Much of present day Kargil district was once known as Purig. The region called purig included the areas around Kargil town, the Suru Valley, Shagh(k)ar Chiktan, Pashk(y)um, Bodh Kharbu and Mulbek(h). We have almost nothing to go by when we try to study the history of purig (pron, pu-reeg). However, the 20th century historians Moulvi Hashmat Ullah Khan and Kachu Sikandar Khan have been able to piece together a fairly satisfactory history. They have mostly relied on oral sources and some references contained in Tibetan chronicles of course, ‘Satisfactory’ mans sometimes accepting dates accurate to the nearest 1200 years.

The name ‘Purig’: There are three theories about the name Purig itself. One is that it is a contraction of the Tibetan phrase ‘pot reeks’, which means ‘of Tibetan origin’. It probably dates to the year when a Tibetan dynasty first established a government in most of Purig. Another interpretation is that Purig means ‘tube’ and refers to the tubular valleys that make up the inhabited parts of the region, Scholars like Francke feel that the word has been derived from ‘burig’, which means ‘the brave race’, The ‘race’ in question is the Dards.

The Ancient Period

Human habitation seems to have been late in coming to this incredibly cold and rugged district perhaps as late as 500-0 BC. Drass, for instance, is the world’s second coldest, Inhabitants place, after Siberia.) The Dards of the various little valleys of Gilgit were perhaps the first to settle here. They belonged to the so called Aryan ‘race’.

Gilgit is in Dardistan, now in POK. Khan Bahadur, Ghulam Mohammad Khan, Dogra Maharajas, researched this belief in the first few decades of the 20th century. He concluded that the original home of the Dards of Da and Drass was the Bagrot valley of Gilgit. The Dards of Drass are certainly of the Sheeba(Shina) tribe. The people of Da speak a similar language. The Dards traveled to Kargil through Baltistan and Deosai, some of them staying on in Baltistan itself. They ruled over Purig till the Tibetan attack on Zanskar and the Tibetan rule that followed in Purig. (When did the attack on Zanskar take place? Moulvi Hashmat Ullah Khan says 180 BC. Kacho Sikandar Khan says 9th or 10th century AD. But then, what’s eleven or twelve hundred years between friends?

The language, customs, racial characteristics and religious practices of the Dards can still be found in some areas like Da-Hanu and Chiktan-Garkun, and to some extent in shanghy-shaghar. However, by and large, most of the Dards-m including some of their most ancient tribes got assimilated with the Tibetans. (The Government of India had, in the 1970s, restricted the entry of tourists in to the Da-Hanu area. This was partly to preserve the purity and antiquity of these ‘Aryan’)

The Dards were not the first people to settle in Shangshu-Shaghar and Drass. The pioneers here were the seven sons of Poyen Lone. They came over from the Chalaas region (near Nanga Parbat) through doeosai. Members of this clan spread all over the Kharmang valley (Baltistan, POK). They most settle din the Barsachal, Targon and Tarkati villages. Their culture and language are different from that of the Dards of say Da-Hanu or Garkun.

The Dards of Da Hanu etc, migrated there from the yanding and sachal areas of ancient Gilgit. Their language, Brushaski, is same as that spans in the fabled Hunza valley (also in POK). Hunza is considered the original Shangri la by many because of the very high life expectancy of the region.

Around the same period handful of people from the Indian plains, too, migrated to Purig. They rapidly assimilated with the Dards. Dastak Paldan and Seergaya Motik led them, (Sikandar Khan feels that the latter name corresponds to the Sanskrit Suryamati,)

Around the same time (the eight century AD according to Sikandar Khan) Lama Naropar and Guru Urgyan Padma came from Zanskar. They took seergaya Motik and Dastak with them to Kashmir. Kargil historians like Kacho Sikandar claim that these four ‘established the first human habitation in Kashmir, at Pampore, this being the era in which the great lakes of Kashmir were being drained and habitable land was emerging on their beds’

Now, this does seem a bit to much I have no problems with accepting that the first humans in Kashmir might have come from Kargil and Zanskar. Nor even that these four could have been the saints referred to in Kashmir’s own histories as the first humans to have lived there.

