Re-discovering Afghanistan : The Kyrgyz Buzkashi, Wakhan Corridor

Buzkashi being held on the shores of Lake Chaqmaqtin, Wakhan corridor, in summer. It is practised among the Kyrgyz peoples of the Wakhan corridor at weddings as well as during Eid, the Islamic festival of sacrifice.

>Re-discovering Afghanistan: Wakhan Corridor, and the Kyrgyz in the Afghan Pamir

 

Buzkashi is the national sport of Afghanistan, in which two groups of horse riders compete for a goat. In Persian, it means exactly what it sounds like: goat = buz , pulling= kashi. I saw buz kashi on the last day of my three-days stay in a Kyrgyz camp. That was the day when the men I had seen in the camp mounted their horses and, suddenly for the first time, began to looked cool to me. To be honest, up until that point I had felt that while the women were working from the morning milking and making Qurut, the men weren’t doing much to help …

↑↑The Kyrgyz buzkashi being held amidst the spectacular scenery of the Wakhan corridor.

From 1996 to 2001, when the former Taliban (not the current Taliban regime) was in control, many entertainment activities were banned as ‘immoral’ and buzkashi was also banned. Buzkashi has since been revived and is now a major national event, with tournaments organised in each state. While in big cities buzkashi is sometimes held in stadiums in costumes with sponsors’ logos, in rural areas buzkashi is purely a traditional event for people to enjoy.

People heading to  wedding .

A sheep being dismembered for a wedding celebration meal.

Kyrgyz girls carrying sheep meat.

A man and his child who came to celebrate and participate in the buzkashi.

Everyone praying and offering food before the Buzkashi. Milk tea and fried bread were served.

Children at play until the buzkashi starts.

A Kyrgyz boy who wants to try buzkashi.

After prayers and food offerings, the buzkashi finally begins.

A goat with its head cut off. The goat used was not the one killed on the day, but a stuffed goat that was prepared in the village for buzkashi.

The goat is thrown down to the earth and the contest begins.

It requires strength and skill to pull this goat up from the ground with one hand and ride while holding it. During all this, the whip is held in the mouth.

Competing for the goat.

Family watching the game over a cup of tea.

Participants also take a break, to have some milk tea.

After a break, they return to thebuzkashi.

Kyrgyz buzkashi, performed amidst the spectacular mountain scenery of the Wakhan corridor.

 

Image & Text : Mariko SAWADA

*Contact us, Indus Caravan for more information or to make arrangements for visiting Afghanistan, Wakhan Corridor.

*Please follow us on YoutubeInstagram & Facebook

Category : ◆Afghanistan > - Wakhan Corridor
Tag : , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

“Alter Rock”, Thalpan – Petroglyphs along the Indus River

The Altar Rock at Thalpan is located on the sandy north bank of the Indus River. The rock is carved with motifs, mainly animal rather than Buddhist motifs. This is a fascinating example of Petroglyphs from the ancient Silk Road.

Since ancient times, Thalpan has had many visitors who come and go through this area.  It was the nomads who first chose this site to carve. The rock face in front of the Alter Rock may have been used as a veritable ‘altar’, with various animals and slaughter scenes depicted.
These Petroglyphs with non-Buddhist motifs are thought to date from the mid-1st millennium BC.

overall view of Alter Rock

One of the Petroglyphs that stands out on this Altar Rock is this image of a Warrior with Sacrifice. It appears to be a scene of a man slaughtering an  animal (many sources call it a goat, but as an animal lover, it looks like an ibex to me). The figure of a Central Asian-style man holding a large knife is very distinctive.

The man’s dress is thought to be that of an equestrian nomad of the time, and it has been suggested that he may be from the Parthia, a dynasty that flourished on the Iranian plateau from the 3rd century BC to the 3rd century AD.

This animal sacrifice (or slaughter) Petroglyphs motif suggests that the influence of Central Asian peoples was stronger than the influence of Buddhism, which forbids the killing of animals.

This is a designed horse or unicorn with its forelegs bent at 45 degrees.

This pose, called “Knielauf,” was used in ancient Greece to depict a flying condition and was also popular in Achaemenid Persian art. The horse’s mane and tail are braided, giving them an appearance of bows.

Is it a designed ibex? The circular eyes are also an Iranian expression.

This shows a deer-like creature with antler and a predator with two tails chasing it. As a wildlife observer in Pakistan, it looks like a snow leopard attacking an ibex on a cliff to me. What is interesting, is that there is a head of a snake, at the end of the jagged line that also looks like a cliff.

One theory is that it shows an ibex in trouble, with a snake in front, a snow leopard behind, plus a hunter and his dogs, and nowhere to go.”

