Field Studies

Significance OF HALDEIKISH ROCK ART OF HUNZA in the KARAKORAM Region, Northern Pakistan

June 11, 2018

By Fazal Amin Beg

This article, which I’m sharing here on my website today, was a term paper during my doctoral coursework in 2011. I hope it’d provide an effective insight into the theme of discussion to the respective readers as it’s not mere an archeological piece depending on the secondary sources but rather also includes emic perspectives in anthropological contexts.

This paper is about the Haldeikish Rock Art of Hunza situated in the Karakoram mountain region in today’s Gilgit-Baltistan (North Pakistan). The key objectives of this study are 1) to explore and understand the Haldeikish phenomenon; 2) reinvestigate the toponym of Haldeikish cross with the two native languages of Hunza; and 3) find out the significant role of Heldeikish possesses.
The data collected for the paper is through primary and secondary sources. Primary sources include discussions with and telephonic interviews of more than 20 respondents in addition with the author’s own experience and knowledge, being a researcher and a native of Hunza Valley. Secondary sources include scholarly books and papers, reports of few civil society organizations such as the Karakoram Area Development Organization (KADO) and some related agencies of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN).
The paper is mainly divided into four sections. The first section is about the concept and context of study; and the second section tries to reinvestigate the etymology and philology focused on the toponym “Haldeikish”. In the third second, some facts about the graffiti/inscriptions are shared; and in fourth section, the author ventures to deduce the significant roles of Haldeikish. The paper thus ends with a brief conclusive remark.
What an incredible creativity the past humans had thousands of years before, to whom we today’s humans term “ancient”, implying as old: rusted and uninventive. On the other, an English proverb says: “Old is Gold”, which seems fit for such inventiveness of the past people. What this ingenuity could certainly be a genuine question.
The rock arts of the upper Indus valley, especially Kohistan and Gilgit-Baltistan (Northern Pakistan), in real term depict an enticing scene where the human used the Nature (flat faces of rocks and boulders) like a flipchart or drawing paper; or in today’s computer parlance, like the “Not Pad” or “Coral Draw” or a “Photoshop.” These petroglyphs and graffiti are very interesting for those who belong to the field of art; very inspiring and highly valuable to those scholars, researchers and students who are related with the concerned discipline of knowledge. But for those, who are ordinary or laypersons these rock arts may either be of no importance or less importance because they cannot envision and conceptualize such marvelous heritage of knowledge handed over generations to generations by our fellow human beings of the past.
Gilgit-Baltistan, the rugged mountain regions of the Indus River Valley, are not only significant due to its geostrategic stature and the rich natural diversity of high mountain ranges (like the Karakoram, Himalaya, Hindu Kush and Pamirs), or not only because of the longest glaciers that live out of the polar region (e.g, , Biafo, Baltoro and Batura), or due to its diverse river system (like the Indus, Hunza, Ghizer and Astor), but rather it is also important due to its cultural diversity. The cultural diversity can be interpreted in two contexts: present and the past. Presently, the region nurtures more than 12 linguistic groups and a variety of ethnic groups . In the past context, early humans had their intra and inter-regional even trans-regional interactions, importing and exporting ideas, beliefs, merchandizes and the like (Dani 2008; Kreutzmann 2006) that are richly mirrored on the rock-engravings of Gilgit-Baltistan and Kohistan starting from Shatial on the Indus River and advancing ahead toward Hunza River, where we can find the diverse cultural reflections in petroglyphs and graffiti on the locally termed Haldeikish—named by Professor Ahmad Hassan Dani as the “Sacred Rocks of Hunza”.
Today, Gilgit-Baltistan region, historically called Balor (Kreutzmann 2006), is administered by Pakistan, although its legal status is not defined in the country’s constitution due to its disputed nature (among Pakistan, India and China). Administrative headquarters of the region is Gilgit; while Kohistan today is a district within the Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa.
Gilgit-Baltistan region has overall seven districts (5 in Gilgit region and 2 in Baltistan region) with a population of more than 1.2 million individuals (cf. PDD 2007). The districts are named as Gilgit itself, Ghizer, Hunza-Nagar, Astor, Skardu and Khapulu
