By Sajjad Ali Shah
This article under the Deh ba Deh series of ChitralToday (chitraltoday.net) is about Mulkhow union council (UC). The writer has shed light on the 12 villages of the area.
According to the New Tareekh-e-Chitral, which was written by Mirza Muhammad Ghufran, Mulkhow or the Lower Khow is originally the area where the first immigrants from Central Asia were settled. The offshoots of those settlers claim to be the aboriginal of Chitral and have spread all over the valley of Chitral. This tribe (the Arians) entered the valley between 2000-1500 BC.
Mulkhow, the first abode of human inhabitation, subsequently became the capital of the state. Mulkhow remained the capital of the state till the immigration of Kalash tribe from Bashgal (Nooristan) to Chitral during the last decade of 10th century. The ancient Mulkhow or the original Mulkhow covered the area from Drasun to Muzhgole. Later, with the expansion of the inhabited area, its territory stretched from Nogram to Shagrome.
In 1895, with the coronation of Shuja ul Mulk as Mehtar at the tender age of 13 years, the boundary of this area started decreasing and villages from Owir to Muzhgole was included in Mulkhow forming the boundary of Mulkhow from Owir to Shagrome. In this article, I would try to shed light on the characteristics, historical importance and life pattern of the Union Council Mulkhow which is located in the centre of Mulkhow valley.
Mulkhow is said to have been the first inhabited area of Chitral remained the capital of the state. This fact is further testified by a stretch of fort ruins within a radius of 12 kilometers. The names of these forts are Krui Soon Fort, Palmati Fort, Gumbad Fort, Noghor Zom Fort, Muzhgol Fort, Khurasan Fort and Drasun Fort. The remains of the boundary walls of the old forts are still sighted at some places.
Drasun Fort is the only existing fort built by Muhtaram Shah Second during his rule from 1788-1838 AD. The strongest fort was Qilla Alam Kuhoon situated at Kosht, which was destroyed by Khairullah, a Khoshwakhtay ruler. During the same period, Palmati fort was fallen down. So Muhtaram Shah collected the materials of both the forts and built a new one which was named Drasun fort. The Khow Bokht (Khow Stone) from where the Khowar language is said to have originated lies in Khow Bokht Village in Saht Payeen of Union Council Mulkhow.
Brief description of UC Mulkhow
Union Council Mulkhow is a rural area of Tehsil Mastuj which is located at a distance of 84 km from Chitral town towards the north east. It is surrounded by UC Terich in the north and UC Kosht in the west. The river flows in the north-south direction and towards its east lies the plateau of Qaqlasht (which translates as dry land). The total population of UC Mulkhow is 16,875 and it is scattered into 2,039 households. The average household size is eight and the average cultivable land holding size is eight kanals per household. Agriculture is the major source of income of the area however subsistent livestock rearing is commonly practiced.
According to the census report of 1998, UC Mulkhow has been divided into 12 hamlets called revenue villages. These villages are Kushum Bala, Kushum Payeen, Saht Bala, Saht Payeen, Gaht, Warijun Bala, Warijun Payeen, Zaini, Samagol, Nogram, Shunu and Uthool. The absolute location of the valley is 36.193173 latitude and 72.143999 longitude. Due to its undulating terrain, it is divided into lower and upper parts where the upper parts are a single cropping zone and the lower parts lie under double cropping zones. The soil of lowland is sandy gravel while that of upper area comprises mostly clay soil.
The area is inhabited by the single and ancient ethnic group called Khow. The Khow consider themselves as the permanent and ancient dwellers of Chitral. The two main branches of Islam exists here i.e. Sunni and Ismailis. Sunni comprises the majority of the population while Ismailis could be estimated at around 5 per cent of total population (KLSO, 2008. The area doesn’t have any forests and all the firewood is transported form Chitral town. People grow poplar and robinia on slopes and around their fields to supplement the firewood needs of their households. Agriculture is wholly dependent on surface irrigation i.e. network of small irrigation channels.
