Khaplu Fort, Pakistan.

AKDN / courtesy of Serena Hotels Pakistan

Conservation of the Serena Shigar Fort in Pakistan has fostered an awareness of traditional construction …


Altit Fort was recognised with the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Award of Distinction in 2011.

AKDN / Christopher Wilton-Steer

Ganish is the recipient of two UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation.

AKDN / Christopher Wilton-Steer

AKTC undertook restoration and re-use of the Khaplu Palace, built in 1840, which is the finest surviving …

AKDN / courtesy of Serena Hotels Pakistan

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Pakistan | Conservation and Development in Gilgit-Baltistan

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AKTC has won 15 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation in Pakistan

Leif Larsen Music Centre, Altit, Pakistan.

AKDN / Christopher Wilton-Steer


The conservation of the over-700-year-old Baltit Fort and the rehabilitation of the historic core of the Karimabad village in the Hunza Valley were the Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme’s (AKHCP) first major interventions. The projects were completed in 1996.

It was clear that meaningful restoration works needed to be accompanied by rehabilitating traditional settlements and promoting appropriate building techniques. In Hunza and Baltistan, we have restored several other historic forts and former palaces, as well as other culturally relevant landmark buildings:

  • the forts in Baltit and Altit in Hunza are local history museums and cultural centres;

  • Shigar Fort and Khaplu Palace Residence in Baltistan both serve as small hotels, generating employment;

  • the 90-year-old Vazir House in Swat has been converted into a heritage guesthouse; and

  • the Leif Larsen Music Centre in Altit has been established to facilitate local musicians and to document the musical traditions of Hunza and its neighbouring valleys. This initiative is part of a broader goal to promote the region’s intangible heritage – languages, folklore, music, arts and crafts, traditional performances and sports.

The villages and neighbourhoods around the Forts had been in danger of being deserted in favour of dispersed modern construction in the fields. They now continue to be rehabilitated through the active efforts of residents. This boosts cultural pride and helps reduce costs for road construction and infrastructure provision, saving the agricultural terraces from uncontrolled construction.

Preserving indigenous values and at the same time introducing contemporary living standards, including sanitation, has been key to the ongoing cultural development process. All projects are undertaken with the active involvement of the local communities.

We help social enterprises to raise awareness about the use of traditional building practices and to promote the use of greenwoods, such as poplar, for construction. We piloted an initiative to give women from poor households access to income-generating opportunities through participation in ongoing restoration projects. CIQAM, a women’s social enterprise, has since evolved into an effective vehicle to engage women in non-traditional skills such as topographic and building surveys, carpentry, hospitality and tourism.

We have created a comprehensive tourism management plan and have strengthened partnerships with the Government of Gilgit-Baltistan, law enforcement agencies, hoteliers, local municipalities, community-based organisations and other AKDN agencies to collectively and holistically mitigate the negative effects of tourism.

These projects have won a number of prestigious prizes, including the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation (every year between 2002 and 2013 with two awards in 2007); a Time Magazine “Best of Asia”; and a British Airways Tourism for Tomorrow Award for the restoration of Baltit Fort and Responsible Tourism Awards for Shigar and Khaplu forts.

The conservation of Baltit Fort, and the stabilisation of the historic core of the village of Karimabad in the Hunza Valley, were the Trust's first major interventions in Pakistan.

AKDN / Christopher Wilton-Steer

Baltit Fort and the Village of Karimabad

Conservation projects in the Hunza Valley began with the Baltit Fort, where decaying roofs were pierced by holes and cracked walls leaned precariously outside foundation lines. Yet it was undoubtedly a masterpiece of craftsmanship and thoroughly adapted to climate and function.

Restoration work was completed in 1996. It has since become a local history museum and cultural centre. The villages and neighbourhoods around the Fort, which were in danger of being deserted in favour of new construction, have been rehabilitated with the active participation of residents. In most cases, the traditional houses have now been reoccupied.

Contemporary living standards, including piped water and sanitation systems, have been introduced. Valuable arable land once slated for construction is still under cultivation. To plan future strategies for the growth and development of the town, a Town Management Society has been set up with the assistance of the Trust.

The restoration effort has won a number of awards, including a UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Conservation Award for Excellence in 2004, a Time Magazine “Best of Asia”, a Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Golden Globe, and a British Airways Tourism for Tomorrow Award.

The restored 900-year-old Altit Fort in Hunza, Pakistan.

AKDN / Naeem Safi

Altit Village and Fort

Altit, a village located at the foot of the 900-year-old Altit Fort, had been partially deserted by its residents. Nearly a third of the homes had been abandoned, and new construction was using up valuable arable land. To address this and pre-empt the socio-economic consequences expected from a tourism boom, we undertook the village rehabilitation before the Fort. Introducing water and sanitation facilities has proven vital to the revitalisation of the traditional settlement.

We have kept the Fort as an empty shell. This shows off the resilient traditional engineering techniques that have allowed such structures to cope with tremors in a fairly active seismic zone. Most conservation works relate to mending structural defects, stabilising and repairing existing walls, replacing some roofs, treating wood decay and providing appropriate lighting.

Altit Fort is open to visitors, while its splendid undulating garden is a welcoming haven of tranquillity and nature. The KhaBasi Café situated in the garden re-uses the Mir (Ruler)’s colonial era winter residence and serves local traditional dishes. Entrance fees are charged for both the Fort and the rehabilitated historic village. A portion goes to the Altit Town Management Society, which also collects fees for sanitation and water services from the community for operation and maintenance of these services.

Following its completion in 2010, Altit Fort was recognised with the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Award of Distinction in 2011.