Getting acquainted with Hunza Valley and reaching at Haldeikish Rock Art
The topic of discussion in this paper is about Hunza-Haldeikish. But before discussing the topic in hand, let’s get a brief orientation about the strategic Hunza valley (includes Hunza and Nagar).
Hunza and Nagar have historically been two most important principalities ruled by their local rulers called Mir or Thum. After abolition of the local mountain-corridor kingdom in 1974, both principalities became two sub-divisional administrative set up under Gilgit district. But recently (in 2010), both historically rival political entities of Hunza and Nagar integrated to one-administrative unit as a district called “Hunza-Nagar district”.
The communities of both Hunza and Nagar belong to the Shia school of thought in Islam. In Hunza, 95% of the population is from Ismaili interpretation of Islam; while in Nagar, 100% of the population are the Ithna’sharia (i.e., Twelvers) interpretation of Islam.
There are more or less 60 descent groups/clans in Hunza Valley who speak four languages including Burushaski/Kanjuna, Shina, Wakhi and Domaki. The overall population of the valley is over 130,000 (in which Hunza has over 60,000). The district headquarters is Karimabad, almost 120 km from Gilgit city to the northeast. Sost and Aliabad are the major commercial centers of the valley. Overall literacy rate of the entire valley could be estimated more than 60%, but specifically for Hunza, according to the Survey of Karakoram Area Development Organization (KADO), its literacy rate is 72% (KADO, Survey Report 2007).
Now, let’s get a brief and specific acquaintance with Hunza only that has a big geographical make up of the respective area and that is why the entire valley is associated behind it. Hunza Valley is the only gateway between China and Pakistan connected through the Karakoram Highway (KKH) that passes onto the vertiginous Khunzhrav Pass (more than 16,000ft high). The valley is also a passage or corridor between Pakistan and Afghanistan bordering with the Little Pamir via the Irshodh Pass (more than 4,000m). Further, this valley is the home to more than 40 glaciers. One of the longest glaciers out of the polar region called Batura glacier (natively Bʉṭʉr e Yaz).
Spread over an area of 11,695 sq km, the administrative setting of Hunza is comprised on two magistracy: Aliabad and Gojal. But in the linguistic setting, Hunza consists of three parts: Shinaki (lower Hunza), Kanjut (central Hunza) and Gojal (upper Hunza). In Shinaki, there are predominantly the Shina speakers along with some Burushaski speaking dwellers. In Kanjut, Burushaski speakers in majority with some Domaki speaking dwellers. In Gojal (the largest chunk of Hunza’s geography and a junction between Central and South Asia), there are the predominant Wakhi speakers along with Burushaski and Domaki speaking dwellers.
The prominent cultural sites, Baltit fort and Altit fort are in central Hunza situated at Baltit and Altit respectively. More importantly, coming to our interest area in this paper, the old-age Haldeikish of Hunza—termed by late Professor Ahmad Hassan Dani as Sacred Rocks of Hunza—is also in central Hunza located within an old settlement of Hunza called Ganish, probably named behind Ganesha in the Buddhist period.
To its the north, en face de face with the violent torrents of Hunza River and the old Altit fort at the cliff, and to its south the modern Karakoram Highway (KKH) passing through the main rocks, the millennia old Haldeikish rock-art is situated—let me borrow the beautiful exemplification of Professor Dani—in a “bow-like” dale. It is almost at a distance of 1½ km from Ganish settlement after crossing the Ganish bridge on the KKH towards Gojal magistracy.
The Haldeikish etymology seems—as the native Burusho (i.e., Burushaski speakers) narrate when probed—a modified and contracted word from its original Halden-e Č̣iṣ̌ (Halden-e Chish) in Burushaski which means “Rock of the castrated and/or old he-goat.” Halden is generally used for the domesticated he-goat, and Č̣iṣ̌ (roughly as “Chish”) in Burushaski is for the “rock”. Chish is that particular rock (on the mountain) that is difficult to be ascended. If someone does so, he can be termed champion.
There is another connotation for the second word’s decipherment of Haldi-kish in Burushaski. Along with the above explanation of Halden, Kiṣ̌ [roughly or softly as kish] in Burushaski means “land” or “property”. In this perspective, putting both nouns together along with its preposition –e (meaning “of”), the compound word becomes “halden-e kiš” [halden-e kish] that means the “land or property of the he-goat or male goat”. Ibex in Burushaski language is giri. In order to specify male-ibex, the Burushaski speakers add giri (ibex) with halden (male-goat) and that becomes giri-halden. For the female-ibex, the word giri-cir [giri-tsir] is used as tsir means she-goat.

