Serena at Altit Fort: A fairytale, the experience of Hunza’s cheering exclusivity

Visitors can see a focus on eco-friendly, sustainable practices and environmentally conscious use of natural resources

Hey reader! You all must have heard about tales of prince and princess living in the far-away ‘magical’ lands in their hilltop palaces from your ever-loving grandma, and obviously you have yearned for seeing it yourself. With the time, those all felt just as fables. What if I may say those were not mere imaginations but a reality! Come with me to live a real episode of your childhood fairytales.

Situated on a riverbank and surrounded by glaciers, icy peaks and gorges, the town of Hunza in Gilgit Baltistan traditionally served as a resting place for travelers descending the 800-kilometre-long Hindu Kush mountain range into the Kashmir Valley. Hunza is home to snow leopards, markhors, ibexes, and red-striped foxes. Valley’s natural splendor and position on the ancient silk route has attracted travelers, merchants, and mountaineers for centuries.

The region, beyond its iconic glaciers, fertile apricot farms, mountainous appeal, and turquoise lakes, is rich in cultural heritage as well. In central Hunza, the 1,100 years old Altit Fort is the region’s oldest monument and evidence of the valley’s past feudal regime, traditionally home to the past rulers. The rectangular stronghold sits at the base of the Ulter Glacier and commands a view of the Hunza Valley and its tributaries – a strategic position for controlling the trans-Karakoram trade route between South and Central Asia.

After 1945, the fort and its surrounding village namely Altit Khun have been restored by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. However, the fort is now converted into a heritage museum that showcases the world about the art, lifestyles and wisdom of the then rulers, and it also carries UNESCO Asia Pacific Heritage Award for Cultural Heritage Conservation in 2011.

Serena Hotels have recently established another heritage hotel Serena Altit Fort Residence that is a rare accommodation in the beautiful Hunza Valley which will surely transport you into the fairytales. The view of the majestic snow peeks, sounds of floating water, cheering of birds, exotic tastes of equally delicious looking local dishes with the feel of timeless medieval kingdom, all combining gives you a most enchanting experience of your lifetime.

Overlooking the clear water of Hunza River, the Serena Residence located in the shadow of the Altit Fort adjoining the heritage village, where you would be finding the old grannies sitting in the alleys in their traditional attires. In the hotel you can tailor your stay as per your needs, by choosing between the luxe mountain lodge Ameen House, or the Luxury Huts settled at the edge of the mesmerizing KhaBasi Garden, that was once the picnic spot of the royals of Hunza, with widespread views of the fascinating Hunza Valley.

The Ameen House, a former residence of the son of Mir Jamal Khan of Hunza, was built at the time of the restoration of the Altit Fort. Traditional construction techniques, including use of stone, wooden beams and limestone instead of concrete, were used to allow it to blend seamlessly with surroundings. The furnishings in the rooms utilize indigenous wood and materials, hand-woven local textiles and traditional woodcarvings of the area. The common areas are appointed with heritage artefacts of the Mir’s family and offer serene views of the KhaBasi Garden and surroundings. These features create welcoming spaces, that will connect you to the local culture and beauty of the surrounding landscape.

Serena Residence features 16 beautiful rooms, including one executive room, four standard rooms and 11 luxury huts. However, all rooms and huts are equipped with modern amenities designed to provide maximum comfort and luxury, ensuring a serene experience for you every time. In the hotel, you can have an amazing view of the snow-capped Lady Finger, Ultar, Rakaposhi and Diran peaks, that can be seen from your chamber’s balcony as well.

Still, I would be suggesting you not to miss a walk past the 25-acre wide Khabasi Garden and clear water pool, the garden is abundant in sweet apricots, pinkish peaches, red and crunchy apples, also sometimes where you would be finding white chubby sheep, however no need to run before. I believe by having the booty from the garden you won’t be feeling ravenous, but the only smell of the tasty food near the lovely KhaBasi cafe? is enough to make you driven towards.

With delicious food, the charming KhaBasi also offers panoramic view. The cafe? is run by local women, in the way having a contribution in the wellbeing of the society. However, Serena works on the principle of hiring the workforce from the local community, hence it not even highlighting the top destinations of Pakistan but giving employment to the once neglected regions.

Altit Fort has been home to flourishing women social enterprise named Ciqam; means ‘greenery’ in Brushaski and stands for growth and prosperity, since 2003 ever since restoration work began on the Altit Fort. The enterprise was created as a project developed under the Aga Khan Cultural Services Pakistan, and co-funded by the Norwegian Embassy Trust for Culture and the World Bank. Through this enterprise, skilled-based trainings of local women in carpentry, construction, masonry, topographic, along architectural surveys, hospitality, historical restoration and documentation have been imparted.

Serena Altit Fort Residence features furnishings like beds, cupboards and side tables constructed by the local women. At the same time, there is a focus on eco-friendly and sustainable practices and environmentally conscious use of natural resources. At the end, take a stroll along the winding pathways of the Altit Khun village is worth a lot since you would be experiencing a glimpse into the original way of life of the Hunzakuts. The Serena Residence is your gateway to experience the heartwarming uniqueness of the Hunza Valley and an episode of your fairytale.

Munaza Kazmi holds MPhil in Management Sciences, is a travel writer, an author, and a co-author of scientific contributions in national and international publications. She can be reached on Twitter @munaza_kazmi.