A cultural activist with the items collected
There is a small hill named Ondra located on northern end of the historical polo ground at Gulmit, a village in the Gojal Valley of Gilgit – Baltistan. Winter Palace of the former rulers of Hunza Valley is located at toe of the Ondra hill, surrounded by small mud houses, mostly abandoned because the residents have shifted to larger and newer buildings elsewhere within the village.
According to elders of Gulmit, the Ondra hill was a barren piece of useless land till a few decades back. Over the time, however, the locals have converted the barren hill into a rich source of grass and timber, two of the most essential items required as part of indigenous winterization strategy in the mountainous areas, by constructing water channels and irrigating the land for several decades.
On top of the Ondra hill is a small plateau, on which some fragile, half collapsed, walls of an ancient village can be seen, presenting a picture of destruction and chaos triggered by human being, as well as elements of the nature. The long outer walls are boundaries of a centuries old human settlement. The inner open space is lined up with walls of stones and mud, dividing it into small and large compartments. Some of the very large compartments may have been used by the residents to shelter cattle, while smaller and medium-sized compartments may have been used as residential quarters and houses.
This dilapidated, historical, structure is known as the Ondra Fort. Elders of the village said that the “fort” had, historically, been established by the local people to serve as an alternate living space, in case of external invasion. Looking at the defense benefits of living at higher altitude, there seems to be no reason for disagreeing with the local elders. Even today some really ancient houses are located at toe of
the Ondra Fort. Interestingly, the ancient settlement is known as “Qilha” (fort) in the local language.
Due to the precarious condition of the Ondra ruins, several organizations working on rehabilitation of historical buildings have refused to work for revival of the structure. They think that the entire structure will have to be rebuilt and there is nothing to be ‘rehabilitated’.
The local people, however, look at the glass as half full. They think that with proper resource allocation and innovation, the ruins can be revitalized as an organic symbol of the region’s history, just like the ruins of Harrap and Mohen-Jo-Daro, in Sindh.
Aware and educated, as they are, the local people of Gulmit (Gojal) have taken it on themselves to revive the historical monument, albeit in a different manner. They are not rebuilding the fort. They are trying to turn the ruins into a museum of sorts.
The first step towards achievement of the villagers’ vision of revitalizing an important symbol of their history was to collect rare old doors with amazing woodcraft, traditional kitchen utensils, traditional agricultural tools, guns, swords and other items that had been taken away from the fort by the villagers, due to absence of oversight and lack of attention by the relevant authorities.
A committee has been formed by the residents of Gulmit, under the leadership of Mr. Ayub Khan, a very lively and down-to-earth person known for his commitment, honesty and hard work. The committee has had great success, because people of the village are readily handing over the items taken from the fort, on purely voluntary basis. So far, the committee has been able to retrieve two- rooms- full of historical utensils, artifacts and other valuable items used by the ancient societies.
Currently, young volunteers of the committee are busy in developing a comprehensive catalogue of the collected items. These items are to be displayed at the museum that will be constructed at the Ondra Fort. The villagers also plan to rebuild the dilapidated outer and inner walls of the fort’s area, to make it more attractive for local and foreign visitors.
With technical and monetary support from the government of Gilgit – Baltistan, the federal government and donor agencies, the people of Gulmit may be able to bring a symbol of their history back to life, while also contributing positively towards development of tourism in the region.
The spirit of volunteerism demonstrated by the villagers in this remote mountainous region of Pakistan can serve as a bright example of how local people, using indigenous resources and wisdom, can transform a ruined structure into a ray of hope for the times to come.
Original source: ALLVOICES