Such wavy designs are said to be a common feature of the art of the Altai region in southern Siberia.

The presence of Petroglyphs with Iranian elements at Altar Rock is not surprising, as Gandhara and Taxila were already satraps of the Achaemenid period. It is surprising that there was interaction between the Altai region of southern Siberia and this Indus region in the north, across one of the most mountainous regions in the world.

Petroglyphs from Thalpan Zyarat depict motifs from the Okunev culture of southern Siberia.

A large Buddha figure with a halo is seated with four smaller seated Buddha figures, also all with halos.

Each Buddha is in Dhayana Mudra sign and their garments cover their shoulders, with gracefully drawn parallel robe crests. Such garment crests are similar to designs found in the Gupta empire art, which flourished in India between AD 320 – 550.

A creature, possibly an ibex, is depicted on the same rock, and its movement and direction suggest that the ibex was carved first, and then the Buddha image was carved on top of it.

The west panel is also covered with Petroglyphs.

The Alter Rocks are the masterpieces of the Indus River Petroglyphs.

As we posted in previous blogs, it is such a shame that these rock carvings will be lost forever due to the construction of the dam.

 

Photo & text: Mariko SAWADA

*Contact us, Indus Caravan for more information or to make arrangements for visiting Rock carving along the Indus river.

*Please follow us on YoutubeInstagram & Facebook

Category : ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Indus river bank > ◇ Rock carvings / Petroglyph
Tag : , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Hunza, “Shangri-la” surrounded by apricot blossoms

In late March, the Hunza Valley is blanketed in pale pink apricot blossoms. The fields are green with wheat sprouts. After the independence of India and Pakistan in 1947, the Hunza was ruled by a dynasty until 1974. The valley is inhabited by the people of Brusho, who speak Brushaski.

Hunza is touted as the “Shangri-la” and is known as the “Village of Longevity.” This beauty and the life of this village supported by fruit trees, may be the “secret of longevity” that it is famous for.

Burushaski, the language spoken by the people of Brusho, is an “isolated language” that has not been found to be associated with any other language. It is said that they are the descendants of language groups that existed in this area before the arrival of the Indo-Aryan people. Burushashki-speakers also live in the Hunza Valley, the Nagar Valley across the Hunza River, the Yasin Valley leading to the Wakhan Corridor, and the Ishkoman Valley.

This is a view of the center of Baltit village. In the past, large buildings were limited to the surrounding of the Baltit Fort, which was the castle of the feudal lord, and the Darbar Hotel, but now large buildings (hotels) are becoming more prominent.

Rakaposhi peak (7,788m) seen from Baltit Village. It is in a mountain in the Nagar Valley on the opposite bank of the Hunza River and is a famous peak that can be viewed from everywhere in Hunza.

Also Diran Peak (7,266m) as seen from Baltit Village.

I walked between Altit Village and Duiker Hill, where the flowering apricots bloom.

The apricots in full bloom. You can see just how important the apricot trees are in the lives of the villagers, the fruit, its seeds and the oil taken from the seeds.

Altit Village was covered with many apricot trees. You can meet the beautiful villagers while walking around the village. The people of Hunza  are white in appearance and many of them have light hair.

I met such lovely children this day.

For lunch that day, we had local Hunza cuisine prepared at  Amin’s house in Baltit Village.

Photographer Toshiki Nakanishi had just come to Hunza for a phototour, where he was taking pictures of the local cuisine as it was being made.

Here they were preparing Dowdo soup, a dish representative of Hunza.

They made such a delicious cheese chapatti (called Burus Sapik in Burushaski). Hunza cheese, mint, tomato, green onion, onion and fruit oil wrapped in wheat chapatti. It is very healthy, and it is recommended for vegetarians who come to Pakistan and have trouble finding things to eat.

Today’s lunch. Local cuisine with plenty of fruit oil and Hunza’s local wine are so wonderful.

 

Photo & text: Mariko SAWADA
Visit: March 2023, Hunza, Gilgit-Baltistan

*Contact us, Indus Caravan for more information or to make arrangements for visiting Hunza, Northan Pakistan.

*Please follow us on YoutubeInstagram & Facebook

Category : ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Hunza Valley
Tag : , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Climbing Shatung Peak, a 5,000-meter summit on Deosai Plateau

We finally fulfilled our long-cherished dream to climb Shatung Peak in the Deosai Plateau. That became possible only inn summer 2023, while in summer 2020 the tour was cancelled due to Covid -19 pandemic, when international flights were put to a halt. Overcoming the aftermath of pandemic and a tough route, we were able to reach the summit. We are tremendously grateful to our climbing guides and porters from Satpara village for their gracious support.

