Precious heritage: Of forts long gone

Published: January 5, 2014
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 A picturesque view of Gilgit Baltistan. PHOTO: REUTERS

A picturesque view of Gilgit Baltistan. PHOTO: REUTERS

GILGIT: 

Nagar Valley, located north-east of Gilgit town along the Karakoram Highway, has lost much of its built heritage over the years and almost all its once-majestic forts.

“The loss of historic forts isn’t just a loss of buildings, it’s much more than that,” says resident Ismail Nashad who, under the banner of Anjuman Fikr-o-Sukhan, is striving to restore the forts. “We have lost precious heritage, that which belonged to our ancestors.”

Nashad is weary of the indifference of people, especially that of elected representatives.

“I had what seemed like fruitful meetings with top officials in the past about fort restoration. However, I failed to secure funds, mainly because of lack of cooperation from the locals,” he adds.

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Not two of a kind

In a jarring dichotomy, Hunza Valley, which lies adjacent to Nagar, has not only preserved its forts, but has also transformed them into a source of revenue generation.

In Hunza, the community is more organized than any other community in G-B, in a large part due to the Aga Khan Development Network that has established schools and other institutions.

The forts in Hunza were renovated by Aga Khan Cultural Support Programme [AKCSP].

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This programme was unable to renovate forts in Nagar because they were no more when its operations commenced.

Hunza and Nagar form Gilgit – Baltistan’s Hunza-Nagar district – the sixth of seven districts in the province. Both valleys were independent princely states until G-B announced its accession with Pakistan in 1947.

The ancient Altit and Baltit forts in Hunza have won numerous awards, including the Tourism of Tomorrow Award, and Asia-Pacific Heritage for Cultural Conservation- Award of Excellence (UNESCO). They have become a sustainable source of income for the locals.

Gone, gone, gone

In the famous Anglo-Brusho war, fought between locals and the British during 1891, it was the Nilt Fort that withstood for days the onslaught from a far superior army.

In his book, Where Three Empires Meet, English author E F Knight spoke highly of the Nagarians valour and exclusively of the Nilt fort.

“Nilt is a formidable place,” said Knight.

Today, it is not just the Nilt that has disappeared – Maiun Fort, Chaprote Fort, Thol Fort and Pisson Fort have also followed suit.

While the importance of these assets may not be understood by locals, even successive governments have seemingly refused to pay heed to renovation urgencies. This has deprived the region of its previous heritage and potential sources of income.

However, Sadia Danish, tourism advisor, says tourism is a top priority of the government, and the renovation of important buildings is a part of the plan.

“This is something we are very concerned about,” she claims. “We do have a plan now to revamp all forts and historical places in the region to attract tourists.”

Unnoticed, unseen

And yet, all that has been done so far is the placement of a signboard and that, too, erected recently for the foreign delegates interested in the silk route festival along the KKH, briefly informing them of what happened in 1891 war.

The Nilt Fort site is easily overlooked by travelers, even though it is easily accessible on the way to Hunza from Nagar.

Similarly, running parallel to the highway and across the river, a considerable portion of the ancient Silk Route is still intact. It is being used only by the locals. There are no efforts to draw in tourists.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 5th, 2014.

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Reader Comments (5)

  • Raja
    Jan 5, 2014 - 2:05PM

    Nashad’s efforts in hunting past are welcomed BUT “Man Lives in the womb of Time” There was a time and time has gone. Our heritage is our people their bravery hospitatlity and good norms, So it shouldn’t matter whether we have the buildings or not Seeking help from Gvt is like getting fooled knowingly, seek help of those who own the heritage.

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  • Mehdi Hussain Hunzai
    Jan 5, 2014 - 9:48PM

    Who owns the forts and whether they are willing to offer their properties is the real question. The Baltit and Altit Fort were owned by the Mir of Hunza, Ghazanfar Ali Khan, who has offered them to the community and AKDN for renovation. Similar is the case in Shigar and Khaplu were the AKCSP has restored palaces, and a Khanqah.

    We need to realize that it is not only about the willingness of the government, but also an overall understanding on behalf of the community vis-a-vis the importance of heritage.

    What ever remains of the forts and the adjacent villages needs to be restored or renovated to put an end to further decay.

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  • Akbar Shah
    Jan 6, 2014 - 5:00PM

    For your correction it was not Anglo-Brusho but Anglo-Hunza war. Second, Mayoun fort is in Hunza not NagarRecommend

  • Stranger
    Jan 11, 2014 - 7:14PM

    Sad reality on both sides of the subcontinent . We are unable to safe guard of collective history. 100 years down the our smart and super busy progeny will do the same thing to the dams / monuments and hospitals built by us in the 20th century if we continue this way.

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  • Saeed Anwar Khan (Chalt Nager)
    Jan 13, 2014 - 2:45PM

    I am quite impressed with the article concerning the Old forts of Nagar. I don’t understand about the restoration of old forts in Nagar when there are no forts at all. I suggest that a monument should be built with the help of government or local community as a memorial of the martyrs of 1891 war against British empire and if possible the names of those martyrs may be collected and printed on the memorial. I Also suggest that the decendends of the martyrs who I am sure are still alive (may their children of Grand Children) make them known about the great sacrifice given by their ancestors.

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