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The entrance to an old fort in Chitral city. —Dawn
The entrance to an old fort in Chitral city. —Dawn

CHITRAL: “Can we go inside the fort and have a photograph?” enquired one of my colleagues, Niamatullah, after entering Chitral from Lowari Pass, pointing towards a small but magnificent building raised on a ridge on the right bank of the Chitral River. It was the fort of Naghar built in 19th century. Its distinctive location has a strong temptation for the tourists to come and stay.

His disenchantment was crystal clear from his face when he was told that it is a private property and tourists are not allowed to enter it. “Nearly all the forts in Gilgit-Baltistan, including Altit, Baltit, Skardu, Shigar and Khaplu, are not only open to the tourists but they have been turned into resorts for tourists’ stay,” he said.

Naimatullah insisted: “I have been roaming across six countries as eco-tourist where old forts and castles were used for the purpose of promotion of tourism.” He said that the forts of an area mirrored its history and expressed the cultural traits and the ways of life of ancient times. “If you conceal your old places and forts, then it means that you kept your history and culture obscured to them,” he said, adding if Khaplu palace can be converted into a hotel, then why not that of Chitral.

Experts associated with tourism industry in different capacities also think that the ten forts which dot the valley of Chitral, can be used as tourist resorts.

They said that this move will attract eco-tourists to the area while presently the only attraction for a tourist is the Kalash valley. If juxtaposed with the forts of GB, the ones in Chitral are not inferior in any way in terms of location and architecture as all of them have been built on the banks of Chitral River which gave them a unique view, they said.

They said the great influx of tourists to GB was due to the fact that they were offered the old palaces for their stay where they not only enjoyed the amenities of new lifestyle but also the ancient architecture.

Zaffar Baig, a tour operator, said that he knew a number of foreign groups of tourists who diverted their way to GB when they were told that they would stay only in modern hotels in Chitral or in tents in the camping places. “The fort of Chitral in the city presenting the fabulous view of Terich Mir peak of Hindu Kush range of mountains can surpass the Altit and Baltit forts of GB if it is made a tourist museum and cultural centre,” he said.

The tour operator said that all the forts of former rulers of Chitral state were situated in different valleys of Chitral. He said that Droshp fort in Garam Chashma, Drasun fort in Terich Mir valley, Mastuj fort in Yarkhoon valley, Drosh fort neighbouring the scenic valley of Sheshi Koh while Naghar fort was situated on the confluence of Arandu, Ursoon and Lowari.

The former project manager of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Chitral, Dr Inayatullah Faizi, said that several attempts were made by the government to take over the forts were opposed by the exponents of the former ruling family owning them by inheritance. “I am of the knowledge that the forts of Chitral and Mastuj were being taken on lease by interested parties in the tourism sector,” he said.

Faizi is of the view that Unesco should make an intervention in the matter to save the forts as cultural heritage of Chitral. He said a large portion (northern) front of Shahi Masjid had turned ramshackle in the absence of proper maintenance and with its collapse the cultural history of Chitral would be buried with it.

The fort of Birmogh Lusht situated at an altitude of more than 8,000 feet was the summer palace of the rulers of Katoor dynasty which lies in the core area of Chitral Gol National Park. The building is in dilapidated condition and is set to deteriorate further in the absence of proper maintenance.

Abdur Razaq, a tour operator, said that it would be a paradise for tourists if it was renovated and converted into a hotel maintaining its essence of the old architecture and providing new facilities. “It will be a boon for a tourist as he would be able to watch kashmir markhor in its natural habitat from his bedroom early in the morning,” he said.

There are many other attractions which can be developed into tourist attractions in Chitral apart from the old forts.

There are scenic valleys which are still obscure from the tourists due to their topography and lack of communication facilities. The small valleys of Golen, Oveer, Melp, Sheshi Koh, Jinjiret Koh, Beori can be developed into tourist resorts.

Published in Dawn, September 17th, 2016