The rulers who conquered Kargil have left their culture and tradition behind in numerous ethnic groups who live in harmony and tranquillity in the face of immense geographic and demographic challenges. Junaid Nabi Bazaz traces the history of existing ethnicities in Kargil.

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Different people from various areas of Kargil region in Jammu and Kashmir performed together in the Kargil cultural festival 2012 which was held in the scenic region last month. Amidst jam packed crowd, numerous groups eagerly awaited in the dug-out for their turn while groups performing were trying hard to put up a commendable show. At the end of the festival, everyone was pleased.

“To perform here in presence of our own people is an inexpressible happiness,” shouted a performer from the stage. Spectators enjoyed the scene while watching the traditional dance. They expressed their happiness. Whistles and hoots pervaded the air. Each group performed in its own traditional way while loud music played in the background. “The scene is vibrant enough to speak about the diverse tradition of cultures we have in Ladakh,” says district cultural officer of Kargil, Mohammad Ali Tak while watching the performance.

Kargil is a small district in the lap of mountains of rocks in Ladakh region situated in the north-east of Kashmir valley, some 205 km from Srinagar. Kargil district was carved out in July 1979 after the Ladakh district was bifurcated. The district, spread over 14,036 km, is generally devoid of any natural vegetation and has barren mountains all around. The population density of the district is seven persons per sq km as against the average 59 persons per sq km in J&K.

Kargil district has two tehsils — Kargil and Zanskar — with seven blocks which include Drass, Kargil, Sankoo, Tai-Suru, Zanskar, Shargol and Shaknar Chiktan. Drass, Kargil and Shankar Chitkan are on the border, making them vulnerable exchange of gunfire between India and Pakistan. Kargilis are said to be the descendants of Mongol, Dard and Mon races, and had long remained under the cultural and religious influence of Tibet. A majority of the population of this `Purik’ area had been Buddhists before Islam came here in 14th century.

Nowadays, a majority of the Kargilis are orthodox Shia Muslims. Kargil, in fact, is the only Muslim-dominated district of Jammu and Kashmir which has not been affected by armed struggle during the past 20 years. It is said the name `Kargil’ was originally `Kharkil’ — combining `Khar’ and `Kharkil’ — which means ‘the kingdom in between’. Interestingly, Kargil is equidistant from Srinagar, Leh, Zanskar and Skardu (in Pakistan administered Kashmir). According to another widely believed story, the name Kargil has been derived from `Gar’ and `Khil’. `Gar’ means coming from any place while `Khil’ is stop.

Kargil came into prominence during the 14th and 16th centuries. The areas of the present Kargil district including some parts of Baltistan were known as Purik after the name of the renowned Purik Sultan who had set up his kingdom in the Valley of Suru River.

Kargil has a diverse tribal culture and its tribal dances are distinct. The ancient Shina and Ani Talwar dance of Dard Shins of Drass is famous. Balti ghazals sung by folk singers exhibit the richness of Balti poetry and literature. Brokpa dance is generally performed in Batalik area. It is widely believed that the inhabitants of Batalik are direct descendants of the Aryans. It is said that when Alexander invaded India, some of his soldiers were so taken in by the Batalik valley that they settled down there.

Neyopa dance is performed in Wakha Mulbakh, 40 km from Kargil town on the Kargil-Leh road, while Seethot dance is performed in Losar and at marriage ceremonies in Bodh Kharboo. In Shankar Chiktan block of Kargil district, people have a penchant for folk songs and Royang Lhu is a famous cultural festival during which they sing and dance. Kargil is the only district in Jammu and Kashmir where six ethnic groups exist and more importantly are living together. They are Balti, Ladakhi, Purki, Zanskari, Dard Shin and Bohoto and around 99 per cent population is scheduled tribe.


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