Craftsman's Desk

All the happenings, stories and snippets from the vibrant world of Serena Hotels Pakistan

Cultural Travel Series | Serena Shigar Fort

Our featured blogger Nageen Hyat continues her journey, this time dwelling amidst the stunning landscape of Shigar

ImageDay 1 – Serena Shigar Fort is an award winning heritage conservation project now a unique 20 room heritage boutique hotel operated and run by the Serena Hotels. It is located on the legendary route to the world’s second highest mountain, K-2, and is known as Fong-Khar, which in the local language means the “The Palace On The Rock”.

ImageThe Fort, at an altitude of 2.291 metres was restored by the Aga Khan Cultural (AKCSP) Here, you experience ambiance of the restored original architecture of the 17th century Raja’s fort Palace and previous home of the 20th ruler of the Amacha Dynasty while enjoying all modern amenities. Shigar is the most developed and fertile area in this region of Baltistan, filled with orchards, local farming and agricultural produce. Awesome mountain ranges including the route to K-2. A mountaineer’s paradise and a dream like fantasy environment for tourists. Yes, this Is Pakistan in its natural habitat, indigenous and breathtaking!

ImageA warm greeting awaited me at the hotel, a chat with the General Manager and the local team….me with my million questions and enthusiasm about the area…development work and women’s participation, training centers, history of the property and so forth. All responses were forthcoming and positive. We sat on a first floor balcony, sunny day with a lovely soft breeze, overlooking a soothing green cluster of delicate trees and wild flowers, gushing water from the Shigar nullah which rushes down to meet the Darya e Shigar and further converges with the Mighty Indus.
ImageI was served a delicious lunch in the garden….Chicken Fasanjoon prepared in walnut sauce, palak paneer and freshly cooked naans…under a wooden pergola, much closer to the water, grape vines overhead, sunlight filtering through the leaves. This is a truly blissful experience…do plan your visit and include a day trip to the Deosai Plains!

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My room opened out to the beautifully landscaped gardens, organic vegetable patches, flowers and the intervention of the sounds of the gushing Shigar nullah running parallel with the backdrop of rugged mountains. Truly a peaceful and enchanting environment to relax and energise!

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Everything the hotel serves is home grown and organic

I had a delightful meeting with the senior Raja of Shigar, all of ninety years  and what a joy it was to hear him recall the glorious days, music and poetry recitations, polo matches and the history of the surrounding areas. We took some pictures together, he graciously let me wear the royal cap too and I also had an exchange on music, poetry, politics and culture with his son, Raja M Azam Khan, who is the political representative from Baltistan. 

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Then, a lovely walk in the afternoon from the hotel past the historic wooden mosques and through the villages…stopped at the Baltistan Zehrmora workshop and picked up some unique pieces.

ImageDay 2 – A bright Sunday morning at Shigar. Breakfast served in my room consisting of natural apricot juice tasting like nectar, herb omelette with a local twist, toast and apricot marmalade washed down by steaming hot tea!

The fruit, herbs and vegetable are grown organically in the orchard within the compound which makes the taste aromatic. Walked in the gardens and around the orchard, up the stairs of the old wing to review and absorb the intricate wooden structures and rich environment, artefacts and old photographs, ancient ceilings, symbolic carved tiles inset in the walkway, ducking now and then to pass under the low set doors, peering out of the window at the upper level….a place where the security guards could watch the gates and stone walls to protect the Raja’s and their brood.

This fort was gifted to the community of Shigar by the Raja of Shigar and then converted into a heritage, boutique hotel by the Aga Khan Cultural Services to economically empower the community and share the rich cultural heritage at the local and international level. The presidential suite and two others in the Old Wing are fit for kings having extended balconies with breath taking views, niches with welcoming mattresses and intricately embroidered cushions to relax and converse. The view from the upper terrace sweeps the village, Shigar nullah and a soothing perspective far beyond the eye can decipher.

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I was informed that various Prime Ministers, Presidents, political leaders, Ambassadors, and international visitors have occupied these exclusive suites. I mention this specifically to bring a couple of issues to their attention, the main one being the lack of flights available to Skardu. PIA is the only carrier permitted to use the airspace and land in the Northern area and there are too few flights coming in to make it viable for tourists to visit. Earlier the land route was used more often but under the present circumstances whereby there are some security concerns, foreign visitors prefer to fly to the destination. It is crucial for the government to encourage tourism by facilitating all these marvelous initiatives by the private sector. Initially by either increasing the number of PIA flights to these parts and/or by opening the route for other local airlines. The feedback after chatting with the locals was also the fear of ‘Sectarian’ killings and ‘terrorism’ which has discouraged tourism in the area in the last 4 -5 years.

Another popular visitor, much awaited by the hotel staff, was the talented singer Shehzad Roy…met us all and had a chat! Charming and composed, he had the youngsters running around him in circles.

Some other exchanges on the comfortable takht by the gushing river extended to late evening. I bowed out as my packing awaited. Leaving for Islamabad by the morning flight….

Day 3 – Reached Islamabad to a jammed in-box and over two hundred wonderful messages, queries, and comments about my recent trip to Khaplu and Shigar, and the marvelous, stimulating holiday experiencing the wonderful, royal properties run impeccably by the Serena hotels. I am absolutely delighted by the tremendous response and wish you, too, plan a wonderful, inspiring holiday in Baltistan…!

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