Himalayan Journal vol.05
The Himalayan Journal

Publication year:

Kenneth Mason
    (Lieut.-Colonel B.E.M. Gurdon)
    (HELLMUT DE TERRA Tale North India Expedition)
  7. KULU
    (A. P. F. HAMILTON)
    (Captain G. C. CLARK)
    (G. A. R. SPENCE)
    (Lieut.-Colonel KENNETH MASON)
  14. NOTES


Captain G. C. CLARK

Away up in the north of India, almost on the boundary between Hunza and the Afghan Wakhan, there is, in the barren valley of the Chapursan, a small walled-in enclosure containing the relics of a man who must have been the equal of Elijah in his powers of calling down destruction from Heaven on any one who incurred his displeasure.

When it was that he marched up and down the valley spreading destruction in his wake is unknown. The story is shrouded in the mists of time, but it is still so living a force that the local people will never forget his name, and still look on his tomb as one of the most venerated places in the little mountain state of Hunza.

The Chapursan valley runs approximately east and west close to the boundary of Hunza. To its north a range of hills separates it from the narrow strip of the Afghan Wakhan, and at its head the Irshad pass affords a line of communication between the two countries. Sometime, before perhaps dates were invented, there appeared at the top of this pass a weird man. Descending into the valley, which then boasted several large and flourishing villages, he sat himself down at the first hamlet he came to. To the crowd of interested people who soon surrounded him he refused, however, to give his name and merely stated that he came from a village called Ghundi, over towards Badakshan. Unable to get any other information the locals finally christened him Babaghundi-a name which in a short time was to fill the valley with terror.

Now in those days the Chapursan was a hotbed of vice. To the inhabitants of that valley the people of Sodom and Gomorrah would have appeared early Victorian, and when the novelty of Babaghundi had worn off they returned to their amusements and left the old man to look after himself. But he was not used to being treated so casually and, girding up his loins, he set off to find some place where he would be treated as he deserved. The farther down the valley he went, however, the more he was appalled by the evil ways of the villagers. Finally he gave it up in disgust and turned, with the intention of retracing his footsteps and finding a land more worthy of his holy self.

To show the inhabitants what they had lost in refusing to accept him he now started leaving signs on the rocks as he went along. At a place, now called Panjai Shah, a mile or so below the Riship- jerab nullah, he struck a rock with his open hand and left imprinted the marks of his fingers and palm. At the Rishipjerab nullah he removed the saddle cloth from his horse, and with it smote a large rock on which was left the pattern of the cloth. Finally, near a village called Reshit, he left on a rock the outline of his horse's hoof and also the actual saddle he was then using. All these things can still be seen and are pointed out with great pride by the Hunza people.

Eventually he arrived at a large village called Sipenj. It was evening and he was tired; but none of the villagers would give him food and a night's lodging until an old woman took pity on him, allowing him to shelter in her small hovel and giving him some milk, all she possessed, to drink.

Old Babaghundi was furious. Resting for a little, while he hatched his plans, he finally told the old dame to collect all her belongings and to be sure that she did not move out of her house till she had seen what she should see. He then disappeared till the morning, when, as dawn broke, he was seen standing at the mouth of the small tributary nullah on whose banks the village was built. As the sun rose he lifted his arms and cursed the village. Immediately one of the strange phenomena of these hills, a mud-avalanche, swirled down the nullah and blotted out the village under masses of colossal boulders and debris. Out of the whole place the sole survivor was the old woman whose house and land remained untouched owing to a large rock coming to rest in such a position that the little cottage was shielded from the flood. This old lady's nerve must have been marvellous for, untroubled by the appalling catastrophe she had just witnessed, she went up to Babaghundi and said that the night before a villager had refused to return a sieve of hers which he had borrowed and would Babaghundi get it back for her now. Apparently the success of his schemes had put him in a good temper for, stretching out his hand, he summoned the sieve to appear and straightway it floated up out of the mass of boulders and mud, and the old lady was able to rejoice over all her belongings once more.

The fame of this deed spread through the land. Babaghundi now found himself, perhaps naturally, treated with the utmost respect. He was finally persuaded to abandon his idea of leaving the valley and consented to settle permanently at the place, now called Ziarat, where, after many years spent in the odour of sanctity, he eventually expired- and the local people heaved a sigh of relief as they covered in his grave.

After such an experience it might be thought that the villagers would have learnt their lesson. Perhaps the older people did behave themselves, but there grew up in time a generation which knew not Babaghundi and which reverted to the bad old ways of their forefathers.

