That night I couldn’t sleep well in the forest hut at Kumbrat valley. I dreamt of being chased by the man-eating white Deo and the big bird Aman-Peshin, while the gorgeous fairy Guliyadin disappeared when I wanted to speak to her, riding into the mist with the handsome Prince Bahram. The local fairytale in the fast disappearing Gavari language loomed large on my mind.
The chirping birds announced the coming of dawn and the time to prepare for a short trek up the valley. Washing the face with ice cold water, followed with a hot sumptuous breakfast recharged my spirits for the trek.
Our destination was Khazan Kot, the legendary city of the last pagan king, Dodol. We were going to try to search his hidden treasure.
The jeep-able trail in front of the forest hut took us uphill, to a point where the path was blocked by sliding boulders. Leaving the vehicle behind, we started on foot. The thick deciduous forest hardly allowed the sunrays to touch the ground and the roaring stream spilled a magical tune in our ears.
Our first stop was an open-air makeshift restaurant where we had tea with locally baked biscuits. Mohammad Din, the former local councillor, who had entertained us the previous night with enchanting folk stories in Gavari language, found time to narrate one more about the origin of his tribe and the king called Dodol Badshah.
“In old times, there lived three brothers in this [Kumrat] valley. The eldest one was named Mir, the middle one was Seal and the youngest was called Shoot. One day, a big rock slipped from Shoot’s terrace and landed in Mir’s fertile field. Mir warned his youngest brother either to remove this huge boulder from his land by dawn or get killed.
“Shoot was terrified, as Mir was strong. He got help from his middle brother Seal, who used a wooden spade to push the boulder out of Mir’s land. Next morning, Shoot severed all relations with his elder brother Mir,” Din narrated.
He added that out of each brother grew a Khel or a tribe — “And so Meroars are descendants of Mir, Selors from Seal and Menskol Khel from the youngest brother Shoot. Traditionally Selors and Menskols inter-marry, are more dominant and coexist peacefully. But Meroars are looked down upon by the other two Khels and are socially and economically marginalised.”
According to him, all the three Khels were pagans and ruled by a king named Dodol and had built settlements at all prominent places in the valley and lived a contented life. “But the peace of the valley was disturbed by the Muslim invaders from the plains of Dir whose depredatory raids caused great alarm among the people of Dodol.”
Hence, Din added, “They devised a new strategy to counter this growing menace. As soon as the invaders were sighted, a smoke signal was raised from the watch post at the entrance of the valley. All the able bodied men, armed with swords, stones, bows and arrows would charge down the valley to stall the invaders while the rest of the population would escape in the jungle and hide till the danger passed.”
With each successive wave of raids the settlements of the pagan tribes kept falling into the hands of the Muslims, who either converted the captured populace or carried them as prisoner (or slaves) to their cities in the plains, he said, adding, “As time went by, all the settlements had fallen to the invading Muslims and the three Khels became Muslims.
The story didn’t end here. Din continued, “The kingdom of Dodol King shrank to the last city in the valley called Khazan Kot which was defended well by the king and his people. The Muslim incursions stopped, but since this city remained snowbound all year round so living conditions were tough.”
He further told that one day King Dodol’s wife and her daughter were collecting firewood in the forest when a passing raven, flying from Drosh (in Chitral District) in the north towards Kumrat, dropped a spike (or head) of a wheat stalk in front of them. “They took the spike of wheat to Dodol and pleaded that the valley they had been forced to abandon was very fertile and so is the valley in the north from where the raven came but the place (Khazan Kot) where they are living was wretched — crops could not grow there. Hence their lives are miserable and the King must do something for the welfare of his people.”
Thereafter, Din said, their emotional pleadings bore the desired result. “That night Dodol suddenly ordered his people to pack up all their precious belongings and leave the city with him.”
Now Khazan Kot is located above the snowline at the confluence of two valleys, the north-west track leading towards Drosh in Chitral and other going north-east to Ghizer. “King Dodol buried some of his treasure in the city and led his tribe on the left trail, descending towards Drosh in Chitral District — and was not heard of again.”
But, “In his haste to migrate under the cover of darkness, King Dodol mistakenly left behind his two daughters sleeping in his palace. When daughters Neil and Meil woke up in the morning and found that the whole tribe had disappeared without any clue, they decided to take a risk themselves in locating the lost tribe.”
Now, according to Din, Neil followed the left trail and probably rejoined her people, and Meil followed the right track, which led towards Ghizer valley in Gilgit-Baltistan below the Shandur Pass and lost her way.
“She died of starvation and her (mummified) remains can still be seen lying in a cave near the path to Ghizer. This cave is partially closed by a stone slab and all passing hunting parties and wandering shepherds keep reporting about the skeletal remains of Meil, the daughter of Dodol, the last pagan king of Kumrat.”
Mohammad Din’s story of the origin of the Khel and their sudden disappearance of King Dodol and pagan tribe from Kumrat valley is a stunning reminder that some historical facts are palpable when told as a tale, and when passed verbatim through generations they become legends.
Shepherds reported the sighting of Meil’s mummified body in the cave last year. Shreds of pottery and Legir (vernacular for earthenware to store ghee) were also seen in the cave, probably personal belongings left behind as part of burial rituals. Hazarat Umer, the ex-UC Nazim added that a strong tradition exists among the locals that remains of Dodol’s daughter are not to be desecrated (despite its pagan lineage).
A few statues that have been dug out by treasure seekers from the ruins of Khazan Kot, reminds one of its cultural richness.
The overnight disappearance of King Dodol is difficult to explain except that it makes the story more dramatic. The route taken by the migrating king and his people to Drosh in Chitral reaffirms their pagan connection with Kafirs of Kalash, who possibly ruled all these valleys centuries ago.
Hazarat Umer belongs to Selor tribe and Mohammad Din to Menskol Khel, and both had no qualms about their pagan ancestry — even if this story is considered as just another fairytale. In Kumrat tradition takes precedence over other biases.
Our journey continued with me leading rest of the way. Our next stop was Black Water, a natural spring with ice cold water. We were dared to stand waist-deep in that cold water for ten minutes, and whosoever managed it would get a goat. Nobody dared, which saved Mohammad Din from losing a goat.
Time flew while walking in the grassy meadows with wild yellow flowers and butterflies fluttering around us. My companion Shahzad reminded me that we had to get back to Thall, the last village near the Forest Hut to see the unusual mosque before sunset. Khazan Kot was still over an hour’s walk as estimated by our local guides whose inaccuracy in time estimation matched that of all mountain guides in Pakistan.
Shahzad and I decided to return again after Ramzan, fully equipped for a long trek on snow, to uncover the mystery of the mummified pagan woman so revered by all the three Khels of Kumrat.
(This is the final part of the travel series. Read the first part here)