By Amjad Hussain
Maple trees planted in the vicinity of Gilgit cantonment are of vital importance due to their historical background. The trees trace their roots back to the times when British Platoon “Goonath” was deployed in the fort locally called as Fort Firdausia and British referred to it as Gilgit Fort. Due to repercussions of World War 1 in 1914, the Platoon had to bid farewell to this historical garrison. As some memorabilia, they planted these trees inside and outside the Central Gilgit Cantonment. This Cantonment was actually one of the parts of Fort Firdausia. One great wall of the fort was adjoined to the bank of ferocious River Gilgit. Floods of 1905 destructed the wall, but soon with the direct orders from King of Kashmir this wall was rebuild but this time away from the expected flood level of River Gilgit. The affected parts of the fort in the north near the river were left untouched for years. In the same year of 1905, with the direct orders from King of Kashmir, a wooden bridge was constructed which now connects Gilgit City to Konodass.
In the west, there was the Bazaar of Kot Muhalla of the then time which is now supplanted by a stable and in east there lies the majestic Fort Firdosia. Adjacent to the stable there is a parade ground whose entrance takes us to the old Quarter Guard of Gilgit Cantonment which is of historical gravity. Next to it, there now lies Qasim Hall which was once used by Captain Baber Khan, Senior Citizen Safi Ullah, GCO Fida Ali, Senior Citizen Shah Khan, and Subidar Sultan against Dogra rule in 1947 when Pakistan was just born. These five dutiful sons of Brushaal Kingdom hailing from YASHKUN nation were sworn-in to fight for freedom and then annexed themselves to Pakistan.
Jangi Mosque, constructed by the soldiers who were the successors of Goonath Platoon inside the fort, is still famous as Jangi Mosque in the History books of Gilgit-Baltistan. There was no Mosque inside the fort before 1914. Currently in front of the fort, we have education directorate and post office in the west. These areas were once used as a ground for BURUSHU Polo, a game played in the mountains, which used to be the Game of Kings. From the current Western part of Post office to the end of City Central jail; this area was once a royal graveyard for BURUSHU Kings. Interestingly, from the City Central jail to the third shop in the east was once the mausoleum of Burushu Princess Jawar Khan famous as “Dadi Jawari”. In addition, at the back of historical Kashmiri Bazar, cleric Syed Shah Afzal, who came from Badakhshan and preached the King of Gilgit and its people towards Islam, has been buried. Two years later Syed Shah Akber and Syed Shah Ibrahim visited Gilgit for the sake of preaching of Islam. These two eminent preachers of Islam are buried inside Fort Firdosia region towards east of Talib Shah Hotel beside. These all three preachers of Islam were Syeds, direct descendants of Imam Ali. Right in front of High School’s #1 gate, there was a bench made of a stone named as “Neelobut” which means pink stone. One part of the bench, found during the earthwork in construction of high school 1 Gilgit, is now preserved in Public Library Gilgit.
One pillar made up of this Octagonal shaped stone was eight and half feet long and almost 2 tons in weight, which was kept in the fort by The Great Ashok. This pillar was carved with a statue of The Great ASHOK and history of YASHKUN’s lifestyle and culture in the kingdom was written with BRAHMI INSCRIPTION. As of today BRUSHU nation is called YASHKUN tribe, which should be remember as a historical fact. The local Kings were also from the same tribe. Arrival of YASHKUN nation traces back to 1500-1700 AC when they visited Central Asia, Chitral and surroundings in the form of vagabonds and permanently settled in these areas. The details of the settlement of the civilization were written on the pillar. According to late Dr. Ahmed Hassan Dani who was an archeologist, the roots of YASHKUN go back to Gandhara, Griyo, and related cultures. The Pillar which was a historical asset to the history of Gilgit-Baltistan was sold to Lahore museum probably in 1969-1970. And Unfortunately we lost one of our expensive assets.
Due to marginality of Gilgit and the importance of geography of fort Firdausia, the BRUSHU kings used to take great interest in the fort. Amid the mighty BRUSHAAL kingdom, this fort was the apex of centrally governed Gilgit-Baltistan. The fort was constructed and divided into seven parts per the controlled states. These sub-structures are called “Saath Maska”: 1) Bagrot 2) Haramush 3) Nomal 4) Bargo, shiyot, shikayot 5) Danyore 6) Minawar, Sakwar, Jagot, Jaglot 7) Gilgit.
The Northern Scouts Quarter Guard was constructed in the middle of the fort where the maple tree served as a shed for the first ever Primary School. Which produced brilliant students like late DFO Ghulaam Rasool whose grandfather Manshi Ali Jan arranged land for school from Ladaakh to Gilgit which was then a province of Kashmir. The building which serves as High School 1 Gilgit was once enriched in historical utensils like old rifles, historical swords and shields, Trophy of IBEX, skins of snow leopards, and the leftovers of enemies who attacked Gilgit. These historical items were unfortunately misplaced and disappeared.
Maple trees have been of historical importance as aforementioned. The cutting of this noble tree is a legal offense. Nevertheless, these trees are brutally murdered and strangled to death using illegal machinery, which is a driving factor in making these trees vulnerable. Many maple trees have dried and becoming useless because of less care-taking. This overall scenario is resulting in polluting the environment of Gilgit-Baltistan. A Single maple tree gives more oxygen and shadow then a dozens of other trees which make these trees special and environment friendly. Historically the shade of maple tree was considered a cure. There is an interesting folk story behind this myth.
Post Script: The original content was written in Urdu by respectable Late Mr. Zahid Hussain Jan, who was a local writer and a researcher of History of Gilgit Baltistan. The only part left of Fort Firdausia can be unfortunately seen in the picture. There was a time when the slogans of soldiers were echoed in the region clothed with Hindukush and Karakurum ranges and the denizens used to sleep in peace and security. Then the illiterate took power from the wise and destroyed the fort. We have lost an asset and hence we lost part of our history.
The Translator: Mr. Amjad Hussain is a Civil Engineer, a post grad student of Water Resources Engineering from NUST and a hobbyist history researcher of GB.