Back to Main Page

On Gilgit and Chitral.

By Munphool Meer& Moonshee Muhammad Hussain, of the Punjab Secretariat.

The British in India had started mapping their territories since early Eighteenth Century. Their purpose was military cum scientific. Towards the beginning of the Nineteenth Century, they had reached the northern limits of the Indian empire, beyond which it was impossible to carry the survey work in the usual way. To keep the work going on, the British authorities prepared surveyors who penetrated the trans-border areas in disguise, and did survey work in these areas. Apart from geographical survey, these surveyors (referred to as "Pundiths") collected valuable intelligence for the British government. The following report was submitted one Pundith Munphool Meerand his college Munshi Muhammad Hussain (most probably the famous Urdu writer Molvi Muhammad Hussain Azad), who worked in this region in 1867.

Gilgit is a small mountainous country, traversed by a river of that name, and lying to the south of the Karakoram or Trans-Thibetan range, on the right bank of the Indus. It is about 100 miles long from north to south, with a mean breadth of 26 miles. Its area is therefore about 2500 square miles.*

The Gilgit River is one of the principal mountain-feeders of the Indus. Its upper course is formed of two principal branches, the Yasin and Parasot rivers. The former rises in north latitude 37° and east longitude 73°, at a point where the Karakoram merges into the Hindu-Kush. The source of the Parasot is in 36° 10" north latitude and 72° 40' east longitude, on the eastern face of the range which gives rise to the Chitral or Kunar River. After a separate course of 75 miles each, the two streams join above Roshan in latitude 36° 20' and longitude 73° 30*, and take an easterly course for 25 miles to Gaokuch, where they are joined by the Chatarkun River from the north. Thence to the town of Gilgit its course is b.s.e. for 50 miles, below which it receives the joint tribute of the Hunza-Nagri rivers. It continues the same course for about 30 miles further to its junction with the Indus, below the defile of Makpon- i-Shang-Rong. The general direction of the stream is to the e.s.e., and its whole length not less than 180 miles.

The valleys in Gilgit are : — Gilgit in the south and south-west, Chaprot in the north, Rikrot in the east, and Sai and Gor in the south-east, &c. And the forts or walled habitations : — in the north, Barr, Badlus, Chaprot, Chalat, and Nummul, along the right bank of the Hunza River ; in the north-west, Bargu, Shakeyot, and Sherot, in the Gilgit valley, the largest in the country, in the direction of Payal and Yasin ; in the south, Gilgit, Danyur, Naupur, Shakwar, and Manor ; in the south-east, Nanrot, Chakarkot, Jagote, Domat, Sai, and Gor ; in the east, Sanagarh, Bakrot, Hamusal, Ziaj, &c.

The people of Gilgit are Shia Mussulmans, and the whole country is now supposed to contain not more than 1000 houses. Its produce in grain and fruits, viz., rice, barley, apples, pomegranates, apricots, walnuts, peaches, figs, and grapes, barely suffices for home con- sumption.

Gilgit is 22 marches distant from Kashmir, the road between the two places lying in a north-westerly direction, through Hasura and Bunji, old dependencies of Kashmir ; 8 from Yasin ; 4 from Gaokuch, chief place in Payal, an old dependency of Tasin ; 22 from Kashkaro (capital of Lower Chitral) ; and 6 from Daril.

Hunza (also called Kunjut) and Nagri, two small Shia districts adjoining Gilgit in the north and north-east, and lying along the opposite banks of the Hvinza Biver, are ruled by two different Chiefs, Rajas Ghazanfar and Zahid Jafar, at variance with each other, who, as the following narrative will show, are closely mixed up with the question of the Gilgit frontier. Hunza is sup- pesed to contain 1500 houses, and Nagri about 4000

The country of Chitral divided into upper (bala) and lower (payan), and held by two different branches of an ancient family of rulers, is bounded on the north and north-west by the Hindu-kush range (continuation of the Trans- Thibetan or Karakoram range), which divides it from the Pamir Steppes in the north, and the Wakhan, Zebak, and Sanglick districts of Badakhshan in the north-west ; west and south-west by Kafiristan ; south by the Pranshi (Laspur) range of mountains ; f east by Gilgit and the wild independent tracts of mountainous country, known by the provincial names of Shanaki and Kohistan ; the former (Shanaki) comprising the districts of Hodar, Dodshal, Gibrial, Daril, Tangir, Kobh, Palas, &c., inhabited by different tribes of Cards speaking the Dard dialect, and the latter (Kohistan), a part of Yag- histan, contains the districts of Khundeyah, Guryal, Dothoin, Haiail, Dubair, Samangyal, Munji, Bandkhar, &c., peopled by Afghans, who speak the Pushto.