360-degree panoramic view from the summit. Feel like a high altitude climber!

From Chilas, we drove up to the Deosai Plateau through the Astor Valley. On the way, we were astonished by the view of  Nanga Parbat (8,126m), the 9th highest peak on the planet. On the Deosai Plateau, we camped by the beautiful Sheosar Lake, from where this majestic peak was visible. The lake is a very beautiful peaceful place, but sadly many local tourists were enjoining loud music until late at night. The next morning we entered an area with no other visitors in sight and found the original Deosai Plateau.

The first part of the climb was a relatively easy route, with patches of buttercups and primroses. Little did we know that a difficult scree slope was awaiting.

The mountain en route is dotted with lakes in a very beautiful valley. The snowy mountain in front is Shatung Peak, and we are aiming exactly there!

We walked through a patch of primrose to the camp. It was easy up to this point.

We arrived at Camp 1 on the scree slope. Now where shall we pitch our tents?

Sleeping on the snow is generally much more comfortable than sleeping on scree. Finally, we will challenge the summit early tomorrow morning!

The route from Camp 1 to the summit is this slope, covered with a mass of smaller loose stones. The climb is steep and strenuous.

The view is spectacular when you stop and look back.

Beyond the mountains is Kashmir on the Indian side. Srinagar is also very close. The famous peaks of the Indian Himalaya, Nun peak and Kun Peak were also visible.

The world’s 9th highest peak, Nanga Parbat 8,126m, is on the left.

The steep climb up the scree slope is almost over. The ridge is getting closer.

Once on the ridge, all that remained was to climb up the snowy ridge. The sun was getting high in the sky.

We successfully climbed Shatung Peak (5,260m) with 5 core team members, guides, and porters! Nanga Parbat is in the background!

From the summit, we could see K2 and the Baltoro Mountains. From summit we could see all five of the 8,000 peaks in Pakistan: Nanga Parbat (8,126m), K2 (8,611m), Broad Peak (8,051m), Gasherbrum I (8,068m), and Gasherbrum II (8,034m). The weather was fine, with no wind. Forgetting about the steep scree slope that awaited us, we stayed at the summit for about an hour and enjoyed this blissful moment.

 

Image & text : Tomoaki TSUTSUMI

Tour conducted in July 2023, Deosai National Park, Gilgit-Baltistan

*Contact us, Indus Caravan for more information or to make arrangements for climbing Shatung Peak.

*Please follow us on YoutubeInstagram & Facebook

Category : - Nanga Parbat > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Deosai National Park > ◇ Mountain of Pakistan
Tag : , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Re-discovering Afghanistan: Wakhan Corridor, and the Kyrgyz in the Afghan Pamir

Wakhan Corridor, Afghanistan is the “last frontier” for travelers who love unexplored areas. Unpaved rough road, bumby and dusty, has been completed to Lake Chaqmaqtin. Now it became possible to drive to Little Pamir, the home of the Kyrgyz people. The four-day trek has become to take a four-hour 4WD trip. See the lifestyle of the Kyrgyz people living on the plateau with your own eyes – as it is rapidly changing,  some old traditions and charming rustic lifestyle may get diluted and disappear in modernity.

Wakhan Corridor

The Wakhan corridor is a long and narrow territory, in a way a corridor in the Badakhshan province of Afghanistan bordering Tajikistan, China, and Pakistan. It is a mountainous plateau where the source of the Amu Darya river originates, and in summer, plentiful water and meadows appear and are called “Pamir”. This idyllic pastoral landscape has a lot of historical significance.
This corridor-like borderline was created in 1873, when the border between Afghanistan and the Russian Empire was drawn along the Panj and Pamir rivers. Twenty years later, in 1893 the border (the Durand Line) between Afghanistan and the British Indian Empire (now Pakistan) was drawn. It was the buffer zone for the “Great Game” between Russian and British empires at that time.

The landcape around Lake Chaqmaqtin
Bozai Gumbaz, old Kyrgyz tomb situated at the confluence of the Wakhjir River ( the source of the Amu Darya) and the Wakhan River.

In the Wakhan corridor, Wakhi people live from Ishkashim to Sarhad at altitude 2,500 – 3,300 meters, while Kyrgyz people live in the “Pamir” above 4,000 meters above sea level.

The area around Lake Chaqmaqtin is called “Little Pamir” and the plateau along the Pamir River from the Tajikistan border to Lake Zorkul is called “Big Pamir”. Both are mountainous plateaus. In the Little Pamirs, used to the seasonal nomadic element in their traditional lifestyle, Kyrgyz live to south of the lake in the summer, and move north of the lake in the winter.

