Dawn News

Bhasha dam and heritage sites

AS a result of the construction of a dam at Diamer Bhasha on the Karakoram Highway, a 160km-long lake will form on the Indus river, upstream, straight up to the Raikot bridge.

Although adding to the beauty and majesty of the Karakorams, the lake will inundate many prehistoric, ancient and rather spectacular rock carvings that are spread across the vast basin.

While providing for the relocation of the affected villages and the people, it is imperative that the relocation of the portions of the rocks in question also be budgeted and planned for as the dam construction project gets under way.

This will not be the easiest task. It will require experts, engineering and archaeologists to undertake the challenge. This must be done to save and conserve the invaluable rocks carvings, and global funds must be sought for the purpose to salvage this universally shared human heritage.

The area in question, on from Sazin to the Raikot bridge, has some of the best naturally preserved ancient rock carvings in great abundance. The images carved on the rocks that are not visible from the highway proper greatly outnumber those which are by the roadside and thus accessible.

In fact, most of the rock carvings lie way beyond the highway, inaccessible because there are no overhead bridges to get to them at the foot of the mountains across the river. It is indeed an arduous hike over the arid 'moonscape' that only provides oxygen to keep you alive. The journey back in search of such carvings is best undertaken on mule-back, the same way in which travellers journeyed in ancient times.

What you may find along the abandoned trail is dazzling: giant rocks placed amidst sand dunes and fossils, carved with ibexes, stupas complete with parasols and votive offerings made to the Buddha, ostensibly to ease the sufferings of the journey.

An odd hunting scene here and there tells the tale of the ancient travellers; whether the hunted game recalled was a source of sustenance in those inhospitable climes or a wish to reach such pastures where the game may be had again remains open to the imagination in the absence of any written and decipherable scripts from the period.

By all accounts preserved on the rocks it was a killer trail and not the preferred Silk Route that connected China with the subcontinent across the Himalayas to the southeast and Central Asia to the northwest across the mighty Karakorams, the Hindukush and the Pamirs.

The Indus river must have been the misleading geographical feature that led the pilgrims on to this arid, killer trail where no sustenance can be found, and which becomes extremely inhospitable downstream from the Raikot bridge until it reaches Dasu — a road journey of several tiresome hours even on the modern Karakoram Highway today. The summer-winter temperatures range here from a scorching 50°C to sub-zero.

The hundreds of rock carvings in the vast basin found to date hark back to prehistoric to the mediaeval times. They not only represent the finest and the oldest specimens in known human art activity, but also chronicle the times and the conditions under which they came about. Pakistan, with the help of Unesco, must seek to relocate such rocks that are now threatened by the major dam development project that, too, should move forward without further delay.

Building for the future must not mean erasing the past. The present must be seen and seized as a process of continuity in the development of human civilisation, without it being oblivious of the past or unmindful of the future.

The writer is a member of staff.

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