His Highness the Aga Khan in Pakistan: Zahiri-u-Noorani didar – A personal reflection of the darbar in Hunza

(Special contribution for Barakah)

First of all, I wish to greet my Ismaili brothers and sisters around the world mubaraki on the auspicious occasion of the magnificent Diamond Jubilee Darbar held in Aliabad, Hunza, on Sunday, December 10th, 2017. I was present at the Darbar and I am delighted to share with you my experiences at the Darbar, and I hope my friends who were present at the gathering will submit their feedback to expand on my piece. I humbly ask them and many others who were present at the Aliabad and Yasin Darbars in Gilgit-Baltistan as well as at the two Chitral Darbars in Booni and Garam Chashma to share their wonderful and inspiring accounts.

Aga Khan Darbar Aliabad Hunza 21A banner at the Didargah with the Diamond Jubilee logo. The Imamat crest in the centre is surrounded by a Kufic rendering  of the Qur’anic verse (49:13) which reads: “O mankind! Lo! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another. Lo! the noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the best in conduct. Lo! Allah is Knower, Aware.” — Translation by Pickthall.

It is now December 13th, Mawlana Hazar Imam’s 81st Salgirah, as I complete this piece, and I take this occasion to wish everyone Salgirah Mubarak too. Hazar Imam will be with the jamat in Pakistan for another 6 days, and this is truly a blessed and wonderful time for the Jamats in the Northern Areas of Pakistan, as well as the centres where Hazar Imam will be visiting over the coming days, including Karachi. The Golden Jubilee visit by Mawlana Hazar Imam did not take place in this country 10 years ago and his Diamond Jubilee visit is therefore momentous and historically important. A caring sister in Ottawa remarked in a piece that appeared on this blog a few days ago, that she was praying for Hazar Imam to visit us. Her prayers and everyone else’s have been answered.

untitled-2-1930Photo from Mawlana Hazar Imam’s first visit to Aliabad, Hunza in 1960. Aliabad has hosted a total of 4 Didars including the Diamond Jubilee Darbar on Sunday, December 10, 2017. Photo: Papa Jaan

Let me take the readers momentarily back to the first visit by Mawlana Hazar Imam to Hunza. This website’s sister blog, simergphotos, published photos by “Papa Jaan” of that historic visit. At that time, when Hazar Imam was asked by a newspaper correspondent what he witnessed in Hunza, his answer was, “I saw horrible poverty there.” That was some 57 years ago, about 3 years after he became our 49th Imam.

Aga Khan Darbar Aliabad Hunza 03Lighting decorations at Gulkhin Jamatkhana.

We have talked to our elders, and they have confirmed that! Most of their woolen traditional caps were torn apart from the top, and they used to self-mend goat skin shoes to travel to central Hunza from the remote areas of Gojal region. It took them four days to reach Aliabad! Not anymore: Jamati members from the remotest region of Shimshal and Chipurson can reach Aliabad in 5 hours. There has been marvelous change in the transportation system.

25138911_10212251889627315_1663598988_oThe Aliabad Didargah under preparation. The carpets are covered with a protective layer before the Darbar. See the actual colours below. Photo: Faqir Ullah Khan.

Aga Khan Darbar Aliabad Hunza 06mA panoramic view of the Aliabad Darbar site. The stage is in the background. Colourful carpets were rolled over across the Didargah. However they were covered to protected against inclement weather before the day of the Darbar, as shown in the previous photo. Photo: Faqir Ullah Khan.

Usually, at that time, Hazar Imam’s Farmans were translated into Urdu on the spot, as people were not used to the English language. But this time for the Diamond Jubilee Darbar, the Farman was not translated into Urdu as a large segment of the Jamat, especially the youth, speak good English. They have followed Hazar Imam’s Farman of learning English to the letter. Of course we still have to improve with our language skills, no doubt.

The major impacts that we have seen over the past 6 decades are as follows:

  • The construction of the mighty Karakoram Highway (KKH) from Pakistan to China, which revolutionized the communication system in the region. Indeed, during his meeting in Chitral last week Mawlana Hazar Imam spoke about the importance of building a road from Chitral to Tajikistan that would create economic opportunities. Stronger infrastructure is a major lifeline, and a tremendous boost for every country;
  • Schools were constructed in different villages, to provide education particularly for girls, but boys were also encouraged to educate themselves. Priority was given to girls to become educated;
  • The Aga Khan Rural Support Program (AKRSP) introduced businesses such as poultry farming, plantation, and livestock. Other initiatives were introduced such as women/village organizations that created awareness about savings and economic benefits, and empowered women considerably;
  • The Aga Khan Health Services established health centers in far flung areas which will eventually result in even more facilities in the coming years;
  • Aga Khan Culture and Heritages has worked to preserve historical cultural sites like the Baltit Fort, Khapulo Fort etc. in Gilgit-Baltistan;
  • The chain of Serena Hotels is a major boost to tourism;
  • For quality education Aga Khan Higher Secondary Schools (AKHS) are nourishing the fresh minds, while the Professional Development Center North (PDCN) is contributing to train teachers, educational experts, researchers and professionals from all walks of life in both the public and private sectors. The AKESP is in the front line and acts as a catalyst for change for the community and society as a whole; and
  • First Micro Finance Bank and Habib Bank also provide loans for the entrepreneurs.