Kyrgyz family with Lake in the background

 

Kyrgyz people in Wakhan Corridor

The Kyrgyz are Turkic people living in Central Asia. There have long been small groups of Kyrgyz who came to the Afghan Pamirs in search of summer grazing lands, but many Kyrgyz moved to the Afghan Pamirs during the Russian Revolution of 1917.They then created a lifestyle of seasonal small migrations in this largely isolated region. Later, when China was founded in 1949 and the communist government of Afghanistan was established in 1978, there were cross-border ethnic migrations, and it is said that about 1,300~1,400 Kyrgyz people are currently living in Afghan Pamir. Recently, people who feared the Taliban temporarily moved to the Tajikistan border after the establishment of the new Taliban regime in 2021, but they have returned after hearing that their lives and livestock would be protected.

According to the shura, a village authority in Andamin settlement, Little Pamir has 28 settlements. There used to be 500 people living in Little Pamir and about 800 people in Big Pamir, but about 3 years ago, people moved from Big Pamir to Little Pamir and now there are 1,150 people living in Little Pamir. This move might have happened partially due to the completion of the new road in 2020.

Kyrgyz people living around Lake Chaqmaqtin

Life on the plateau: harsh environment

On the way from Ishkashim to Sarhad, we met a Kyrgyz man who asked for help. According to the man, his wife, who had given birth in Pamir, was not feeling well and the clinic told him to go to a hospital in Ishkashim. “I have no money”, he said.
Some Kyrgyz people get things in exchange for sheep and other livestock with merchants visiting the Pamirs and have no cash. They need money to “get in the car and go to the hospital.” At this time, we could only give money and pray for the safety of this person’s wife.

In the village, we also met parents who lost their children and a man who lost his wife. And there were very few old people. We realized that they live in a harsh environment.

Kyrgyz Boy

The Kyrgyz people of the Afghan Pamirs are not self-sufficient. They raise livestock, produce dairy products, and obtain what they need from merchants who come to the Pamirs (Wakhi people from the Wakhan corridor, and Pashtoon people from the south). They exchange or sell their livestock and dairy products to obtain goods and cash for their daily needs. In many cases, the exchange of sheep is concluded with a promise to receive this year’s lambs next year.

Goats and sheep raised by the Kyrgyz people
Kyrgyz yak. Compared to the yaks of Pakistan, the Kyrgyz yaks are noticeably bigger
Making a dairy product called Qurut

Before the new Taliban regime (2021), there was trade with Chapruson, Pakistan. Every year 500 yaks and Qurut (a type of dried cottage cheese) made during the summer were sold. Now they sell sheep and goats to traders coming from Kabul and other part of Afghanistan and say they are looking forward to resuming trade with Chapruson.

Kyrgyz Women’s Summer Life

Kyrgyz women take care of the offspring of livestock born in the spring and early summer, milking them and making dairy products for a living. In the morning, the milking begins around 8 to 8:30 am. After that, the women wash dishes in the river, bake Naan bread, and make Qurut (cottage cheese which they will dry later for sale). Bargaining with merchants from the Wakhan corridor and southern Afghanistan is also part of the fun. The women like to buy fancy fabrics and wear new clothes for every important occasion. The merchants seem to have a good grasp of what suits their tastes. In comparison, men in Kyrgyzstan wear mainly “second-hand clothes” and look very plain.

milking a yak

Beauty, the life of the Kyrgyz

On our trip to Little Pamir, we spent four days in a settlement where a small group of Kyrgyz people live. Not only did we visit the yurts, but the children and families of the Kyrgyz came to visit our camp, interest in what we have and what we eat. Some of the children were so curious that they stayed at our camp from morning till night, while others could only come with their parents.

They milked yaks in the morning, washed clothes, made Qurut cottage cheese, baked Naan bread, and visited friends in their spare time.

Woman washing her hair while her older relative is making Qurut from fresh milk
Young Kyrgyz lady washing her hair
In the yurt where the Kyrgyz live
Girls washing dishes
Children visiting our campsite

A merchant who has been coming to Pamir for more than 20 years said: “There are people who became poor after the road was built.” and “I saw the guy who became poor because they sold a lot of yak and bought cars, which later broke down”.The construction of the road has probably attracted more traders than before, and the number of cash transactions has increased. While some people have become poor, some Kyrgyz families with cars and livestock seem to have become rich. The disparity is clearly on the rise.

Kyrgyz girl holding a baby goat

The Kyrgyz people’s way of life in the wilderness of Wakhan is absolutely fascinating. These nomads of the Afghan Pamirs have a lot of resilience and the history of coexisting and interacting with other ethnicities.