Source: Noor Muhammad (2010).
What could the word “Haldeikish” reflect in other native languages of the valley could also be of an interest to investigate if something could be found out regarding this ancient site. Let’s opt for one of the old native languages called Wakhi, a Pamiri language within the old Eastern Iranian family, spoken in Gojal (upper Hunza).
In Wakhi language, “Haldekish” gives a variety of insights. Hal means “stay” or “live’; de means “in” or “at”; and Kiṣ̌ [distortedly as Kish] means “land” or “field”. Now, when we combine these compound Wakhi words, Haldekish then means “stay or live in or at the land or field”.
Another Wakhi etymological derivation comes in this manner. Halde Kiṣ̌ (roughly pronounced as halde Kish) that means s/he or it stayed or lived at land/field”. Third Wakhi derivate is “halde Xiš” (i.e., halde Khish) means “s/he or it stayed hidden or stayed clandestinely”. Fourth Wakhi derivative is Hal de yi xiš (hal de yi khish) mans “stay in something clandestinely”. Fifth, Halde yi khish “means “s/he or it stayed secretly for a while”. Sixth, Hal de yi γ̌iṣ̌ (roughly pronounced by non-Wakhis as Hal de yi ghish) means “stay or live in any ear”. Sixth, last but not least, connotation in Wakhi is Halde yi kiṣ̌ (leave the place or leave land): halde for “leave (it stay)”; and kiṣ̌ (possessed land). Some respondents also say kič̣ instead of kiṣ̌ , but the meaning is the same (it is just variation of pronunciation).
We can however deliberate seriously on different cultural sites in comparison with their physical environment and current etno-linguistic settings. For instance, such kind of exercises can also be by looking seriously at the toponym through the cultural lenses of the Kajuna, Shina and Domaki communities of Hunza Valley.
Professor Dani (2008) and Professor Neelis (in Kreutzmann 2006) have nicely interpreted and extend and specified Haldeikish to the male-ibex probably looking at the diverse illustration of petroglyphs on the rocks they linked Haldeikish with them. But they did not go in-depth with the toponym in an etymological and philological approach from the native cultural communities so to observe if any of such kinds of philological derivatives fit somewhere in the rocks inscriptions and graffiti.
Overall, there are six rocks with inscriptions and drawings: 4 are in one cluster; one to the south of the Heldeikish site to the other side of the KKH. One rock is in the upstream.
The impressive Haldeikish rock-art presents enormous information of the past history in six languages on six rocks. The overall all inscriptions number 123, as the table hereunder precisely depicts the them.
Table 1: Number of inscriptions in six languages on Haldeikish
Kharoshti Brahmi Soghdian Bactrian Chiese Tibetan Total
Number of inscriptions 65 52 03 01 01 01 123
Source: Kreutzmann, 2006, p.160.
As it is obvious from the above table that Kharaashti stands at the top (65) in the number of inscriptions; while second and third are Brahmi (52) and Soghdian (3) respectively; but it is interesting to note that Bactrian, Chinese and Tibetan languages inscriptions are found in equal ratio (having one each). It is shocking to hear that there were enormous graffiti on the rocks at Haldeikish but during the construction of the Karakoram Highway, many rocks came under blasting. A most crucial segment of human history and heritage fileld with knowledge thus got its last breath when they were sacrificed. We could assume that probably most of the lost destroyed rock-arts could be in Soghdian, Bactrian, Chinese and Tibetan as their numbers are found least.
Jason Neelis describes that most of the inscriptions are found on the eastern face of Rock –I. On Rock-II, located on the southern side, has at the ground level in the middle the petroglyphs (Kretzmann 2006).
Rock-III and II have also some inscriptions; while Rock-IV has the drawings, with an exception of an inscription. Along with the graffiti and petroglyphs, on Rock-V and VII, there are also found some inscriptions (Ibid).
Gleaning Historical information from the Haldekish
What kind of historical information could be gleaned out of the remaining epigraphic rocks (I-IV) after destruction of the other rocks is now the focus of our discussion. Going through the respective scholars decipherment of the graffiti, we could come up to glean some facts of their painstaking and noble contributions. Although, it is not possible to go through all the graffiti (drawings and inscriptions), some selective inscriptions would be taken into accounts from different languages so that to get a clear isight that what kind of significance Haldeikish has and what roles it has played.
Kharoshthi and Brahmi Inscriptions
Elements of the Three Jewels (triratna) are found here: i.e., Budha, Da(r)ma, Sat(m)gha . These Buddhist devotees were active in the early transmission of Buddhism across the Karakoram from Gandhara and Kashmir to the Tarim Basin (Kreutzmann, 2006: 161)
Arrival of Mitrajoti son of Jotivardhana is recorded on the southeastern side of Rock-I. Joti or Jiyot mans “light’ and vardhana means “prospering”, “increasing” (Dani 2007).
Furthermore, the following inscriptions could be found:
Jivadha and his father’s name Mitravidhana in the year eighty-three (Rock-I). Buddharakshita (protected by Buddha) has been clearly written on Boulder II to its western side. The Iranian names are also found in the Brahimi graffiti. For example, Sogdian (Suli) name Sadriko , titled kaatriko, which is almost related to Sanskrit Ksatriya. “The indo-Iranian official title Kshatrava corresponding with Kshatrapa is written with –yaddaha (Sanskrit “war”) in an isolated Brahimi Graffito.” (Kreutzmann 2006: 163).

