“My great-grandfather was a Haji, but, he sent my grandfather to study Buddhism. My grandfather thus became famous as the lama of the Chongzee House in our village. He had studied the scriptures for around 19 years,” narrated the eldest family member of the Chongzee family. The story continued, the lama then asked his father to accept Buddhism.
The father was firm on clinging to his faith in Islam as he was proud to be the first Haji in his village. But he let his other children accept the faith of their choice. And thus, the family has a few siblings who were the followers of Buddhism while the others followed Islam. The whole family lived together and celebrated Losar with as much zeal as Eid. They could even get married in any faith they wished to. And nobody raised any question on it. The husbands and the wives continued following their own faiths. Religion had never been a hurdle in any relation.
Similar is the story of almost all the houses in the village of Kukshow. It is a beautiful village having a rich history and unique culture in the district of Chiktan. Just around 20 years ago the Buddhist and Muslim members of a family lived together. The family members of Sonam Palghis, whose grandfather Madi Ali was a follower of Islam, told me that it was only after the preaching of the Ulemas of Kargil that the families parted their ways based on their religions.
It was a common custom to have inter-religion marriages. Many Buddhist girls have been married in Muslim families and vice-versa. The whole village thus has all the families related to each other.
Standing near the tallest Gompa of the village, I could see the oldest masjid built beside some of the ancient stupas. I could imagine how Buddhist and Muslim brothers would have prayed their respective Gods on the same platform. I was also told by a lama that the new monastery in the village was built using the funds donated by the Buddhists as well as the Muslims of the village. The renovation of the old masjid was also undertaken in the same manner.
Sonam Palghis, who is also a teacher at a school in Kukshow, ensures that nothing can affect the unity and harmony of this village. They still celebrate all the festivals together and help each other in their needs. They sit together near the masjid and the stupas and enjoy their evenings after a tiring day. I couldn’t stop myself asking him if he would have any problem if his son would get married to a Muslim girl. All of them started laughing and said that none of them would mind any cross-religion marriages as they all are relatives. As per the newly introduced custom, the girl has to accept the religion followed by her husband.
This made me think about all those violence in the other part of the country in the name of religion and honour-killing for the inter-religion or inter-caste marriages. All the complications and hatred is just created by the civilized humans like us. Weren’t we all relatives when no religion and castes existed?
Islam is said to have been introduced in Kukshow and the nearby villages during the reign of Aurangzeb. The people were and still are the followers of the deities as is the custom of the Aryans settled in this region. A few people who accepted Buddhism haven’t yet stopped worshipping their traditional deities. Though it has been kept a secret, a few Muslim villages haven’t yet ceased worshipping their deities.
The village was established in around 800 AD when none of the religions had a strong hold over any of the regions. While Christianity was being firmly founded in European countries, Islam and Buddhism were slowly spreading their wings. At the same time, Thata Khan, a brave and capable son of a King, somewhere in Gilgit, had fallen prey to a conspiracy woven by his brothers.
His brothers had arranged for a celebration for no reason. They had planned to kill Thata Khan once he lost his consciousness after a number of drinks. The musician, who was aware of this evil plan, didn’t want his friend Thata Khan to die. While his melodies brought life to the celebration, he also conveyed the death message to Thata Khan. “Jo tu Bach Saka toh tu Batitam hai nahi toh tu satitam,” he sang. Thata Khan was smart enough to understand the message. He turned the candle off with his sword and jumped off a window along with the musician and one of his brothers. Though the history doesn’t mention the arrival of any ‘Lha’, with him, the local folktales of the village emphasize on Lha’s presence. Lha is a deity venerated mostly by the Dards who are claimed to be the descendants of the Aryans.
He travelled for days together in order to save his life from the soldiers sent by his brothers who were still following him. The history noted in the year 1936 by Wazir Hazmatullah Khan, says that he crossed the river Indus sailing on the flat wooden sheet and reached the bank which is now a famous village named Dargo. He then he planted the walnuts, that he carried in his pocket, near a spring. He prayed the ‘Lha’ that if it grew into a plant, he would start his new life by founding a village there. Magically, the walnuts grew into a sapling the next morning. The locals consider such an unbelievable happening as the blessings of the ‘Lha’.
Then he discovered more fertile land just a few kilometres upwards from Dargo. As per the recorded History, based on the folktales narrates, Thata Khan planted a wooden stick that he had at Kukshow, which grew into a huge tree. The tree existed until very recently but was unfortunately burnt off during a game played by some kids near the tree. The tree is said to have been the biggest of the trees and it couldn’t grow so huge anywhere else.
Aata Musaa, a well researched 80-year-old man from Chiktan recollects to have played polo around this tree. It is called ‘Stakpa’, the holy tree which is even venerated as ‘Lha’ by the villagers. One of the hilltops also has a shrine dedicated to Stakpa Lha. The village of Kukshow is dotted with these trees, which is a rare phenomenon at such an altitude.
Thata Khan became the leader of the settlement and had also built two forts named Toto Khar and Pato Khar in the village of Kukshow. The ruins of both the palaces can still be seen on the outskirts of the village. Hardly anything is left to tell the story of the glorious past, but the village itself is such an interesting saga of divinity and humanity.
- You can reach Kukshow by bus till Dargo. From Dargo you need to either wait for a taxi or any locals moving towards Kukshow.
- The other way to reach Kukshow is to travel to Chiktan via Leh-Kargil Highway and from Chiktan, join the teachers who work in the school of Kukshow.
- Where to stay: There are no proper stay options other than staying in the houses of the locals. If you wish to get in contact with any local, you can call Tashi Angchok (9419178747, 9622983350) and ask him to arrange for a homestay in the village.
- Kukshow is also one of the villages that practice a completely organic method of farming. (Remember, organic farming is now no more a usual thing even in Ladakh)
- The locals would be more than happy to take you to their fields or share the legends of their village.
- If you wish to read or no more about Ladakh and its history, you can also go to Achinathang which is 11 km from Kukshow. The famous writer, Sonam Phuntsog’s homestay tucked among the Apricot Orchards and his library full of interesting books would also be an amazing offbeat activity in Ladakh.
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