 

Photo & Text : Mariko SAWADA

*Contact us, Indus Caravan for more information or to make arrangements for visiting Afghanistan, Wakhan Corridor.

*Please follow us on YoutubeInstagram & Facebook

Category : ◆Afghanistan > - Wakhan Corridor
Tag : , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Hungry Tigress Jataka- Rock Carving of Chilas

“This blog is documenting the precious Silk Road heritage site, the ‘Indus rock carvings’, which will be lost forever in a few years when two dams on the Indus River are completed”

 

Have you ever heard of the Hungry Tigress Jataka「捨身飼虎」?  In Japan, the story of the Hungry Tigress Jataka is depicted on the side of the Tamamushi Zushi「玉虫厨子」, a national treasure in the collection of ancient Horyuji Temple(法隆寺), even before Kyoto was built – when Buddhism was freshly adoped by the Japanese elite.

There are rock engravings along the Indus River in Chilas where the Hungry Tigress Jataka can still be seen, despite certain degree of deterioration the engravings underwent.

 

About Hungry Tigress Jataka (Vyaghri-Jataka) 

Long ago, there was a king in India who had three brothers, every of them a prince. One day, the king and the three princes went to play in a bamboo forest. There they met a mother tiger with seven cubs. The animals were starving, emaciated and on the verge of starvation.
The three princes felt deep compassion, but two of them left, saying that they could not save the animals. The third prince said, “Bodhisattvas offer themselves out of compassion to save others. I will offer myself to save the life of a starving tiger “. The prince gave himself up and the tiger ate him. The story goes that the prince who saved the lives of the tiger was the Buddha himself in one of his previous lives.

More information on Hungry Tigress Jataka and the Tamamushi Zushi at Horyu-ji Temple can be found on the websites of the respective temples.

The following is a sketch of this rock engraving, although it is quite faded and difficult to make out.

Source : The Indus – Cradle and Crossroads of Civilizations (Pakistan-German Archeological Research)

This sketch of the rock engraving shows a lying prince, a tiger cub about to eat the prince, the father king and two brother princes watching from safe distance behind a rock.

Decipherment of the Brahmi script beside this image has also proved that it is Hungry Tigress Jataka (Vyaghri-Jataka).

The entire surface of the rock on which the Hungry Tigress Jataka is depicted. A large stupa is depicted in the centre. There is a hemispherical Anda on a square base, with Harmika, symbolic umbrellas and banners, which are characteristic of the Gandhara style. It is thought that Buddhism was at its peak influence in the Upper Indus around the 5th century.

Unfortunately, this precious rock engraving will also be lost when the dam is completed. “Unfortunately” is not the right word that can be used to describe it, perhaps. The destruction of the rock engravings began with the construction of the Karakoram Highway in the 1960s, and the rock engravings have been destroyed with every expansion of the road. Some were even lost when they were painted over by people who did not like the Buddhist motif for a time.

Painted rock engravings along the Karakoram Highway. The central figure of a snow leopard chasing an ibex was washed out in December 2020.

Again, the time was limited, but we worked on washing the rock engravings that had been painted.

This is the current state of the rock engraving. From right to left, Manjushri, Bejewelled Buddha with a devotee holding an incense burner or lamp and stupa. A trefoil-shaped arch surrounds the Buddha’s entire body, is in Kashmir style.

The picture below shows how this looked before the paint was applied.

Source:The Indus – Cradle and Crossroads of Civilizations (Pakistan-German Archeological Research)

We will continue to wash off the paint from these rock engraving panels.Please come and witness this wonderful Buddhist heritage before it is submerged in the dam.

 

Photo & text : Mariko SAWADA

Site : Chilas, Gilgit-Baltitstan

*About the article: the article is based on an old book. I wonder if other views and explanations exist. I would be very happy if you could let me know so that I can study it.

Reference :”Huma records on Karakoram Highway”, ” The Indus, cradle and crossroads  of civilizations”

*Contact us, Indus Caravan for more information or to make arrangements for visiting Rock carving along the Indus river.

*Please follow us on YoutubeInstagram & Facebook

 

Category : ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - the Karakoram Highway > - Indus river bank > ◇ Rock carvings / Petroglyph
Tag : , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Souvenir from Hunza

Surrounded by the 7,000m-class high peaks of Karakorum, this Hunza village is famous for the amazing pink apricot flowers that bloom all over the valley.

The main street of Karimabad, the center of Hunza, which is lined with stalls selling local products. It’s not very big, but it’s a place where you can go casually and enjoy a stroll while sightseeing.

Bazaar at Karimabad

First of all, I will introduce dried fruits and nuts, which are the specialties of Hunza.