Source: Zulfiqar Ali Kahorro (2010).
Iranian Inscriptions: Soghdian and Bactrian
Besides menting at different places, particularly we could observe from Table-1 that four Eastern Iranian languages’ inscriptions (3 Soghdian and 1 Bactrian) on the Haldeikish rock-art are also found on Haleikish of Hunza. Most prominent among those graffiti is “The son of Asp-yo(dh), (grandson) of (?) Makhch, the γ’tk’ (Kreutzmann 2006, 165).
Chinese Inscriptions on Haldeikish
The only Chinese inscription on of 12 characters next to a later drawing of a stupa accompanied by a Brahmi graffito named Harisena on the Haldeikish is. It tell about passing on of a Chinese envoy named “Gu Wei-long” from the Great Wei dynasty. it is interesting to note that from the Chinese sources of that time, the departure of the said envoy is confirmed that says: “Gu Wei-long, Envoy of the great Wei dynasty (is) now dispatched to Mi-mi” (Ma Yong 1989:144 in Kreutzmann 2006: 164).
“Mi-mi may be identified with the Sogdian center of Maymurgh”, the epigraphy however evidences the distant diplomatic relations of the Northern Wei dynasty (386-556 CE) with Soghdia (Neelis in Kreutzmann 2006: 164).
Tibetan Script
The Tibetan script on Haldeikish is comprised on five lines that reveals about a hunting-game or trophy hunting in the vicinity of Haldeikish. Numerous drawings of the ibexes or wild-goats have been depicted here.
Early Eighth Century: Peak of the Patolashahhi dynasty in Gilgit-Baltistan as could be evidenced through the manuscripts, inscriptions on the bronze sculptures and stone-inscriptions (e.g., in Danyor).
Timeframe for the Inscriptions on Haldeikish
The timeframe of the inscriptions in different languages are illustrated in Table-2 hereunder.
Table 2: Estimated Timeframe of the inscriptions/graffiti
Languages Timeframe Description
Kharoshthi 3rd/4th -7th Century CE Kharoshti Inscriptions on the Haldeikish could be dated to the Kanishka era, a Kushana Emperor, between third to fourth century CE. (Kreutzmann, 2006)
Brahmi 3rd/4th -7th Century CE Brahmi script can also be dated the same period as for Kharoshthi in the context of Gilgit-Baltistan. In Gilgit-Baltistan region .
Soghdian 3rd/4th -7th Century CE Sogdiens inscriptions correspond with that of the Brahmi as the Sogdien merchants were in control of the trade networks from Soghdia , in the western Central Asia, to Dunhunag in eastern Xinjiang and that of Gilgit-Baltistan and Ladakh. (Kreutzmann 2006: 164).
Tibetan 8th/9th century CE The Tibetan inscription on Haldeikish is postdated after Brahmi as Tibetan script was made in the 7th century CE .

