There are many rock engravings which can be seen on the Indus River (Gilgit River/ Hunza River) basin in northern Pakistan, especially along the rocky shores from Shatial to Hunza, where the number are said to exceed 50,000 drawings.
The oldest ones date back to the BC, depicting hunting scenes and of the Alpine ibex, and with newer “Rock Paintings” that were carved by passing merchants, pilgrims and invaders who were all traveling on the Silk Road. On the banks of the Indus River around the Chilas area, is a sort of “Rock Carving Gallery.” When leading a general tour, I point out the carvings that were made by passing Buddhists but this time, I searched specifically for “snow leopards etched on the rocks.”
This is the scene of “Snow Leopard hunting the Alpine ibex” which can be seen from the Karakoram Highway, not far from the Chilas Shangri-La Hotel, a hotel often used by the foreign tourists.
Sometimes, the local people who dislike the images of Buddha paint over them with a lime-like substance. These are washed off and cleaned in a way as to not damage the rock carvings. 。
The ears and body have a very wolf-like shape, but the long and thick tail shows that it is a snow leopard.
The rock carvings along the Karakoram Highway have been considerably damaged by being painted over by locals. However, on the opposite riverbank across the bridge, there was considerably less damage and we could find some rock carvings in good condition.
A pagoda is depicted in the image. Early etchings were carved using a hard stone, but those of the Buddhist pilgrimages era are more delicate using more precise carving tools. The pilgrims aiming for “Gandhara,” who would have carved the image of the Buddha and the pagoda, may have been waiting out a high-water event along the Indus River, crossing here once the water levels dropped.
Not only Buddhists, but various people from different ethnicities and religions have crossed this area. This is perhaps a drawing of a person who has killed an Alpine ibex, possibly a person from Central Asia?
And…over here, on some materials they describe this drawing being of a “mythical creature,” but it is the same as the horns of the Markhor!
A rock face with various pictures engraved on it.
It is a bit hard to make out, but it looks like a snow leopard is attacking its prey!
And on this one, it is even harder to see, but this depicts a snow leopard attacking an Alpine ibex on a cliff. It is a rare design where the artist drew the “cliff” on a rock canvas.
On the right is an ibex, and on the left, a snow leopard.
This time, I walked around for 2 hours, and could find 3 snow leopards etched in the rocks.
Unfortunately, the rock carvings in the Chilas area will be submerged by the Diamer-Bhasha Dam Project, which will be completed in the next few years. I have heard that some of the more famous rock carvings will be relocated, but most of them will be lost forever.
The drawings of wild animals etched by these ancient people are a lasting sign of their civilization and proof of that era. Isn’t there a way to conserve these somehow?
Photo & text: Mariko SAWADA
Visit: April 2021, Chilas, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan
※This article was uploaded in May 2021 to http://www.saiyu.co.jp/blog/wildlife/Category : - the Karakoram Highway > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Indus river bank > - Rock art / Petroglyph > - Snow Leopard
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