Wishing to share the beauty of Hunza’s mountains with the world, a group of young Ismailis recently set not one but two Guinness World Records: the “Highest Cultural Dance Performance” and the “Highest DJ Set” ever performed.

Climbing a mountain is far from easy – even for someone born in a place surrounded by them. Hunza Valley – a mountainous area nestled in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan – is bordered by Afghanistan to the north and China to the northeast. Two distinct elements of the region’s culture are mountaineering and music. 

Recently, a group of 19 Ismaili youth from Hunza came together with a desire to do something special. Amongst them were artists, filmmakers and mountaineers. The group longed to bring international attention to its region and showcase the beauty of Hunza’s geography, people and culture to the world. 

They decided to combine the region’s traditions of mountaineering and music through an expedition which would culminate with a modern folk music dance performance at the Minglik Sar Peak in Shimshal Valley – nearly 6000 metres high. 

“We did research to find the best possible mountain to attempt, and Minglik Sar was undoubtedly the perfect mountain for an expedition of this calibre,” said Nosher Zapoo, one of the team’s leaders.

While they had a vision for what they wanted to accomplish, the group faced a major hurdle.  Most of the team members were beginner-level mountaineers. 

To prepare for its trek, the team went about ensuring the relevant equipment and logistics. With the help of sponsors, including Habib Bank Limited (HBL), it was able to acquire the necessary equipment. The team then practiced with the equipment to ensure all the tools would function at such high altitude. 

Simultaneously, a musician on the team – DJ Ghasuray – prepared a track for the dance performance that would celebrate the intended success of the expedition and represent the modern face of Gilgit-Baltistan. He created a 25-minute electronic and traditional folk music mix, blending in his signature sounds. 

On 19 July, the group set off on the 14-day hike. Immediately, the physically painful challenge of the expedition became apparent. 

“We had to hike eight hours a day for four days straight while carrying close to 12 kilograms in our backpack,” said Junayde Alam, a filmmaker on the team. “Some of our members got diarrhoea and muscle fatigue.”

The journey was fraught with challenges, but the teammates were driven by a deep-rooted passion for their homeland. Ultimately, by leaning on one another for support, they were able to push on towards their goal of reaching the mountain’s summit. 

“When we were pushing for the summit, I had severe breathing difficulties, but with the help of Musa Bhai, a mountaineer, I developed a breathing pattern that carried me to the summit,” said Junayde. “The incredibly scenic views of the valley and of Shimshal Pass gave us natural motivation.” 

Eventually, after several days, the group reached the summit. On top of Minglik Sar – at a record-breaking 5909 metres – the group joyfully danced to the track prepared by DJ Ghasuray.

The team succeeded in setting two Guinness World Records for the “Highest Cultural Dance Performance” and the “Highest DJ Set” ever performed. Along with the excitement of setting a world record, the accomplishment was also meaningful in another way: It represented the possibility of working together to overcome an immense challenge. 

“What was most fun and exciting was experiencing the highs and lows of the journey itself,” said Zulqarnain Saleem, a filmmaker on the team who helped put together a documentary of the expedition.

Upon its return, the team decided to use its newfound attention to support the communities surrounding the mountain. With the help of HBL, it raised PKR 500,000 (US$ 2,827) for the Shimshal Mountaineering School and Shimshal Nature Trust.

The team was led by Nosher Zapoo and Saad Ata Barcha. Ali Musa was the mountaineer who helped the group reach the summit. DJ Ghasuray arranged the music, while Noman Asmet, Rameez Qara, and Junayde Alam were the artists. Filmmakers Zulqarnain Saleem, Mohsin Kamal and Hasnain Saleem produced a documentary of the expedition. Misyab Zapoo and Karim Daad were the technology experts, and the remainder of the team was composed of  “superhuman porters” hailing from Shimshal.

They continue a strong tradition of record-breaking mountaineering success dating back many years. An example is Samina Baig, who in 2013 became the first Ismaili Muslim woman and the first Pakistani female to climb Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak.