Aga Khan’s journey to Hunza in 1961 – personal recollections of Watson Sims


“I thought of an incident in 1961, when I was Associated Press bureau chief for that area. Prince Karim, newly-installed as the Aga Khan, decided to visit his Ismaeli Muslim followers in the ancient land of Hunza, then, as now, part of Pakistan, and I was invited to come along.

With the Aga Khan sometimes personally at the controls, we flew in a twin-propeller plane to the mountain outpost of Gilgit.

Next came a journey by Jeep over narrow and often dizzying trails to the Hunza River, southern border of the ancient kingdom. There an awesome prospect lay before us.

Years earlier, the river had flooded and washed away the only bridge to Hunza. Hundreds of feet above the river, three steel cables had been stretched 1,000 yards to connect hills on each side. Suspended from two cables were hooks to carry cargo such as our Jeep.

Attached by pulley to the third cable was a wooden box, five feet square, with sides rising 18 inches, This was our only way to Hunza.

The five journalists in the party, which included one other American, were horrified, and despite urging from Pir Ali Allana, the Aga Khan’s advance man, none would get into the box.

“Come on, Sims,” pleaded Pir Ali. “We’ve GOT to do this.” He sat in the box, and, fearfully, I climbed in beside him.

Far across the river, men pulled on a rope, and, swaying and shaking, the box shot out over the swift-flowing stream. During World War II combat in submarines and torpedo boats, I had rarely known a more uneasy experience. Then came another yank on the rope, and the box flew farther over the river.

Pir Ali’s teeth had chattered as loudly as mine, but then he suddenly became astonishingly calm. “It’s all right,” he said. “We are going to make it.”

“H-h-h-do you know that?” I asked.

“I’ve had my horoscope read,” he said. “It is not God’s will that I should die here.”

Having never had my horoscope read, I was less reassured, but Pir Ali’s faith proved justified, and after a passage that seemed to take years, we reached the other side.”


Author: ismailimail

Independent, civil society media featuring Ismaili Muslim community, inter and intra faith endeavors, achievements and humanitarian works.

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