Karachi To Khunjerab Pass~Altit Fort-
It was still drizzling when we reached the fort. As soon as we stepped out of the bus a chilly wind blew past us. Although, I was wearing that thick parachute jacket, yet, I was shivering. It was past midday and still very cold. We walked to the ticket house and the boys went in to buy.
“This place sure is old. Look at the track it’s stoned and cranky,” Omaina pointed out.
“Yet it’s well maintained. You won’t see this much maintenance anywhere else in Pakistan,” I added.
“Yes, these Agha khanis are doing a good job here.’ said Api.
“Oh, look at the trees is that apple or peach?” inquired Omama, the trees from afar looked like big green, round pillars decorated with orange balls.
“Nether I think these are Apricot trees.”
“How come? Apricots are not this orange.”
“These are orange in color, just like the ones we saw in Quetta remember,” Apa reminded.
“Yeah, I remember they tasted amazing. Maybe these tastes good too,” Omama said with a watery mouth.
“Let’s go they are saying they’ll send our guide in a moment,” Bhaiya said as he came out of the wooden hut.
“I’m surprised they are charging too much here. I hope the guide provides us worthwhile information. I mean I know 250/ per person isn’t much but we have a huge family.”
“Inshallah we’ll make it worthwhile, you don’t worry, ” I assured.
“Kids we are here to have information about these places so don’t hesitate to ask whatever comes to your mind. Don’t be shy they are the guides and they know all the things there is about these forts,” Bhaiya said excitedly.
Before we entered the fort’s premises there came a small market to our both sides. Shops of jewelry and show pieces made of stones plus the embroidered stuff. An exact duplicate of the market on which our hotel was situated. Yet, there was a shop which made a difference. The kind of shop one could never encounter in rest of the world but there. A small square shop with full wall glass windows all three side just like any other shop there but the difference was the occupants and what they were doing. They were six ladies working in it. Making their traditional music instrument Rubab, which looked like a guitar. The material comprised of wood plus some ironwork too. Seriously, the lady was welding Iran in that small shop. Another lady was carving the wood and another was working with the strings. All were constantly smiling and welcoming every passerby.
We entered the gate and found a beautiful yellow path with washed up Apricot and apple trees plus grapevines. The lash green leaves upon the trees were mixing with yellow dry ones on the floor. Enchanting.
Just like any cartoon scene of a path going to a Stone castle.
Just like any cartoon scene of a path going to a Stone castle.
To our right came another huge hut very well maintained. The sign said Kha-basi. Which in Urdu means eat rotten but in Hunzai language it meant welcome.
To our left came those amazing stone structured stairs that lead us to the fort entrance.
The moment we reached the top. The temperature increased as the sun was now blooming with its full potential. My husband and I were the first to reach the top and we waited for others. The wait in the sun made us take off our jackets and there I started my job for the day. Together with six jackets in my hands, I couldn’t even see the path I was walking on.
“Oh, Ania look at that stone how huge.! Is it marble?” Taymia inquired with astonishment
“I think so. It’s so, white and shiny,” in the middle of the stairs was a huge white rock.
“Let’s take some pictures here while we are waiting for the guide.”
At last, the wait was over and so was our photo session.
The guide came and we started our expedition. We climbed the few Stone stairs left and entered through a small rectangular wooden door which was finely carved with floral patterns. The floor inside was also made of stones plus the walls. It seemed like almost everything in this Forte was made of stone and some little wood.
The paths connecting the rooms were narrow and dark. We had to use our mobile lights to see where to go. So I opened my flash and started making the videos which surprisingly turned out to be the worst videos I’d ever shot. The echoes of kids crying plus people talking in those rooms which were practically the exact copy of any dungeons, seen in the movies. Words can’t explain. It was scary for us then imagine how much scary it would be for the kids moreover toddlers.
Soon when we entered one of the room our guide began his speech.
“This was Forte built in 1100 BC. It was used by the royal family for many years. There are two forts in this region. ALTIT and BALTIT. Altit means the place at the bottom or something which is below. Baltit means a place above. As the names suggest this Fort is at the base of the mountain not totally in the valley but in between.”
“Which one is the oldest Forte Altit or Baltit?” inquired Ashhad.
Before we start let me clear you one thing, we as a family are investigators. We tend to ask as many questions as we could but Ashhad was an exception in us. He’s always asking questions eager to have them answered. That day we all did our best to make the guide regret his decision to guide us.
Apart from the joke, I was totally surprised to see that the guides in both Fortes were happily answering our inquiries. It seemed like they were enjoying genuine visitors more than the ones who were merely there for enjoyment.
“Altit is the oldest. Baltit Fort was built in 900 BC,” replied the guide and before he could continue.
“Why are all these doors are so small and the pathways are so narrow?” Bhaiya asked.
“Well, there were three reasons for that, number one, they wanted their visitors to lower their heads and bow down before they enter in a place with the Royals. Second, the temperature here tends to decrease very much, below -15 or sometime -20 in those times, so, they assured that the cold air do not enter their rooms. Third, they did it for security reasons each person entering separately would make the guards do their jobs easily.”
“Tlhe people who lived here were they Muslims or Hindus?” Muhammad inquired.
“In this fort, different people lived in a different eras, in the beginning, there were Buddhist here, then Hindus took over and then at the end Muslims came, there was a time in between, this fort was in the hands of Britons too. So, you could say it’s full of historic heritage that is.”
‘What’s this wood for.’ Ashhad pointed towards the wooden panels engraved in between the stone wall.
“These wood panels are used to make the fort shock prove. This is a very old technique. Let’s go to the other room,” the guide led us to a small square room adjacent to this one.