The valley of Chitral, running in a south-westerly direction through the whole length of the country (upper and lower included), and into which numerous smaller valleys and defiles open out, is traversed throughout by a river called Chitral, after the name of the country, and Kunar, from the circumstance of its joining the Kunar, or Kama River, at Chaghan Sarai, a place in Kunar, whence the united stream falls into the Landa or Kabul River at Jalalabad, 3 marches below.

The Chitral River takes its rise from a lake called Chittiboi, at the foot of the Chitral Pass, over the Karakoram, or Trans-Thibetan range, between Chitral and the Pamir Steppes. This lake is sometimes closed with avalanches from the pass.

Chitral-bala lies along the upper course of the river, and Chitral-payan on the lower. The chief places in the former are — Mistuch, Yasin, seats of divisional governments, Chitarkun, Payal, Gaokuch, Varshgum ; and in the latter, Chitral or Kashkaro, Suget, Baruz, Drus, &c.

The population consists of Mussulmans, both Sunni and Shia, and Kafirs. The Sunnis inhabit the southern portion of the country, and the Shias the northern and north-western tracts, adjoining the Shia districts of Wakhan, Zebak and Sanglick in Badakhshan, and Gilgit, &c. The Kafirs are confined to a tract bordering on Kafiristan, to which it formerly belonged, now under Chitral-payan.

The rulers, professing Sunniism, have ever since the introduction of Islamism into Central Asia, been carrying on the singularly horrid practice of selling their own subjects into slavery. Following a doctrine of their own creation, that the " Sharah " (Muhammadan law) permits the Sunni to make slaves of Kafirs (unbelievers), amongst whom they include the Shias, they have X The Shia, though professing Islam, is looked upon by the Sunni in the light Of a Kafir, and termed "Rafezi'' (heretic). Throughout Turkistan (Bukhara in particular) Shias are not tolerated. Whilst there, they are consequently obliged to hide their belief, and conduct themselves in all outward forms of religion, as well as social intercourse, like Sunnis. heen in the habit of capturing their Shia and Kafir subjects, as well as Siah-posh Kafirs and others kidnapped or forcibly brought away from the adjacent countries of Kafiristan, Gilgit, &c., and selling them into slavery to slave-dealers from Badakhshan, Kunduz, Turkistan, Balkh, Bukhara, and Afghanistan, &c., receiving their price in Cash and goods. Criminal and political offences amongst the Shia and Kafir subjects of Chitral are, as a general rule, punished by enslavement of the offenders themselves, their children, or other grown-up relations. Sometimes whole families are sold away in groups. The Sunni population, professing the same faith as their rulers, and protected by the Sharah, are free from all such servile bondage and transfer.

The slave forms one of the principal items of revenue of the Chitral rulers. The annual tribute which they pay to the Chief of Badakhshan, to whom they owe a sort of allegiance, is made in slaves.

The Chitral slave girls and boys are the most prized of all the different descriptions of slaves brought to the Turkistan market, excepting, perhaps, the Irani (Persian) for their superior beauty,* docility, and fidelity. The Chitrali, perhaps, is equally faithful with his brother slave of Africa, the negro (Habashi — Abyssinian), whose devoted attachment to his master is proverbial in the East. The Kafirs, distinguished by their whiter skins, redder complexion, blue eyes, light hair, and robuster form, are the most untractable and revengeful of all the other descriptions of slaves in Central Asia.

Combining great physical strength with desperate courage, inured to chase and war, from the nature of their country, their social habits and institutions, and the constitution of their government, which is purely patriarchal, divided into numerous patriarchies, split by hereditary feuds into factions, the Kafirs have not only successfully repulsed the occasional predatory incursions of their Mussulman neighbours, the Afghans, the Chitralis and the Badakhshis, but constantly retaliated by making raids on all the tracts bordering on their own. These marauding excursions have, of late years, ceased in the direction of Badakhshan and Chitral, since the estabhshment of friendly relations between the border Kafirs and the rulers of those countries, but the former still continue to infest and plunder the caravan-routes in the vicinity, and over the mountain passes of Durah and Lahauri.

