HERITAGE OF HUNZA

Posted by shuaib hunzai Friday, February 26, 2010

Hunza is a fairy tale land and a lot of myth and reality has been associated to it. One thing is true of all that Hunza people are probably the most friendly people in the region. In the past it was quite common to see people crossing 100 and more years this indeed is true and can still be seen to some extent however the modern civilization has changed a lot in this valley of the longativity.

The Hunza people, or Hunzakuts are people who have lived centuries in their very own isolated valleys. They speak Wakhi and the Shina. The Wakhi reside in the upper part of Hunza locally called Gojal. Wakhis also inhabit the bordering regions of China, Tajikstan and Afghanistan and also live in Gizar and Chitral district of Pakistan. The Shina-speaking people live in the southern part of Hunza. They could have come from Chilas, Gilgit, and other Shina-speaking areas of Pakistan many centuries ago.

The Hunzakuts and the region of Hunza have one of the highest literacy rates as compared to other similar districts in Pakistan due to the interest of His Higness Karim Aga Khan whom most of the Hunzakuts follow as their spritual leader.

Local legend states that Hunza may have been associated with the lost kingdom of Shangri La which was mentioned in the Novel of James Hilton “The Lost Horizon”. The people of Hunza are by some noted for their exceptionally long life expectancy, others describe this as a longevity myth and cite a life expectancy of 53 years for men and 52 for women, although with a high standard deviation.

The Broshuski or Burusho or Brusho people live in the Hunza, Nagar, and Yasin valleys of northern Pakistan. There are also over 300 Burusho living in Srinagar, India. They are predominantly Muslims. Their language, Burushaski, has not been shown to be related to any other. They have an East Asian genetic contribution, suggesting that at least some of their ancestry originates north of the Himalayas.
BALTIT FORT:
Baltit Fort is situated in Karimabad, once was capital of the state of Hunza, now Tehsil Headquarter of District Gilgit. It is approached by Karakuram Highway from Gilgit, the capital of Northern Areas, Pakistan. The Baltit Fort stands on a artificially flattened spur below the Ulter Glacier. Strategically located with a commanding view of the Hunza Valley and its Tributaries, its inhabitants controlled the seasonal trans-Karakuram trade between south and Central Asia. The Baltit Fort is rectangular in plan with three floors and stands on a high stone plinth Fig-I. Whilts the ground floor consist mainly of storage chambers, the first floor is oriented around as open hall. A staircase leads to the second floor which was mainly used during the winter months and contains an audience hall, guest room, dining hall, kitchen and servants quarters. A further staircases leads up to the third floor which is partly open to the elements and contains the summer dining room, audience chamber, bedroom and reception hall. Inhabited by the Mir, or ruler of Hunza until 1945. The conservation work carried out in the 1990 indicated that the core of the structures, a single defensive timber and stone tower, had been built in the eight century A.D. This tower was augmented by additional towers and linked by a single story construction consisting of small rooms and sub-surface storage chambers. The complex was then later expanded by the addition of a second, and then a third floor. The structure’s stone walls, built in an area of frequent seismic movements, were provided with a traditional internal framework of timber for greater stabilisation.

::HISTORY OF BALTIT FORT::

In olden times a number of small independent states existed in the history of Northern Areas of Pakistan. Among them Hunza and Nager were the traditional rival states, situated on opposite sides of the Hunza (kanjut) river. The rulers of these two states, known as Thámo / Mirs (Th?m=S), built various strongholds to express their power.

According to historical sources {Ref: Tarikh-e-Ehd Atiiq Riyasat Hunza by Haji Qudratullah Baig, Pub: S.T.Printers Rawalpindi 1980 Pakistan}, the Hunza rulers initially resided in the Altit Fort, but later as a result of a conflict between the two sons of the ruler Sultan, Shah Abbas (Sh?boos) and Ali Khan (Aliqh?n), Shaboos shifted to the Baltit Fort, making it the capital seat of Hunza. The power struggle between the two brothers eventually resulted in the death of younger one, and so Baltit Fort further established itself as the prime seat of power in the Hunza state.

The rich beauty of Baltit Fort can be traced to over seven hundred 700 years ago. Ayasho II, Tham / Mir of Hunza in the early 15th fifteenth century married Princess Shah Khatoon (Sha Qhatun) from Baltistan (In Moghul history Baltistan is called Tibet Khurd mean, little Tibet), and was the first to modify the face of Altit and, subsequently Baltit Fort. Baltistan meaning land of Balti people had a very strong cultural and ethnical relation with the Ladakh territory of India then. Consequently, the structure of Baltit Fort was influenced by the Ladakhi / Tibetan architecture, with some resemblance to the Potala palace in Lahasa

In olden times a number of small independent states existed in the history of Northern Areas of Pakistan. Among them Hunza and Nager were the traditional rival states, situated on opposite sides of the Hunza (kanjut) river. The rulers of these two states, known as Thámo / Mirs (Th?m=S), built various strongholds to express their power.

According to historical sources {Ref: Tarikh-e-Ehd Atiiq Riyasat Hunza by Haji Qudratullah Baig, Pub: S.T.Printers Rawalpindi 1980 Pakistan}, the Hunza rulers initially resided in the Altit Fort, but later as a result of a conflict between the two sons of the ruler Sultan, Shah Abbas (Sh?boos) and Ali Khan (Aliqh?n), Shaboos shifted to the Baltit Fort, making it the capital seat of Hunza. The power struggle between the two brothers eventually resulted in the death of younger one, and so Baltit Fort further established itself as the prime seat of power in the Hunza state.

