This is a web tour of the Shimshal valley created to complement the JJJ exhibition in Oxford art weeks 2000. In that exhibition are some photographs that I took in the Shimshal valley. These pages include many more photographs and some text describing the situation where the photographs were taken. More will be added soon. Click on any of the photographs to see an enlarged version. The enlarged pictures are linked together, but without the text.

My time in the Shimshal Valley was part of a longer trip to the Karakoram Highway

Man and Rock in the Shimshal Valley

The pictures presented here are part of a series entitled `Man and rock in the Shimshal Valley'. The Shimshal valley is a remote cleft in the Karakoram range, lying in Northern Pakistan, in the area disputed with India. I spent three days walking in the valley, and was struck by the desolation of a landscape made entirely of rock, yet bearing the signs of centuries of human occupation. In the strange and wonderful landscape I was inspired to leave more fantastic lapidiary traces.

The valley stretches East from the Karakoram highway, winding between high stone butresses which obscure the lofty snow-capped mountains of the Karakoram range, Lupghur Sar, Yazghil Sar. and many more. One enters the valley through a fissure in the side of the Hunza valley, almost imperceptible until one is standing at the entrance to the hidden valley.
Entering the valley is like being swallowed by some huge monster. The mountains tower overhead, blocking out the light. Within a few yards, one has rounded the corner and the outside world ceases to exist. One can see only a few hundred yards in front or behind, but looking up the peaks crowd the vertiginous skyline. From that point the jeep track snakes on, sharing the valley floor with the jealous Shimshal river that every year washes it away. When sight of the Hunza valley is lost, one becomes aware that there is no other living thing in sight. All around there is nothing but the raging glacial waters of the river, huge expanses of raw and shattered rock and, high above, a small patch of sky.
The jeep track though is a sign of man's influence in the valley. For many years, teams of villagers have struggled to build this track ever closer to the village. Soon, I came to a cluster of tents around the ballast track. Among them were two men huddled over something. As I approached I saw that it was a goat. They struggled to kill the exhausted animal with a blunt knife, trying to prepare lunch for the other workers who were labouring on the track further along the valley.
Trekking on up the valley, I passed the end of the jeep track, crossing the river by perilous aerial runways, alone among the powerful elements.
But for the narrow strip of path, this is wilderness, where only elemental forces seem to act- the tumbling irresistable waters of the river, the tectonic thrusts of the mountains, the relentless erosion of winter cold, and the entropy imparted throughout by all-pervasive gravity. Yet, walking on, one becomes aware that in this wasteland there are the signs that man has been here for thousands of years, leaving traces all around the valley as signs of his struggle to survive in; to communicate through; and to tame the landscape.
The path on which I walked had been honoured by the tread of passers-by for countless years, a delicate ledge scratched in the hillside, narrowing to six inches and in parts swept away by an incautious footfall, leaving an unbroken slope careering into the vertiginous depths. In places the path is carefully constructed from towers of stones balanced on one another ten feet deep to make the narrow ledge, snaking onwards into the valley.
Elsewhere, stones have been used in the construction of an impromptu suspension bridge, making precarious-looking piers and patching holes in the walkway.
The rocks themselves posess an eerie beauty, when undisturbed by man. Rocks in the side valleys glisten in the sun, untouched since the glaciers retreated, though from here they have not retreated far. A river rock nestles like a weathered human skull in a pothole. The loose rock and the bedrock in a reflexive bond, each eroding the other until their curves match perfectly.
Here the path zig-zags perilously up to a pass, Wahini Pir: a plateau of shattered rock.
Mysterious circles appear on the valley floor. Symbols from an untold age of the sites of tents. At Wahini Pir, the battle of humanity with the valley's rocks is shown by a series of tiny huts built from stacked slabs of rock, and hinting at parties of travellers trapped on the pass and scrambling to find shelter from raging storms. But was this yesterday, or ten thousand years ago?
Awed by the powers of nature here, and conscious of man's constant struggle in turn fighting and exploiting the rock, I felt moved to construct my own monuments to the supreme element of the valley. I have constructed cairns elsewhere in the world, but none felt so at home as in the Shimshal valley. The landscape is almost exclusively rock, so materials are abundant. The way through the valley is precarious and at times unclear, making the cairns serve their ancient practical purpose of waymarking, and as a hommage to the people of the valley who have worked their native stones for so many centuries a cairns seemed a fitting, humble expression of my admiration.
Tumulus, Pinnacle Arch and Slate Henge
In the middle of the valley, at the confluence of two rivers, is Habib's shop, isolated a day's walk from the nearest customer.
The `Village Guesthouse' (an abandoned road-builders' tent) where I stayed the night.
Finally, out of the claustrophobic valley, to the Hunza valley and horizons that can be seen without peering upwards.

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©Andrew Senior