Prof Rahmat Karim Baig

From afforestation to deforestation – 3

Prof. Rahmat Karim Baig

I have the pleasure to say that my work/write-ups in the online papers have been appreciated by a good number of readers except a few negative comments who fail to understand the value of the cultural assets of the past of Chitral.

The Kho inhabitants of Chitral and their followers have been good plantation lovers. They worked in this field of agriculture for a number of reasons such as competitive nature, need of timber and firewood, love of fruits, shortage of food etc.

The walnut trees were grown in some areas as part of horticulture but in many others they grew wildly and protection was extended by the locals to save them and see them grow in to big trees as the size of the trees shows, in some places they are usually super kind, having age up to a thousand years.

Like Chinar, this tree has got a very long age but grafting of walnuts was not a developed skill in our area. The roots of both trees are superbly long lived and resist ageing process.

The fruit trees were also planted when small and protected from cattle and goats as eating of the main shoot by goats brings great damage to the growth of fruit trees like apricot, apples, mulberries. The products of these fruit trees were collected and preserved for winters. Dried apricots and mulberries were stocked in large quantities in wooden boxes, baskets and also in ‘kash’ which was designed from sheets of stone and special kind of mud.

The dried mulberries were also ground and then processed twice to get fine powder for use in syrup form. These were done by hard working members of the families with the assistance of the children.

The walnuts were used locally in various forms and the walnut oil was used as cooking oil. The oil from apricot nuts was smaller in quantity but the walnut gave good oil for use and it was used in its virgin form.

The horticulture supplemented the grain from the farms. In certain villages the quality of apricot used to be superior- very good in quality but mostly it was mediocre. There was also difference of quality in the walnuts-some are very good, produce much oil than others. The colour of the kernel from the walnuts in the higher altitude regions was and still is white-the superior quality but some also gave oil but with poor production. The fruits of each tree differed.

In the Kalash valleys, there are very big walnut trees and climbing for the owners was always a problem. It is related that there were bears in the forests that like walnuts very much and also could climb the big trees easily while the owners could not, so they built big baskets with holes in the bottoms and placed them under the target trees.

The bears came at night, climbed the trees, shook the branches with full force and thus dropped the walnuts and then came down and collected all the lot and put them into the baskets and lifted them to carry them to their caves but as soon as they lifted the baskets the walnuts dropped down through the holes and all were on the ground again  and the bear restarted to put all of them into the basket again and after a few cycles the dawn was up and the bear had to leave all the labour and went away in dismay.

The owner then came to the tree and put all the products into goat skin bags and carried to his home. This trick was used to utilize the skill and energy of the bears.

The trees in all parts of Chitral are cut without a qualm of conscience. The Forest department should intervene and hold awareness sessions in all the valleys to save trees and save the poor tree resources of the region, especially cutting of pine and Juniper to be banned. The Juniper trees have almost disappeared from the hillsides and need particular attention. 

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