The room didn’t have any windows only an opening from the top and there were some old vessels made of stone too. Yes, you heard me right even the vessels were made of stones.
“These vessels were used to make gravy dishes for the Royals,” the guide informed and we moved through another narrow path, you could say the narrowest lobby to a considerably smaller room in which we all barely managed to adjust. This room was the worst one, it didn’t have any windows or any top openings nor any of decorative stuff. Just bare walls and two doors one from which we came and another leading to the stairs up ahead.
“For this room, they had two uses. When in time of emergencies they used it for hiding the Royal family even making their food here and when things get worst, they escape from the tunnel here. It’s closed now but there was a tunnel that led them to the other side of the fort. The other use for this room was to keep the prisoners on temporary basis until the king decides what to do with them either to give them freedom which was rare or execute them,” our guide took a break while we stumbled into another room, instantly I knew that was a prehistoric kitchen.
“This was the kitchen, they used to cook food on the normal days and it included two very important measuring devices. Firstly, there’s a sundial here,” a series of Oh’s and wows echoed.
“Doesn’t a sundial needs direct sunlight. I can’t see any way for that,” Bhaiya inquired keenly.
“Well, actually it was just for a rough estimation. The sunlight comes through this small opening from the top. This sundial uses its reflection. In those times, it was not like it’s seven o’clock or it’s eight o’clock. They used to estimate it like it’s morning or it’s evening.”
“What was the second measuring device here,” Omama couldn’t resist the delay.
“It was this small hole in the ground it’s made in a way that it vibrates way before any earthquake hitting the region.”
Another series of whoos and wows echoed. Seriously, that was awesome to know that people that ancient knew these many things.
We climbed the very narrow and small stairs to a room with lots of sunlight coming in. Alas, I thanked God for that. At least, I could see properly.
“This room was their living room and drawing room for guests. The reason why it’s the airiest and lit with the sunlight. This pillar is a living proof of their artistic skills. All these engravings,” the guide pointed our attention to the decorations in the room. It was not something we experience nowadays. Yet, the decorations were surely more than the rest of the rooms in the fort.
“This hole here was used to store food. It served as a refrigerator in those days,” he said while bending to a small square hole in the ground.
Then we moved to another room which was the royal bedroom. As the name suggests it really was royal. Apart from rest of the fort this room had an arched window that showed the more beautiful scenery of the river flowing down the valley plus with a gallery. Yes, people, there was a small yet amazing gallery the view was perfect from there. Also, the walls had the most exclusive carvings on it. I stood there for a moment and inhaled the fresh air; it was refreshing coming out from the dark lobbies.
At the roof, we found some stoned sitting areas. The minute Apa saw them she took the advantage and sat down for some rest.
Please leave the kids here it’s a little dangerous out there,” our guide requested and we left the kids with Apa and marched along with him to a narrow path that lead to another open space without any walls. The view was enchanting the same valley with the river flowing another gigantic brown mountain with snow tops. It was a sheer drop. The most amazing thing there was the execution rock, which was called the capital punishment stone. It was a rock almost two-three meters far from the roof just a slender stone right in the middle, surrounded by nothing. Yes, it had nothing all its four sides and its surface was small enough to barely attain a single man. Also, it had red marks on it. I don’t know where they came from but there they were creating the horrible seen more horrifying and our guide added to our terror the details of the stone’s use.
“This rock was the capital punishment stone back then. When a prisoner is excused to death. They bring him here and order him to jump on the rock. If the prisoner managed to balance himself on the rock, he lives but if he doesn’t. Well you know who could live by dropping from all this height,” for the first time, our young guide smiled.
Let me introduce you little about the guide. He was in his early twenties and I was surprised to see that he knew this much. Plus, this man along with many others in Hunza was speaking fluent English and wore the most fashionable jeans with jackets hanging by their waist.
The man led us to another path and we entered a separate region of the fort different from the rest. That place was shouting itself that I’m newer than the rest. Clean and clear. Airy and bright. The lobby had wooden railings on the edge beautifully carved into arches to our right and to our left it had rooms adjacent to one another. They had shelves and wall cabinets plus the roof was made of sheets of wood and cement. These shelves displayed a photo gallery of the historic times.
“This is the new construction done by Britons in their time. They extended this place to make it more livable. After Muslims took over they made this room a Masjid (prayer area).”
The guide pointed towards a separate room with the smallest door. I had to bow down more than any door there. The place had the calm and homely feeling. The clean sheets of carpets and the wood engravings were amazing.
“That’s it for today please ask any question you like,” the guide said.
“Are you still willing to answer, I thought you must be exhausted by our fire of inquiries.”
“We are here to give answers sir. I’m happy that you all are entertained by the knowledge I gave you,” the guide said.
“Thankfully our money is well paid,” I whispered to Taymia.
“Yeah, a whole lot of information I wonder if we only could remember all that.”
“The place is so dark and damp.”
“I hope Baltit fort is better.”
With that, we marched back to the path we came from and started our journey back to our bus.
We, being a large group, the consequences were interesting, some walked faster, some walked slower, some had to stop to admire the beauty, some had to stop to shop.
I and my husband along with our kids choose to stop for shopping. We went inside a beautiful shop and started exploring, he bought me a beautiful moonstone ring in silver. Bhaiya and Bhabhi came in after us.
The shopkeeper was a lady. Very soft calm lady. Answering each question giving gifts to the kids like rare stones and stuff.
Ali, Ashhad, and Muhammad were bouncing up and down and comparing their stone gifts with each other, the moment we hit the road, I learned that almost every group visited that shop in the span of small intervals.
To be continued…