Shimshal Travel Guide: The Lost Valley of Hunza

hiking in shaimshal

Shimshal.

A word that, for everyone who knows it, evokes feelings of adventure and even danger.

Shimshal Valley is one of Pakistan’s most thrilling destinations, famed for being the home of what might be the country’s most dangerous road hidden deep in the Karakoram.

Renowned yet remote at the same time, Shimshal sees relatively few visitors due to its secluded, hard-to-reach nature. Locals hailing from the north know well the beauty and danger of the valley, but even to Pakistanis from the south of the country, Shimshal remains unknown for the most part, to say nothing of its status amongst foreigners.

Shimshal is possibly my favorite spot in Pakistan. It’s the perfect place for travelers wanting to venture far off the beaten path, and this guide is made for those seeking to do exactly that. Here you’ll learn the essentials of the valley: how to get there, when to visit, where to stay, and what you can do there. This is the ultimate Shimshal travel guide dudes.

This is the Karakoram Range truly at its greatest.

Why is Shimshal Valley Worth a Visit?

Straight away, Shimshal is not a casual, easy-to-reach destination. Getting to this valley – at the least – requires effort and going out of your way, and more than likely it’s going to require braving danger to some degree.

Personally, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Experiencing Shimshal, peeling back its many layers, and soaking in its exquisite, remote beauty requires a level of commitment that pays off in a BIG way.

Shimshal is for adventurous visitors looking for epic treks, an escape from civilization, and plenty of peaceful places to relax in silence. Jagged peaks, vast landscapes, the potential to see exotic wildlife, and the risk of danger await. If any of that appeals to you and you want to get away from Hunza’s often-stifling crowds, Shimshal is the place to be.

Shimshal Valley Pakistan
An incomprehensibly vast landscape. Photo: Nathan Jordan

When to Visit Shimshal

Shimshal Valley is defined by rugged terrain and has a harsh, unforgiving climate. The weather will never be too hot here but it can become absolutely frigid. Shimshal is best visited between May and October when temperatures won’t fall to depths that most people will find unbearable and the road is in an acceptable state.

The summer months are more-frequented by tourists but thankfully, overcrowding is never an issue, making that time of year perfect for enjoying both Shimshal’s road and its many scenic treks.

Autumn is stunning but cold. I’ve been there in late October and the water pipes were frozen, which precludes the possibility of any running water, so consider what level of comfort you’re willing to forsake. I personally loved the tradeoff of sacrificing running water for the breathtaking colors and being the only visitor in the valley!

Shimshal Valley Pakistan
An eruption of color.

How to Get to Shimshal

Shimshal Village lies at the far end of a roughly 53-kilometer stretch of road that is considered one of the most dangerous and hostile on Earth, so as I’ve mentioned before, getting here requires effort, caution, and skill.

There is a police checkpoint at the front of the valley, but you don’t need a special permit to visit Shimshal as long as that’s where you’re staying. Simply show the guards your passport or National ID Card if you’re Pakistani, and you’ll be on your merry way.

Luckily, travelers have a variety of options available to them for reaching this spectacular slice of Pakistan. Public transportation and private jeep hires are both available, and taking on the road yourself is an option as well. Here I’m going to describe each of these choices and what you can do to take advantage of them, and for those who feel like taking their own vehicle, I’ll teach you in detail how to safely conquer this storied road.

Public Transport

Public transportation bound for Shimshal Valley leaves from Aliabad in Hunza daily around noon. The journey from here is roughly five hours long and will cost you just a few hundred rupees.  This is the cheapest option that is also reliable and – honestly speaking – probably the safest.

The Shimshal Valley turnoff from the Karakoram Highway occurs just after you pass through the village of Passu at the foot of one of the planet’s most bizarre, majestic mountain formations: the Passu Cones.

motorcycle karakoram highway
The entrance to Shimshal Valley is a few minutes beyond Passu.

