Baltit Fort

Baltit Fort Hunza
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Standing arrogantly on the moraine of Ultar glacier, with a commanding view of Hunza valley and its tributaries, the over 700 years old Baltit Fort featuring the Tibetan influenced architecture, is a glorious structure purposefully built for defense and definition of the then rulers of Hunza. The majestic fort now serves as a museum and a cultural center. Baltit Fort is the recipient of several international awards and holds a global recognition.

Historic Background

Until 1974, the mountain kingdoms of Gilgit-Baltistan (formerly known as the northern areas of Pakistan) and Chitral constituted several small independent states ruled by the local Mirs (called Thumo in Hunza & Nager). Among them were the Hunza and Nagar states – two major principalities and traditional rivals – only separated by the Hunza (Kanjut) River. They often remained to engage in clashes and built strongholds as a display of their power.

Historical sources reveal that Hunza rulers first resided in Altit Fort but a conflict between two sons (Shah Abbas, also known as Shabos, and Ali Khan, also known as Aliqan) of the then Mir Sultan resulted in the separation of the two. Shabos, the elder son, had to move to Baltit Fort. The power struggle between the two brothers ended up in Ali Khan’s death and Baltit Fort eventually became the seat of power since then.

In the early 15th century Ayasho II (Mir of Hunza at that time) married a princess called Shah Khatoon from Baltistan (little Tibet). The princess was accompanied by numerous craftsmen as a dowry who carried out some significant modifications in Altit Fort and Baltit Fort. The modification resulted in merging of the architecture of both state cultures which reflects the Tibetan influenced architecture in Altit Fort and Baltit Fort today.

The fortified village of Baltit was called “Agaai Koot” (the Heavenly Fort) and the nearby Altit was named as Hunokushal (derived from the words “Huns”). When the Balti craftsmen used terms Elte` and Delte` to say “Here and There” and from the word Elte`, the name of the village of Altit and from the word Delte`, the name of the village of Baltit has established.

Later in the 19th century, attacks carried out by the Maharaja of Kashmir and the subsequent British invasion in 1891 lead to the partial devastation in the architecture of the fort and interference in the political system of Hunza. Mir Safdar Ali Khan and Wazir Dadu along with their families and fellows managed to escape to Kashghar to seek political asylum.

In 1891 the British reshaped the forts according to their own defense requirements by demolishing the fortified wall and watchtowers of the old Baltit village and watchtowers of the Baltit Fort. They also made some significant changes in the ruling system by appointing Mir Mohammad Nazim Khan as the ruler of Hunza state. The newly appointed Mir made subsequent alterations to the fort. He demolished several rooms on the third floor and added a few to give a new look to the fort defining British colonial style using lime wash and colour glass panel windows. No further changes were then made before its renovation.

Architecture

The Baltit Fort building is a basically very interesting wood pegged stone structure with mud plaster. The interior is decorated with prominent and eye-catching impressions of woodcarvings which became a norm and adopted in many new constructions now. The three-story building rests on a moraine overlooking the whole valley.

The basement of the fort has granaries and some stores with manmade narrow terraces for the stability of its ancient foundations. The first floor has the main kitchen, a winter guestroom, a large winter house, private meeting room, guardrooms, and stores which are all interconnected. Likewise, the second floor of the building has living rooms, a balcony with bay windows, and an impressive open terrace decked with a royal throne beneath a Moghul style wooden canopy having astonishing views of the Hunza & Nagar valleys and snowcapped mountains including Rakaposhi (7788 m), Diran Peak (7257 m), Golden Peak (7027 m), Ultar (7388 m), and the Lady Finger/ Bubulimoting (6000 m) high. The third floor of the fort has a tiny mosque and a shelter for guards in the corner.

 Restoration

The Fort was housed until 1945 by the local Mir family and then was abandoned for several years. Baltit fort started decaying and caused concern to authorities to consider a possible rehabilitation. Mir Gazanfar Ali Khan II, a descendant of the ruling Mirs of Hunza gifted the fort to the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and the charitable organization endorsed the restoration project through its historic support program in 1989. With the help of the Getty Grant Program (USA), the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation along with the French Authorities, the project was accomplished in 1996. The Baltit Heritage Trust runs the fort as a museum and opens for tourists throughout the year.

 The renovation was accomplished with such sophistication that its view and vigor looked exactly how it used to look during its peak time. The power of the Mir was abolished in 1974 when northern areas were politically conceded to Pakistan. Currently, the fort has been turned into a museum serving as a good example of culture preserved for future generations.

Access

Baltit Fort is situated in Karimabad (Baltit), once was capital of the state of District Hunza, is accessible by Karakoram Highway (KKH) about 100 km north of Gilgit, the capital of Northern Areas, Pakistan. The fort is located on the top of Karimabad (Baltit) overlooking the entire bowl making up Hunza-Nagar and can easily be spotted from the Karakoram Highway passing through the central Hunza valley.

 Timings:

Summer          09:00 to 17:30 hrs (April 1st to Oct 30th)

Winter             09:30 to 16:00 hrs (November 1st to March 31st)

 Dinner at Baltit Fort

By maintaining the legacy of former Hunza state rulers who used to serve dinners and music for their guests and courtiers at the Baltit Fort, a dinner with light music for a group of minimum eight guests can be arranged. The dinner so arranged comprises of traditional dishes using local organic products including dried apricots, apricot and almond oils.

Awards

  • Grand Award to Aga Khan Cultural Services (AKCSP) in 1997 for “Restoration and Re-use of the Baltit Fort” by PATA (Pacific Asia Travel Association).
  • British Airways Tourism for Tomorrow Global Award in 2000
  • Award of Excellence in the UNESCO 2004Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Culture Heritage Conservation.
  • Time Magazine Asia published (2005) Baltit fort featured cover page and complemented with best-renovated landmark
  • The government of Pakistan issued RS:15 of Stamp as a tribute to its legacy at 10th Opening anniversary (2006) of Baltit Fort

Author: m@lam

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