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driver/retired soldier




23 September 2000


This is a long and very animated interview in which Asmat recalls several stories from his past in great detail. Asmat was born in Shimshal. He explains that during the Mir’s rule (rulers of Hunza state up to 1974) nobody was allowed to travel out of the region. When the Mir relaxed this “immigration” law, he was one of the first to leave Shimshal and go to look for his brother in Karachi who had escaped from Hunza 18 years earlier. He recalls his experiences of this journey in amazing detail; this did not go entirely smoothly and was full of new experiences for him.

When he reached Karachi and was reunited with his brother he explains that he got a job and quickly became accustomed to life in the city: “After three months’ stay I was so involved that I really didn’t want to go back to Shimshal.” When he did return he describes how he was given a hero’s welcome, but explains that “though our culture was very impressive I felt strange about the life in the village. I had become accustomed with the liberal life and cleanliness of the city.” He returned to Karachi and joined the military. Shortly afterwards he was sent to fight in Bangladesh and faced extreme hardships in an Indian prisoner of war camp.

Asmat reflects upon the changes that have taken place in Shimshali society over the years. There are insights into customs and festivals as well as systems of cooperative agricultural work. At several points in the interview he talks about there being a lot of love and respect for each other in the past: “whatsoever we earned from our village we would share with others and would help each other…it was part of our society and the reason, we had the affection and love for each other.” He attributes this in part to the isolation of the community. He feels that now although there is more prosperity, education and freedom from the rule of the Mir, there is no longer the same love and respect. This is due to increasing freedom as well as a disparity in people’s earnings and he believes that the coming road to Shimshal will worsen this situation: “the road will bring prosperity and self-reliance for individuals and will end the dependency on one another… Everybody would be happy from the road link, but there is badness in it. The story, which I already told you about the love and affection that will end.”

detailed breakdown

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Section 1-2  Life under Miri rule: “The Mirs of Hunza were driving us and we were …living under their control. There was respect and honour for each other because literacy was not so common.” Livestock and wheat given to the Mirs as a form of tax. Good relations due to the isolation of Shimshal; he fears that “when the road link is made then the sympathy [for one another] will further vanish because people will become self sufficient, people will get [more] money”. Forced labour for the Mir – they had to carry the taxes of produce; his brother was “weak and handicapped” but was not exempt. Although the Mir forbade people to leave Hunza, his brother managed to go to Karachi.
Section 3-4  Didn’t hear from his brother for 18 years. Asmat went to find his brother. It appears he had left Shimshal once before for Gilgit – in those days the journey was eight days by foot. He bought things in Gilgit to sell in Shimshal (perhaps to save money for his journey to Karachi?). Describes his return to Shimshal: “When I reached home from Gilgit and told my mother that in Gilgit we paid money for food my mother started weeping that ‘what kind of people they are who sell food? We get pleasure from serving free food to guests.’” Daulat Amin, a Shimshali who was studying in Gilgit helped Asmat purchase his air ticket. Arrival in Rawalpindi: “I felt thirsty, as I had put on the warm clothes made of wool…” He met some people from Hunza: “I felt so comfortable with them as if they were my brothers.”
Section 4-5  Animated story of travelling on a train for the first time, to Karachi. Problems with the guard as he had mistakenly already handed over his ticket. Problems encountered leaving the station: “I tried to escape with the crowd but the white uniformed man caught me and asked me to produce the ticket. I told them in Wakhi that I had thrown it away but they didn't understand... However they released me.
Section 6  The bus journey to Karachi; confusion over the price of the ticket - ended up overpaying. He jumped out of the moving bus when he heard his destination called. Attempts to get an auto rikshaw to his destination. He was overcharged “because he [the driver] knew through discussion with me that I was new to the city”.
Section 7-8  Meeting with his relative – who told him to throw away the gift he had brought him from Shimsal, “because he was shehri (civilised) and probably he felt ashamed of that.” Meets students from elsewhere in Gojal who had escaped in order to continue their studies. Reunion with his brother. Asmat found a job in a textile mill in Karachi. Returned to Shimshal 18 months later as his brother was ill. Relatives were amazed by the radio he had brought - “when [they]... heard the songs they became amazed as to how a man or woman sings a song inside a box.”
Section 9-10  Hazardous journey by foot back to Shimshal. Arrival: “Oh my God! When the people of Shimshal knew that I had returned from Karachi people in groups right from Shimshal to Mazarsit were coming to greet me and welcome me…” He went to see his mother at Pamir (Shimhal’s mountain pastures). He missed life in the city and decided to return to Karachi. He decided to join military service and required a clearance certificate from the Mir. Returned to Shimshal on leave and went to the palace of the Mir who treated him with respect. And when he “went to Shimshal with my military uniform on my body, people were very impressed…” His unit was deployed to Bangladesh.
Section 11-12  In Bangladesh he was taken as a prisoner of war: “We were taken to India by ship; we were loaded in the ship like goods. The voyage lasted four days. It was the first misery of my life.” Arrival in prison: “After eight days we found water. We tried to drink water but could not drink as our throats had become dried.” The interviewer asks him about the road to Shimshal. Asmat says that although people will be more prosperous it will end the love and affection in the community. Games he played in childhood. Learnt to drive in the military – now it is his profession and allows him to support and educate his family.
Section 13-14  Education: moved his family to the city in order to educate his children. Festivals in the village. Recalls a special custom in Pamir. Childhood memories: “those days childhood was free from worries and responsibility. Today is the time of education…. In our time there was no educational system; we would spend most of our time in Pamir.”
Section 14-16  Recalls two incidents when the flood washed away their lands, one of which caused much destruction: “The intensity of this flood was so high that it also washed away the agricultural lands and fruit gardens at Gulmit and Passu.” Cooperative work that used to be carried out: “All the people that belonged to one clan would perform the agricultural activities in a cooperative manner.”
Section 16-17  Marriage: traditionally marriages were arranged but now it is better because “boys and girls talk to each other. Before marriage, they understand each other’s point of view and with their mutual consent they enter in to the marriage agreement. ” However, he believes “Honour and chastity have vanished.” Diseases – used to be cured through traditional methods: “When people survived it was due to tawiz (amulet; traditional spiritual treatment for disease) and duaa (prayers).” Relationship between Pakistan and China: earlier, if Shimshalis violated grazing agreements, the Chinese would take them to China for punishment.
Section 18-19  The difference between past and present: “Both the eras have their own values. But I submit that, in old times, despite the poverty, the people had surplus love, affection and sympathy for each other…” Now they are more prosperous and educated and are free from the control of the Mir. Ancestors’ predictions about the present era. They predicted that “There will be much freedom and nobody will care for others.” His knowledge of the Quran (Islamic holy book). A farmer’s life: “[it] is such a wonderful life; nobody can order him around, he works according to his will and wishes.” Importance of honesty and politeness. Responsibilities of the numberdar (government representative in the village) under the Mirs.
Section 19-20  The system of nomus (donation towards community project in the name of a relative). Disagreement with his mother over this: “I had the idea of offering it for construction of some bridges, huts or treks, that could be used by people forever... But just feeding the people was not good. That was the reason I opposed it.” Before soap, barley flour and a special type of grass were used for washing.
Section 20-22  The ancestors’ acquisition of proprietary rights over Pamir following a polo match against the Kyrgyz (from Kyrgyzstan). His parents had land at Ghujerab, an area also famous for hunting. Shimshali hospitality: “Hospitality is not a bad thing, it is our culture and it comes from our ancestors.” His cousin is Rajab Shah, a famous mountaineer.