In Hunza, where apricots and other fruits thrive, the seeds are removed immediately after they are harvested. The fruits are then preserved by being dried in the sun, then sold in the market. The dried apricots are browner in color and have a firmer texture than common ones you might see in other places, but this is just proof that there are no additives in them. The more you chew the dried fruit, the more the gorgeous apricot flavor fills your mouth, and the taste becomes addictive.

The fresh nuts that are the most famous are walnuts, almonds, and apricot seeds. Apricot seeds look a lot like almonds at first glance. But you can enjoy that unique scent of the apricot that is familiar with almond tofu (the name is also confusing but it is because the two nuts are so similar). Although it has a slightly bitter taste, it is said to have the effect of boosting the immune system.

In addition, I also recommend you try the cherries, mulberries, and dried pears, as they are hard to find anywhere else.

Dried fruits sold at a souvenir shop

At the bazaar, souvenirs of wooden products are also conspicuous. Apricot trees and walnut trees are also suitable for woodwork, so there are ornaments, accessory cases, and tableware made from these woods.

A spoon made of apricot and walnut wood. Each piece is handmade by an artist every day.

Intricately carved tissue box

Handicrafts with traditional Hunza embroidery are also popular souvenirs. Bright embroidery is applied to wool bags, slippers and hats.

Pouches
Slipper

In addition, northern Pakistan around Hunza is the origin of many natural gemstones. Specialty stores sell colorful natural stones such as crystal, aquamarine, topaz, garnet and black tourmaline; and small rough stones can be obtained at relatively low prices.

Searching for your favorite stone or a birthstone will also make a special souvenir.

Aquamarine stone

When you are wanting to take a quick break while exploring the bazaar, I recommend stopping by Cafe De Hunza.

Here, you can enjoy the famous walnut cake made with plenty of locally produced walnuts.

The cake goes very well with coffee. You can also take the cake home.

A famous cake filled to the max with caramel-wrapped walnuts

Cafe De Hunza also sold apricot oil for souvenirs.

It has a nourishing effect for sore throat, and it is a versatile oil that can also be used for skin care, as it has a very smooth application.

Apricot seed oil

Dried fruits, woodwork, nuts, oil and apricots are used in everything by the locals. For the people of Hunza, apricots are essential and a very important part of their lives.

There are many things that I haven’t introduced yet, but when you visit Hunza, why don’t you take a walk around the bazaar and look for the Apricot Blossom Spring Valley souvenirs that are unique to this beautiful place?

 

Photo &Text : Madoka Nishioka

Visit : March 2023, Karimabad, Hunza, Gilgit-Baltistan

*Contact us, Indus Caravan for more information or to make arrangements for visiting Hunza, Northan Pakistan.

*Please follow us on YoutubeInstagram & Facebook

Category : ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Hunza Valley
Tag : , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Rock Carvings of Shatial, – Silk Road heritage – soon to be submerged in the Indus river dam

This blog is documenting the precious Silk Road heritage site, the ‘Indus rock carvings’, which will be lost forever in a few years when two dams on the Indus River are completed.

 

Stunning stupa depictions and inscriptions, “rock carvings of Shatial”

Shatial Rock Carvings, on a slope slightly off the Karakoram Highway down to the Indus River, located on the south bank of the Indus, between the Darel Valley to the east and the Tangir Valley to the west, were very important site for travelers, trade caravans and pilgrims on the Silk Road.

The rock carving ranges from those considered pre-Buddhist to those from the Gandhara heyday and post-Gandhara eras.

Firstly, the picture below shows the most famous rock carving in Shatial site. This rock art is impactful enough to elicit “wow!” response even from an ordinary tourist.

In the center of the rock is a large, delicately depicted stupa with many bells. On the left is a depiction of the “Sibi Jataka” and on the right is a votive stupa.

On the left side of the rock, the name of the stupa’s builder is inscribed in Kharoshthi script (or Gāndhārī, ancient Indo-Iranian script), which dates back to the 5th century.
Between the stupa and the votive stupa the names of people who lived back then (perhaps, some dignitaries) are inscribed in Brahmi and Sogdian script.

Two devotees dressed in Central Asian-style costumes approach the main stupa from three stepping stones. This staircase leads to a plinth decorated with a ‘four-stepped design’. Two pillars support the beam and the domed stupa. Bells are also attached to the beam, stupa and niche.
The stupa is topped by a series of umbrellas, from the top most of which hang down banners on either side like an arch. Small bells are also attached to the umbrellas, making this rock engraving different and novel from the other stupas.

