Shimshal Valley makes up a significant part of the Karakoram mountain range in Northern Pakistan. It includes many peaks over 6000 metres, numerous glaciers and productive alpine pastures. Shimshal is a farming and herding community of some 1100 inhabitants, situated at the north-eastern extreme of both the former principality of Hunza (now part of Gilgit Administrative District), and the modern state of Pakistan. The settlement occupies the upper portion of a valley of the same name, which descends west into the Hunza River valley at Passu, and which separates the Ghujerab and Hispar Mustagh ranges of the Karakoram mountain system. Shimshal’s villages are situated on a series of glacial and alluvial deposits that form a broad strip between the river’s floodplain and steep mountain slopes to the south. These deposits have been terraced for several hundred years. They are irrigated by the meltwater nullahs which currently dissect them. In addition, the lowest terraces are irrigated from the river itself. The cultivated area, covering about 250 hectares, lies between 3000 and 3300 metres above sea level, at the upper limits of single crop cultivation. Shimshalis grow hardy cereals (wheat and barley), potatoes, peas and beans, apricots and apples. Small quantities of garden vegetables are also grown by some households. Shimshalis are one of the few communities remaining in Pakistan’s Northern Areas that grows enough agricultural produce to feed itself. Shimshalis complement their irrigated agriculture with extensive herding of sheep, goats, cattle and yaks. Indeed, they tend more livestock per capita than any other Hunza community, and earn much of their money from the sale of dairy produce, yaks, and yak hair carpets. This is due, in part, to the community’s exclusive control of vast areas of high altitude land. Shimshal pastures cover about 2700 square kilometres of the Central Karakoram. Within that area they maintain their three dozen individual pastures, including three large and highly productive alpine areas. Also within Shimshal territory are innumerable peaks, glaciers and trekking routes, including nine peaks above 7,000 metres. Although the environmental potential for adventure tourism is high, relatively few trekkers visit this area. However, with the opening of road from Passu to Shimshal, now the influx of the international as well as the domestic tourists is gradually increasing.
Shimshal village lies at 3100m and most of the cultivatable area lies between 3000 and 3300 meters. The short growing season at this altitude allows only one crop to be cultivated in a year; the major crops are wheat, barley, potatoes and peas. Shimshal is one of the few communities in Pakistan’s Northern Areas that grows enough agricultural produce to feed itself. It is the sole steward of vast areas of high-altitude pasture, and extensive herding of sheep, goats, cattle and yaks allows Shimshalis to earn much of their income from the sale of livestock and livestock products.
The Shimshal area is rich in fauna and many threatened wildlife species are found in this area. It is the only place where Tibetan Wild Ass (Equus bemionus kiang), and Blue Sheep (Pseudois nayaur) are found. Snow leopard (Uncia uncia), Himalayan ibex (Felis lynx) and, Golden Marmots (Marmota caudate) are also found in Shimshal.