these grassy birch-dotted plains, is 14km from Kalam Darchi at the confluence of the Kilik and Mintaka rivers. A herders’ hut and livestock pen lies at Murkushi’s south end, but the best camp sites are among Birch trees towards the north end beneath huge granite cliffs. Clear water flows in a small tamarisks-lined stream near the Kilik River.

 

Day 2 : Murkushi to Sad Buldi              

4½ hours, 11.7km, 585m ascent

Between Murkushi and Sad Buldi the landscape changes radically from the steep spires and rocky summits of the Karakoram to the rounded, rolling grasslands of the pamir. Cross a slopping footbridge to the Kilik River’s true left bank and make a short but sheep climb to join the main trail heading north-west upvalley. The broad trail rises steadily beneath huge, sheer, water-polished granite cliffs and spires, and one hour from Murkushi reaches the first grassy area (3870m), which has a spring and a few birch trees. The area between here and the livestock gate upvalley is called Ship Shepk.

Thirty minutes farther, a huge trailside spring emerges from rock and in five more minutes the trail passes through the livestock gate. Ahead the trail crosses a former lake bed and continues another hour to ford a large clear side stream through a grassy area called Sisghil. Gumbish, a Qirghiz tomb bedecked with Marco Polo Sheep horns, marks the south end of Shireen Maidan, a level plain with a polo field marked out in stones and some crumbling stone walls and a spring at its north end. The Kilik Pass is visible from here.

Beyond Shireen Maidan and Kuz Nala, the side valley directly opposite, the landscape changes to that of the Pamir. The gentle the trail continues along closer to the river, and crosses a clear stream at Shapt Pud (wolf’s foot). The broad windswept plain of Sad Buldi (4244m), 45 minutes to one hour from Shireen Maidan, has a herders’ hut and livestock pen amid boulders near the tumbling Kilik River. Across the river behind a low rise is the herders’ hut and livestock pen of Haaq, where the village’s herders live. Large boulders on both sides of the Kilik River have petroglyphs showing horse riders, hunting scenes, ibex, naked male figures and Buddhist swastikas, evidence of a long and varied human usage of Kilik. Sad Buldi is preferable to Haaq as a camp site, with more grass, less grazing, more privacy and easier access to clear water. Misgar men prefer staying at Haaq where there’s more activity and fresh dairy products.

Side Trip : Kilik Pass             

4-4½ hours, 11km, 583m ascent, 583m descent

The trail to Kilik Pass begins on the Kilik River’s true right bank, so ford the river when staying at Sad Buldi. Two trails lead upvalley, joining one another at Luto Harai. One is a livestock trail along the river, and the other is a traverse high above the river on flower-carpeted hillsides. It’s easier to follow the river route upvalley and return along the high route.

From the Haaq side of the river, follow the livestock trail along the grassy flower-strewn stream Bank. Pass the confluence of the stream Descending from the rounded Uween Pert, to the right, then cross the Khush Dur Stream flowing in from the left 30 minutes from Sad Buldi. Continue along the Kilik River’s true right bank, occasionally hopping rocks from side to side as needed. Pass through the extensive grassy area of Harhurutum Goz Harai (the grassy plain where yaks come to sit and stay). At Luto Harai (Luto’s pasture), two hours from Sad Buldi, are several tumbledown stone walls once used as a herders’ camp. A side stream opposite (east of) Luto Harai, feed by a gigantic snowfield, is Khoja Ghoom (where the Khoja got lost).

Leaving the Kilik River, head left up a rocky hillside trail to the level grassy area above. Continue north across the broad rolling Pamir to Kilik Pass (4827m), which is half an hour from Luto Harai. The pass area is 2km-to 3km-wide plateau, and the pass itself has a border marker and a sizable lake nearby. The views north into China are of rocky peaks. Some easy walk-up peaks, in Pakistan territory, are near the pass area, but they do not offer substantially enhanced views.

Return to Luto Harai, then stay above the river (to the right) and traverse beautiful slopes with excellent views downvalley. This route stays high all the way back and drops down directly above Haaq.

Side Trip : Hapuchan

4½ hours, 14km, 200m ascent, 200m descent

Hapuchan is a tributary of the Kilik Valley, branching west from Haaq. A leisurely day trek follows the river’s true left (north) side to the valley’s head. The faint trail crosses rocky outwash fans interspersed by small grassy areas. At the valley’s upper end, a side valley to the north leads to Hapuchan Pass on the Chinese border, a Marco Polo sheep habitat. Another side valley leads south to Wodwashk Pass (see Other Treks,).

Day 3 : Sad Buldi to Murkushi

3-3½ hours, 11.7km, 585m descent

Retrace your steps downvalley to Murkushi (3659m). If you’re fit, feeling strong, and can convince any porters, this day combines easily with Day 4.

