Towers of Kohistan

Zulfiqar Ali Kalhoro on the many historic sites of the Sazin Valley

Towers of Kohistan
From the right side of the Indus River and just opposite the Tangir Valley, a road leads to Sazin valley. From the Sazin Road one can view the confluence of Rivers Tangir and Indus. This valley on the south of the Indus River was once part of dominion of the Prince Pakhtun Wali Khan whose headquarters were based in Tangir.

Darel, Tangir and Sazin were ruled by Pakhtun Wali Khan until 1917 when he was killed by the Tangiris in the Tangir valley.

The Sazin valley is an enchanting valley of the Indus-Kohistan district in in Kyber Pakhtunkhwa, predominately inhabited by the Shins. Due to the high concentration of Shins on the both sides of the Indus River from Palus to Gor (Goharabad), locally it was called Shinaki, the Land of the Shin tribe. Under Dogra rule, it was known as Yagistan: the Land of the Free or the “Rebel Country”.

Like Tangiris and Darelis, the people of Harban and Sazin were also fierce fighters and unleashed a reign of terror during Dogra rule. It was only Pakhun Wali Khan who ruled the area with an iron hand and tried to pacify it – but ultimately was killed by Tangiris, the people of Tangir.

View of Asurati village in Sazin valley

Sazin is one of the oldest settlements in Indus-Kohistan. People of Sazin are more educated than neighbouring valleys of Harban, Seo and Kandia in Indus-Kohistan.

While entering into valley of Sazin, one comes across the defensive towers locally called darosho and ghari or Shikari in Darel and Tangir, which are conspicuous from the distance and dominate the landscape of every village in the valley.

These towers are symbols of masculinity and power in Sazin and other valleys of Indus-Kohistan – including the two valleys Darel and Tangir of Diamer district in Gilgit-Baltistan. The height of a tower indicates the status and level of power of the owner. It also indicates his intensity of the enmities of that owner.

A closer view of a tower and house in Asurati village

Almost everyone in Kohistan knows about the height of the Shikari (defence tower) of Shah Zaman at Yeshot village in Darel, a village also known for Azeemu, celebrated in the Indus Kohistan and Diamer district for his bravery. The Shikari of Shah Zaman is a four-storeyed structure. Similar defensive towers can also be seen at Khamikot which is believed to have been built by Dost Muhammad – and hence known as Dost Muhammad Ghari (tower). But the tower of Dost Muhammd is older and more decorative as compared to the tower of Shah Zaman.

In recent years, Sazin has witnessed more construction of towers due to growing blood feuds that sometimes paralyze the lives of local people. Most of the feuds result from “Jar Churi” (illicit relationships). In fact, land disputes are rare as compared to honour killing disputes.

Like other valleys of Indus-Kohistan, the people are very hospitable. Their hospitality is known far and wide. However, sometimes one can be caught in the crossfire between two arch enemies – such clashes being a routine matter in the valleys of Indus-Kohistan.

View of River Indus from Asurati, Sazin

There are many people in the Sazin valley who narrate the “Poni” (genealogy) of their tribe. However, two such celebrated “pono-yaro” (genealogists being old men for the most part) are Abdul Wali and Muhammad Hasan of Sazin Kot village. According to them, the Shins of Sazin are the descendants of Bigo, the great grandson of Sudoon/Sudum who came from the Punjab. Bigo meant “brave man” in the Shina language. Sudoom/Sudum the great grandfather of Bigo first settled in Palus valley in Indus-Kohistan. He had two sons called Mani and Manzari. Bigo son of Manik son of Mani son of Sudum settled in Sazin. The present Shins are descended from Bigo, the great grandson of Sudum.

The first village of Sazin that one happens to visit is Asurati. The main and large village in Sazin is Kot, predominantly inhabited by Shins. A few households also belong to Kamins and Yeshkuns. Apart from Kot, there are other small settlements by the name of Shaing, Dahech or Doche (named after the son of Bigo) and Bakoro.

Kot is noted in the valley for its wooden mosque and some carved wooden coffins/railings. The Kot mosque of Sazin is the prototype of one found at Phoguch village in Darel valley, a village also noted for the remains of a Buddhist monastery and shikaris (towers). Floral and geometric designs decorate every architectural element of the mosque. One also finds some wooden coffins near the mosque and various other places in the village –  both carved and simple. The tradition of making wooden coffins does not continue in this valley now.

The Sazin valley abounds in sites of archaeological significance. Just above Kot village on a hillock are located the ruins of a fort locally called Kani (old fort) or Kafir/Kufar Kot (Fort of the Unbelievers) where there are remains of fortification walls and houses. People have illegally dug every part of Kufari Kot in the hope of finding treasure. Treasure-hunters are very  active in various valleys of Indus-Kohistan and Darel and Tangir valleys of Diamer district. Just below the Kufari Kot at lower level is located a Kufari Jarat (necropolis). One finds there many graves belonging to pre-Buddhist period or Gandhara grave culture, a term which was coined by eminent archeologist Prof.Ahmed Hasan Dani. People have found there beads and many other artifacts which they sell to buyers of antiquities. Apart from Kufari fort and necropolis, there is another site of Diring where one finds ancient rectangular fields on terraces which are locally called “Doli”. Such dolis can be found at three places in Sazin valley. The site of Diring is situated 3 km east of Kot village.

One of the amazing things at Diring is the existence of a megalithic monument or stone circle locally called “Dev Gosh” (House of the Giant). Such stone circles are found in many places in Gupis and Yasin.

Apart from Diring there is another place at Dadar where there are ruins of an old settlement. One finds there remains of houses. People have also tried to excavate illegally at some spaces in hopes of finding treasure.

In May 2009, Fazal Wali, while cultivating his fields, accidentally found two urns or burial jars which were filled with bones and beads. Similar urns were also found by Prof. Ahmed Hasan Dani about 30 years ago from Manikyala  village in Darel valley.

Aside from the German scholars who worked under the guidance of anthropologist Karl Jettmar, no Pakistani scholar has yet worked in Sazin valley. In recent years; there has been a trend of migration to urban areas .

In the aftermath of migration to the cities, sons also take their fathers along. One is certain to lose the oral traditions in this situation when the old men leave their villages for towns. In the relatively open society of the cities and towns, nobody listens to them. But in the villages in Sazin valley, those old people were always attentively heard by the young and old while sitting on wooden platforms (byak).

Scholars and governing authorities should conduct anthropological research in Sazin valley to document the fast disappearing oral traditions of the 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