The rich beauty of Baltit Fort can be traced to over seven hundred 700 years ago. Ayasho II, Tham / Mir of Hunza in the early 15th fifteenth century married Princess Shah Khatoon (Sha Qhatun) from Baltistan (In Moghul history Baltistan is called Tibet Khurd mean, little Tibet), and was the first to modify the face of Altit and, subsequently Baltit Fort. Baltistan meaning land of Balti people had a very strong cultural and ethnical relation with the Ladakh territory of India then. Consequently, the structure of Baltit Fort was influenced by the Ladakhi / Tibetan architecture, with some resemblance to the Potala palace in Lahasa. Then additions, renovations and changes to the building were being made through the centuries by the long line of rulers of the Hunza that followed.

A veritable treasure house for ancient forts, the Northern Areas of Pakistan lost most of its glorious built heritage around the 19th century as a result of the destructive attacks by the Maharja of Kashmir.

However, in this regard people of Hunza were exceptionally fortunate to successfully defend against the invasions of Maharaja Kashmir four times.

{Ref: Tribes of Hindoo Koosh by John Biddulph Chapter: II Page: 29, Pub: The Superintendent of Government Printing-Calcutta India 1880, Reprint: Ali Kamran Publishers, Lahore-Pakistan 1995. First attack 1848, 2nd attack: 1865, 3rd attack 1866 and 4rth attack 1888 Ref: Beg Qudratullah}

One of the biggest changes in the structure of Baltit Fort came with the invasion of British in December 1891. Tham / Mir Safdarali Khan, ruler of Hunza his wazir Dadu (Thara Baig III), fled to Kashgar (China) for political asylum with their fellows and families. With the conquest of Hunza and Nager states by the British forces in December 1891, the fortified wall and watch towers of the old Baltit village and watch towers of the Baltit Fort on its north-western end were also demolished as desired by the British authorities.

The British installed his younger brother Tham / Mir Sir Muhammad Nazim Khan K.C.I.E, as the ruler of Hunza state in September 1892 {Ref: History of Northern Areas of Pakistan by Prof. A.H.Dani, Page:285 Pub: Sang-e-Meel Publications, Lahore Pakistan www.sang-e-meel.com, Reprinted: 2007}.

During his reign, Tham / Mir Nazeem Khan made several major alterations to the Baltit Fort. He demolished a number of rooms of third floor and added a few rooms in the British colonial style on the front elevation, using lime wash and colour glass panel windows.Baltit Fort remained officially inhabited until 1945, when the last ruler of Hunza, Mir Muhammad Jmamal Khan, moved to a new palace further down the hill, where the present Mir of Hunza Mir Ghazanfar Ali Khan (Current Chief Executive of Northern Areas) and his family are residing.

With no proper authority entrusted to care for it, the Fort was exposed to the ravages of time and over the years its structure weakened and began to deteriorate. His Highness Aga Khan IV initiated the restoration efforts for Baltit Fort in 1990, when Mir Ghazanfar Ali Khan the son of last ruler of Hunza, Tham / Mir Muhammad Jamal Khan and his family generously donated the Fort to the Baltit Heritage Trust, a public charity formed for the explicit purpose of owning and maintaining the Fort.

©E.U.Baig Sir Mir Muhammad Nazim Khan K.C.I.E & Khan Bahadur Wazir Humayun Baig Dehli Darbar 1911

Sir Mir Muhammad Nazim Khan K.C.I.E & Khan Bahadur Wazir Humayun Baig Dehli Darbar 1911 (Courtesy by: E.U.Baig)

Mir Mohd Jamal Khan (d. 1976)

Mir Ghazanfar Ali Khan (Current Chief Executive of N.A’s)

Mir Mohd Jamal Khan (d. 1976)

Mir Ghazanfar Ali Khan (Current Chief Executive of N.A’s)

The restoration undertaken by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture in Geneva in association with the Aga Khan Cultural Service Pakistan (Pakistan), took six years to complete.

The project was supported by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture as the main donor through its Historic Cities Support Programme, as well as by the Getty Grant Program (USA), NORAD (Norway) and the French Government. The restored Fort, resplendent in its regal glory was inaugurated on September 29, 1996 in the presence of His Highness the Aga Khan IV and the president of Pakistan Farooq Ahmad Khan Laghari. It is now operated and maintained by the Baltit Heritage Trust and is open to visitors. Preservation at its best, the Baltit Fort serves as a perfect example of culture restored and preserved for the future generations of the mountain people.

ALTIT FORT

The majestic historical Altit fort is center of attraction due to its architectural design and strategic location. Altit is one of the oldest settlements of Hunza valley. During the time when Hunza was under the central government of Gilgit principality, Altit served as the capital and sitting place of Hunza. Altit is the birth place of the Hunza Kingdom and Altit fort is the first fort of the region. During early period of former Hunza state Altit was the capital. The artisans from Baltistan who accompanied the wife of Mir Ayasho II constructed this fort during 1540s A.D. The fort has been constructed in six different stages by using various natural levels of the rock. The construction has been made right on the edge of a sheer rock cliff that drops 1000 feet straight down to the Hunza River.
In the beginning it was built as a palace, soon after the addition of the watch tower a defensive architectural element it transformed to a fort. There is great possibility that different stages of the fort have been constructed during different times because the actual age of the fort is said to be more than 800 years. However, the date of construction on the fort tower is written as 955 A.H/1548 A.D thus the age is calculated as 458 years. This fort is said to be around 50-100 years older than the Baltit Fort. When the state capital transferred to Altit it remained vacant and occasionally used as a guest house. The fort was in disposal of Raja Amin Khan who donated it to Aga Khan Cultural Services, Pakistan (AKCSP) in 2001. AKCSP after some emergency repairs is now working to preserve this historical heritage.

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