Muhammad Irfan Chourbati
A mighty mountain standing at the bank of Indus River, which passes through the heart of the Skardu City, is not just a grand spectacle for the eyes, it is also the home of the centuries old Kharpocho (Kahrpoche) Fort, the abode of the rulers of Skardu.
The fort is believed to have been built centuries ago by Rmakpon (military general) Bogha, the then ruler of Skardu. The rule of the Maqppons over Skardu might have ended in the 1970s, with the political reforms introduced by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, but the grandeur of the fort as a symbol of governance and power stands untouched.
Construction of the Kharpocho Fort at the top of the mountain in the middle of the city helps us in understanding the regime’s efforts to protect the city from external threats and to keep an eye on the routes entering and leaving the vast city.
The route leading to the fort, nowadays, is not very easy. One has to climb for an hour from the heart of Skardu to the mountain top where the fort is located. The ancient structure has dozens of rooms, small and large, and a large area covered by a boundary wall. The wall is in ruins nowadays due to lack of interest in preserving the fort, which is a symbol of the region’s past glory. A large number of the rooms were burnt by canon fire during the 1948 war of independence of Gilgit-Baltistan, in which local forces besieged the fort and fought the army of the occupying Dogra forces. Some of the rooms are believed to have been burnt by the Dogras themselves during the war.
The fort was, once, the seat of government for the Anchan rulers, who ruled from Baltistan to Chitral with iron hands. The structure is now in shambles. The roofs and walls of the fort are broken. The fort has been deserted for many decades. The owners, the offsprings of the former rulers, have moved into modern houses within and outside Skardu.
The wood crafting and artistic skills employed for construction of the fort are amazing. The building still inspires awe from thousands of visitors every year. Huge stones, boulders, have been skillfully used for construction of the walls. The route to the fort was deliberately kept narrow and difficult, apparently, to make it difficult for intruders. However, it is also said that a woman named Khatoon, the wife of Ali Sher Khan Anchan (1595-1633), had reportedly commissioned construction of a route from the city below to the fort, when her husband was away on a military expedition. Another architectural marvel, the Gangoo pi Hrkong – a water channel constructed from the Sadpara stream to a point very close to the fort, is also often attributed to the farsightedness and governance skills of Khatoon.
There are also some texts in Persian language inscribed on a rock fixed in one of the walls inside the fort. The Dogra rulers had declared Persian as the official language of Baltistan after occupying the region. A mosque built at the top of the fort indicates the old historical affiliation of the region’s populace with Islam.
I have got the opportunity to visit different forts in Gilgit-Baltistan i-e Shigar Fort in Shigar Valley, Khaplu Fort in Ghangche Distirct, Altit Fort and Baltit Fort in Hunza Valley. All of these forts have been renovated by different NGO’s for commercial reasons and few of them owned by the relevant communities. These Forts are bringing a huge numbers of tourists from around the world and playing an important role in the development of tourism industry.
Contrary to this, the Kharpocho Fort located in one of the most populated and strategically significant city of the region, is not receiving any interest from NGOs, government and the local community. In this regard the civil society of Gilgit-Baltistan can play an important awareness-raising role, advocating for restoration of the historical and beautiful building.
There is only one guy who looks after the Fort, he charges Rs.20 per visitor and says that the visitors fee he collects is the only source of his income though he claims himself a royal servant of the Fort for decades. According to him the number of visitors even in the peak seasons are not in hundreds each day.
If this fort is renovated and marketed as a tourist spot, it will not only help in preserving one of the most historically important architectures in the region, but can also attract a large number of national and international tourist and researchers in the region. The fort will also increase the beauty of the city. The increase in the number of tourists in the region would be a key factor to improve the indigenous economy.
The writer is a freelance Journalist from Ghagnche District of GB. He can be reached at https://www.facebook.com/irfanchourbati