If you’re staying anywhere on the KKH between Aliabad and Passu, just tell the owner of the hotel/guesthouse you’re staying at that you want to take the public transportation to Shimshal, and they will make the calls necessary to arrange for a pickup in front of your hotel.

Once your van or jeep exits the Karakoram Highway and begins the journey to Shimshal, you will undoubtedly feel the excitement and possibly fear at points along the trip and when this happens, it’s important to remember one thing: relax and keep calm.

The drivers responsible for your safety are guys who do this every day, and are extremely capable pros for whom this experience is just another day at the office. So relax knowing you’re in good hands and take time to soak in the seriously ridiculous vistas this valley has to offer.

Hiring Your Own Jeep

This option is technically possible for Shimshal, but not one I would recommend. The reason for that is that unlike Naltar or Chapursan valleys, which both have relatively sizeable settlements at their entrances that house jeeps ready for hire (Nomal and Sost, respectively), the settlement nearest to Shimshal’s entrance is only the tiny town of Passu.

chapursan valley Pakistan
Jeep Driver with his steed.

That means that employing a jeep for Shimshal is gonna be very expensive, even more so than hiring one for the aforementioned valleys above (which both cost at least 6000 rupees). On top of that, you’re going to be on foot most of the time anyway once you’re in Shimshal Village, so there’s not much to be gained by shelving out unnecessarily large amounts of cash for your own jeep.

In short, a jeep hire will cost you a pretty penny. Several of them. And there’s just not much advantage a private jeep driver affords you relative to the other choices, making this the least attractive option.

Doing it Yourself

shimshall valley guide

This is where the fun begins, but let’s get a few important things out of the way first: Here I’m going to focus on everything you need to know about riding a motorcycle on the Shimshal Road.

An automatic transmission car built for the cities like a Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla – both popular in Islamabad, for example – simply can’t complete this journey. If that’s the vehicle you’re thinking about bringing to Shimshal, it’s best to find an alternative.

Next, it’s crucial to understand that I’m not exaggerating when I say that this road brings with it a huge amount of danger and risk. The steep degree and wide variety of danger is unmatched by most other off-road tracks you can find anywhere, and as such, I don’t recommend attempting this road unless you have a considerable amount of experience riding motorbikes on off-road tracks.

You will need to have the right bike and ensure it’s in good condition. A Suzuki 150 cc or a Honda 125 cc will get the job done, and before you set out, make sure everything is good to go: fresh oil, a snug chain, tires, and more.

I’ve seen a YouTuber successfully complete this road on a 1000 cc bike, but trying to replicate that is a terrible idea because that is a heavy bike and should you have a breakdown along the way, finding parts for repairs will be impossible and your bike will be doomed. A lighter-weight Suzuki or Honda won’t have any of those issues. There are also points on the road covered in sand and a heavy bike will sink right in – not ideal.

shimshal travel guide
We did Shimshal on a Suzuki 150 bike.

I’ve divided the Shimshal Road into seven sections, each of which I’ll break down here and explain what you can expect and how best to keep safe while enjoying the ride.

Riverside – Don’t let it’s calming, Florida retirement community-sounding name fool you: this section is dangerous. Following just above the Shimshal River for several kilometers, Riverside is known for small hills interspersed between mostly level terrain with sharp bends along the river, full of loose rocks and fine sand that make keeping traction difficult.

Those patches of tiny, loose rocks and fine sand can sneak up on you, and landslide risk is ever-present, so keep an eye out.

Winding Road – Beginning just after you cross the river for the first time, this section – you guessed it – winds gently uphill for a few kilometers until the next section begins. This is mostly pleasant, carefree riding with no landslide risk, but don’t let your guard down.

Shimshal Valley Pakistan
It’s also the perfect place to take a break. Photo: Nathan Jordan
Shimshal Valley Pakistan
The (very big) Fall. Photo: Nathan Jordan

The Fall – Adrenaline-soaked, very fun, and extremely dangerous, you’ll know when this section begins. This area is defined by the road clinging to a narrow path that hangs onto the side of the mountain, just above a gargantuan chasm that plunges into the Shimshal River far below.

