This was one of the poorest, most marginalised areas in the world. We were looking for ways to improve income. First we brought 33,000 hectares of land back into production with irrigation projects, improving livestock and productivity. We decided to make an inventory of all the assets of the area and to decide how they could be used.

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Interviewer: Marcus Binney

The rescue of great houses from decay has been one of the enduring romantic causes of the last half-century. Rarely has it been done amid grander scenery or with a keener sense of social purpose than in northern Pakistan, where the Aga Khan is engaged in the repair and re-use of a series of remarkable palace-forts high in the western Himalayas.

This was the stalking ground of the Great Game, when spies posing as geographers were sent to explore the high passes down which, it was feared, the Russians would sweep into India. The forts were built by feuding robber barons who preyed on travellers along the Silk Road to China in the north, murdering and selling their captives into slavery.

When the British made homes here they paid stipends to the local rulers, the mirs and the rajas, who were invited to durbars and filled their homes with the latest fashions from Delhi and Paris. But in recent years the forts have become expensive to maintain and, once left empty, their mud mortar and earth roofs decay rapidly.

The Aga Khan Development Network has been working in these areas since the 1980s. The Aga Khan said:

This was one of the poorest, most marginalised areas in the world. We were looking for ways to improve income. First we brought 33,000 hectares of land back into production with irrigation projects, improving livestock and productivity. We decided to make an inventory of all the assets of the area and to decide how they could be used.

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