The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) is thus having a major impact and this is shown by its contribution through the various agencies listed above.

Aga Khan Visit Preparations Gilgit Baltistan 063 Faqir UllahThe amazing gate at the Aliabad Darbar site has captured the entire Ismaili world’s attention. Designed by the Sost Council, tt contains inscriptions from a Persian poem by Kokab Peshawari. It is in praise of Mawlana Hazar Imam and the poem is mostly versed into songs and qasidas for Hazar Imam. Photo: Faqir Ullah Khan.

So you can appreciate how much we have come forward. Indeed, it must be emphasized here that the Jamats outside Pakistan, and especially those living in the western world, have contributed enormously towards our development and growth. All the efforts that you are making through your local Aga Khan Foundation programs such as the annual World Partnership Walk are aiding us in ways that perhaps cannot be imagined. Please, I urge my brothers and sisters to learn about these projects, and to visit us!

25130035_10212252205795219_365237312_oConvoy of vehicles on the mighty Karakoram Highway as vehicles travel to Aliabad for the Diamond Jubilee Darbar. Photo: Faqir Ullah Khan.

Aga Khan Darbar Aliabad Hunza 09Morning traffic in Aliabad on day of Darbar. Photo: Faqir Ullah Khan.

Now let me turn to the Darbar at Aliabad.  People started coming to the Didargah at 3:45 AM, and most of the Jamat observed their Dua at the site. Hazar Imam was not due to arrive until noon. There was an intezari program before Hazar Imam’s arrival that included the recitation of Qur’anic ayats, qasidas, tasbihs and the delivery of waezes.

When Mawlana Hazar Imam arrived, the Jamat’s emotion and excitement reached its peak. Tears started rolling down our faces without control as his helicopter landed. We were tens of thousands in this huge landscape surrounded by mountains. Our wish was for a glimpse of our beloved Imam. More tears flowed as he showered that glimpse upon us with all his grace and mercy – we felt his Zahiri-u-Noorani Didar after 17 long years! This was happening at a historical time of his Imamat – 60 years! The Diamond Jubilee was an unbelievable occasion for us.

After the change of gown, Mawlana Hazar Imam walked on the red carpet among the Jamat but the distances were limited this time because large screens were fixed all around. Still, the Jamat was anxious to get a glimpse of him as he walked. There were lively and emotional scenes all around the Didargah.

Aga Khan Darbar Aliabad Hunza 17A view of the Didar ground from the stage where Hazar Imam was seated. Photo: Faqir Ullah Khan

Aga Khan Darbar Aliabad Hunza 08The Didargah at Aliabad following the Darbar. The stage is at the right.  Photo: Faqir Ullah Khan.

25346561_10212268227275746_1517188507_oJamati members visit the stage where Hazar Imam was seated after the Darbar was over. Photo: Faqir Ullah Khan

Well, I spoke earlier about the tremendous transformation that has taken place over the past 60 years, but modern technology can let us down.

Things were proceeding very well until Mawlana Hazar Imam arrived on the mike to deliver his Farman-e-Mubarak. At that moment, the sound system started fluctuating to the annoyance of the Jamat, but Mawlana Hazar Imam shared a joke with a smile and with the action of putting together and apart the mikes. Thus the Farman-e-Mubarak was not heard by large number of Jamati members on the spot but will be read out in Jamatkhanas or played, hopefully, in an audio-visual form.

Anyhow, his emphasis in the Farman Mubarak were on seeking peace, happiness, friendship, quality of life, harmony for the Jamat, the family, leaders and institutions. He expressed his gratitude to the Government of Pakistan for its warm hospitality. He conveyed to his jamat his best, best loving blessings for success, knowledge, for our worldly and spiritual lives and mushkil asaan. He asked us to follow the path of Sirat-ul-Mustaqeem.

Mawlana Hazar Imam wished for the Jamat that “your life evolve in sunlight”. As you can imagine, these words deeply moved and inspired us.

When he departed after about 45 minutes, we started congratulating one another with Didar Mubarak. We now look forward to the 13th of December celebration of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s birthday with games, dandiya, dance and cultural music, planned by our youth, in different villages. Aab-e-Shifa and Niaz-u-Tabaruks will be offered on the 13th of December, with sacrificing animals too.

Aga Khan Darbar Aliabad Hunza 16Volunteers provided relief and help to the aged and physically challenged murids. Photo: Faqir Ullah Khan.

