With summer in full swing, my journey began 11,000 km away and across the Atlantic Ocean in Toronto, Canada. As the plane swiftly ascended into a canopy of clouds, I had an inkling that this was going to be an incredible travel experience.
In Islamabad, I embarked on the road trip of a lifetime. With hours upon hours of driving through breathtaking terrain, I never once asked, “Are we there yet?” I was ‘there’ the moment my plane had touched down. I was home, I was in Pakistan.
As the sun played tag with the moon, I kept my eyes peeled for vistas outside the car window, so that I wouldn’t miss a thing. I had heard countless stories and seen dozens of photographs of this place and now the landscape was slowly unveiling itself right before me.
I cannot identify the precise moment when it happened, but I had fallen in love. The majestic mountain peaks of the Hindukush, Karakoram and Himalayan trinity reached for the scatter of stars above. The crystal-clear rivers mirrored my journey on the highway, as if paving the path to my destination. The land morphed from the lush green hills of Naran, to the barren lands of Chilas. I was close, I could feel it.
And then, there it was: Hunza Valley, in all it’s glory, parted itself like a welcoming embrace. It is a valley close to the heavens. The long wait for this moment was finally over and, as I waited in the dark for sunrise, I had goosebumps.
As the first ray of light sliced through the sky and illuminated the mountaintops golden, I was mesmerised. I had just a few seconds to take the perfect shot but all thoughts of getting the picture I had travelled so long to capture escaped me and I put my camera down, dumbfounded by the beauty. It struck me that what I was experiencing could not be seen through a machine’s viewfinder or on a printed sheet. In order to truly appreciate what Gilgit-Baltistan has to offer, one has to see it with a naked eye. The highway to Hunza is not a journey, it is an experience.
Komail Naqvi is a photographer and product manager at Bell Mobility, Toronto. He tweets @komailn
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, September 6th, 2015.