Day 4 : Murkushi to Gul Khwaja Uween

4 hours, 11.5km, 537m ascent

The broad Mintaka Valley retains a typical Karakoram feel, and its reddish-brown granite terraces and cliffs, level grassy areas, numerous side streams and waterfalls give it a dramatic but pleasant quality. The easy walk is on a 2m- to 3m-wide, well-built trail that ascends four short rocky sections, remnants of ancient landslides that once dammed the river, and crosses four broad level grassy areas, former lake beds, now home to many marmots. The trail stays along the Mintaka River’s true left bank the entire way.

From Murkushi, cross the slopping footbridge to the Kilik River’s true left bank and continue east, passing above a small hut. The trail climbs and stays above the milky Mintaka River as they Valley bends north-east. In one hour reach Iletum Harai, the first long level grassy area where island-like mounds carpeted by wildflowers dot the broad river. A braided cascade tumbles over granite across the river. At the upper end of his area, more than 1km long, is Jurjur Hil Goresho, with another impressive cascade across the river. Clean water from more falls along the river’s true right bank make this a possible camp site.

Beyond the waterfalls, climb a rocky area 15 minutes to another level area. Fifteen minutes farther, Yatumgoz Harai (4509, ‘upper grass’), a herders’ hut and livestock pen, sits along the River’s true left bank, two hours from Murkushi. This stretch has no clear water. The glacier on the valley’s east (right) side is Ashural Gamu, and on the valley’s west (left) side, hidden from View high above the trail, is grassy area and lake called Gurgun Pert.

Fifteen minutes beyond Yatumgoz Harai, pass a footbridge, the route back to the hut. Shortly beyond it, cross a side stream, the outwash from Gurgun Pert. The trail heads north-east through a mixed rock and grass area, soon passing a herders’ hut and livestock pen with collapsed walls (also called Gurgun Pert). The whole area is known as Boi Hil.

The trail continues through a flatter grassy area with a clear stream coming from the base of a big black terminal moraine that emerges from the north-west. This moraine dammed the river in the not-distant past, and the trail traverses the talus-covered moraine, then drops into the Valley’s last level upper section after 45 minutes. This recently dammed area has significantly less vegetation than those below and the river lies in braided channels across the grey expanse.

Skirting the river’s edge, the trail soon reaches Gul Khwaja Uween (Gul khwaja’s Pass) with a dramatic granite cliff behind it, over which two free-leaping cascades tumble. Attractive grassy terraces on the cliffs above and the clear white central ice of the Gul Khwaja Uween Glacier to the south-east gives this camp site a dramatic appeal. Two huts provide porters’ shelter, near which are several grassy camp sites (4169m). The Pakistan Army, which used this area until the early 1990s, built many roofless stone shelters, now weed-filled and tumbling down. Those that face the route to Mintaka Pass have small apertures in their walls for gun placements.

Side Trip : Mintaka Pass

4-4½ hours, 7.5km, 530m ascent, 530m descent

The route to Mintaka Pass is visible from Gul Khwaja Uween. The pass lies just beyond the low saddle in the cliff walls above the glacier’s north-east margin. The military- made 1m- wide trail is still serviceable and easy to follow, although rock fall and some moraine collapse means scrambling over short sections. Flowers decorate the moist hillside, which supports good marmot and ram chukor populations. The area around Mintaka Pass abounds in brown bear and wolf signs, and even those of the elusive snow leopard. All in all, Mintaka is the more dramatic of the two passes.

From Gul Khwaja Uween, head south-east and cross the braided clear side stream. Follow is true left bank upstream, then past the base of a cliff onto the Gul Khwaja Uween Glacier’s lateral moraine. The trail leads to gently graded switchbacks that wind up a grassy slope to the obvious saddle, two hours from Gul Khwaja Uween. Turn east and walk through a marshy flower-filled area. The trail keeps left (west) across black talus to Mintaka Pass (4726m), half an hour from the saddle. The pretty 500m-wide pass lies between two large rocky peaks. At the border marker, look into the broad, lush Lupgoz (big grass) Valley, but the aware that a Chinese border post sits about 500m beyond the border marker. Return via the same route.

Day 5 : Gul Khwaja Uween to Murkushi

3½ hours, 11.5km, 537m descent

Retrace your steps downvalley to Murkushi. You can do this following your visit to Mintaka Pass if you’re fit and your porters are willing.

Day 6 : Murkushi to Misgar

5 hours, 21km, 584m descent

The valley stays shaded well into mid-morning, which is a good incentive to start early on hot days. Stroll easily downvalley on the broad trail to Kalam Darchi, then follow the even easier road back to Misgar.

 

 

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