The votive stupa to the right of the main stupa has four steps leading up to a high base, depicting a triangular stupa with a series of umbrellas above it and flags billowing and fluttering. It is a different style of depiction from the main stupa.

This figure on the left shows the ‘Sibi Jataka’.

 

About Sibi Jataka

(The Jataka is the stories of former lives of the Buddha )

There was a kind-hearted king named King Sibi.
A dove chased by a falcon flew to King Sibi and asked for help.

The falcon came to King Sibi and said, “I have not eaten for many days and if I do not eat the dove, I will die from starvation. Whose life do you consider more important, the dove’s or mine?”

So King Sibi thought that the falcon’s life is also important, so he cut off a piece of meat from his own leg, weighing the same as the dove, and placed it on the balance. But the dove was heavier, so he cut off the flesh again and placed it on the balance, but the weights were not equal.

King Sibi thought deeply and put his own body on the balance, and it balanced. The king said to the hawk, “Please eat me and get well”.
King Sibi tried to save the dove’s life by giving his own life to the falcon.

The falcon, knowing King Sibi’s heart, appeared to him in the form of Indra God and he saluted King Sibi’s action by saying, “You will become a Buddha in the future”.

 

In this rock carving, the Buddha sits in a cave, holding a ‘dove’ in his hand. The person depicted on the right holds a balance. The object on the balance is the flesh of King Sibi, which was cut off to save the dove’s life.
Below the Buddha holding the dove, devotees are depicted on both sides.

The above description is just one of many stories behind carvings in the main stupa. Shatial site has many other unique, valuable iconographies.

This is the carving on the rock opposite the main stupa, “Yantra”, a holy set of symbols at the center to the right, and “Labyrinth” on the bottom left.

 

Above and below are Sogdian tamga, emblems used by ancient Eurasian sedentary and nomadic tribes and their influenced cultures, represented in rock carving.

Sogdian Tamga

It’s difficult to see, but can you see the person holding what looks like a cup?

This is a rock carving of Sogdian performing a ritual in front of an altar, most probably. Probably a fire worship ritual?

 

 

 

 

 

Other animal rock carvings are depicted by people who walked the Silk Road. The rock carvings in the upper Indus, Gilgit and Hunza river basins are mainly ibex wild goat, with snow leopards and markhors goats, but here we see camels and elephants depicted.

The elephant figures remind us of the proximity to India. Apart from the picture below, there were several rock carvings that appeared to be camels and elephants, but only those that more or less certain are shown here.

Petroglyph of Bactrian Camel
Petroglyph of Goose
Petroglyph of Bactrian Camel

There is always something new to discover at the Shatial site.

By the way, the village seen from the rock carving site is full of dwellings that have been built at a rapid pace to get compensation for the submerged dwellings caused by the dam. The environment around the ancient rock carving has changed considerably.

 

Photo & text : Mariko SAWADA

*About the article: the article is based on an old book. I wonder if other views and explanations exist. I would be very happy if you could let me know so that I can study it.

Reference :”Huma records on Karakoeum Highway”, ” The Indus, cradle and crossroad of civilizations”

*Contact us, Indus Caravan for more information or to make arrangements for visiting Rock carving along the Indus.

*Please follow us on YoutubeInstagram & Facebook

Category : - Indus river bank > ◆Khyber Pakhtunkhwa > ◇ Rock carvings / Petroglyph > ◇ Heritage of Pakistan
Tag : , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Skardu – Indus Valley in Spring

You will be amazed by the scenery as you arrive in Skardu on a domestic flight; almost all tourists take photos as soon as they arrive. The airport is on a desert plain, surrounded by snow-capped peaks, on the banks of the Indus River.

Skardu’s airport is on an high-altitude desert of 2,230m. Last year, it was promoted to “International Airport.” Recently, the operation rate of the Skardu route has improved, and it is now flying not only from Islamabad, but also from Karachi and Lahore in summer. However, in case of flight cancellation, there is no land route from Karachi. It is still safer for foreign tourists to choose flights from Islamabad instead.

Video of Islamabad – Skardu flight with the Nanga Parbat right at the front!

It takes about 20 minutes from the airport to the town of Skardu. Inhabited by the Balti people, Skardu means ‘land between two high places’ in the Balti language. It was once part of Tibet and was also a trading center to Kashmir. It later became Islamized, and after the independence of India and Pakistan in 1947, it went through three wars and in the end, it belonged to Pakistan.

March 23rd, when I arrived, was Pakistan Day. On March 22, 1940, Muhammad Ali Jinnah proposed the founding of Pakistan at a meeting of the All-India Muslim League, and on the following day, on the 23rd, the founding of the country was unanimously resolved. It is an important Pakistani Memorial Day, just like Independence Day.
There must have been an event at school, as there were children walking down the street with national flags in their hands.

