Gilgit-Baltistan:The fabled Ondra fort of Gulmit

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Like other valleys of Gilgit-Baltistan, the valley of Gojal in Hunza is host to a number of historical monuments in each of its villages. Gulmit, the main town in Gojal valley, is dotted with wooden mosques, maktabs (religious schools), shrines and a fort.

There are many forts and fortresses in Gojal valley, such as Qalanderchi fort in Misghar valley and Rashit fort in Chipursan valley. But Ondra fort is the most prominent. This fort is perched on Ondra hill, which overlooks Gulmit and Ghulkin villages. The fort is believed to have been built by one Qutlug Baig in the 16th century. He was the first Wakhi ruler to establish rule in Gulmit, threatening the Mirs of Hunza. Before him, Gulmit was under the control of Hazur Jamshid (1550-1556), who was the ruler of Gilgit. His sons Su Malik and Mir Malik were deputed to collect the tax from Gojal. Once, returning from a visit to collect tax from Yishkook in Chipursan valley, the two stopped in Gulmit and liked it. They decided to live in Gulmit. After the death of Hazur Jamshid, Su Malik, the elder son, rushed to Gilgit to sit on his father’s throne. He became the new ruler of Gilgit (1556-1578). According to Muhammad Zia, celebrated genealogy-keeper (zon) of Gulmit, Mir Malik also eventually left for Hunza. Taking advantage of the absence of Su Malik and Mir Malik, Qutlug Baig with the help of locals captured Gulmit and the surrounding villages. Qutlug Baig belonged to the Charshambi Kator lineage of the Wakhis of Gulmit.

The territory of Qutlug Baig started from Khyber village and ended at Chaman Gul. In order to secure his territory from invaders, he built two gates, one at Khyber and the other at Chaman Gul. The gates were closed at night and opened during the day. In wartime, these gates remained closed, thus keeping the enemies away from his dominion. The remains of both gates and fortification walls can still be seen at Khyber as well as in Chaman Gul.

In order to rein in the probable advance of the enemies from North and south, Quitlug Baig built the Ondra fort. To the north lay the State of Hunza, and to the South the power of Kirghiz invaders who used to attack Gulmit to control the pastures for their livestock.

The height of the fort’s ramparts ranges from 6 to 13 feet above the ground. There were many living quarters inside the fort. One can still find them at two places, one on the southern side and the other on the northern side. These living quarters were separated by a central wall of the fort that runs east-west. The central rampart is higher than the southern and northern fortification walls. The northern quarters were constructed for the army of Qutlug to keep an eye on the enemy advancing from the north, while the southern quarters were built to keep check on the enemy coming from the south, particularly the army of the Mir of Hunza. The fortification walls have been provided embrasure and merlons. Only the northern and southern fortification walls have been provided embrasure. All the ramparts of the fort are still in a good condition. However, the eastern and western fortification walls are in a crumbling condition.

The Ondra fort reflects the power of the Wakhi ruler Qutlug who was never defeated by the Mirs of Hunza. He was famous for his gallantry and swordsmanship in the battlefield. Mirs of Hunza were scared by the rising power of Qutlug. They never dared to cross his territory. Qutlug was poisoned to death by one of his elderly female servants. She was sent by then Mir of Hunza Mir Malik. She admisntered poison in the food of Qutlug and his courtesans. After the death of Qutllug, Gulmit was recaptured and Ondra fell into hands of the Mir of Hunza.

Qutlug Baig was buried in Gulmit along with his courtesans. According to Afzal Khan, one of the notables of Gulmit, the grave of Qutlug was located where there is now the Government Girls High School in Gulmit. Qutllug ruled over Gulmit and its adjoining areas for twelve years. During his rule, land and life was safe and secure. He pushed the advancing Kirghiz back to their land and never let them succeed in their mission and goals. The heroic stories of Qulug still dominate the daily discourse of the Wakhi people living in Gulmit, Shimshal, Chipursan, the valleys of Gojal. Many storytellers still amuse both audience and themselves by narrating the stories of their ruler Qutlug Baig.

This fort is still a destination for domestic and international tourists. From Ondra fort one has a panoramic view of Gulmit. From the south one can see Gulmit and as far as Shishkat villages and from the north one can view the Ghulkin village. From the north one can enjoy seeing Ghulkin glacier, the passu cones and Qaroon peak. From the west, there are amazing views of Gulmit Glacier, Gulmit Tower, Shisper Peak and Utlar Sar. And from the east there is a spectacular view of the Hunza River.

Keeping in view the tourist potential of the spot, the concerned authorities should save the fort from further destruction and preserve it. Or the Aga Khan Cultural Service Pakistan (AKCSP) should make efforts to save and preserve the Ondra fort. They have preserved many heritage sites of the Northern Areas, such as Balit and Altit forts, Ganish Khun, the Hunza Matktab in Ghulkin, and old houses in Sost and Gojal.

The writer is research Anthropologist at Pakistan Institute of development economics (PIDE), Islamabad. He may be contacted at zulfi04@hotmail.com

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