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Project Profile


2009 Award of Distinction

Ali Gohar House

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Project TitleAli Gohar House

LocationGanish, Hunza Valley, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan

Size238 square metres

CostUS$ 32,000

Responsible PartyStephen Battle, Richard Hughes, Abbas Ali Shah, Faizan Agha, Elmuddin, Sheraz Karim, Meherzadi, Iqbal Karim, Rahim Ullah Baig, Altaf Hussain, Shukarullah Baig, Karim Ullah and Didar Karim

Heritage ArchitectAga Khan Trust for Culture and Aga Khan Cultural Service Pakistan

ContractorAga Khan Cultural Service Pakistan

Date of Completion21 December 2007


Ali Gohar House is located on the northeastern edge of the historic settlement of Ganish. Historically part of the former princely state of Hunza, the village (khun) of Ganish is a cultural “hub” situated between the 850 year-old Baltit settlement, located at the bottom of Ultar Mountain Range in the north, and the 1,100 year-old Altit Fort and associated settlement, located to the east. As one of the many sites associated with the old Silk Route, Ganish Khun was a frequent stopping point for travellers passing through the area en route to Central Asia and China, and served as a reception and departure area for state guests, traders and other visitors. The layout of Ganish reflects its importance as a way station. The main north-south street skirts the western side of the settlement and travellers from Nagar and Baltistan (Little Tibet) passed along this road on their way to Ladakh.

Ganish was important both economically and militarily to the rulers of Hunza because of its strategic position. In times of war, Ganish was typically the first of the settlements in the region to be attacked by invaders; these crossed the river by way of Nagar and could effectively block passage along the important trade route.

The Ganish historic settlement encompasses the hereditary properties of six tribes. These include the Sukutz, Kuyokutz, Bakutz, Tamurukutz, Yarikutz and Mamorukutz. Each tribe is comprised of several extended families and each has its own mosques and watchtowers, as do some individual families within the tribes. Ali Gohar House is associated with the Kuyokutz tribe, members of which inhabit about 50 percent of the houses in the settlement.

In the 1970s, the Hunza River overflowed its banks, damaging large parts of Ganish. The flood caused significant damage to the historic settlement’s fortifications and many of its timber and stone buildings. The impact of the flood was compounded by the construction and expansion of the Karakoram Highway (KKH), which links Pakistan with China. The Aga Khan Cultural Service in Pakistan (AKCSP), recognizing the significance of the site, decided to undertake a series of interventions in Ganish. A principal focus of the restoration work was the historic Ali Gohar House. As the house is a significant element within the settlement, the project to restore it was perceived as essential to the integrity of the surrounding area and as an ideal candidate for a demonstration project within the community.

Building History

Ali Gohar House is a Ganish tranhpa (noble’s house). It was the residence of the principal envoy of the Hunza state, a figure with authority on the internal and foreign affairs of the fortified settlement. Experts consider the house to be the oldest surviving example of such a dwelling in Ganish and a site unequalled in its degree of decoration and the quality of its artisanship. The ornamentation in the building is dominant in the carved columns, capitals and door surrounds and in the intricately decorated ventilators and niche frames. 

The house includes a traditional winter residence, storage space and a reception and living area on the ground floor, and a summer residence, with two storage spaces, on the first floor. A fruit storage space and semi-enclosed verandah occupy the second floor. The walls of the building follow local traditions, comprised of timber cribbage frames filled with rubble and brick. The ground and first floor cribbage walls feature stone rubble infill, while the second floor verandah wall employs abode brick infill.

At the time of the initiation of the project, the building was abandoned and in a highly deteriorated state and was assessed as being in a dangerous condition, unsafe for visitors and local people. An inventory completed by the AKCSP indicated major damage to the walls and roof. Problems registered in the cribbage frame walls included severe leaning, bulging, cracking, loss of infill wall fabric, decay of cribbage frames, loss of mud plaster and render, and rodent and insect infestation. The problems noted for the roof were erosion of the mud and birch bark roofing material and evidence of leakage. The decay of planks, rafters and beams in the eastern part of the ground and first floors had led to major damage in the interior.

Project History

The Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) through its local operating arm, the AKCSP, undertook several other projects in the Ganish settlement before the Ali Gohar House conservation project. These included the restoration of three watchtowers (shikaris); improvements to common spaces inside (jataq) and outside (biyak) the settlement; and the conservation of five historic mosques inside the settlement and one mosque outside the fortification walls of the settlement. Restoration of the main entrance (himaltar) to the settlement was also the focus of a conservation effort, as was the restoration of the benediction house for travellers, located along the northwestern section of the fortification wall.

In each of the projects, the AKCSP had included measures to improve living conditions, including installing underground electrical and telephone lines, providing sanitation facilities and a clean drinking water supply, and rehabilitating a former water reservoir, located outside the settlement. The projects also included the paving of streets inside and around the historic settlement. The AKCSP undertook the work on Ali Gohar House over a period of four years, completing the project at the end of 2007.

