Ganish is small and ancient village on the Karakoram Highway (KKH) in Central Hunza. Originally a single compact cluster of houses, greater Ganish now comprises about seven clusters of dwellings: Ganish Khan (the original historic fortified settlement), Bitan Khun, Soni Khun, Buldus Ganish, Shukonoshall, Chaboikushall, and Tsill Ganish. Together these clusters constitute a population of 1800.
Accounts of Ganish occur in the oral histories of the local area, stretching back to the distant past and written down in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. According to these, the village already existed in the mid-fifteenth century when the Bururshaski-speaking sub-regions of Hunza and Nagar were under the kingdom of Gilgit. Ganish was recognized for its strategic location on the branch of the Silk Road leading out of the Karakoram into Uighur China (Xing Kiang). At the time, Hunza and Nagar, situated on opposite sides of the Hunza River, were divided between two warring princes of Gilgit. Hunza, together with Ganish, become the territory of the Prince Sahib khan.
When in the following century both Nagar and Hunza converted to different forms of Shia Islam, the people of Ganish along with Nagar embraced the Ithna ‘Ashari belief system while the rest of Hunza chose to go the Ismai’ili way. The people of Ganish have remained Ithna ‘Ashari to this day, even though they sided with Hunza for Centuries in its acrimonious skirmishes with Nagar. Warfare between Nagar and Hunza lasted till as late as 1891, the year of the British take over of Hunza.
The region was remarkably isolated until half a century ago. But this changed when after 1957, the number of men joining the Pakistan Army increased, and the valley opened up to the outside world with the first road building projects. In 1974, the Pakistan Government abolished the old feudal system of governance under the Mir. In the last few decades of the twentieth century, fundamental changes such as a cash economy, rising educational levels, a rapidly developing agrarian sector and jobs in government and other service sectors, bought about major improvements in the life of the people. The activities of the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme and other Aga Khan Development Network organizations played a significant role in this process. Together with the impact of the Karakoram Highway (built 1966-1978) and the advent of international tourism, this social and economic revolution continues to gather momentum.
With its advantageous location on the Karakoram Highway the community in Ganish also benefited from these changes and, in addition to their ancestral agricultural occupations, the people became involved in activities such as transportation and the tourist trade.
Two major events happened during the second half of the twentieth century, which cut the village down to only one third of its size. The first of these calamities occurred in 1960 with the breaking up of a natural dam on the Hunza River a little short of Gulmit in upper Hunza. When this short-lived dam broke, the resulting flood carried away a substantial part of the village closest to the river. The second has to do with the building of the Karakoram Highway. The Karakoram Highway swings through the village in agiants, cutting right across its ancient polo ground and past the Southern edge of the village, overlooking the Hunza River. Half of the Village that remained after the flood had to be demolished to make way for the road.
What is left of the old Ganish Khun now compromises about 32 houses all built in the traditional Hunza manner – a rudimentary wooden caging or cribbage filled with rubble or adobe block masonry, an elaborate inner, exposed timber frame, often profusely carved. This timber framing and the distinct ceiling structure make it resistant to earthquake forces. It also organizes the single-celled main space of the house into a very distinct plan arrangement comprising functional areas by raised sleeping and sitting platforms and sunken movement and cooking areas.
The houses are clustered tightly within their perimeter walls forming a solid enclosure. The ancient Himaltar (entrance gate) of the village looks on to the ancestral village Pharee (water pond/reservoir), shaded by a giant old Chinar (maple family) and willow trees. Shikaris (watchtowers) punctuate the perimeter of the village. But of a total of eleven Shikaris that are said to have surrounded the village, only three remain.
The imambargah/matamsara (place for religious congregation) which was built in 1922 is located on one side of the pond, at the end of the old Shabaran (polo ground). Before the Karakoram Highway was built the polo ground stretched 120 meters north from the pond. Today the polo ground is cut into two by the Karakoram Highway. The boys’ school was built at one end of it, across the highway, while on the other end, close to the village, is the elementary girls’ school associated with the imambargah. The space of the old polo ground is now also the principal means of access into the village.The formal entrance gate at the end of the pond leads to an inner system of tiny lanes, which in turn lead to the individual houses. The principal lane provides access to the Jataq (common public space) of the village. Of the seven wooden mosques of considerable age in Ganish, four are located around the Jataq. They are excellent examples of the family mosques that are typical of the region, representing traditional wooden architecture and architectural decoration and ornament at its best, lending the Jataq great appeal. Together, the four mosques, called Kuyokutz, Yarikutz, Mamorokutz and Rupikutz, have a strong group value and provide a rich experience with their intimate detail and spatial organization. There small wooden mosques were private family mosques and are known after the sub-clan or large family which built them. The remaining three mosques are parts of individual houses.