In 1999, Fong-Khar was bequeathed to the people of Baltistan by Raja Sahib Mohammad Ali Shah Saba of Shigar and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) was entrusted with its restoration. In a painstaking process lasting over five years at a cost of approximately US$1.4 million, the entire site was brought back to life following a careful strategy of adaptive re-use and restoration. This strategy formed the foundation for a three-fold mandate for Shigar Fort Residence:
- Preservation of Cultural Heritage
- Socially Responsible Tourism and Economic Development
- Self-Sustaining Operations.
Preservation of Cultural Heritage
One of the most important considerations in the entrustment of Fong-Khar to AKTC for restoration was that the project remains true to the original character and architecture of the buildings as much as possible. Much care was taken to identify original use, to adhere to that use or adopt a new use compatible with the original use so that there was minimal impact on the cultural significance of the building.
Socially Responsible Tourism and Economic Development
Since Shigar Fort is situated in the immediate proximity of a poor and unskilled village population the project provided a perfect opportunity to act as a catalyst for comprehensive improvement of the local economy. The impact of the work of AKCSP has been significant in creating a catalytic effect on the revitalization of Shigar providing employment opportunities, raising incomes, restoring cultural and historical pride, promoting good governance via the civil society organization, the Shigar Town Management Development Society (STMDS), improving the quality of life and most importantly restoring hope in the community.
Since opening in 2004, 20% of the hotels net profits and 10% of the transport revenue is ploughed back into the community of Shigar via STMDS. The funds contributed are for social projects as well as cultural activities in Shigar. Additionally the AKDN organizations have developed partnerships with donors and NGOs in Shigar leading to the restoration of other important cultural heritage assets as well as community development and infrastructure improvement projects in which micro finance has played an important role.
The reuse concept for Shigar Fort Residence strikes a balance between this important cultural asset being used as a museum site, open to the public and for the community to access, and a very special heritage boutique hotel.
The ongoing operations of Shigar Fort Residence strive towards long-term self-sustainability providing continuing positive economic and tourism development for the entire Shigar Valley.