Project Scope and Framework

The project aimed to contribute to the larger objective of the AKCSP conservation programme in furthering the development of sustainable livelihoods and community well-being in places in a state of transformation. This is highly relevant to the Ganish settlement, which is changing from a rural to an urban zone, resulting in a range of social and cultural issues.

With careful attention to historical values, the AKCSP implemented the repairs to the house in accordance with the highest conservation standards. A five-phase programme was carried out under the supervision of a conservation and engineering specialist, supported by the AKCSP team.

The first phase focused on documentation, carried out by an experienced team together with local recruits. The second phase was the emergency stabilization of the roof. In this phase, the work crew removed the roof components, treated these with preservatives, cleaned them and then returned them to their original positions. This was completed while team members conducted additional analysis of the historic building fabric and original construction methods.

The next phase concentrated on the frailest component of the structure, the walls, which were realigned and stabilized. The conservation work included the replacement of decayed timber and the installation of stone and bricks to substitute for those damaged or lost through erosion. As part of this effort, the construction crew was careful to leave evidence of deformation in place to illustrate the building’s history and the construction techniques employed in the past.

The fourth phase involved the installation of plumbing and electrical services. Technicians inserted these into walls, floors and ceilings. Staircases were installed to meet requirements for access between floors as part of this phase; the original staircases had deteriorated long ago. The team followed traditional techniques in providing new means of access.In the fifth phase, the conservation team worked on the building’s finishes, including the careful cleaning and oiling of all the carvings. They also applied traditional mud-slips to the render. Carried out over a four-year period, the team had time to carefully plan each step and to see that the completed work met the highest standards.

Conservation Methodology and Materials

Careful investigation and laboratory analysis preceded all interventions. It was important to determine the nature and extent of the problems in the building fabric. Problems faced by the project team included hidden structural defects, which were difficult to assess prior to carrying out the actual work.

Whenever possible, the team employed traditional techniques and used traditional materials. These materials included stone, mud, soft clay and local timber. For instance, clay was used as a binding element, as the original builders had done centuries before. These materials were locally available, long-lasting and inexpensive, and were able to provide an excellent degree of thermal comfort and earthquake resistance.

Important Issues

Throughout the project, the team avoided the use of modern techniques and materials as much as possible, even in instances where their employment might have seemed appropriate. The only new elements introduced were staircases and electrical and mechanical systems to improve conditions for those using the building in the future. All modern insertions were designed to demonstrate sympathy with the inherent qualities of the original structure.

The AKCSP also took care to ensure that the record of the new intervention was fully legible and that the original construction techniques and materials were apparent in the completed work and can be removed, if necessary, at a future time. For instance, in designing the replacement for the original staircase, the team tried to make the new stairs as authentic as possible, while satisfying modern safety standards.

Project Sustainability and Viability 

The owner of Ali Gohar House gave a lifetime lease of this monument to the community, a step that augers well for the community generally and the community-based management system adapted for the Ali Gohar House conservation project.

The house is managed and maintained by the Ganish Khun Heritage Care and Social Welfare Society (GKHC&SWS) and is today used for a variety of cultural, social and economic activities. These include the exhibition of arts and crafts, a tourist information centre, guestrooms and meeting areas.

Women have played a central role in the revitalization of the site, producing arts and crafts in a vocational centre and selling them at the house. Through the sale of arts and craft pieces and entry tickets the conservation project has ensured the maintenance of the site while providing employment and incomes for local residents and improving their economic well-being.

Project Impact

Through its physical conservation project at the Ali Gohar House, the AKCSP was able to restore the historic character of an important monument and the effort resulted in the transfer of a new set of skills to local workers. The adaptive reuse of this building, its multi-functional character, and its continuing attractiveness for visitors demonstrate the value of the intervention.

The Ali Gohar House conservation project was a significant contribution to the cultural enclave of Hunza. The project contributed to conservation achievements already evident in Ganish and reinstated a valuable asset for the community. With the conservation of this monument the conservation process in Ganish has achieved an important level of success and has demonstrated the value of conservation for community development.

The building also provides a platform from which all of the stakeholders of Ganish community can achieve new kinds of success and join more fully with other organizations and the government of Pakistan to create a new understanding of heritage value in the region. In the wake of the Ali Gohar House project, the community has furthered its efforts through agencies such as the Town Management Society, the Karakoram Area Development Organization and the Women’s Social Enterprise project to develop capacity for local responsibility in policies and planning for heritage protection conjoined with economic advancement. The hope is that the Ali Gohar House project will serve as an exemplar for future practice in the region and stand as a symbol of community initiative.

Quote from the Project Team

“After the conservation works, the structural problems in the walls, ceiling, roof, infill materials, rendering, ornamentation, and biological decay vectors were resolved, principally using indigenous materials and technique and through the craft and cultural sets of skills developed during one decade of conservation work in Ganish village and in Altit.”