Like the road itself, the views here are jaw-dropping, but don’t let that distract you. Rockfall is a constant threat, and you never know when a jeep or motorbike could come screaming around the corner from the opposite direction.

Valhalla ­– Starting just after the road descends into a valley, this section consists of vast, wide-open spaces interrupted by a few short bursts of road along the river. A bit bumpy and a few very manageable patches of fine sand here and there, this part is mostly fun and personally, I fucking love it! Suggested riding playlist: anything by AC/DC.

Shimshal Valley Hunza
Riding through Valhalla. Photo: Nathan Jordan

The Power Station – Only a few hundred meters long, this section gets a special dedication in this guide thanks solely to one stretch of fine sand that is only about 30 meters in length following along a large pipe, but is hellish to drive on. It’s very thick and traction is difficult to maintain, making riding dangerous and quite slippery. When you see the Power Station on your left-hand side, you’ll know to get ready.

The Glacier – This section takes you around the base of a sizable glacier on your right. Hilly and very jarring, the roads here are as are bumpy as the views are stunning. Landslide danger is a risk here, so keep glancing uphill often to stay aware.

Shimshal Valley Pakistan
The glacier.

The Homestretch – Comprising the last ten kilometers or so of the journey, this section is mostly flat and free of landslide danger, but there are several sketchy patches of fine sand that can cause you to spin out if you’re moving too quickly. Watch out for those and you’ll make it to Shimshal Village in no time.

The street conditions in the village itself are abysmal and potentially dangerous – I myself got hit by a jeep here once when the driver failed to look behind him before reversing, so watch out.

Before wrapping this up, it needs to be said that you shouldn’t attempt this road alone. At the least, go with a partner because if a breakdown happens and you’re solo, you could be alone in the wilderness with tens of kilometers to go in either direction before reaching even the possibility of help.

Adding to the danger, this road will have ice patches on it in the colder months, some of which will be hard to spot in time before you’re finding out first-hand what it’s like to go ice skating on a motorcycle.

Keep an eye out and never stop exercising care. Safe riding, amigos!

Where to Stay in Shimshal

While not exactly a crowded tourist destination like Naran or Hunza, Shimshal, fortunately, does have a number of accommodation options available for the traveler. Being hidden deep in the mountains means that travelers are truly on an island, but you’ll still be able to find places to stay that are both comfortable and affordable without too much trouble.

There is now a cell tower in the village, but it doesn’t seem to make much difference as both cell signal and internet are practically nonexistent. You may be able to receive a text here and there, possibly a phone call with spotty reception, but consider Shimshal an off-the-grid destination.

shimshal travel guide
Playing cards in our guesthouse in Shimshal.

Don’t worry about trying to book in advance online, that’s virtually impossible and not necessary anyway, since you’ll definitely be able to find lodging on the day you arrive with little effort.

Shimshal Valley is populated by an ethnic group found in northern Pakistan called the Wakhi, and to be honest, I’ve found them to be the most endlessly hospitable people in the world. They go out of their way to greet travelers and will always ensure you are taken care of with a comfortable bed, delicious food, and hot chai all for a more than reasonable price.

On top of that, Shimshal has a rich history of serving as a supply depot and drop-off point for tradesmen traversing the Silk Road in both directions. The village was in the middle of one of the five Silk Road routes that ran through Central Asia, so its people have been greeting travelers for generations.

shimshal travel guide
I opted to stay in a tent one night at our guesthouse.

This legacy can be seen on a path streaking across the mountains on the northern side of the valley. That path has been there for centuries, and that route and all the history that has transpired on it is quite a thought to contemplate.

Here you’ll find information on the few guesthouses and lodges of Shimshal village. Regardless of where you stay, expect prices for rooms to fall between 2000-3000 rupees per night, but keep in mind that 3000 rupees nightly is the absolute maximum you should pay. Negotiate with your host and ensure they don’t attempt to charge more than that.

