Having hailed from South Kashmir in district Pulwama and travelled widely in the valley, I had missed going to North Kashmir except for one brief visit to the beautiful Gurez valley via Bandipora.
The name of the magnificent Lolab valley was well known to me and had heard about its lovely pine and fir forests and fruit trees, especially walnut trees. The dense forests, which one finds everywhere in this valley, surround it. I decided to have a few days trip to Kupwara district through the Kupwara town accompanied by a few friends, originally from this district. While going en route by a short cut, we had to ask a gentleman near Kupwara the correct direction. First thing he requested us was to have lunch at his place before he directed us, amazing hospitality. While breaking our journey, someone at a teashop told us if we have time before reaching Sogam, we should go via Kalaroos village and see something very different and fascinating. We decided to follow his advice. None of my local friends had really seen this place although they had vaguely heard about it. As we reached there, we came to know that the name is from Quil e Roos (Russian fort) and the tunnels surrounding it. A passage to Russia in good old times.
We could see on the hill facing us a very formidable fort like structure engraved on a huge rock, called Satbaran, meaning 7 doors (Sath bar, in Kashmiri language). Locals say that the doors symbolise seven distinct routes to Russia and other neighbouring countries. An aged native whom we met, said that he had heard from his ancestors that Russians used to come through the tunnels close to this rock, a fact difficult to believe keeping in mind the geography and topography of the place. A few meters away from the stone are some other caves, one of them being the Tramkhan, a crimson-hued copper mine cave. Inside this cave, there is a discoloured board with some illegible words written on it. The origin of Satbaran is unknown, some believe it was a temple in the ancient era where Pandavas used to worship, with idols placed on all the 7 doors. We climbed the height of around 1000 metres slowly and reached the Satbaran and also went on top of the huge rock with the architecture. After some rest we decided to go further up and went up to the mouth of the 3 caves but did not venture to go in, being ill equipped.
The only documented and recent information about these caves, is that a group of Americans, Mr Amber and Eric Fies, expert cave explorers, had come recently in 2018 to this historic place. They were well equipped for going in the caves with head lights, appropriate gear, shoes and oxygen etc. They explored all the three visible caves and reached the termination points of two of them which were blind. In their description they mentioned the possibility that two of the caves might have been inter- connected in the past. One of the two caves is upward trending, the other one trends downwards. Both of them have similar elevations and azimuths (an angular measurement in a spherical coordinate system). They couldn’t determine a similar elevation for the third cave, as it was sealed by the Indian army many years ago to prevent militants from hiding in its crevices. Their conclusive remarks were that there were no signs of any recent human passages in the third cave where they could not reach the terminal end. The cave, however, had large rodents with sharp spines called Porcupines.
The mystery around Kalaroos caves is likely to continue for years to come. It reminds us about the glorious past and the civilization of our mother land. The new generation archaeologists and geologists need to take over and get more facts of this wonderful area and the caves. Who knows there might be more caves in that area?
Prof U Kaul is a Cardiologist, Past President of the Cardiological Society of India and SAARC Cardiac Society. Recipient of Padamshiri and Dr B C Roy Award