Kishtwar : At The Himalayan Crossroads
Kishtwar today is just a district in the Jammu Division of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. It borders the Kashmir Valley on one side, Doda on the other, Zanskar in the North, Chamba in the South. It has been noticed by some hard core mainly foreign Monatineers in the past and even recently for the great climbing opportunities it offers in the Kishtwar Himalayas.
Ok coming to what I wanted to write about. The Great Himalayan Range and its related Ranges stretch from the Pamir Knot down to the Hengduan Mountains in North Western Kunming. Besides all the ethnic and cultural variety there are also a variety of Religions practiced in these Mountains. Since Religion is a hot topic of debate and discussion and even derision on the Himalayan Club I decided to write on a subject related to it. To me the Religion of a place carries as much value as the ethnicity or the culture or the language does.
In the Himalayas there is the basic presence of three of our great religions. In the Western and Northern part of the Western Himalayas it is Islam which dominates. However beyond the Himalayas in the North its Buddhism. Towards the Eastern and Southern Part of the Western Himalayas it is Hinduism. And of course Buddhism in the Trans Himalayan reaches. The Central Himalayas are a stronghold of Hinduism stretching all the way across to Sikkim. But again as a feature seen earlier its Buddhism which dominates the higher Himalayas and the Trans Himalayas. Beyond Sikkim its predominantly Buddhism which is the majority religion.
Its in Kishtwar that the three belief systems merge and hence it gives unique place in the Himalayas. The majority population follows Islam, a large minority follows Hinduism and a very small minority of Buddhists also exist in Kishtwar. Its in the upper reaches of Padar (which used to be called Paldar by the Ladakhis / Tibetans) that there are exist Buddhist villages which follow the same Tibetan Buddhist traditions that are followed across the Great Himalayan divide in Zanskar. Infact in some of these Villages in Kishtwar there still exists an animal which is associated more with Ladakh or Tibet ie the Yak. In the Padar Region in the upper reaches along the Machail River there are the twin hamlets of Halo and Hango on the left side of the Machail River and the Villages of Lossaini, Dangali, Scham and Jashari which are all Buddhist Villages.
Towards the south bordering Doda and Chamba are a majority of Hindus contiguous with the populations to the South. The main Kishtwar town and to the North of it are majority Muslim population many of whom have actually come in from adjoining areas in Kashmir. In Fact the Kashmiri spoken by the people in the Warwan Valley, which is a part of Kishtwar, is supposed to be the purest form of Kashmiri as it was spoken in the olden days. The Warwan Valley runs parallel to the Suru Valley in Ladakh separated by the Great Himalayan Range itself.
Kishtwar is first referred to in the Rajatarangini by the ancient name Kashthavata, during the reign of Raja Kalsa of Kashmir (1063–1089), when "Uttamaraja", the ruler of Kashthavata visited the court of the Kashmir King in company with several other hill chiefs to pay their respects to the Raja.
It was more or less an independent Hill Kingdom ruled by Rajput Hill Rajas as was the norm in the region. The Royal family had supposedly descended from the Royal family of Suket.
However subsequently a part of it also became a part of the Western Tibetan Kingdom and the one of the Kings divided his Kingdom between his sons and they got Zanskar, Purig and Kishtwar as separate Kingdoms. However in the absence of any written historical records of history of the Region the timelines are just approximate guesses and due to the Geography of the region it is well possible that a part of Kishtwar was under the Rajput Hindu Rajas and the more higher and remote areas like Padar was under the rule of Ladakhi/ Tibetan Rajas.
In the 17th Century the Rajas of Kishtwar converted to Islam so did a large part of the population. But in an odd adaption the Rajas, though Muslims by religion, had Hindu Rajput names and this continued till the 1820 when it was captured by Raja Gulab Singh, a vassal of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The name of the last ruling was Raja Muhammed Teg Singh s/o Raja Inayatullah Singh. The campaign for the capture of the Kingdoms of Kishtwar, Reasi and Arnos was carried on by none other than General Zorawar Singh who subsequently became the Governor of these erstwhile Kingdoms and it was from here that he planned his invasions of Ladakh, Baltistan and Tibet. And one of his main Officers, Col Mehta Basti Ram, of the well known Mehta clan of Kishtwar, who campaigned fearlessly with General Zorawar Singh in all his Campaigns. After the death of General Zorawar Singh and the subsequent signing of the Treaty of Chusul, it was Col Mehta Basti Ram who became the first Governor of Ladakh.
As of today this most beautiful part (arguably) of Himalayas lies mostly unknown to outsiders except a few adventure seekers. Lying in the shadow of Kashmir and Ladakh but a part of Jammu that can give both these places more than a run for their money just with its amazing Geographical and Cultural diversity.