The mutual dissensions amongst the Kafirs drove the Kafir tribes, now under Badakhshan and Chitral-payan, to submit to foreign yokes. Death is the only punishment the Kafirs inflict on their Mussulman captives. All Kafir slaves who manage to escape back to their native country (Kafiristan Proper) are allowed to revert to their faith and social rights and privileges by their brethren.

The price of slaves throughout Turkistan generally varies from 500 to 100 Muhammad Shahi Eupees (A Muhammad Shahi Rupee is equal to I rupee and 3 annas of English money at Peshawar). It is generally paid partly in cash and partly in goods, and rarely wholly in cash.

The Chitralis speak a peculiar dialect called Chitrali ; the mercantile and the higher classes speak Persian also.

The Chitralis bear a strong resemblance in their physiognomy, features, and colour, to the hill-people of Chamba and Kangra. Their beauty consists in sym- metry of form, black eyes, and hair. The Shias shave their beards and wear short hair like natives of India.

The easiest, and consequently the most frequented, passes on the caravan-route from Peshawur to Badakhshan. The former (Durah) lies over the Hindu-kush range, between Chitral and Badakhshan, and the latter (Lahauri) between Yaghistan and Chitral.

Chtral-payan, is the chief place of commerce in the country. It is situated on the two caravan-routes hetween India, Badalvbshan, and Yarkand, which, if cared for, can be made to connect more closely the north-western frontier of India with Western Turkistan through Badakhshan, and Eastern Turkistan through the Pamir Steppes, by the shortest, the directest, and perhaps the easiest of all the lines of communication now in use. The only dangerous portion of the route is the country of Yaghistan (Bajour and Swat, including Dir), between Peshawar and Chitral.

Caravans of petty merchants now pass through Kashkaro annually between Peshawar, Yaghistan and Afghanistan, on the south-east and south-west, and Badakhshan, Kunduz, Balkh, Turkistan, and Kolab, a principality in Bukhara, on the north-west, and Eastern Turkistan on the north-east.

Mistuch and Yasin, in Chitral-bala, are also resorted to by traders for the purchase of slaves. The former lies on the caravan-route leading to Yarkand, 7 marches up the Chitral River from Kashkaro; the latter, lying between Mistnch and Gilgit, is about 15 marches from Kashkaro, and 6 or 7 from Mistuch.

Trade in Chitral is chiefly carried on by means of barter (" marchah " ). The Peshawaris, the Afghanistanis, and the Yaghistanis, both Hindu and Mussulman, exchange Bahadarkhel salt,* English and Indian piece-goods, grocery, haberdashery, Bajour iron, for Hartal (orpiment), Chitral woollens (blankets and choghas) and falcons. The merchants from the north-west bring horses, Bukhara and Khokand silks, cloaks of Russian broad-cloth, and Badakhshan salt, cotton cloth, and degchoans (iron cans, cast after the Russian style), &c., for the purchase of slaves and Chitral woollens (cloaks, blankets, and stockings). The trade between Yarkand and India, or Afgha- nistan, through Chitral, is confined to certain adventurous Afghans only ; natives of Yarkand seldom or never take this route.

Chitral, as already stated, is held by two different branches of an ancient family, descended from a common ancestor, " Kathor." The branch in pos- session of Chitral-bala is called the " Khushwaktia," from Khushwakt, an ancestor of the present incumbents ; that holding Chitral-payan goes by the name of the " Shahkathoria," after Shah Kathor, grandfather of the present ruler, Aman-ul-mulk. The two branches not only rule over their respective countries independently of each other, but are generally at variance with one another.


In conversation with a Moonshee — by name Mahomed Hussain (and who accompanied Pundit Munphool to Badakhshan) — I learn that the Chitral valley is well cultivated, great quantities of rice and Indian corn are grown, and it is thickly inhabited. The Khan of Chitral also professes favourable views towards the Indian Government. He, however, carries on an extensive slave-trade with Badakhshan. The Siahposh Kafirs of Kafiristan, kidnapped or forcibly seized from the adjacent country of Kafiristan by him, also persons of the Kalash, Dangiri, and Bashghali tribes, idolaters living in the Chitral temtory, as well as from the Sheeah sects, who are convicted of any crime, and the children of culprits from these classes, are sold by the Chitral ruler to the Badakhshis, Wakhis (of Wkkhkn), and Shighnis (of Shighnin), by whom they are taken to Bokhara and Eastern Turkestan. The price of slaves in Chitral varies from 25 tillas (about 152.) to 12 tillas (about 11.)

A Website on the Culture, History and Languages of Chitral.