In northern Pakistan, Chilas – a small town – was once an important crossroads on the ancient trading route taken by travellers like Marco Polo. A jeep track leads from Chilas over the Babusar Pass to the Kaghan Valley. Until the opening of Karakorum Highway (KKH) this track was the main route to the Northern Areas of Pakistan. Going still is tough on the route that is passable only in the summers. We decided to take this track when I took the trip in May with my comrades, which started from Shinkiari.
Before leaving Chilas, visit to the famous inscriptions on the rocks is a must. Ancient inscriptions around Chilas date back in a period around first century BC. The most interesting thematic inscriptions are itched onto the faces of rocks between the KKH and the Indus River below Chilas town. One of the most interesting rock drawings we saw depicts two figures dressed in robes — presumably Buddhist monks — approaching a stupa in order to worship.
The larger figure with a shaven head is carrying some sort of offering. The stupa to which theoffering is being made consists of a rectangular foundation with a ladder leading up to the path for circumambulation, which is surrounded by a railing. The dome of the stupa is decorated with a zigzag line, may be indicating a garland, and is surmounted by a small rectangular shrine and a vertical shaft with three horizontal discs. The architectural and stylistic features of this stupa drawing are similar to those of stupas found in the Swat Valley and other parts of ancient Gandhara in north-western Pakistan. Above the human figure making an offer and to the left of the dome of the stupa is a drawing of a single pillar with a capital (apparently a wild goat or ibex, which is the most common animal in rock drawings in the area) on a rectangular platform.
The mountain glen sets the tone after leaving Chilas for going to Naran via Babusar. We were on a four wheel driven jeep. In the beginning, the surrounding of Chilas are dry and the mountains rocky. Greenery is limited. As one moves farther from Chilas while zigzagging on hilly road, the greenery increases. Small villages show their distinct beauty. High mountains and clear and cool water torrents flow alongside the track. There are fruit trees (grape, apple, walnut and pear) in the way and some trees are so spread out that their branches touch the ground and touched the jeep as we passed by. Natural landscapes fascinate the hearts. At places jeep passes through water that flows on the road. Water is sweet and too cold to keep hands in it for a long time. The surroundings of the passageway are populated and people are seen busy in their work: agriculture. The innocent faces of kids and their activities reflect the district personality. The verdant mountains are on both sides of the track. The Rocky Mountains are hidden here and there among the lush green patches. The natural beauty of this territory compels the viewers to praise the Great Creator. This is the route up to the Babusar village — the last habitat (with tea shops and small eating joints for occasional travellers mostly) before the Babusar top. More