Prof. Rahmat Karim Baig
Chitral has inherited a very difficult terrain for professions like agriculture, large scale animal husbandry, dairy products, poultry farming etc., due to its location in the mountains.
In the past, the inhabitants of Chitral had no access to any business centre but some caravans dared to travel to Chitral with the products of their own markets and carried away some articles of daily use such as woolen patti or chogha, shuqa, embroidered caps, daggers (Biddulph), Chitrali Sitar, yellow arsenic, gold dust etc.
The items mentioned above were not large in volume. Food products were already scanty here. The people managed to use their land produce with great care as much as to remain self-sufficient after minimum food rationing. But they had developed a fruit growing culture where ever it was possible.
Planting fruit trees and a competition in this field was a fashion even to the lowest rank of the society. The fruits grown here included grapes, pomegranates, mulberries, peaches, pear, apricots, apples, walnuts, water melon, musk melon etc.
The produce of horticulture was consumed in summers and a good amount was dried and preserved for use in winters. Since their products could not reach markets due to poor road system, so sale of any of these was out of question.
The shortage of food grain was made up by using the dry fruits from their own stock. Dry mulberries were eaten intact or crushed with walnut kernel called “Shakar phustek.” It was also regarded a remedy against sciatica. Grapes were kept fresh in underground cells after dipping the bunches in fluid made of a kind of special fine clay taken from rocky highlands.
In this way, the grapes did not get dry but remained fresh inside the crust of clay. Such conservation was made for the ruler as well as their friends and guests. Dry apricots were kept in large amount and made apricot syrup and used with bread. These were also sent to relatives and friends. The nuts of the apricots were kept in baskets or large pitchers.
They were used to get oil from the kernel as walnuts were done which produces much more oil than apricot. Certain varieties of pears could survive the winter and could be used even in spring. The dried apples were eaten in slices as well as crushed into fine powder and used as syrup up to the next crop.
The local people had developed skills to graft mulberries, apples, peaches, apricots etc. from delicious tree shoots and got better products. This was done in early spring and in mid summer. The grafting method was learned from the more expert grafters and hence fruit products were improved.
Grapes were planted from high quality varieties and carried from valley to valley. The higher valleys could produce only apricots, apples, pear, mulberries but the lower parts of the valleys also grew other fruit trees as well.
There are certain pear varieties which are said to have been grown from seeds taken from the gizzard of ducks from central Asian region called ‘ Alio tong’ that is a seed of pear which had been obtained from a mallard which shows the interest of the horticulturists of Chitral.
Since mallards and ducks reach the river beds of Chitral in autumn and early spring and Chitralis have had the craze for duck shooting so the gizzards of hunted ducks were searched for such seeds.