Painted Wooden Mosques of Tangir

Zulfiqar Ali Kalhoro on the mosques decorated with distinctive skill by communities in Gilgit-Baltistan

Painted Wooden Mosques of Tangir
Tangir, a valley in Diamer district in Gilgit-Baltistan, is famous for not only for its natural beauty but also the cultural heritage sites which are scattered throughout the length and breadth of the valley. A road which sprouts from the right bank of the River Indus just opposite Shatial runs parallel to the Tangir river up to Satil from where it originates. The most enchanting place in the Tangir is the Satil meadows which is located at the head of the valley. Satil is a very broad valley. Tangir is divided into three roms (an area-wise distribution of natural resources): Lorekh is the first rom followed by Jaglot-Sheikh-Rim as the second and Gabbar as the third. Satil is the communal pasture of the people living in the Gabbar rom.

From Satil two tracks originate, one of which leads to the Phundar valley in Ghizer district via the Chachhi nullah. In fact, the Chachhi nullah features three beautiful and pristine lakes – as such sandwiched between nullahs. The other tract leads to Dahi Mal village in Gupis close to Yasin river via Bathret Nullah. In order to go to Dahi Mal, one has to take Pai Nullah to reach Chileli area from where one enters into Baro Bathret which further leads to Dahi Mal village in Gupis of Ghizer district. There are two nullahs by the name of Bathret, Baro (large) Bathret and Biyalo (small) Bathret. The junction of the both nullahs meets at Miro Das, which is a most charming and spectacular location in the Tangir valley. Both nullahs are also home to many beautiful lakes.

Spectacular view of Gachhar lake in Tangir

This route was used by pilgrims and invaders since ancient times. In particular, it was frequented by Buddhist pilgrims. Many traders and pilgrims also used this route to reach Yasin, Chitral and as far away as Afghanistan. Apart from natural beauty which attracted both locals and outsiders to the valley, another reason for its fame is the timber which local people used to bring in from the nullahs. This tumber was used in house construction.

But apart from constructing houses, this wood was also used to build mosques.

Wood is transported from Tangir to Durgai in Mardan for sale. In fact, upon entering the Tangir valley, the first thing that one notices is the wood which is scattered over the both sides of the Tangir river up to Koranga Bala village.
Feroz Khan was a celebrated mason and wood carver of the Tangir valley. In fact, most of the wooden mosques have been built by him

Due to its availability and quality in the region, wood was extensively used in the construction of the mosques of the Tangir valley. In fact, the tradition of building wooden mosques still continues in the valleys of Darel and Tangir in Diamer district. A few traditional artists still carry on the centuries-old traditions of both the valleys. Both valleys boast some of the oldest wooden mosques in Gilgit-Baltistan.

One finds more such painted wooden mosques in Tangir than Darel. They are located in Koranga Bala, Dabas, Diamer, Lorekh, Phapat, Mushke, Bagute, Faruri and Darqali Bala villages in Tangir valley.

Amongst all these, the mosques of Korangla Bala, Faruri and Mushke are quite remarkable for intricate woodwork. The Koranga Bala mosque is a two-storey building which was built a decade ago. It is noted for the beautiful floral designs which are painted upon it. Red and green colours are excessively used to paint the wooden elements of the mosque. This mosque is believed to have been built by the Feroz Khan – a celebrated mason and  wood carver of the Tangir valley. In fact, most of the wooden mosques have been built by him.

Apart from the wooden mosque of Koranga Bala, one also finds such a mosque at Mushke village. The pillars of the verandah are preceded by the prayer hall – all of which have been carved and painted. All the shafts of the pillars are octagonal with decorative square bases and brackets. A central column supports the beamwork of the prayer hall. The distinctive feature of the prayer hall is the mihrab which appears to have received especial attention from the artist. The centre of the mihrab depicts an engraving of a dome and the cusped arch. Geometric and floral designs also decorate the mihrab. Red, green and white colours have been used to paint the wood carvings. There is also an inscription on one of the pillars which reads that the mosque was built on “29-6-1993”.

Faruri painted wooden mosque, Tangir Valley, Gilgit-Baltistan

Apart from the Mushke mosque, there is a wooden mosque at Bagute which is noted for noted for beautiful carvings. The distinctive feature of this mosque would be the fresco paintings found on the walls of verandah and the prayer hall. The mosque is believed to have been built in 1960. All the community members of the village contributed in the construction. To the south of the mosque is situated an inn for travelers. This wooden structure is accessed by wooden stairs that lead to a verandah. Guests and travelers used to stay in this building. Close to this building is an area where ablution is performed before prayers.

In addition to the Bagute mosque, there is yet another imposing wooden mosque at Faruri village. This mosque is well known for intricate carvings. It is a two-storey building. The verandah arcade of the mosque opens to the south and the west. Both the lower and upper arched verandahs carrry fretted panels on top. The prayer hall is preceded by a verandah with decorative pillars. Wooden stairs are laid to climb up the first floor. The most imposing feature of the Faruri mosque are two mihrabs – found one each on the  ground floor and the first floor. The ground floor mihrab has geometric and floral designs. The miharb of the upper storey depicts a decorated arch in the centre, flanked by vases. The corner pillars are most impressive and bear floral designs. This mosque is also believed to have been constructed by Feroz Khan, a celebrated mason of the Tangir valley.

The wooden mosque at Darqali Bala is celebrated for its intricate carvings. This mosque also carries an inscription bearing the name of a mason and the date of the construction. It reads that the mosque was built in 1977 by mason Yarmanon. This mason Yarmanon also built many other wooden mosques in the Tangir valley. The arched verandah of the mosque has fretted panels. The central pillar of the prayer hall has some striking carvings. The mihrab of the mosque is also decorated. Floral designs predominate in the available space. Again, red, green and white colours are used to paint the carvings.

These painted wooden mosques are an invaluable visual heritage of the Tangir valley. Except Darel and a few structures in Nagar, there is no other valley in Gilgit-Baltistan where one finds such splendid spiritual architecture. The concerned authorities should preserve and promote the visual and material heritage of the Tangir valley by patronizing the local artisans who are resolutely carrying forward the centuries-old art of wood carving in the Tangir valley.

The author is an anthropologist and has authored four books: ‘Symbols in Stone: The Rock Art of Sindh’, ‘Perspectives on the art and architecture of Sindh’, ‘Memorial Stones: Tharparkar’ and ‘Archaeology, Religion and Art in Sindh’. He may be contacted at:

The author is an anthropologist. He tweets at: @Kalhorozulfiqar