The Union Territory of Ladakh is one of the most elevated regions in the Himalayas that has been inhabited by humans since the Stone Age. The region of the upper Indus river has been of great importance for Central Asia and India since the ancient times. The influence of Buddhism, indigenous hunting tribes, Tibetan kingdoms, military leaders as well as travellers and messengers from various settlements across Asia has left a deep imprint on the culture and heritage of this region. Ladakh is a treasure trove of petroglyphs (rock carvings) dating back to the historic and prehistoric period.
The oldest petroglyphs found in Ladakh are thought to be about 5,000 years old. Animal forms as well as hunting scenes, symbols and undetermined motifs are found on dark boulders that have withstood the harsh climatic conditions. Commonly seen are large sized animals, hunting scenes of ibex and yak, horse riding, dancing, symbols of sun, palm and swastika, spiral and floral patterns and the earliest temple called chorten probably with the arrival of Buddhism amongst others.
These petroglyphs as well as inscriptions are found downstream of the confluence of the Indus and Zanskar rivers with no such sites found in the Upper Ladakh region. Researchers say this layout is geographically very interesting as it heavily points to a strong connection and influence of an earlier Western Tibetan kingdom that had flourished.
There are many archaeological sites where petroglyphs have been discovered in Ladakh which are under the protection of the Archaeological Department such as Domkar, Alchi, Khaltse and Balukhar to mention a few. One can choose to follow the ancient tracks of earliest civilization across the length and breadth of Ladakh and still remain confounded as the wealth of inscriptions and petroglyphs is immense and the subject matter is so diverse across Ladakh.
One place, Kharool has captured the interest of many geologists, archaeologists and historians who are fascinated by the discovery of animal carvings, inscriptions in Kharosthi and Sharada script and dedicatory Tibetan inscriptions on chortens. Kharool is on NH 1A towards Srinagar about fifteen minutes from Kargil at a very strategic confluence of Ladakh, Baltistan and Kashmir. This tiny hamlet possesses one of the longest rock inscription ever found of the Western Tibetan kingdom (Gu ge-Pu hrang).
Kharool belongs to a group of similar sites found at important military locations. One inscription found at Kharool is written in the reign of Od De in 1028 who was known for his astute military strategies providing a glimpse of the early days of Maryul (Western Tibetan kingdom). Kharool under the name of Kharyul is mentioned in a temple inscription inside the 14th – 15th century Nyima Lhakang in Mulbek. What must be noted is that because of its close proximity to Kashmir, Kharool has a lot of inscriptions in Sharada script indicating that it was located at the doorstep of Bruzha (Gilgit in POK).
There are engravings and inscriptions on chortens that reveal the importance of this place as a vantage location for military operations. About 300 carvings have been found in Kharool alone of which about 100 are of animals, some in the form of circles, anthromorphic figures, swastikas, flowers, handprints and detailed geometrical compartmented patterns.
Some of the prominent carvings found are a trio of animals composed of a lion, horse and tiger, a pair of lions, two large patches with about eighty discs, closed geometrical patterns and palm prints that are generally deemed to be of the historic period.
Though the search still continues to map the reign of military leaders who conquered this region over centuries, Ladakh continues to be shrouded in mystery as the Himalayas appear to have buried many secrets in their bosom.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
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