The perennial streams from glacial melt and natural springs are the only source of irrigation and drinking water. The springs and perennial streams start drying in the spring season starting from middle of March and with the commencement of summer during June the area faces acute water shortage and water from the head/source hardly reaches the tail end in the lower parts of the villages. As a result, not all cultivable land is cropped during the summer season, which is the best season for agricultural production; and whatever crops are sown and fruit trees exist suffer from water scarcity.
The area has nutrient rich and fertile land and is significantly suitable for production of cash crops (i.e. rice and potato) but due to shortage of water the farmers are not able to perform. Wheat is the main crop while maize is cultivated for livestock and pulses are also grown on small patches of land during summer. The communication system in Mulkhow is very poor. The road passing through the whole UC is not blacktopped and in a very poor condition. PTCL landline facility exists in the area since 1992 and in 2010 a wireless telephone facility was also installed in the area. There is only one Rural Health Center (RHC) with one male doctor to cater to the needs of the whole population.
A police station, two commercial banks and high schools (two for boys, one for girls and two private) do exist in the area. There are two private colleges in the area providing education up to BA/BSC level. However, well-off students go to Chitral or other down countries to continue their studies at college level and onwards. The infrastructure facilities are also poor in the region. Jeeps and coaches are means of transportation, which usually leave for Chitral early in the morning with passengers and come back in the afternoon mostly loaded with household consumable and construction items. The type of housing structure in the region is mostly Kacha, made of mud and woods.
However, the soil of Mulkhow is considered to be the best for construction of houses. Due to remoteness, the government has minimal interventions in the social sector. No major projects could be seen in the area. The community is also considered to be conservative and majority of the communities had strong resistance to NGOs until early 1990. However, gradually the acceptance of NGOs increased and the communities organized themselves to seek development projects from the NGOS such as AKRSP, SRSP and IUCN etc. The dearth of irrigation water plays havoc with land under cultivation. The two crops areas of Warijun, known for a good yield of wheat, barley and a variety of pulses have now become barren due to scarcity of water. Due to increase in population, the water sources have become defiled and contaminated. The existing irrigation infrastructure is so poor that almost ¾ of water supply goes down the drain and does not benefit the standing crops (IUCN, 1997).
Source of income
The people of Mulkhow are mainly affiliated with agriculture as a major source of income. Few households can subsist entirely on their small land holdings. As a result, boys and men from many families work off farm locally or in down countries. They usually use to go to down countries in winter. They leave in October, after the grain harvest has been threshed, firewood and fodder collected, returning in April or May. During their absence, traditional male responsibilities, such as cleaning snow from rooftop and livestock shed; managing land and attending to social obligations are assumed by boys and women. In several families, some members are permanently employed off farm, working in Chitral town or in urban cities. More affluent households employ labour on daily wage rate to perform tasks formerly carried out by men.
The people of Mulkhow have traditionally practiced subsistence agriculture focused on grain production and livestock rearing. The diet of cereals and dairy products is supplemented with the fruit and nuts grown as single trees in marginal lands on filed boundaries. Households keep livestock in small herds of 2 to 10 depending on the household’s capacity to store crop residues and fodder to feed animals during winter season.
Seasonal migration by the communities has considerably supplemented incomes, reducing vulnerabilities among the communities. A large proportion of households are engaged in this adaptation strategy for securing their livelihoods. This unique mechanism of coping with the situation of drought through intra-rural migration has helped the communities to secure their livelihood assets to a great extent. People find it easier to migrate to houses constructed at higher elevations. Until now this innovative way of dealing with the drought has been considered to be the best adaptation strategy. However, this also entails issues like school dropout, lack of health facilities and increased workload of women.
The intra-rural migration in Mulkhow is an efficient way of dealing with the issues of drought and need to be strengthened through installing education and health facilities at higher elevations. In the Mulkhow region, permanent migration was also recorded to be a strategy to deal with the persistent drought situation and lack of socioeconomic opportunities.
Sajjad Ali Shah, a resident of Warijun, is currently working as Coordinator Monitoring and Evaluation with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Pakistan in Lahore.