Below Ziarat there used to be a large village called Ishkuk whose inhabitants were greatly troubled by a monster which lived in a lake about a mile away. In order to keep it quiet they used to provide food for it once a week in the shape of a human being-the victim being chosen by lot. One day the lot fell on a young girl. Sitting by the side of the lake, waiting for the monster to come and devour her, she suddenly found herself accosted by a stranger, who asked her what was troubling her. On hearing the tale he told her to return to her people and that he would settle the account with the animal. After some argument she agreed to do this, but when she got back to the village every one was horrified and, in spite of her story, she was hustled back to the lake. There, however, they found the stranger and, lying at his feet, the body of the beast which had so long preyed on the village and which was now dead.

Every one was overjoyed and they all wanted to take the stranger back to Ishkuk and do him honour. He would not allow this, however, and finally made himself known as the prophet Babaghundi who had returned to earth for the sole purpose of freeing the villagers. He then warned every one that the people of the Chapursan were returning to their evil habits and that the fate of Sipenj should not be forgotten. He then disappeared.

For some time this reincarnation made the people mend their ways, but once more their children's children forgot Babaghundi and the Chapursan again turned to evil ways. But the old Pir slept lightly. In his tomb at Ziarat he learnt of the old sins revived and, arising in his wrath, he swept down the valley and blotted out the erring valley of Ishkuk under a second mud-flood so that there is now nothing to mark its site but a few dead thorn trees standing in a waste of boulders.

The people of the Chapursan had now, at the cost of the lives of 600 families, learnt their lesson, and Babaghundi has not had any further cause to vent his wrath on more of the villages. That he is not a spent force, however, two small parties, one from Wakhan and one from the Pamirs, have learnt to their cost. Both of these parties were foolish enough to loot the Pir's tomb. The men of Wakhan got as far as the top of the Irshad pass, the Khirgiz as far as the Mintaka. Then, however, Babaghundi caught them up and in both cases the pilferers were overwhelmed by avalanches.

Old Babaghundi now lies peacefully in his lonely tomb up at Ziarat. Thanks to his activities there are no villages within miles of his resting-place, but his grave, a place of great veneration, is tended by an old chaukidar who, from his looks, might be quite capable himself of taking up the prophet's mantle and wearing it most successfully. Perhaps, some day, he will.

Note by the Editor

There are several variations of this interesting folk-tale in Hunza. Perhaps the version most commonly told is that given by Colonel Lorimer. In this account the Ishkuk incident happened before the destruction of Sipenj. The Ishkuk dragon had to be appeased by a male yak, a maund of ghi, and a human being; one day when the lot fell on a certain man, first his wife and then his daughter offered to take his place, the latter saying that her parents could raise up other daughters in her place. Babaghundi slew the dragon, and, according to Colonel Lorimer's account, appeared to the Ishkuk people in a dream, saying: 41 am the person that slew the dragon. If any difficulty comes to you, call on me. My name is Baba Ghundi.' The people, not believing this, decided to put it to the test; they howled and lamented and called upon Babaghundi's name. Presently Babaghundi appeared and rode down the whole length of the Chapursan. Finding nothing the matter, he disappeared. The Ishkuk people thought this rather funny and tried again. Once more Babaghundi appeared, and again he rode through the valley and disappeared. They tried a third time; and now Babaghundi appeared as a footsore and weary old man. According to some accounts the people recognized him; others say that they mistook him for a beggar. At any rate they stoned him and refused him shelter. He went on down the valley and met with the same reception everywhere until he found an old woman who took pity on him and gave him all the milk she possessed. He cursed the valley and blessed the old woman, and the next morning the mud-avalanche duly occurred, as Captain Clark tells above. The house of the old lady is still pointed out and is known as Kampire Dior, 'the house of the old woman'.

Another somewhat different account is given by Captain C. J. Morris in the Geographical Journal, vol. lxxi, p. 526, where Ishkuk-Tashkuk in Captain Morris's story-is destroyed by a huge wave which descended from the mountain. This account closes as follows: 4Everyone was drowned with the exception of one woman, who had refused to participate in the horrible orgies of the villagers, and she is considered to be the original ancestor of the present inhabitants of the Chapursan valley.'

Both mud-avalanches and floods (or 'waves') are not uncommon happenings in Hunza. Lord Conway was perhaps the first to observe and record a mud-avalanche in 1892; the 'waves' are generally caused by the bursting of glacier obstructions. Such natural occurrences are regarded as supernatural by simple-minded hill-people.