Romancing the Source: Pakistan

Pakistan’s portion of the Silk Road traverses some of the highest mountains in the world, where mining benefits locals and helps them rebuild their lives.

This series of articles and videos follows a team of GIA Field Gemologists on their travels from the mountains of Afghanistan to the jungles of Sri Lanka in search of the sources of colored gemstones and the people who pursue them. This thrilling journey will take you to remote gemstone-mining areas, where you’ll witness the extreme effort required to wrestle nature’s treasures from the earth.

The romance of a colored gemstone arises from its beauty, the exotic qualities of its source’s location, the adventure leading to its discovery, and the stories of the people who seek it. These factors have united to create the allure of gemstones through the ages, and continue to do so even in modern times.

Miner’s Wife
The northern region of Pakistan is home to some of the world’s highest mountains. In a ruby-producing area near the beautiful Hunza Valley, this miner’s wife attends a program created to educate her children and teach her to cut gemstones. Photo by Andrew Lucas.

Pakistan yields a wealth of gemstones for jewelry and for mineral collectors. Incredible crystal specimens from the areas around Skardu, ruby from the Hunza Valley, and emerald from the Swat Valley are a few of the area’s treasures.

Reaching the Gilget/Hunza valley area can involve a 17-hour drive from Islamabad, as flights are often cancelled due to weather conditions in the mountains. The drive is on the Karakoram Highway that passes through the area where three of the world’s greatest mountain ranges meet: the Karakoram, Hindu Kush, and Himalaya ranges. The dramatic forces created by the collision of these mountain ranges led to geological events that formed gemstones and shaped the area’s rugged terrain. This highway is part of the old Silk Road, and traveling on it today is still an exhilarating experience.

The Swat Valley has been called the Switzerland of Central Asia. It’s surrounded by beautiful mountains covered with snow in the winter. After a violent conflict between Pakistani military forces and Taliban militants that led to the overthrow of Taliban control, emerald mining resumed in the valley as a means to rebuild the area and people’s lives.

Andrew Lucas is Manager of Field Gemology at GIA in Carlsbad, California; Tao Hsu is Technical Editor of Gems & Gemology.

Rupani Foundation
Mohammedmian Soomro, former interim Prime Minister and president of Pakistan, and Chairman of the Senate of Pakistan
Faizah Bhatti