Our reception at the Royal Palace was short and official, about the minimum of what our imaginations had conjured up; we were led directly through a side door to the Mirâ€™s office, where, for the first several stiff-backed minutes, we sat and watched him open and scan his mail (heâ€™d been away in Gilgit all week). Finally, he looked up and received us â€” kindly but not necessarily warmly. It was a long shot, we knew, this tenuous Gordon College connection, but there we were.
The New Royal Palace of Hunza
The Mirâ€™s features were large, rectangular jowls, high forehead, full head of black hair. His piercing blue eyes matched his Saturday-morning shulwar-kameez. He invited us to tea, of course, milky chai and sweet biscuits, brought to us in fine china; and he never smiled, not once during the interview, though he softened his face a bit for the photo op at the end.
Mir Ghazanfar Ali Khan, heir to the defunct dynastic throne that ruled Hunza Valley for a thousand years until the Hunza State was swallowed by Pakistan in 1974; he is now an elected official, Chief Administrator for the Northern Areas, head of the local jirga, or village court, and Chairman of the Northern Area talks on Kashmir. Before serving seven years in the foreign service (in Washington, D.C and Iran) Ghazanfar Ali Khan received advanced degrees in Political Science and International Relations (Lahore and London, respectively), and before that, he attended Gordon College in Rawalpindi.
Class of 1966, the Mir arrived at Gordon College about a decade too late to know Tayâ€™s Great-Grandfather, Dr. Stewart. He knew of him, of course, but as far as our quest was concerned, without the personal connection, weâ€™d reached a dead-end. Almost.
We learned more about the downfall of Gordon College; that it began in 1967 when President Bhutto nationalized the mission-run schools and hospitals. A â€œhuge mistake,â€ the Mir said. â€œI love the Gordon College, it was the best college â€“ excellent professors, all trained abroad, itâ€™s a shame to see that college now. When I walk by it, there are tears in my eyes.â€ Like Prof. Masud, he expressed his wish that the Presbyterians would return to raise it back up to the prestigious institution it once was, schooling generals and heads of state.
The Mir was gracious and generous with his time, but displayed zero curiosity about us. I took advantage of the opportunity to ask some tourism questions that may serve me if I publish any pieces about Karimabad or the Hunza Valley. In short, this spectacular (but hard-to-reach) destination was devastated by 9/11 and the events that followed. Tourism had just begun to take hold, the only real industry in an area whose rising population had made traditional survival â€“ mainly potato and fruit farming â€“ inadequate. Only in this last year, have tourists begun to return, mainly Japanese, and still in low numbers.
As I was preparing to wrap up and leave the Mir to his business, my fearless wife brought up the hottest potato in the country: Kashmir. I didnâ€™t think either of us were informed enough to discuss it, but again, there we were. The Mir wants Kashmir as part of the Northern Areas, which would then be given status as Pakistanâ€™s fifth province, retaining some sort of confusing independence. President Musharraf supports him on this, he said. Tay told him we were with him for a peaceful resolution.
â€œThis is up to the Indians,â€ he said. â€œFirst they must settle their own problems in Kashmir, the human rights abuses.â€
He then gave us another clue, the name of another Gordonian, the Mirâ€™s classmate and currently, the political head of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan: Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz. â€œHe is a very friendly man, he will certainly meet with you – if he is in the country.â€
Finally, we left, walked across the wide lawn to the Mirâ€™s own tourism venture, the Hotel Darbar Hunza, by far the nicest accommodations in Karimabad. Iâ€™d had the honor of speaking with the Mirâ€™s wife, Rani Atiga Ghazanfar, the previous day in her office here. Thatâ€™s how we got our interview. She was upset by the London bombings, expecting that Pakistan would unfairly receive blame for the events, as it always does, she said, despite itâ€™s being â€œa peaceful country, a peaceful people, a culture of hospitality, not violence.â€
Of the hotelâ€™s 40 rooms, only six were occupied, by a Japanese tourist group paying $35 a night â€“ less than half the normal price. The faÃ§ade is ugly and modern but the lobby, great room, bar, and dining room are truly impressive; large open spaces with many artifacts from the Khan Dynasty. It was a museum-like room with grand views of the surrounding mountains.
And there were the framed photographs, through which one could trace the Mirâ€™s family, including pictures of him as a child Prince, riding in black sedans with his father, the King. The rest of the photos traced the Mir and his wifeâ€™s diplomatic career: â€œThe Mir of Hunza with King Hussein of Jordan,â€ â€œRani of Hunza with Mrs. Clinton,â€ â€œQueen Elizabeth with Mir and Rani of Hunza,â€ Mir of Hunza with Marshall Tito, with the Duke of Edingurgh, with King Zaheer Shah of Afghanistan, etc.
And now, dear readers, I present you with one more photo:
The Mir of Hunza with Mrs. Tay Berman of Colorado: