The snow-capped region of Alpine valleys has been the source of romantic inspiration for writers for a century, even being touted as the home of the mythical Shangri la in the 1933 novel Lost Horizon by James Hilton.
However, development workers active in the area said such fairy tales mask the sad truth: until the completion of the Karakorum Highway (KKH), a narrow 1,300-km road between Islamabad and the Chinese border in 1978, its communities were undernourished because of the tremendous difficulties in channelling water for irrigation, and frequently fell victim to cholera because of contamination of the water they did obtain from glacial streams.
A poignant example is the hamlet of Murtazabad in the Hunza Valley, which for some 100 years was the setting for an epic struggle between the community and the sheer, unstable slopes down which cascaded the water they needed.
Veterans of the struggle to tame a 100-metre-long natural channel have passed down stories of how, time and again, the efforts of men working without the skills or tools of modern engineering were frustrated and killed by the temperamental terrain, said Naeem-ud-Din Dinal, a development consultant with the Karakorum Area Development Organisation, an NGO.
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