Skardu’s Bazaar, a store that sells beans and grains.

A villager who came to buy goods from Kowardo village in the suburbs of Skardu. Their face is a bit Tibetan, unlike the Hunza and Punjab regions.
Balti men are known to be strong and are active in the K2 base camp trek and climbing in the summer.

A shop in the bazaar also had pink rock salt that was mined in the “Salt Range” from the Punjab region. There are various uses for it like salt licks for livestock, and smaller blocks are used when drinking “namkheen chai” (salty chai).
About Himalayan Salt: The Salt Range

At the Skardu vegetable market, a shipment of vegetables and fruits from the Punjab region arrived.

On this day, the apricots of Skardu were almost in full bloom

The Indus River seen from Hussain Abad Village in Skardu Valley. At this time of year, the Indus River is not mixed with melted glacier water and has a beautiful blue color.
The Indus River flows from Ladakh, India. 93% of the 3,180km (1,976 miles) long Indus River flows through Pakistan. After leaving the northern mountainous region, it flows across Pakistan into the Arabian Sea.

Skardu Valley looking back from the road from Skardu to Gilgit. This large canyon, 10 km wide and 40 km long (6.2 mi wide x 24.9 mi long), is said to have been formed by the glaciers of the Indus and Shigar Rivers between 3.2 million years ago and the Holocene period.

I took one last look before entering “Skardu Road,” which connects Karakorum Highway and Skardu.

The valley of Skardu is a very beautiful place with apricot blossoms in the spring, greenery in the summer and golden poplars in autumn.

 

Photo & text : Mariko SAWADA

Visit : March 2023, Skardu, Gilgiti-Baltistan

*Contact us, Indus Caravan for more information or to make arrangements for visiting Skardu, Northern Pakistan.

*Please follow us on YoutubeInstagram & Facebook

Category : ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Indus river bank > - Skardu Valley
Tag : , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Shigar Valley in the Early Spring

Just after Nowruz (March 21), I visited the Shigar Valley. Nowruz is the Iranian New Year, but it is also celebrated in northern Pakistan. In Persian, “Now” means “new”, “Ruz” means “day”, and it falls on the vernal equinox. On this day, they start working in the fields and start new things.

On the domestic flight from Islamabad to Skardu, there were many elderly people heading to Skardu. They usually will spend the harsh winter in Islamabad and Karachi, where their sons and grandchildren live, and later return to their villages around Nowruz. The flight was full of villagers.

Shigar Village seen from the entrance of the valleyThe Shigar Valley is called the gateway to ‘Karakoram,’ and this ‘Shigar Road’ continues to the end of the motorway, Askole. Trekking and mountaineering start from Askole, walking on the Baltoro Glacier to K2, Broad Peak and Gasherbrum base camp. This is the path most people who aim for K2 take. The Shigar River is fed by the Braldu River, which flows from the Baltoro and Biafo Glaciers.

Apricot blossoms

The time I visited was when the apricot flowers were in full bloom. It can only be in “full bloom” for 1-2 days. Even so, there are differences in how the apricot blossoms bloom depending on the altitude, the amount of sunlight, and the amount of water, so I was able to see many stages of the apricot blossoms.

Shigar Village is the largest village in Shigar valley. Shigar Fort, managed by the Serena Hotel chain, is a lovely hotel that has been renovated from an old feudal lord’s castle. I walked around the hotel, and they are the village’s children.

Shigar Village
Shigar village

Compared to the past, Shigar Village has developed more than the image of the rustic village, and in the center, there are more cars now. But just taking a stroll around the village, you can enjoy the scenery and have some memorable encounters with the villagers.

Recently, more and more people are going to the Hashupi Fruit Garden, which is located further inside Shigar Village. The views of the valley and villages from Shigar Village to Hashupi Village are very beautiful. The scenery of the village also continues to be rustic.

Time spent with the children of the village
Photoshoot of the apricot blossoms

In the early morning, head to the Sarfranga cold dessert.

The Sarfranga Cold Desert lies on the bank of the Indus River, at the entrance to the Shigar Valley. It is a superb view point where you can see the sand dunes with the snowy mountains in the background.

Hussainbad Village seen from the Sarfranga sand dunes
The snowy mountains of Karakorum seen from the sand dunes

And after the morning shoot, I had a picnic breakfast, and the chai was the best!

 

Photo & text : Mariko SAWADA

Visit : March 2023, Shigar Valley, Skardu, Gilgit-Baltistan

Category : ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Skardu Valley > - Shigar Valley
Tag : , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,