It was in 2002, while sitting in Café de Hunza and looking at the magnificent snow-capped Rakaposhi, I noticed the friendly owner Shafqat Ali running around in his small café serving customers. Little did I know that over the years we would become close friends.
I had my first taste of Hunza Muesli at the café, a dish made of cereals, fruits and yogurt — the recipe was a fusion of local and Swiss recipes. The muesli was a full breakfast in itself, and coupled with aroma of coffee, a perfect start for your day in the sleepy little mountain resort.
I wrote an article for a Pakistani newspaper when I returned home, and sent a copy to Shafqat. The article adorns the wall of the café to this day — a testament to our lasting friendship.
Hunza kept luring me back, again and again. And every time Shafqat would welcome me with his trademark smile.
While my trips graduated from bachelor to family trips, Café de Hunza expanded but never lost its original charm. Even though my family and I normally stayed at Serena Inn, our day would start at the café. The kids would go for cherry juice and their favourite walnut cake and brownies, while the elders would try an assortment of omelettes, muesli or coffee. It was a treat to just sit and watch the Rakaposhi in all its glory from the café’s windows.
Shafqat would make friends with all his customers. He would always give discounts on listed prices. I remember him once saying, “Omar bhai, I am like a termite (deemak), I eat slowly and surely, and make sure that you keep coming back to me.” He was right in the sense that he became a family friend whom we would call often. However, he was wrong in calling himself termite, he was an amazing human.
Over years, Shafqat expanded his business. He started his brands of pure honey, apricot oils, almonds and soaps. We would always buy loads of stuff on our way back as we were sure of the quality of his products. The ground floor of the café was dedicated to rugs, carpets and local handicrafts. He would not use the ground floor for the café, as he believed “a single sale of carpet in a day is better than the whole day sale at the café.”
Recently, Shafqat also started a rent-a-mountain-bike service. We would rent his bikes and roam around Karimabad except that the rent was seldom demanded or paid. He recently took the Critical Mass cycling initiative to Hunza. Sadly, the uploaded registration forms are still there on his Facebook page.
On June 3, I got a call from a friend from Hunza breaking the sad news of Shafqat’s untimely death due to heart attack. He was apparently being shifted to Gilgit but the one-and-a-half-hour journey became too long for my friend. I remained in a state of disbelief and reconfirmed the news before finally accepting that the worse has happened.
Hunza shall never be the same without him. Shafqat’s Café de Hunza functioned alongside Baltit Fort, Altit Fort, Eagle’s Nest, Rakaposhi — like a Swiss watch, in complete harmony. The café, featured in Trip Advisor as a favourite spot to be at in Hunza, was essentially run by Shafqat and his son Nawazish. They often talked about their plans to expand the business to Islamabad or Lahore.
It is difficult for us to imagine the café without Shafqat but Café de Hunza must go on.