All that rises must fall. If there is anything we can conclude from the times we live in, it should be the fact that life is transient. Have you ever wondered what happened to the exotic royal dynasties that chose to be a part of Pakistan in 1947? What I can gather from my Pakistan Studies curriculum and hearsay is that most of them reside outside Pakistan or have descendants living in doomed glory. One thing all of these dynasties have in common is their splendid mansions – the epitome of their long-lost grandeur.
Limiting them to grand residences, however, is a rather shallow and condescending opinion of these dynasties, which I absolutely used to endorse up until I had the good fortune to visit a palace in Gilgit-Baltistan, by the name of Khaplu. This is a palace donated to a high-end hotel corporation by the royal family. It is very well maintained as a hotel, while preserving its cultural identity. The palace has an exquisite architecture and interior, which is one of the many reasons why the lodgings that it provides are sold out during the summer season.
The king and queen of the Yagbo dynasty donated Khaplu palace for the wellbeing of their people
The palace is crafted with the finest of wood: floors, ceilings, patios and pillars, that all sync perfectly to reflect the local heritage. The exterior of the palace is of an ebony shade but the palette shifts to a dark walnut in the interior. The entire palace has an airy feel to it, thanks to the exotic patios built on every floor – they not only give you a thorough view of the entire palace with its breathtaking backdrop, but also help you catch up on Vitamin D with wonderful breezy intervals.
Let’s delve into the surreal landscape of the valley. The Ghanche district offers delights for every lover of the outdoors. Every turn on the way gives a distinct yet equally stunning view – from snow-capped peaks to lush green patches, this valley has it all. There is a stream flowing just across the palace, so if it’s not a busy hour, you can hear the soothing sound of water gushing down. There are views so incredible that you feel time slowing down for you to absorb the magnificence of nature.
But that is not nearly half the charm that made this trip worth it. I casually started inquiring from our guide about the royal family that lived in this glorious palace and he told me that they currently reside close by. Fortunately, on the same afternoon, the royal family happened to be at the palace. They were told about a highly curious guest at the hotel. I was sent a message that they want to see me and this, in an instant, changed my entire view of these families. We chatted for an hour at the palace before they took me to see their current place of residence, which – make no mistake – did not even comprise a fraction of the dazzling granduer of the Khaplu palace. They hosted us for a modest tea with some local delicacies. I was told that they donated Khaplu palace for the progress of their community, because apart from the token 1% received by the royal family, all proceeds are divided between the hotel company and the locals.
The current queen of the Yagbo dynasty has dedicated her life to social work. She has adopted around 15 children who are raised at their current house. There is no SOS village or any other orphanage in that small valley to provide for these children, so the royals came into action. There were visible signs of lost splendour, tales about how the locals would carry the queen on their shoulders to school because it was deemed unfit for her to walk like commoners, about how people belonging to lower economic strata had changed their lives drastically because they educated their children and about the reverence with which the royal family was held by all the political leaders up until a few years ago. All these are signs of their world being gradually lost, but I detected no regret. Here, there is no living in the past. I saw a beautiful example of the acceptance of life as a transient affair.
All of this got me thinking how fallacious our idea of a contemporary royal dynasty is. The political power of a ruler should directly correlate to their moral obligation towards the welfare of their community. And here I was, sitting with the current King and Queen of the Yagbo dynasty, without political power of any kind – in case you’re wondering how, think Bhutto’s land reforms from the 1970s – and hence no moral obligation towards their people. But here was this royal couple, dedicating their lives to these beautiful, noble causes. Their current lifestyle suggests a grandeur gradually lost, but this couple has found new ways to live.
As for me, I went away with the realisation that true royalty is about far more than mere opulence.
Maham Sajid studied Economics and Politics at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)