Small hillocks are holding bigger secrets in some villages around Awantipore. A serious effort by the archaeologists can help trace Kashmir’s distant past, reports Muhammad Younis
Every evening, Raj Teng, a hillock in the periphery of Gulzarpora hamlet in draws Ghulam Qadir Wani to spend some quality time here, literally “in the shades of his possible ancestors.” Qadir says his elders had told him that long back in history the place belonged to a king.
“It could be Awantiverman… as Awantiswera and Awantiswamin temple lies close… or it could be any other king who ruled ancient Kashmir… I am unsure, but I have heard from my parents that it was the abode – permanent or temporary- of some king, and people had actually lived here,” says, a septuagenarian Qadir. “We may be their successors, they also used to say.” Qadir’s father Haji Sanaullah Wani died in 1993, at 85. In 2011, Haji Siddiq Wani, Sanaullah’s friend died at 118. “Both had sailed to Mecca for the pilgrimage.”
Qadir has nurtured a habit of coming to this hillock since his childhood, initially to look for Jugnus and then, as he grew up, to read books. “After Asar prayers, I bring along some book and keep on reading until the sun goes behind the mountains, bordering the limit my eyes can see up to,” he cues towards the mountains standing far away westwards.
From all sides, the hillock used to be surrounded by a vast swathe of open land. In his childhood, the place used to be isolated, with willow, kekar, and poplars plantations. Now new constructions have started coming up. But still, paddy fields surround it on one side
Almost, 12 years back, a mystery unfolded when late Ghulam Ahmad Wani, Qadir’s neighbour, then 60, while digging soil here, recovered “something unusual”.
Ahmad was trying to level one side of the hillock for constructing a house. While digging, his shovel hit something solid. The clanking sound excited him and he slowly cleared the soil around the mysterious object using delicate strokes. After a couple of minutes into the work, a small clayey pitcher tightly covered by a lid came into his sight.
Fearing that the pitcher could have aught inside it, he brought his neighbours to check out. What met their eyes surprised them. They were minted coins of copper stuffed up to the brim inside it. “When we weighed them, they were not less than 3 kilograms.”
According to Qadir, the coins didn’t look like of any king in the immediate past. “I have seen Dogra coins and the Sikh era coins. They had a mark, but the coins Ahmad found didn’t have any sort of that.” The news invited the personnel of Archaeology department. They took away the coins and the pitcher. “We were happy that the tales our parents had told us weren’t fairy tales, rather seemed bona fide after finding the pitcher.”
A little distance away from the Raj Teng, is Tajun Teng. It unravelled another mystery in 2014 floods. The gushing water eroded a part of it away leaving skeletons of dead men visible all over the place.
“We collected around a dozen skeletons… what was more surprising was that the skulls of each were one and a half times bigger than that of a normal man of today,” Qadir said. “There were many versions what could this hillock be meant for. From the apparent conditions found, we were convinced about it could have been a jail.”
Residents preserved the skeletons for some time, hoping the archaeology department would come and take them. But when they didn’t, the villagers buried all the skeletons again.
There is a series of a little less than dozen hillocks, with an interval of around hundred metres, scattered all over the paddy fields of the village. The average measurement of each hillock is about a dozen kanals. “One, Mazar Teng, is spread over a length of about 40 kanals.” From each of these hillocks, people have recovered different household things over the years, reinforcing the belief that these were erstwhile habitations.
“Once a big cylindrical container made of clay was found by one of the villagers. He put it for the use of storing the rice at his home,” Qadir remembers. “It could hold eight to nine quintals of grains at a time. Other things like bowls, vases, jugs, plates, candle holders were also found.
In 2006, Raja Owais, an undergrad student was playing on one of the hillocks. He found a grinder made of stone. “It was like that of ours, but a bit rough.” On another occasion, he also found a clayey pitcher. “It was covered with a lid and at the bottom of it was a clean clayey glass upside down.”
These Teng’s are not just inside this village, but, according to Qadir, there is a long chain of them from South to North Kashmir. “From our elders, we have heard a story about a goat which had gone missing from her owner in Islamabad and was later found in Khadenyaar. She was believed to have fled along these hillocks,” Qadir talked about the legend.
“When Kashmir was a water body, people were compelled to live at high altitudes,” Muhammad Shafi Zahid, Director Archives, Museums and Archaeology, said. Similar Karewas habitations were found in Lethapora, Kupwara, Marhama, and Parishaspora. “At Lethapora, about which Rajtarangni also talks about, we could have a site Museum there. Such was the number of artefacts found there.”
By now the department has discovered 15 sites with archaeological importance. But there are a huge number of sites still undiscovered from which “we could trace our roots.”
“We are trying to do our best to discover more and more but because of being understaffed, we aren’t able to reach everywhere.”