For such a spectacular scene, it’s remarkably unknown. Pakistanis talk about “The Northern Areas” (often referring to Naran) or the “China Border“, while foreigners seem rather hung up on the Hunza Valley, however for me, neither of those compare to the fairytale magic of Passu.
The Cathedral Range, also known as the “Passu Cones” are one of the most striking landmarks on the Karakoram Highway. The jagged rocky peaks thrust skywards from the rest of the Karakoram Range are an arresting sight.
They first come into view from across the upper reaches of the Attabad Lake near Gulmit. The small village acts as something of a service centre for the Gojal region, or “Upper Hunza” as some call it. The newly carpeted Karakoram Highway is a smooth ride from the magnificent tunnels bypassing the lake down to the village. As one approaches Gulmit, across a long bridge, the gleaming peaks come into view – a distant fairytale, soon within reach.
Cathedral Range from Gulmit
The locals call it Tupopdan, the “sun swallowing mountains”, and as the day’s last rays shimmer off the golden-bronze rock, it’s easy to see why. “Tupopdan” is also sometimes translated as “hot rocks”, so called because of the way the snow and ice seems to slip off (or melt away from) the sheer cliff walls.
After Gulmit the road hides behind a crease in the hills, concealing the approaching view, but it then climbs towards the village of Hussaini. At one particular bend in the road is a small tea shop, from where the range is perhaps best viewed. The brilliant mountains are set out like a perfect panorama, framed by the steel-grey of the waters of Attabad Lake.
Cathedral Range from Hussaini
The clouds swirl in and around the peaks, dark cotton candy ripped apart by the craggy spires. Almost all travellers stop here at some point, to take in the vista and wrap their hands around a hot cup of chai. Word has it that the tea shop, previously across the road on the “inside” of the bend, was relocated due to a planned development; possibly the best piece of real estate in the world.
Again, through the village of Hussaini, the view is hidden by the rugged terrain, but its not long before the hamlet of Passu, from which the mountains take their nickname, comes into view. One final sweeping bend, and the Cathedral Range is in full view.
It is here that the sheer drama of these mountains becomes apparent. Passu is located at a chilly 2,400 metres, but Tupopdan soars up to 6,106 metres; from their base, it’s almost four kilometres, almost straight up.
The Karakoram Highway snakes its way through Passu, past the handful of shops and hotels, before finally descending on to the valley floor. It turns a corner and ahead, amid the tall green trees, is the view to remember for a lifetime; the Cathedral Range, the most photographed part of the Karakoram Range, and yet the one that hardly anyone knows about.
Do you know a place that you think is severely underrated? Comment below!