Kharpocho ( Kharpoche-the great fort in Tibetan/Balti) is located at a flat place on the hillock standing in the middle of Skardu valley on the left flank of Indus-the Lion River. This Fort is at a height of 1300 feet above the river and nearly 8500 ft from sea level. It was built by Bokha , the 9th Maqpon ruler of Skardo during his reign i.e.1490 to 1515 AD and established his offices in to this towering fort. Ali Sher Khan Anchan (1575-1624 AD) the great Maqpon ruler developed it in to a great stronghold (fort) and built a high seven story castle of more than one hundred rooms, combining the traditional Tibetan Cribbage wooden structure and the Persian ornamental arts of exquisite wooden and marble lattice (screens) and carvings, making it a the most strong and safe as well as the most beautiful complex. This fort look like a tower on the high rock of Skardu overlooking Skardu Valley in three directions. Within this Fort , there was a beautiful audience-hall (Darbar) and many rooms for State offices.
During Ali Sher Khan Anchan and his descendants, several rulers, princes and noblemen took asylum in to this fort in order to escape from death in the hands of their rivals. Among them, history quotes, famous personalities were Syed Shah Arif Hussain –the grand-son of Shah Ismail the founder and first Safavi ruler of Iran in 1585 AD, Mirza Khan –the ruler of Gilgit in 1630s, Habib Chak of former Chak Dynasty of Kashmir and Raja Muhammad Khan the ruler of Gilgit during the reign of Maqpon Ahmad Shah , the last independent ruler of Baltistan (1800-1840 AD)
When, in 1842 Ad, the Dogra rulers of Jammu, conquered Baltistan, among all their brutalities, they ablaze this great and most beautiful fort in to ashes and the fortification around the Castle were changed in to barracks to station their troops.
Though this Fort is still in ruins, but the location looks like an “Eagle’s Nest” and one can view all around from this towering place is heart taking. This place is also one of the best point to take pictures of the vast valley of Skardu, the Lion river Indus and the high mountains caped with snow and glaciers. Mughal princess Gul Khatoon, the consort of Ali Sher Khan Anchan had got built a few feet wide and safe track to this fort from the down valley, but now this track is also in ruins. Anyhow, it gives a safe space to climb up to the fort. It takes about 30 to 40 minutes to climb from the downhill to the fort depending on the physical strength of the visitor.
Shigar fort (a castle infact) locally known as “Fong Khar” as the castle was built on a huge flat rock.This historical structure is locate in the laps of a high towering rock namely Shargwa (the top from which the sun rises) at the mouth of Shigar stream from where it enters in to the main valley , is an important historical building. This It was built by a ruler of Shigar namely Hassan Khan about during early 17th century AD in three phases which can be seen easily from its appearance. Exquisite floral patterns of Tibetan as well as Persian traditions were curved in the door-frames and pillars. In due course of time, some rooms in western side collapsed and a few small rooms were rebuilt in it. Later on two building in ordinary shape was built very close to this beautiful structure. This fort is considered one of the major built heritage assets of Baltistan.
This complex of architectural values is one of the most impressive built heritage featuring refined wood carving of Tibetan, Persian and Mughal influences, has now been restored by AKCSP (Aga Khan Cultural Services Pakistan). Now the Agha Khan Development Network (AKDN) own this restored building and has opened it for tourists as a hotel and restaurant.
CHAQCHAN MOSQUE KHAPLU
The historical Chaqchan mosque situated in Khaplu is one of the most important built heritages of national monuments in Pakistan. Its construction is attributed to Mir Syed Shamsud Din Iraqi , a very famous preacher who came from Iran and stayed in Baltistan for nearly five years The oral traditions describe that this building was a Buddhist Gompa before and when the whole population of the area converted to Islam and even a single Buddhist was found, the Gompa was rebuilt as a mosque in present shape. It is one of the most famous wooden structure in the whole Asia for its exquisite and rich wood curving in door frames, pillars, and ceiling and for the beautiful screens/lattice in the most beautiful patterns of Tibetan and Persian traditions. People have painted the ceiling and the inner walls in recent years which have protected the wooden works from dampness and weathering.
This structure has been built in a slope, this it is partially a double story-building. From its upper story-veranda, one can have the heart taking view of the beautiful lush-green Khaplu town, the Shayok valley and some of the lofty peaks of Karakoram mountain.
