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Conservation & Development in Baltistan and Hunza region of Pakistan

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Conservation & Development in Baltistan and Hunza region of Pakistan

When it began working in the Northern Areas of Pakistan, in 1992, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC)’s restoration and revitalisation activities became the most visible part of a broad area development programme undertaken by AKDN agencies.

The Aga Khan Trust for Culture, through its local company Aga Khan Cultural Service - Pakistan (AKCS-P), engaged in reviving pride and identity through interventions in cultural heritage that supported social, physical and institutional development. In the 15 years of operation from 1992 to 2007, several key principles guided the revitalization efforts. The first principle is that restoration must lead to the infusion of new life into historic landmark buildings, which makes them meaningful for the local communities and the users.

The second is that adaptive re-use of the restored building should lead to self-sustainability and allow for the generation of funds for maintenance and upkeep, to counter the risk of a restored site falling into disrepair.

The third principle is that the restoration of the building should not be seen in isolation. The landmark building acts as an entry point for development by helping to attract attention and resources. In recent times, AKCS-P has moved from first initiating work on a landmark building and then working on the context, to a more comprehensive strategy whereby community rehabilitation precedes restoration of the building. In Altit, the historic settlement has been rehabilitated and work has only commenced on restoring the 900-year-old Altit Fort.

The core theme underlying these three principles is that the architectural heritage of a region represents a valuable asset for human development--a potential which has to be properly acknowledged and activated at different levels of human existence, from the spiritual to the emotional and to the physical realm. There are important indirect benefits which can be obtained by using the built heritage components as a catalyst for wider social and physical upgrading of the surrounding environment.

These principles and the underlying core theme place the restoration of historic buildings in a much wider physical and socio-economic context that harnesses the active participation of local communities to not only restore buildings but undertake local skills enhancement and institutional capacity building as integral parts of each project.

Projects include the restoration and re-use of the 700-year-old Baltit Fort, the 450-year-old Shigar Fort, the ongoing restoration work on perhaps the oldest fort in Hunza, the Altit Fort, and the architecturally resplendent Khaplu Palace in Baltistan; emergent repairs to landmark buildings to arrest further deterioration; rehabilitation and revitalisation of historic settlements in Hunza (Karimabad, Ganish, Altit) and in Baltistan (Chinpa, Halpapa, Hunduli); solid waste management in central Hunza; assistance to local craftsmen and artisans; skills development in a variety of areas including Information Technology; promotion of local music and festivals; and support to environmentally appropriate building schemes.

Awards Received

2010 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation -The 331 year-old Gulabpur Khanqah in Baltistan,Pakistan

2009 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation - Restoration of 400years old Ali Gohar House in Hunza, Pakistan

2006 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation - Award of Excellence for the restoration of the Shigar Fort Palace in Skardu, Northern Pakistan

2006 PATA GOLD Award for Heritage and Culture awarded for the Restoration and Re-Use of Shigar Fort Palace in Skardu, Northern Pakistan

2005 UNESCO Asia Pacific Heritage Conservation Award of Merit for the conservation of Amburiq Mosque in Skardu, Baltistan, Pakistan

2005 Time Magazine Asia, Best of Asia Award for the Baltit Fort, Hunza Valley, Pakistan

2004 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Cultural Conservation - Award of Excellence for the restoration of the 700-year-old Baltit Fort in Northern Pakistan

2003 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Cultural Conservation - Award of Distinction for the restoration of the 300-year old mausoleum of Syed Mir Muhammad in Khaplu, Baltistan, Pakistan

2002 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Cultural Conservation - Award of Distinction for the restoration of four 300-year old wooden mosques in Pakistan's Hunza Valley

2000 Tourism for Tomorrow Awards: Global Winner - Karimabad and Baltit Project Development, Pakistan
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Baltit Fort and the Village of Karimabad

Conservation projects in the Hunza Valley began with the 700-year-old Baltit Fort and eventually encompassed the traditional settlements in Karimabad. Baltit Fort was described by a visitor in 1979 as “a labyrinth of dark, smelly, dusty rooms” with decaying roofs pierced by holes and cracked walls that leaned precariously outside foundation lines. Yet it was undoubtedly a masterpiece of craftsmanship and thoroughly adapted to climate and function. Restoration work began on the Fort in 1992 and was completed in 1996. It has since become a local history museum and cultural centre.

The villages and neighbourhoods around the Fort, which were in danger of being deserted in favour of new construction, have been rehabilitated with the active participation of residents. In most cases, the traditional houses have now been reoccupied. The key to this successful revitalisation effort has been the introduction of contemporary living standards, including piped water and sanitation systems. Valuable arable land once slated for construction is still under cultivation. To plan future strategies for the growth and development of the town, a Town Management Society has been set up with the assistance of the Trust.

The restoration effort has won a number of awards, including a UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Conservation Award for Excellence, a Time Magazine “Best Restored Treasure” and a British Airways Tourism for Tomorrow Award.

