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Up in the mountains – III

On 2 July, in the morning we left for Hunza which is 92 km away from Gilgit city. It took us around two hours to reach Hunza, a magnificent place and a beautiful town with a breathtaking landscape in the Northern Areas with its rich history, culture and diversity, a home of hospitable and friendly people known for their intelligence, distinctive lifestyle, hospitality, organic food, enviable health and longevity. They come across as educated, sober and civilized people.
Unlike other cities/towns which are ordinarily filled with dirt and litters scattered around, thus making it an eye sore for the visitors, in Hunza, the roads, streets and markets are neat and clean and nowhere would you find even a trace of dirt and litters that could make the place spotty and annoying. Dustbins are placed at different places on the roads, streets and in front of shops to facilitate the visitors to consign the litters in into it. Remember, I am not portraying Hunza and it’s people just to make my write-up spicy and interesting, I am writing what I have seen on ground.
Moreover, this beautiful town which once remained a princely state governed by a local hereditary ruler with the title ‘Mir’, has the unique distinction and singular honour of producing three general officers in a row, including one lieutenant general and two major generals.
We took lunch  in GB Scouts hut located on a commanding height where from both Hunza and Nagar located opposite each other astride the river gently flowing in between,  with the famous Raqaposhi in the background, are clearly visible to the naked eyes. After lunch, we visited the historic Baltit Fort. On arrival at the Fort, the guide conducted and briefed us about the Fort.
This historic 700 years old fort offers a panoramic view of Hunza Valley in its entirety. As mentioned earlier, Hunza has remained an independent princely state ruled by hereditary monarchs having the title of ‘Mir’ first with Altit Fort and then Baltit Fort as their bastion.
The structure of this historic Fort has undergone many changes over the years. Mir Muhammad Jamal Khan, the last ruler of Hunza vacated this fort in 1945 and moved into a newly built palace in Karimabad. The Fort remained abandoned for 45 years. The Fort was donated to Baltit Heritage Trust by Mir Ghazanfar Ali Khan-II in 1990.The Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) started work on the restoration of the Fort in early 90s. It took more than a decade to complete the work.
The rehabilitated Fort was jointly inaugurated in September 2006 by former President of Pakistan Farooq Ahmad Laghari (late) and His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan. The Fort is placed on the tentative list of UNESCO’s world heritage sites. It now stands as a heritage site in Pakistan and is open for the tourists from all over the globe.
After visiting Baltit Fort, we moved to the nearby Altit Fort which has been renamed as Serena Altit Fort after its restoration by Aga Khan Trust and Culture (AKTC). It’s a 900 years old Fort. The rulers with the title ‘Mir’ as mentioned earlier originally resided in the Altit Fort. Later on, due to its insufficient capacity to meet the requirements of the royal family, Baltit Fort was built and the ruler moved to the newly built Fort after vacating Altit Fort.
It’s worth mentioning here that the Princely State of Hunza once reckoned as the poorest among all other princely sates of Sub-Continent, was later on transformed into one of the richest princely states before the waning influence of its last ruler Mir Muhammad Jamal Khan. Currently, the people of Hunza are economically pretty well off and are living a comfortable life.
Here, making a slight departure from the main theme, I would like to make a special mention of His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan’s visionary leadership under whose guidance and instructions, Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) has done a tremendous job by restoring/ rehabilitating these historic Forts and restoring them to their pristine grandeur which stood on the precipice of collapse. It’s not only these Forts but other historic sites too like Shigar Fort and Khaplu Palace in Baltistan, Walled City of Lahore,  Shahi Qila Lahore generally known as Lahore Fort, Baadshahi Masjid Lahore and 17th-century Wazir Khan Masjid  that have been/are being rehabilitated by AKTC thus transforming them into a great tourist attraction.
Additionally, AKTC projects have led to increase local income opportunities, skills development, the use of local material and the establishment of new institutions. It also restores confidence and pride in the assets available to the local community and instills vigour and urge in them to improve their overall quality of life.
Rising above sectarian affiliation, let’s acknowledge and appreciate wholeheartedly the tremendous contributions made and services rendered by His Highness Prince Karim Khan in other fields like education and health also to provide quality education, health and social services in order to bring perceptible  improvement in the living standard of the poor and the underprivileged segment of society. There is a need to appreciate with an open mind the services rendered by different organizations like AKTC, AKESP, AKHSP and AKRSP functioning under the umbrella of AKDN to enhance education, health and socio-economic conditions of the people across the board rising above religious beliefs, sectarian bias and ethnic affiliation. (cont…)
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