Restoration in Ganish, Pakistan.

AKDN / Christopher Wilton-Steer

Ganish Village

Conservation in Ganish has centred on historically important spaces such as the jataq (a traditional communal space) used for public meetings, ceremonies and festivals. The use of this space had long been abandoned and the four exceptional mosques around it were in a near state of collapse. We restored the mosques and the public space using methods developed in the conservation of Baltit Fort and Karimabad.

Restoration also involved the remaining towers and gates of the original fortifications. The pharee (community pond) was also rebuilt and the village guesthouse was restored.

Ganish is the recipient of two UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation: one in 2002 for the restoration of four mosques and the other in 2009 for the conservation and re-use of the Ali Gohar historic house.

This former fort of the 17th century Raja of Shigar has been transformed into a 20-room heritage hotel, Serena Shigar Fort.

AKDN / courtesy of Serena Hotels Pakistan

Shigar Village and Fort

The restoration of the Shigar Fort and its conversion into what is now the Serena Shigar Fort represents a pioneering approach that stresses a more active adaptive re-use.

Shigar Fort has been managed by AKFED’s Tourism Promotion Service (TPS), since 2008, as a heritage guest house. It unites cultural and economic objectives to sustain the operations and maintenance of the Fort while catalysing economic improvement in the area. The broader development project in Shigar includes restoration of mosques and the rehabilitation of the settlements of Chinpa, Halpapa and Khlingrong, including upgrading the water and sanitation systems.

Amburiq Mosque

The 15th-century Amburiq Mosque was restored to demonstrate that conservation of badly damaged monuments was feasible. Amburiq, the first mosque built in Baltistan, received a UNESCO Asia Pacific Award of Merit for Cultural Heritage Conservation in 2005. The project was praised for its "sensitive conservation programme which was undertaken by the Aga Khan Cultural Service Pakistan. The building and its courtyard have now been returned to modern use as a community museum, giving renewed life to one of the region’s historically and socially significant structures."

Khilingrong Mosque

Constructed four centuries ago, Khilingrong Mosque was in an advanced state of deterioration. The conservation has reinstated the religious function of the building and reinvigorated an important public space for social interactions. This project won the UNESCO Award for Cultural Heritage Conservation in 2012.


The impact of the conservation of the Shigar Fort has since fostered an awareness of traditional construction techniques and the use of sustainable greenwood. It has revived traditional crafts such as carpentry and wood carving. In 2009 AKCSP helped the community design and construct the Shigar Abruzzi School, the first purpose-built structure using traditional materials of timber and stone, and the first co-educational private school in the valley. A similar community-built project was the new Jamia Masjid Shigar, also built in a traditional style instead of the originally proposed concrete structure.

Shigar Fort has won a number of awards, including a 2006 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Award of Excellence and a Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Gold Award and, in 2008, the Virgin Responsible Tourism for Tomorrow Award for Best Conservation of Cultural Heritage.

Khaplu Fort, Pakistan.

AKDN / Christopher Wilton-Steer

Khaplu Village and Palace

Built in 1840, the Khaplu Palace is the finest surviving example of a royal residence in Baltistan. In 2005, when restoration work started, it was in a state of considerable dilapidation. In July 2011, the restored Khaplu Palace and Residence was opened up under TPS as a high-end 21-room residence.

The Trust had earlier undertaken restoration of the historic astana (shrine and tomb) of Syed Mir Muhammad, in Khanqah settlement, as well as a number of community-development projects in Hunduli, Banpi and Doqsa, in partnership with the Khaplu Town Management and Development Society.

We selected Hunduli village to demonstrate low-cost improvements, including social services, in individual dwellings and public spaces. These improvements were undertaken with local labour and materials (with appropriate technical assistance). The objective was to show that old homes could be re-adapted to new requirements – thereby preserving the heritage of the region – and that public spaces could be revitalised cost-effectively. The project also revived traditional carpentry and construction techniques and developed innovative uses of traditional materials.

The astana of Syed Mir Muhammad in Khanqah settlement also received a UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Conservation Award for "noteworthy restoration of the 300-year old mausoleum [...] which returns an important architectural and community landmark to its former prominence in the northern Pakistan highland settlement of Khaplu. The building’s aged patina and historic character has been carefully retained through skilful and sensitive conservation techniques."

Khaplu Palace is the recipient of a 2013 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Conservation Award and a 2012 Virgin Airways Responsible Tourism Award.

Views from Altit Fort, Hunza, Northern areas, Pakistan.

AKDN / Christopher Wilton-Steer

Silk Route

We envision the development of interlinked projects where Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and China meet. Beyond the rehabilitation and conservation of monuments, this vision encompasses itineraries along different branches of the old Silk Road that will allow visitors to enjoy the historic built environment, to experience the exceptional natural beauty of the area and to learn about the region’s living cultures.

The Silk Road initiative would help people from across the region to connect by celebrating local cultural traditions and values. By preserving the natural and physical environment and by highlighting authenticity, the Trust aims to attract visitors in manageable numbers. The role of these visitors is not only to help strengthen and sustain the local economy, but also to help safeguard the region’s unique cultures.

Young women from poor and marginalised families received training at a carpentry workshop in Gilgit, organised by the Aga Khan Cultural Services Pakistan.

AKDN / Christopher Wilton-Steer

Project Partners

A majority of the projects in Gilgit-Baltistan have been the beneficiaries of generous funding from the Government of Norway.

The governments of France, Italy, Switzerland, Japan and Germany, and of Gilgit-Baltistan, have also supported initiatives in the region. The Gilgit-Baltistan government has facilitated these activities, with expertise provided by AKTC.