By Frederik Balfour in Hunza, Pakistan
Gari Khan is renowned among his neighbors for his moving recitations of the Koran. Regularly, hundreds of fellow Muslims gather to marvel at his performances. Khan, 35, is known for something else, too: His prowess as a beekeeper. Six years ago, he and his wife, Shamin, 28, got loans and technical assistance from the Aga Khan Rural Support Program to raise honeybees. This year, the Khans’ Hunza Honey company repaid its loans and raked in $5,000 in revenues. “Our lives have been turned around,” says Shamin. “Before, we were traditional people growing our crops. Now we are thinking like business people.”
That’s an impressive achievement when you consider where the Khans live: in the mountain village of Aliabad, in Pakistan’s rugged Northern Area. In this part of the world, people are lucky to scrape together $100 a year. Remote doesn’t begin to describe the Khans’ hometown, a dot in the Hunza District, one of the most inhospitable and beautiful landscapes on earth, 16 bumpy hours by road from the capital of Islamabad. Until recently, the town boasted few real businesses, infrastructure such as electricity was nonexistent, and its schools were rudimentary. In fact, Aliabad and its neighboring villages were as poor as present-day Afghanistan, just 60 kilometers north.