Location: Karimabad, Pakistan
Architect/Planner: Aga Khan Cultural Services - Pakistan (AKCS-P)
Architect/Planner: Historic Cities Support Programme (HCSP)
Client: Aga Khan Trust for Culture
Status: Restored 1996
Building Type: Military
Building Usage: Fort

© 2008 The Aga Khan Development Network.
Baltit Fort Restoration, Karimabad, Pakistan

Baltit Fort Restoration, Karimabad, Pakistan

Baltit Fort Restoration, Karimabad, Pakistan

Baltit Fort Restoration, Karimabad, Pakistan

Baltit Fort Restoration, Karimabad, Pakistan

Baltit Fort Restoration, Karimabad, Pakistan

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Baltit Fort Restoration, Karimabad, Pakistan

Baltit Fort Restoration, Karimabad, Pakistan

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Ganish Village

Conservation in Ganish has centred on historically important spaces such as the jataq, a traditional communal space used for public meetings, ceremonies and festivals. The use of this space had long been abandoned and the four exceptional mosques around the jataq were in a near state of collapse.

The Trust restored the mosques and the public space using methods developed in the conservation of Baltit Fort and Karimabad. Restoration also involved the remaining towers and gates of the original fortifications. The community pond or “pharee” was also rebuilt and the village guesthouse was restored.

Today, the Ganish Khun Heritage and Social Welfare Society manages the conservation, rehabilitation and maintenance of the village, as well as a wide range of social projects. Sales of entrance tickets to the complex generates income for the collective use of the community.

The Ganish restoration received a UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Conservation Award in 2002.
Fortified Settlement in Ganish, Hunza

This is said to be the oldest fortified settlement in Hunza and acted as a defence for the whole valley. It employs traditional building techniques like stone masonry with mud mortar, and cribbage/cator reinforcement system.[email protected]/
Ganish Village restoration

Ganish "King Makers of Hunza valley"

Ganish is situated in central Hunza, 90 km and 2½ hours traveling time from Gilgit. It is located on flat land near the Hunza River and the Hunza hill at an altitude of 7,500 ft, and lies directly below Karimabad, the principal town of the Hunza valley. Spreading over the mountain, opposite the world famous Rakaposhi Peak in Nagar across the Hunza river from Hunza, Karimabad is renowned for the Altit and Baltit Forts, built by the rulers of this former princely state.

Ganish is the oldest and first settlement on the ancient Silk Road in Hunza, and is the site of various ancient watch towers, traditional mosques, religious centers,and a reservoir. Some people call this village the land of warriors and king makers because people of this village had been involved in battles with Nagar and in decision making during the royal era of Hunza.

A feature of the village is the "S" shaped road which cuts through the centre of the village. Ancient sacred rocks are also located near the village. A cluster of old traditional houses make this village unique in Hunza, that is why the village has won a Unesco award for its cultural heritage.

Although Hunza has several new Khuns (clusters), Banisatin Khun, Suni Khun, Buldus, Ganish Shukonoshal, Chaboikushal and Tsill Ganish, Ganish Khun is the oldest. The original layout of Ganish Village Khun is mostly intact, even after damage caused by a flood in 1960 and the construction of the Karakorum Highway through it in the 1970s. Ganish Village’s existing historic fabric is a typical central Hunza Khun layout, which comprises 39 houses dating back to the 15th century. This fabric contains a number of buildings (Matam Srah/Imam-bargah, Himaltar and Shikaris Sawab-Ha, mosques, schools, guest house etc.) and open spaces that are outstanding in their spatial layout, architecture and decoration. Ancient chinars, mulberry and willow trees testify to the age of the settlement.

The village’s surroundings consist of thousand-year-old meticulously constructed terrace houses, lush green agricultural terraces, orchards and meadows. The orchards and meadows terrace down to the Hunza River and create a most beautiful form of landscape heritage.
Ganish Village restoration
Shigar, Baltistan

The restoration of the Shigar Fort/Palace and its conversion into the “Shigar Fort Residence” builds on a process that began with previous efforts in the Hunza Valley. However, while it builds on these earlier efforts, it also represents a pioneering approach that stresses a more active adaptive re-use.

Featuring guest rooms that highlight the heritage of the region, the project is meant to bring cultural and economic objectives together in a way that sustains the operations and maintenance of the Fort while providing a catalyst for economic improvement in the area.

The broader development project in Shigar includes restoration of mosques and the rehabilitation of the settlements of Chinpa, Halpapa and Khlingrong, including upgrading of water and sanitation systems. The fifteenth century Amburiq Mosque was restored to demonstrate that conservation of badly damaged monuments was feasible.

Shigar Fort has won a number of awards, including a UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage 2006 UNESCO Award of Excellence and a Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Gold award.
The Palace on the Rock

The Shigar Fort Residence

Located on the legendry route to the world’s second highest mountain K-2, and known as Fong-Khar, which in the local language means the “Palace on the Rock”. This was restored by Aga Khan Cultural Service Pakistan (AKCSP-P) an institution of the Aga Khan Development Network. Shigar Fort Residence is a unique heritage guesthouse that offers guests the opportunity to experience the restored original architecture of the 17th Century Raja Fort Palace, while enjoying the modern amenities and services of a luxury guest house.

The complex at Shigar comprises the 400-year-old Fort/Palace and two more recent buildings, the "Old House" and the "Garden House". The former Palace of the Raja of Shigar has been transformed into a 20 room heritage guesthouse, with the grand audience hall serving as a museum of Balti culture and featuring select examples of fine wood-carving, as well as other heritage objects.
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