The legend of Greek El-Dorado and the Soniwal Tribes of Gilgit-Baltistan

The legend of Greek El-Dorado and the Soniwal Tribes of Gilgit-Baltistan

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By Rabia Tariq 

Greek Historian Herodotus is called the father of history and is known for his work ‘the histories’. In this book Herodotus has narrated the tale of a far away land where giant ants dug the ground and bought up gold. These ants were larger than foxes but smaller than dogs in size. People of the area sifted the sand and collected this gold. Then it was sent to the reigning emperor of Persia as a tribute. The emperor of Persia had a few of these ants in his royal court. The city of gold or ‘El-Dorado’ as called by Herodotus was located between Pactyica and Caspapyrus. According to modern academia Pactyica is actually present day Peshawar and Caspapyrus is Kashmir.

This tale of giant ants was written 2500 years ago and was once very popular in Athens and Rome. Alexander the great is said to have known the story about the giant ants and the city of gold when he set out on his conquest to India. Many treasure hunters spent their life in search of Herodotus’ El Dorado in Sandy Dunes of Egypt and Africa. There were others who did not believe in this tale and one such scholar called Herodotus ‘the Father of Lies’. Despite continuous failure the story of the city of gold continued to fascinate scholars and researchers.

This mystery of gold-digging ants was solved by Michel Peissel, a French explorer and anthropologist in 1984. In the western Himalayan region of Baltistan Michel Peissel met the people who collected gold from the banks of Indus. There he found a clue to the mystery of gold digging ants. They told him about the place where their elders collected gold in the past through the method described by Herodotus. The mysterious giant gold digging ants were in reality Himalayan marmots.

The account of giant ants was given to Herodotus by Persian traders in 500 BC. The Persians simply called Marmots as the ‘mountain ants’. While digging their burrows, the soil that marmots threw up contained large amounts of gold. A few years after his discovery Michel Peisel visited Dansar plain located near Indian border after permission from the government of Pakistan. He saw the marmots digging the ground and throwing up soil containing gold. But the people were no longer there to sift the oil for gold. They had abandoned this place after partition due to frequent exchanges of cross border firing between India and Pakistan and moved to lower regions where they could continue their trade in safety without any threat. These gold collecting people are known as Soniwal or Maroochy by the natives and belong to the Minaro tribe. To this day Minaro tribe continues to collect gold along the banks of Indus River in Gilgit Baltistan.

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Pamir Times is the pioneering community news and views portal of Gilgit – Baltistan, Kohistan, Chitral and the surrounding mountain areas. It is a voluntary, not-for-profit, non-partisan and independent venture initiated by the youth.