Something remarkable is taking place around the Shigar and Khaplu forts of Baltistan. Immersed in the breathtaking scenery of the Karakoram Mountains - some of the highest in the world - and steeped in four centuries of folklore and legends, community heritage and culture are being revitalised. Remote communities are reviving ancient construction techniques. Buildings and public places are being restored. In the process, these villages have become showcases for the culture of the area, for dignity, and for hope.
While the first projects of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) in the Hunza Valley of Pakistan focused on “the physical, social, cultural and economic revitalisation of communities in the developing world”, restoration of the Shigar Fort/Palace and its conversion into a hotel represented a pioneering approach.
The Shigar project was meant to bring cultural and economic objectives together in a way that sustained the maintenance of the Fort -- while providing a catalyst for economic improvement in the area. Each project was to be a “node” for development. A nearby demonstration project was designed to exhibit low-cost improvements and revive local construction techniques.
Today, the Shigar and Khaplu projects have delivered on their promise of improving the quality of life for residents. They have also received a number of awards (notably 13 UNESCO World Heritage Awards) and attracted tourism - and tourism dollars - to the areas. But perhaps its highest accolade came in the Financial Times, where William Dalrymple lauded Khaplu Fort as the “number one travel discovery of the year”.