Shimshal Heights Hotel and Restaurant

Being very new, this hotel’s rooms are in good condition and is located so it is one of the first options you’ll see on the road, located on the right-hand side.

Expect the owner to ask for 3000 rupees for night, but this is negotiable. The owner will attempt to charge excessively high prices for the food as well.

Sifat Guesthouse

Located about a hundred meters down the road from Shimshal Heights Hotel on the left-hand side is Sifat Guesthouse, a well-known, budget-friendly establishment in town.

Rooms should cost 2000 rupees per night.

Shimshal Embassy Guesthouse and Camping Site

Following the road for another few minutes, you’ll find this place owned by Mirza Dad on the left-hand side of the road.

A room will cost 2000 rupees per night, but if you have your own tent, you can sleep under the stars for far cheaper! I opted to stay here for a few nights and it was very pleasant.

Contact Number: +92-0355-4103911 or +92-0355-5435844

Shimshal Tourist Lodge

Completing the loop of the road, this lodge is in the northernmost segment of the village and nearest to the river of all the accommodation options.

Contact Number: +92-3455-354199

What to do in Shimshal

From top to bottom, Shimshal is a trekker’s and climber’s paradise. There are so many treks to do here, each of varying length and difficulty levels, and ALL of them are spectacular. You can even scale peaks under 6000 meters without a special permit if you’re equipped and skilled enough to do so, and if the season is right (think late October), it’s possible to scale frozen waterfalls above the village as well.

hiking in shaimshal

If you’re seeking to go on a lengthy trek that will require the use of mules and porters, make these arrangements in advance as it will be impossible to do so while in Shimshal village itself. Additionally, multi-day treks will require you to obtain permits in advance through an agency.

The Shimshal Pass Trek is one of the region’s most prominent treks, and for good reason. Taking about a week to complete, this trek brings you through some of the rawest terrain Pakistan has to offer. Several tour companies offer packages for this trek.

Shimshal has hiking options ranging from easy to nightmare-difficulty, but it’s important to know your limits. The valley has frozen waterfalls, gigantic mountains, and massive glaciers to scale and cross, and nothing above moderate difficulty should be attempted without a guide, proper equipment, and prior experience.

Bargain for Crystals in Shimshal

Northern Pakistan is well-known for being an area that produces lots of crystals. You’ll find souvenir shops in Karimabad selling quartz and other crystals and gems. Some shops will try to sell you fake stuff – others will just overcharge because you are a foreigner.

In Shimshal though, you can go right to the source. There are a handful of quartz miners that can come to your guesthouse and sell you a crystal directly from their backpack. Just ask the person you are staying with and I am sure they can make a call. Don’t expect the crystals to be super cheap (but they will be high quality). Remember that in some cases, these guys hiked 3-4 days to get this stuff.

From memory, we paid about 20000 rupees for a bunch of crystals – probably 10 pounds worth.

hiking in shimshal
gem stones in shimshal

What to Bring

  • A headtorch.
  • A sleeping bag rated to freezing temperatures. Nights can get cold, though you can always ask your host for more blankets.
  • A small daypack (40 liters) should be enough unless you’re going on a lengthy trek.
  • Camping gear if you plan on sleeping under the stars.

Check out my full Pakistan adventure gear packing list.

Shimshal Valley: A Wrap-Up

Shimshal is a mini-showcase of all the best that the Karakoram of Pakistan have to offer: epic journeys, raw beauty, one of our planet’s most spectacular roads, and as many thrills as you could possibly want.

hiking in shimshal

Those seeking an unforgettable experience in one of Pakistan’s most isolated locations can’t pass up a visit to this majestic valley. There truly is no other place like it, and as I sit here writing this, I can’t wait to be back amongst the wilds of Shimshal, heading into those mountains once again.

Always remember to Leave No Trace: Shimshal is a remarkable example of untouched natural beauty, and it’s our duty as travelers to help keep it that way. Do your part to keep everywhere you go clean, and show both the land and the people that live on it the respect they deserve.

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