At an altitude of 3,300 meters, Zoodkhun, the last hamlet of Chapursan Valley, is granted with less natural ressources and a more difficult access than most of other Wakhi villages of Hunza Valley. Although it creates harsh conditions for its inhabitants it means a pure, peaceful and clean environment in a pristine landscape.
A village without fruit trees
The diyor is too high for apple and apricot trees like the ones growing in the first lower hamlets of Chapursan Valley, or in the villages bordering the Hunza River.
The only fruit available locally is from wild sea buckthorn, a very thorny bush, common in Hunza Valley. Its small round berries, having an orange color, are considered rich in healing properties and contain more C vitamin than citrus fruits. Zood Khun children are fond of it. In addition, they find, there, a dietary supplement beneficial to their health. For these reasons wild sea buckthorn berries are sometimes harvested to be sold, in small bottles, as a local energizing juice.
An organic mountain local production
It seems that no chemical fertilizers and no phytosanitary inputs are used in Zood Khun. Then, added to the harsh climate, yields might be below generally admitted figures. However, it results in high quality natural products that would normally be demanded in modern organic retail businesses. No doubts than seeds used, here, are also of great interest.
Adapted to the high altitude conditions and to the lack of industrial additives they might belong to an heritage of old species which disappeared from numerous other places including Tajik Wakhan. This could deserve a specific protection. Zood Khun seeds might even be looked for when agriculture specialists will search for species able to grow on a more natural way.
Chapursan Valley could find benefits in establishing its own label with products of certified origin and organic conditions of production. Doing so, Zood Khun will avoid the industrial step followed over the last 50 years by the agriculture of western countries and from which they try to go back. Their industrial way of production proved to be capital consuming, unhealthy for consumers, poisoning for farmers, destructing for the environment and devastating for biodiversity.
It could be a future opportunity for the diyor. Though, here, the main problem would be the relevant distribution of such goods, into urban centers, far outside the valley. At least, today, urban visitors can enjoy, locally, an original, healthy and mostly vegetarian food which differs from the lowlands one, more influenced by the Punjabi and Indian way of cooking. Nevertheless, Pakistani perfumed spices help in bringing a taste that can’t be found neither in Afghan nor in Tajik Wakhi cuisine.
Nowadays, the major cash crop is potato presenting a low number of issues for transportation and storage. The question can be: are these products priced at their real quality value? Has the customer the understanding he is buying an actual up scale potato? It should also be reminded that, in 2010 and following years, Attabad landslide and its resulting lake, which cut the Karakoram Highway (KKH) until the five tunnels completion, affected the fragile balance of home budgets while obstructing their normal flow of selling and, as a consequence, their possibility to pay for external needs.
A scarce wood resource
Jangal (wooded wasteland growing on floodplain alluvium) limits erosion. It is also an important component for the ecological balance, a place for raw materials and fuel, a source of nutrients and a housing for wildlife. This is the case for Chapursan Valley but also for other similar locations. For example, according to Odinamamadi Mirzo (Wakhan, p.46), Tajik Wakhan, launched successful large reforestation projects along the Panj River to restore its over-exploited jangal and forest. In Zood Khun, the ground is too dry to allow natural growth of trees. With the exception of the jangal shrubs, the almost only available wood largely comes from poplars and, in a smaller amount, from willows, planted and irrigated at the edge of plots.
Poplars are in the oases of Central Asian mountains, what are palm trees in desert oases. They are, just like food crops, protected from cattle by a close attention. This is one of the reasons why, between planting and harvesting time, animals stay in remote pastures. In summer, just a small number of them graze, in the village, for domestic purposes. According to Alam Jan Dario an explanation for the Zood Khun development is its available space and its unusual proximity, in comparison with Passu (from where came his family), with the large pasture of Yishyok (also spelled Yeshkuk ) where the herds of the Mir (king) of Hunza were pasturing and providing dung for fertilizing new production plots on reclaimed land.
As pointed out by Jansher Khan Tajik Wakhani, four years ago, in the north west of the diyor, the community created Trapur dasht (oasis next to the river) for wood production. Between 1,000 and 1,500 trees have been planted. Water is brought from a spring via a canal built thanks to a donation made by late Safaraz Khan. Then, the area is known under the name of his father, Hagi Abad. This wood is commonly used for fuel. The plantation is open just six times a month. A same man can take wood during the first three days of the month and then the three days at the middle of the month.
Sand locally delivered by the river
The powerful and fast stream deeply trims an erratic bed through a mass of glacial alluvium and moraines. The river banks are steep but unstable. They can be quickly damaged and collapsed by floods. Fields and buildings stay at a safe distance. In that sense, Zood Khun people and properties might be less exposed to disasters than Passu’s ones could be. Though, Chapursan precarious rough road can be cut due to landslides or broken bridges leading to a complete isolation. Gray sand, washed down from scree slopes, is collected in the river. It deposits into coves built to preserve calm areas.
A village connected with instable electricity but pure water networks
The diyor scattering causes, today, a skein of power lines serving each home. Jansher Khan Tajik Wakhani mentions the community hydro power plant built next to jangal. Its capacity is 400 GH and is intended to serve the last three villages of Chapursan Valley. It can only be used during normal weather. When it is too cold the water canal is frozen and no electricity production is possible. As of today, it does not work because Misgar recent regional (Gojal) power plant was supposed to be enough. However Misgar faces misconception and mis-realization issues. It also has a too small capacity to answer the demand. Then, power distribution is random while being subject to frequent load shedding when not longer blackouts for repairs.
Each house is now pipe-supplied with drinkable running water. This one comes from a deep drilling.
A sound of nature
Peaceful, Zood Khun is also amazingly quiet. Added to the fact that most of cattle is in remote pastures, there are almost no domestic animals in Zood Khun during summer time. Except for the noise of some un-frequent motorcycles and even the one of human steps on the “main road”, ending there, the sound is coming from virgin nature. In the background, there is the permanent smooth roar of the mighty river, sometimes with the accompaniment of bird songs, and of a gentle wind going through poplar branches. The extremely low level of Zood Khun anthropic noise deserves to be considered as a precious resource missing in most of the world inhabited areas.
A brilliant summer weather
Also unspoiled is the dry healthy crystal clear air resulting in incredible summer skies at night and offering a respiratory welcomed break for those living in large polluted towns. During the middle of the day, for a couple of hours, sun can be too strong but it cools down quite fast. It is a far more enjoyable climate than the unbearable humid extreme heat of some Pakistan southern cities. This is a potential strong attraction factor for domestic tourists.
- This article is in extract of a paper published by Bernard Grua on his blog: “At the knot of past empires: Zoodkhun, a Wakhi village in the high northern mountains of Pakistan”
- All pictures are © Bernard Grua and cannot be used without his written approval.
Bernard Grua, Nantes, France, January 6, 2020