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The disappearing rock art of Gilgit-Baltistan

The rock art of Gilgit-Baltistan comprises beautiful rock carving of ancient times depicting various aspects of social, political and religious system of the time.

In absence of sufficient archeological evidences and writings, rock carvings are the most important evidence that lead us to our prehistoric age.

Therefore, they are of great importance to rediscover the buried history of the people that lived in this area during historic and pre-historic ages.

These ancient carving is spread all over the great length of this region that is, Gilgit Baltistan, Laddakh, Xing-Jiang and shows interrelation between them.

Moreover, these rock carvings are in a continued unbroken sequence from earliest time to the historic period in such a way that it gives us a reflection of cultural history from prehistoric to historic age

Thus, these rock art are not only the imprints of ancient artists but also an opening to our past.

The term ‘rock art’ is used generally for all types of artistic expression found natural rocks, cliffs, caves, shelters, and on the surface of boulders.

The engraving form of rock art includes petroglyphs, and epigraphs or inscriptions.

These artifacts are found mostly on black hard sand-stones with smooth surfaces and interesting facing east.

These rock carvings are simple and depict the social and political life of their age.

They used simple tools of stones to carve out lines on the surface of sand stones.

These cultural relics are left by earlier hunters as well as later nomads and mainly found on high grazing lands, middle and lower mountainous areas and popular routes and near settlements.

Most of the ancient rock carving shows depiction of hunting of wild goat, wolf by hunters with bow and arrow, while other carving show grazing of animals, as well as other themes of fighting, dancing, deities, celebrations etc.

The popular figures are ibex, human figures, svastika (yung-drung), and sun symbols). The rock art of Neolithic period shows hunting scenes and domesticated dog (probably for hunting).

The art of this period lack improved figures of human, deities as well as other structures.

Dr. Ahmad Hasan Dani has categorized these rock carvings into four categories.

Most ancient category includes rock carvings of at least two millennium BC and go back to even fifth or sixth millennium BC, and the people were hunters-gatheres and they had the skill to make stone tools (arrow head) and most probably they hunt in groups (rock engravings shows bow and arrow and group of hunters hunting).

They were the ancient most people about which we know. After these, the second group includes figure of demi-gods, stock-raising, and herd rearing communities probably were nomads belong to two-three millennium BC.

The third group includes the pre-Kushan engravings mostly in Chilas area, includes images of stupas and anthropomorphic figures. Lastly the fourth group includes stupas, temples, symbols of phallus, circles and squares and mounted horsemen.

Rock carving art is present all over the regions in Gilgit Baltistan mainly in Chilas district Diamir, Hunza & Nagar, and Baltistan in Pakistan. Talking specifically about Baltistan these engravings can be seen on old settlements and popular ancient routs along the river Indus and the Shyok.

Rock carving of all the four categories can be found in Baltistan.

Though most of the ancient art were executed by artists as an expression of their cultural and social way of life, very little were related to religious sentiments.

However, the carvings of later ages were of Buddhist religious inscriptions which were destroyed, when the local population converted to Islam during 14th and 15th century AD.

Even today, these inscriptions are can be easily found in villages mostly on eastern bank of river Indus, nonetheless, these are in dilapidated conditions.

The unplanned development activities, marketing practices of painting, wall chalking, hatred by local people about these pre-Islamic carvings, and apathy of governmental department have led to rapidly disappearing of these historic rock arts.

The hub of rock inscription in the village of Gole ( 35 Km from Skardu) has been rapidly disappearing due to use of these easy cutting rocks for building roads and buildings.

In Gole again, marketing ill-practices have also depleted rock art from many rocks.

Moreover, the local communities are using these precious rocks to dry their apricot in summer.

The famous Buddhist mandala inscription at Manthal near Skardu has been completely defaced by the local people.

On others sites, these rocks are being cut and used in construction of roads and building by governmental department. In Naro (36 Km from Skardu), there is a beautiful Neolithic engraving of hunters of pre-historic time, but new religious slogans has been added on the same rock degrading the old carving.

Similar rock of Neolithic age exists in Aradas thang Thagas (25 KM form Khaplu) in Ghanche District that is being developed by local community in a funded project for promoting agriculture.

One of such engravings of later age (probably first millennium AD) is in Kusting Hassanabad (30 Km from Khaplu) in district Ghanche which is also being used to dry apricot by local communities.

The situation looks very precarious and gloomy for the preservation of this historic form of art.

In Gilgit Baltistan, the ministry of tourism is responsible for preserving archeological sites and the department is working full-fledged in both districts of Skardu and Ghanche.

As I couldn’t make access to the minister, I talked some of the members of provincial assembly to take up the issue in the assembly but due to their other important priorities they used to throw the issue in the backburner. Despite the fact, that wall chalking has been banned in the province, the practice is common and law is yet to be imposed on ground level.

The need is to develop a multi-dimensional strategy for the identification, preservation, and restoration of these rock art sites in Gilgit Baltistan.

Otherwise, we would be losing a great treasure of the past and our history will disappear forever.

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