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General Info:

The Hunza valley lies in the midst of the 7.500m high, snow covered mountains of the Karakoram Range, just North of Gilgit, where the Karakoram Highway follows the Hunza River North to China. Local tradition says, that the Hunzakot in the valley: are descendants of ' five lost soldiers 'of the army of Alexander the Great. In reality this is probably just a fable arising out of the distinctive physical features and proud characteristics of the Hunza people. Today many Hunzakot's can be found further down the Hunza valley, in the villages around Gilgit or have relocated to Karachi, where the Aga Khan's educational, cultural and medical institutions provide income and employment to many.

People profile.

The Kingdom of Hunza, in actual fact is the smaller of the two Kingdoms in the Hunza Valley, occupying the western side of the Hunza River. Despite its smaller population, less useful land and water resources, it is the dominant people group in the valley. Their fellow Burushaski speaking neighbors, near kinsmen and rivals, the Nagar people, definitely being relegated to status of poor cousins. Previous to 1947, for the preceding 960 years, these people were ruled by one family, their leader was known as the' Mir'. The Mirs protected the valley from their range of impressive wood and stone castles/palaces, This linked to the difficult access to the valley, kept the Hunzakot's isolated and independent from outside influence for generations, Historically the Hunza valley was considered by the Chinese rulers to be part of their sphere of influence. It was not until the latter part of the 19th century and the coming of British colonial rule, that Hunza opened its borders to the outside world. Following the conquest of Nagar by the British, good diplomacy from Hunza allowed the state to remain an independent kingdom as part of British India until 1947. Where upon independence of the subcontinent it was absorbed into Pakistan. It was not until 1972 however that the Mir's finally relinquished full political control over the area. Due to the harsh climate, rough terrain and difficult access to the outer world, the Hunza people have become hardy survivors and as such are' hard workers and ingenious farmers. In reality Hunza produces a myriad of fruits, vegetables (especially potatoes) and some wheat crops. Hunza is a marvel of agriculture with its terraced fields, and intricate irrigation system, totally dependent on glacier melt water due to low precipitation. Despite great advances and developments in agriculture, tourism, education and health, life continues to be hard. During the long cold winter dried apricots, mulberries and vegetables, almonds, walnuts, apricot stones and a kind of whole meal bread are the staple diet helping them to survive the difficult physical conditions of their mountain Kingdom. It is not just their hardy temperament and skilled farming techniques that make the Hunzakot different to their many neighbors. They differ in appearance especially by the roundness of their faces the color of their skin, the more commonly seen blond or fair hair, often with blue or green eyes and the radiant smiles. Hunza Society is also freer with women seen openly carrying baskets on their backs in the terraced fields wearing the typical high colored Hunza hats.
The mother tongue of the Hunzakot people is Burushaski, and is unique for the Northern Areas being a non Indo-European language, of the Dene Caucasian group of languages. Urdu however, is widely spoken with some Shina or Wakhi. The Burushaski language is also spoken in parts of the Gilgit (Ghizer) Valley in the Punial district with only slight dialect differences. There is also a pocket of Burushaski speaking people in the Yasin valley who have ethnic, religious and linguistics links with the Hunzakot's.
These are included with the Khowar speaking peoples of the upper Gilgit valley in this presentation. Though there may be a, need for a separate outreach program in conjunction with efforts to reach either the Hunzakot's or Khowar peoples in the future.
Recently the English language has grown in importance with the advent of English medium schools, and the excellent Aga Khan sponsored education initiatives. Tourism, trade and development have had a considerable impact on the Hunza valley since the opening of the Karakoram Highway. This has radically affected lifestyles and the local culture, being compounded and encouraged by the humanistic influences of the Aga Khan run Institutions. The Hunzakot's are a rapidly evolving people group open to all changes and happy to embrace all the 'advances' now inflicted on their society.
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