The host communities were Altit, Baltit, Aliabad, Hassanabad, Rahimabad, Hyderabad, and Ganish villages of Central Hunza. The residents of Ganish belong to our sister Shia community but they offered remarkable receptions and hospitality to the Jamat. The Nagar district provided electricity to the Central Hunza District from their own Sumayar power station to celebrate all the events without load shedding.

Some of the labourers from Ishkoman, Yasin and other parts of Ghizer District also participated in the Darbar. There weren’t any Chinese Ismailis from Tashkurgan nor was there a Jamat from the Wakhan Corridor. There was a strict and credible registration process, and it was not easy to be part of the event without a proper clearance. Many local residents who now live in Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad and other cities traveled in large number to be in the Darbar here. There was a big rush on the KKH over the last 10 days from Rawalpindi to Gilgit, and then from there to Hunza and Ghizer Districts. You can see the convoys in the photos I have supplied.

Aga Khan Darbar Aliabad Hunza 12Crowds on the Karakoram Highway after the Darbar. Photo: Photo: Faqir Ullah Khan.

Aga Khan Darbar Aliabad Hunza 20.jpgAnother scene of crowds at the Karakoram Highway after the Darbar. Photo: Photo: Faqir Ullah Khan.

There are some incredible and inspiring stories that I wish to share.

To remind us of the old time obstacles that our parents and grandparents had to live through, some youngsters from Moorkhun, Ghulapan and Shimshal traveled on foot for Darbar to Aliabad, walking more than 100km to show their devotions, love and faith for Mawlana Hazar Imam and to fulfill their wishes.

Aga Khan Darbar Aliabad Hunza 15.jpgAlim Sobir and Tajik Eagle have tea and apricot cake before their 200km walk back to their home town Sherisabz Chipurson. Photo: Faqir Ullah Khan.

Alim Sobir and Tajik Eagle started walking back from Aliabad to their home town Sherisabz Chipurson to cover about 200km distances on foot and we met them today over a cup of tea and apricot cake at Glacier Breeze Restaurant. They were committed to their cause and we saw them off to Khyber village. They are going to reach at their destination in 3 to 4 days. They said that walking on the carpeted (tarmac) KKH road is very difficult and tiring while on soil or treks, it is easier to walk. We wish them all the best to reach their destination safely.

We heard the same from a businessman from Ghulapan, who traveled about 100km from his hometown to Aliabad, with recitations and tasbih.

25346635_10212274225905708_184405237_oVolunteers provided relief and help to the aged and physically challenged murids. Photo: Faqir Ullah Khan.

Many aged members of the jamat as well as physically challenged and disabled Jamati members were part of Darbar. They faced their challenges bravely, and they were as happy and excited for the Didar of Mawlana Hazar Imam, as were we. Their family members and volunteers were at hand to help them out.

Aga Khan Darbar Aliabad Hunza 01sA gate at the Darbar site decorated with apples – Good health after a great goodbye! Photo: Faqir Ullah Khan.

This has been a joyous occasion, and we will remember and cherish this Diamond Jubilee Darbar for many, many years. What will the next 25 or 50 years bring to this beautiful mountaneous region in the world? From poverty, that Hazar Imam referred to in 1960, we have considerably improved in our material lives and have safeguarded our faith and love for Hazar Imam. The next few decades will result in many more worldly goods for us but what we want to retain is our love, warmth and hospitality to everyone who visits our land, and to maintain the same affection that our fathers and the present generation have for our beloved Hazar Imam. We welcome you to our beautiful region so that we can mutually benefit from our different experiences. We share with all of you our love for Mawlana Hazar Imam, and our commitment on the path of Imamat that we have all inherited for the past 1400 years.

Date posted: December 13, 2017.


Faqir Ullah Khan portraitFaqir Ullah Khan is originally from Passu, Hunza. He went to Karachi High School, and later studied Tourism and Hospital Management at Hazara University and COTHM, Pakistan, which offers international hospitality qualifications. Faqir is currently based in Abbotabad. Please visit his Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/faqir.khan?ref=br_rs.

Barakah welcomes your feedback. Please complete the LEAVE A REPLY form below or send your comment to simerg@aol.com.

Note: This blog, Barakah, is a special project of http://www.Simerg.com and has been undertaken to celebrate 60 years or the Diamond Jubilee of  His Highness the Aga Khan.



  1. Reading the full account certainly welled up my eyes….Mowla bless all the Jamats of Pakistan and the world wide jamats…Mowla’s love for us is never ending. Aameen Mowla.


  2. Ever since I knew some countries such as Pakistan did not receive the Golden Jubilee Deedar, I have been praying that he gives them Deedar. I am thus overjoyed to read that he is in Pakistan and pray that the Jamat is blessed with immense happiness, joy and peace. Salgirah Mubarak to all.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s