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The Baltit, Pakistan – A Standing Miracle

The Baltit, Pakistan – A Standing Miracle
Baltit Fort overlooking the Hunza Valley

Baltit Fort overlooking the Hunza Valley
Image Credits: bongo vongo

The Baltit fort is located on the terraced slopes in the north of modern Pakistan. Situated in the Hunza district, in Karimabad, the Baltit fort holds great cultural and historic significance. According to traditions, the north of Pakistan was earlier divided into numerous smaller states, each governed by its own emperor. The emperors got beautiful forts constructed so as to boast their power and also to provide defense. Hence the north of Pakistan is seen as a territory of forts. However, very few of them made it to date in the same form as the Baltit. These forts, in olden days, worked to give centrality to the state and the fort where the emperor resided became the point of importance.

The Baltit fort is a remarkable composition of wood and stone, completed with mud plaster. It lies amidst the high and inhospitable peaks of the Karakorum. The terrain of the region is such that the valley of Hunza is completely desolate. Movement becomes very difficult during winters because of land slides and storms which even block off the few roads that exist in the area. Hence, trade or communication is at its minimum. It is due to all these factors that Baltit is an example of a self sustaining system. Also, because of the same reasons, the fort is a complete reflection of the local culture. The wooden artwork on the walls of the fort is the manifestation of a special skill possessed by the mountain men. Initially, the Baltit fort was based on the Tibetan architecture. Over years, it also changed its outlook according to the Ladakh territory in India. The fort had high fortified walls which enclosed the area. Long towers ran parallel to the building and served as watch places. The building itself was comprised of three stories. While third storey had been modified greatly by the British, some alterations were always made by whoever possessed it.

The Baltit fort and the valley

The Baltit fort and the valley
Image Credits: Shaun D Metcalfe

The Baltit fort has undergone several changes since then. One of the biggest damage to the forts of those days was by the attack from Maharaja of Kashmir. Although the Baltit survived, a number of other forts were ruined. Later, in the nineteenth century, one of the biggest structural changes in Baltit was as a result of the invasion of the British. The fortified walls and watch towers were demolished by the British authorities. Also a number of rooms were added with some architectural changes of glass style. Over years, the British were driven out and the last person to occupy the Baltit fort was the last ruler of Hunza, after which his family too moved down to the lower lands. Over time, the Baltit fort became victim to the ravages of time. Sand and water erosion resulted in weakening of walls and demolition to architecture. The fort was threatened to end up in ruins.

It was then when Aga Khan Trust for culture stepped in. Under the Historic City Support Program, a process of restoration began. The idea was not to renovate the place into modern five star hotel but to restore the foundations to keep it standing in its glory of past. Hence the main aim was to preserve its natural settling despite the threat of decay from the environment and the urbanization trend. The fort is now a museum which now also shows and markets the locally produced objects of handicrafts such as hand knotted vegetable dyed carpets and rugs. The outcome was the economic acceleration of the local community which got a market for their products. Hence, employment flourished and the cultural heritage was not only preserved but also presented to the world. At present, the fort attracts twenty thousand tourists, half of which are from outside the country. The fort is an excellent example of useful and productive cultural heritage. In a world like ours, which is filled with air pollution and greed for profit, the Baltit, with its natural environment and stimulated economic setup is, without doubt, a standing miracle.

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