By Kashif Essa
The State of Hunza, before Mir Nazeem Khan, was confined within the territorial boundaries covering the region from Khizerabad to Misgar in North-West and the Pamirs in North-East. Event this land was sparsely populated and cultivated, with a few settlments here and there. The insufficient cultivated land and harsh climatic conditions forced the people and rulers of Hunza to learn and develop skills for carving water channels with the hope of cultivating few abandoned land parcels in Ghizer (Gulu-Daass, Bar-Jungle (Ishkoman), Suburbs of Gilgit city (Oshkandass, Nomal (Ishpassh), and Rahimabad. These settlements extending and expanded the territory cultivated by the Hunzukutz and provided them a viable solution to fulfil their basic needs of food.
After the first visit of H.H Prince Karim Aga Khan in 1960s, the people of Hunza got the opportunities for the first time to get basic education, health facilities and later the rural development by AKRSP initiatives to improve quality. The hardworking people from Hunza (Wakhi, Sheen, Buroshoo and Beris (Dom) prioritized education over agriculture, land, livestock. Many opted to migrate to other parts of Gilgit, or Pakistan, and abroad, for quality education and new income resources.
An acceleration of cultural development is a necessity forced on rapidly changing societies. Being the gateway of an international boarder with China and possible future international tourist flows envisioned by Prince Karim Aga Khan initiated the biggest intellectual and monetary investment project, focused on restoration of historical settlements and old forts in Hunza. The cultural development project not only involved the primary forts but also improved the old settlements of Baltit, Altit and Ghanish, while keeping its historical fabric intact. With these changes, and the attention focused by VIP visits, including that of Prince Charles, Hunza transformed to an internationally recognized model of a cultural development practice. UNESCO also recognized the significance of the projects by offering awards.
Given its unique tangible and intangible heritage in the region, and the vision behind the changes, Hunza transformed to a top trending tourist destination with exemplary projects of tourism and culture development. Culture integrated in every aspect of development goal can have a multiplier effect not just on the economy of a society but in also creation of jobs, and creating and promoting local industries, by inclusion of the all the indigenous communities.
The communities owned, supported and led the ideas and took equal part in this development process, to preserve their heritage and improve their quality of life through business generation.
The primary inspiration for initiating the projects was forts donated to the communities by the Mir of Hunza benefiting larger community. Within few years the economic conditions of the people in the area drastically changed. Small houses were also restored by people to generate an income for themselves opening restaurants, tour operating companies, rent a car services and handicraft shops, to name a few. The economy not only benefited the restored village but the whole community living in the whole region.
Cultural activities do not only creates wealth but also contributes to social inclusion, better education, self-confidence and pride, especially in historically cohesive and organized communities. For any cultural and tourism project sustainability is essential. Community-based authorities to have direct share in policy making and implementation of such projects to have direct benefits to the communities. If the commencement of the projects was not timely completed the indigenous culture could have vanished.
The diversity of heritage monuments and natural resources are the most valuable resources in the world, and this must be cashed as a one of the keys for keeping the uniqueness of each entity. Every district in Gilgit-Baltistan have the potential cultural and natural resources which need to be protected, well managed and developed on principles of environmentally friendly guidelines of eco-tourism and heritage preservation, not only for an economic transformation but also a bailment of ancestors for generations to come. The attempt is to familiarize all who hold positions of responsibility, whether policy-makers, administrators or civil society in the field to consider different approaches to cultural policy making and similar approaches and steps for heritage and natural resources in Gilgit-Baltistan for saving the unique tangible and intangible heritage value attached to it. Its never too late.
Architect Kashif Essa is a student of Cultural Development and World Management at UNESCO program in Turin, Italy. He is currently working as Conservation Architect with Aga Khan Cultural Service Pakistan