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Journey to Birthplace

As you may be aware, our organization is named after Hunza Valley in northern Pakistan. This came about in the early 80s when our Chairman, Dato Khor, came to know about it while flipping through a copy of National Geographic magazine. He was captivated by the pictures and the stories; the verdant vitality of life springing up from the harsh, cold barren earth surrounded by majestic snowcapped mountains, and Hunzakuts who live up to 120 years. Wikipedia states that "the valley is popularly believed to be the inspiration for the mythical valley of Shangri-la in James Hilton's 1933 novel - Lost Horizon".

But none of us working in Hunza Group of companies has been to the place where we derived our company name.

Until March 2009, that is. A Pakistani friend volunteered to be our guide, and off we went.

Into Gilgit
After an overnight stay in Islamabad (capital of Pakistan), it was off to Gilgit (capital city of Northern Areas, Pakistan) early the next morning. We flew over mountains which are snowcapped. It was a 45 minute flight; short in time, but into another world altogether! In fact, Margalla Hills, which overlook Islamabad form the foothills that climb and grow into the Himalayas. Yes, we were glad that weather was fine, as flights are “go” or “no go” according to the weather. Should the latter be the case, the alternative is for a 20+ hour drive!

Up to Karimabad
From Gilgit, we set off for a slightly more than 100km journey on the Karakoram Highway, up the valley to Karimabad, the biggest town in the valley. “Abad” means town, hence Karimabad is named after Prince Karim Aga Khan. This is part of the world famous “silk route”. Even though it’s called a highway, in reality it’s more like a country lane in say, Melbourne. It took us 4 hours. Our guide informed us that from Karimabad, should we continue on the highway for another 7 or 8 hours, would have brought us to China via the Khunjerab Pass. Alas, it’s still out of season, and the road further up is closed.


Gilgit is about 5,000 ft up. Karimabad about 8,000 ft.

At 8,000 ft, with thin air and very little man-made illumination, the stars in the crystalline night sky hang fat and shine gloriously. And the setting moon? At 6 in the morning? Breathtaking, hauntingly beautiful.

Snowcapped mountains were a constant. (Hmm, the adjective “snowcapped” is becoming a leitmotif.) Immense vistas, and coming from a tropical country, where the hills are forested thickly, what struck us most is the rawness of the mountains. They are barren, and whatever that can be eroded, had already been washed away.
And yet, greens were poking their heads through the thin soil. Yes, spring has started. Renewal of life. Apricot blossoms pure and white, shivering on the naked branches in the cold winds.

It is written that Alexander the Great and his armies came through. And Marco Polo. This is well mirrored on the faces of the people here. Huge melting pot of DNAs.

On the inside, all we met are warm, friendly, polite.

Three observations stood out vis a vis economy/life. One is the importance of the tourist trade; there were many signs in Japanese, and shops, hotels and eating places catering to tourists abound. Then there is the farmer that tends to his small plot of land. Third, and in my mind most importantly, during our dawn walk-about, there were many, many schoolchildren, all walking bright-faced, happily off to schools.


We have always referred our company as “Hunza”, pronouncing the word as in hundred, hungry. The people of this valley pronounce it as “hoonza”. It is only the British (of which Pakistan used to be a colony) who call it the same way as us.

We were informed that the root word is “hun zo”, meaning arrow. For they were warrior- like in the past, with a fort (Baltit Fort) built at the highest point in Karimabad (previously known as Baltit) more than 700 years ago.

Co-incidentally, our corporate logo features an upward-pointing arrow too! Pre-ordained!

Into the 21st century
Recall Thomas Friedman observing that in certain parts of this world, people have arrived at the latest in technology sort of instantaneously, without having to go through the changes of climbing the technological ladder. This is certainly the case in Hunza (the valley, not our company!); most rudimentary in basic life stuff; eg by and large inadequate heating, and yet with direct communication/plugged into the world via blackberries, mobile phones.

Our name
Yes, we think we couldn’t have chosen a stronger name for our organization.

It stands for longevity. It stands for something valuable, alive that is built over the years, that constantly renews itself. It stands for warm friendly people working smart, working hard, working together to add value. For example, it took both the Pakistan and China governments working in a JV about 20 years to carve out the Karakoram Highway. Being @ crossroads where everything and everyone comes together; this describes not only Hunza, but Penang (where we are based) also.

And not forgetting the arrow.

By Phaik Huat

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