After going through some academic exercises and an orientation with the Haldeikish of Hunza, we can now make our mind to look at it in some analytical way and deduce the significant role of the Haldeikish, which Professor Dani righly terms the Sacred Rocks of Hunza. The following significant roles we could obtain from the this sacred or venerated rock.
Robust and Fantastic Knowledge-carrier of the Past
For centuries rather for millennia, the Hunza Haldeikish played,–and will play provided doest not get damaged particularly from the human’s hands—its significant role as a classical and fantastic knowledge-carrier. Haldeikish has been carrying the highly valued-load of the petroglyphs/graffiti and inscriptions not on its back but rather on its head and traveling along with the time and space in harsh and friendly climatic conditions so that the facts of history should handed over generations to generations.
Generous Notebook
Haldeikish of Hunza could be termed, like other rocks, as a “generous notebook” for both the natives and more particularly for the guests like merchants, pilgrims, adventurers and others. The proofs are the diverse petroglyphs and inscriptions engraved on it.
Testimonial of history
Those who inscribed and drew on the faces the Haldeikish rocks to transfer the information/knowledge to the generations could be seen on Haldeikish as a testimonial not today but rather will continue to the generations to come.
Haldeikish as a Human and Cultural Heritage
Although the entire planet on which we and other biodiversities live is in trust with us and is a our heritage; but more particularly all rocks and rock-arts around our planet including Haldeikish are in great trust with us and need to their protectors and not destructors. If nature destroy rock-arts like Haldeikish we cannot argue more because it is part of nature and natural processes. But if such heritages are destroyed as we could wtiness a worst precedent with Haldekish when some parts of it got blast in the hands of human during the construction of the KKH. The upcoming descructions in the hands of insensitive humans will be evidenced in the comings years with the rock-arts gallery on Himalyan mountain range and Indus River when the so-called Diamer Bhasha dam will be constructed from at Bhasha and the main, centered and most important graffiti/petroglyphs will submerge in the dam.
It is noteworthy that Haldeikish has also a cultural significance and context. Haldeikish has somehow its link with the a cultural festivity called Thumshalling inBurushaski. There is a folksong and folktale associated with this festivity thatwas was celebrated annually on 21st December (but presently rare and symbolic). However, what is the link and significance of Thumshalling with the Haldeikish, ifnay, needs to be investigated adequately on scientific grounds.
Future of Haldeikish: Life at Risk
Last year, on January 4, 2010, a big chunk of Attabad mountain/rock—on he right bank of Hunza River, opposite the KKH and only about 12 km above the Haldeikish—slid down abruptly and devastated the village and took 19 human lives (besides destruction of other biodiversities and the assets and capitals of the village). Consequently, the Attabad mountain slide as starkly bounced the opposite mountain on the left side of Huna River, did not block only the KKH but rather also the Hunza River. The Hunza River thus transformed into a river-lake. This lake extended over 26km. The lake water escalated to its optimum level and the depth crossed more than 400ft. This lake submerged/inundated fully and partially nine human settlements and animal pasturages in the upriver valley called Gojal magistracy. More than 20,000 community members stuck in the upriver valley between the political borders to north and northeast with Afghanistan and China, and the Attabad debris) to its southwest. This lake is thus known by different names such as Hunza River Lake, Attabad Lake and Gojal Lake. Presently, the water level is at 400ft; but it will rise again during this summer in 2011.
Haldeikish situated at the foot of the Hunza River Lake. What will happen to millennia old Haldeikish in case of a sudden outburst (or otherwise) of the lake is a genuine question? Although the Pakistan Army along with other partners have been working on the debris site for one yaer (and now joined by some Chinese experts) to construct an adequate spillway the safe passage of the monstrous lake, but in case of any inappropriate strategy with honesty, any emergency could come up and the flush flood will not only destroy the Haldeikish or Hunza Valley, but rather will wash away the entire Indus River basins. Haldeikish cantherefore be the first target of the Hunza River Lake.
The Haldeikish has been and will remain significant as a testimonial and human heritage for millennia. There seems dearth of scientific studies on this important site—as junction or crossroad to central and south Asia and China—can be carried out to link it with the living/present cultural contexts at local and regional levels as the distance past cultures were involved with.
Dani, Ahmad Hassan (2008). Human Records on the Karakoram. Lahore, Sang-e Meel Publications.
KADO (2007). Socioeconomic Survey of Hunza. Aliabad. ahorro, Zulfiqar Ali (2010).
Kreutzmann, h. (2006). Karakoram Landscape, Bianca.
Neelis, Jason, Haldeikish Revisited: Epigraphical Evidence for Trans-regional History (159-170). In: Kreutzmann, Hermann. (ed.) (2006). Karakoram in Transition: Culture, Development and Ecology in the Hunza Valley. Karachi, Oxford University Press.
Muhammad, Noor (2010). PamirTimes.

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