This sacred building is easily approachable in jeeps by a narrowly carpeted track from any place of the town. In an easy walk of 30 to 40 minutes, tourists can reach to it from the main market down valley. Social atmosphere is quite harmonic. As this Mosque is considered to be very sacred, tourists are advised to respect the holy building and avoid entering in to it without getting verbal permission from its keepers and also in shoes. There is no problem if a tourist make pictures of the building, wooden works inside and outside and of course the panorama all around.
The magnificent Palace of the then Yabgo rulers of Khaplu is situated on the right bank of Ghanche stream approximately at an altitude of 2740 meters above sea level at an upper part of Khaplu town. This palace is located on such a terraced location that from its balconies and windows, beautiful and vast panorama of Khaplu town, Shayok river as well as many lofty peaks of Karakoram can be viewed and captured in your cameras. The palace is easily accessible from the main town and upper villages by carpeted road. A polo ground is situated at few hundred feet near the palace.
When the Dogras conquered Baltistan , forced the local rulers to abandon their stronghold, usually on the top of mountains and built a new houses for them in the down valley if they needed. Thus the ruler of Khaplu, in fact a puppet , dismantled his stronghold “Thorsey Khar” which located on the top of a very high and towering rock and made a new palace type beautiful building at the foot of the same tower for his dwelling.
This palace is the most beautiful building among the built heritages of Baltistan built in a very good plan and beautified with exquisite Tibetan and Persian designs curved in door frames, ceilings and wooden lattice. It is a five-story structure. As a story is made below ground level for granary, and not visible unless one climb down in to it. The main building has three stories i.e. the ground floor for servants and the second for winter use and the third for use in summer. On the roof two wooden rooms are also built which increase the grandeur of the palace. In the 3rd story (actually the 4th), there is a very beautiful made spacious room used as the audience-hall. It has open widows on two sides proving the most beautiful and magical panorama of the fruit trees, valley and the lofty mountain. Between these open windows and the roof there are different pattern of most beautiful screens, which increases the beauty of the hall. Wooden ceiling curved in extra ordinary floral designs make this hall a rare one. There is a beautifully made hexagonal balcony in the same story overlooking the spacious courtyard, where people and polo-players as well as the state-musicians used to assemble and dances and other traditional events. The female members of the royal house could also witness and enjoy with these events through the wooden screen from their rooms.
BUDDHA ROCK SKARDU
There is a very important historical and Buddhist Rock images and carving on a big rock in village “Menthol” situated in the south end of Skardu town at a distance of about 3 km from the main town. Tourists can easily visit this magnificent Buddhist monument either by a jeep or 40 minutes easy walk. Any tourist can also visit this site while driving or walking to Sadpara village or for Deosai trek or Safari.
This Buddhist monument was carved in 8th Century AD, when the Tibetan kings conquered Great Bolor (Baltistan) in 727 AD .They made this site a center for Buddhist education and propagation in the area. A huge rock is perched on a high ground facing towards north –the main Skardu village. There is a big carved Sakyamuni Budhha- the historical Budhha of present time and twenty smaller images of Budhhas of previous times. All shown seated in Lotus flowers .In the foot of this assembly there is Tibetan inscriptions. There are two larger images of two Buddhas standing on both sides of the big image, which are believed to be the future Buddhas i.e. Mitriya. As this collection of Buddhas is supposed to be an extra-ordinary “Assemble” of all Buddhas, therefore it is called “Mandal” i.e. Assembly which was corrupted in Manthal, which is the name of this small village also. In the earlier times, there was a roof or canopy over this monument to protect it from weather affects, but it has gone in an unknown past.
OTHER BUDDHIST REMAINS
There is vast ruins of a Buddhist Complex in Shigar, located at a higher elevated place which can be visited on foot from Ghzwapa Mohallha in Shigar town. It dates back to 4/5th Century AD. There are the foundations of several huge Stupas and Lamasary building as well as 86 rocks having Stupa carvings and Brahmi and Tibetan inscriptions.
Some other Buddhist archeological sites can also be seen in Shigar,Mehdiabad, Kharfaq, and Nar villages where dozens of carving of ibex, human sculptures, stupas as well as Tibetan and Brahmi inscriptions are found on the rocks.
The incomplete Buddha sculpture near fish farm of Saling ,Stupas, animals rock carving as well as sculptures of Tibetan language at Dumsum and Kharfaq also noticeable.