For several centuries the successive rajas of Khaplu oversaw the affairs of their kingdom from a very eagle’s eyrie of a castle on a high hill outside town. But when the Dogras of Kashmir overran Baltistan in the late 1830s, they forced the raja to give up that out-of-the-way place and make himself more accessible. They were not thinking of better governance, however. They only wanted to have the raja within easy reach so as to prevent any mischief when they perceived it.
And so the year 1840 saw the new residential fortress of the Khaplu raja coming up right inside Khaplu town. Solid of construction, square in plan and rising through four irregular floors the fort is a fine example of the defensive-residential building seen across the Northern Areas of Pakistan.
The façade is characterised by the semi-circular timber balcony that rises from the ground to the top floor. At ground level two stairways curve around the stone masonry base of this balcony to afford entrance to the fort. The interior is a very warren of room after room at different levels with two staircases leading to the upper floors. While dark subterranean chambers were reserved for grain storage, the first floor contained utility rooms for various purposes. The raja’s residence was on the upper floors.
Besides the several windows looking out, the walls are pocked with a number of slits. It is evident that the Khaplu raja did not altogether trust the Dogras and, if required, was prepared to make a stand from his fort using these slits for his musketry.
The residential rooms are all richly adorned with elaborate and pleasing wood carving on door lintels, window arches and ceilings. One particular room has a painted ceiling. Though most of this work was rendered when the fort was built, there are some bits that were cannibalised from the hilltop fort after it was abandoned.
For a full century and a half the successive rajas of Khaplu lived in this palace. But with the abolition of the petty kingdoms of Pakistan and their right to collect taxes, many ruling families found it hard to maintain their properties. With little money for maintenance, the fort of Khaplu began to go to pot, but the family continued to use it as a residence.
Then in 1990 they moved to a new and smaller residence nearby. The fort of Khaplu went out of use for the next fifteen years. Mindful of the loss of cultural heritage its total decay would mean, the Aga Khan Cultural Service Pakistan purchased the fort from the owners in 2005. Today AKCSP is in the process of completely restoring the ruinous building. When the project ends in 2010, the old fort will be part five-star hotel, restaurant and conference hall and part museum showcasing Balti cultural heritage.
As historical monuments go, the fort of Khaplu is recent. But had it been permitted to crumble to dust, a great piece of traditional Balti architecture would have been forever lost. Its conservation has brought back this rare building back from the brink.
How To Get There: PIA operate regular once-daily flights between Islamabad and Skardu. Connected with it by a blacktop road, Khaplu lies 70 km (1 hour thirty minutes) east of Skardu. Good overnight accommodation is available at Khaplu.
Labels: Book of Days 2010, Northern Pakistan, Sights Less Seen
posted by Salman Rashid @ 8:39 AM,
At April 4, 2013 at 12:32 PM,
Saima Ashraf said...
Salman I invite you to visit Fort Abbas where the fort by Abbasies has been left on the mercy of time and the remnants of the royal fort are waiting for a traveler or narrator to tell the tale of the past
At September 15, 2013 at 11:52 PM,
It's been beautifully & tastefully restored. You are right at least a piece of our history has been preserved. Memoona Saqlain Rizvi
At September 16, 2013 at 6:23 PM,
Salman Rashid said...
thank you, Memoona.
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