However, by the eight century AD we have evidence of sophisticated civilization in Kashmir, we have precise details beginning 1184 BC about which kind ruled Kashmir when, and for how many years, months and days. Therefore, even Hashmat Ullah’s 120 BC seems late by a thousands years.

However, it is possible that it was Seergaya Motik who constructed the fort near the Indus river in Stakna (Leh).

Later, some people migrated to purig from Leh. Among them were Teesug and Gangasug, who were considered goddesses by some. They built a fort on the Tolon hill near the Indus. Sikandar Khan says that they were Dards but according to Hashmat they were Mons. They also founded the Achinathang village. Ruins of that ancient settlement can still be found. This fort was then called the Tolonkhar. It was later taken over by the rulers of Chiktan, who also founded the Stakshan hamlet.

Teesug-Gangasug, and their colleagues Cho Paldan and Chocho Kunzum, decided to settle in ‘Stakchey. At that stage all Purig was ruled by the Dards. The Tibetans controlled only keteeka Phokar, (The house the ‘goddesses’ and their colleagues got constructed at Chiktan Khar was later subsumed by a 16th century AD building. However, On the ground floor there is an ancient, decaying window that is said to have been a part of the original.). Historian like Kacho Skindar feel that the history of Purig/Kargil is really the history of these two dynasties and clans: the Dards and the Tibetans. For these reasons of brevity we will only look at the fortunes of the central section of Kargil, leaving out the branches.

Gasho Ttatha Khan

In the eight(or may be early ninth) century AD, Gasho Thatha Khan started the dynasty that would rule over the Shakar and Chiktan area for almost a thousand years. He was a scion of the royal family of Gilgit(now in POK).

There are two theories about him. One is that he was an infant child when hunters found him atop a hillock, when he reached manhood they made him their king. To replace the cruel man who was ruling over them, An oracle had told the unpopular king about the man who would one day wrest his throne from him. Since the description fitted Thatha Khan, the king ordered his assassination.

The other tradition speaks of a Gilgit prince called Thankhan whom his stepbrother Shri Vagor Tham wanted killed,. This led to a civil war between the supporters of the two brothers,(Thankan’s looks suspiciously like a constriction of ‘Thatha Khan’ Shri’ is a part of the latter’s name.)

Either way, the story goes, our friend Thatha was sitting in a large hall watching a dance; Thatha’s rival, the king sent his men to kill him. The king thought that Thatha would be too busy enjoying himself to be able to resist the soldiers, However, the musicians, who loved Thatha, got to know of the plot, They started singing a song that warned him of the impending attack. Thatha pulled out his sword and planted if firmly in the ground, he then stepped on the hilt of his sword to reach the chimney, through which he escaped.

Thatha fled Baltistan (also now in POK). He was accompanied by his ‘milk father’ SaatiTam. (Milk-brothers are men who have shared the same wet nurse or foster mother). They entered Kargil through the Churbat La (pass). On the banks of the Indus river they found an uninhabited bur fertile place, with a natural spring. There was no bridge to cross the river on. However, since the river was frozen they walked across on the ice, Thatha had a walnut seed in his pocket, which he planted there.

They next went to Kokashu, which, too, they noticed was fertile. The staff Thatha carried had been taken from a bhoy tree and was still green. He planted it in the centre of the plains of Kakashu.

The three decided not to settle in any of these uninhabited villages. They sought the waters of the Indus at Chey Chey Tjhang. After that they went to Blargo where cats sitting on a rock welcomed them with a dance. A wealthy Brokpa had already settled there and had erected a tower of broken utensils of china and clay. Their next stop was Brolmo. There a senior female citizen warned them of the man eating lion that lived in the rocky mountains of Kharol. At the points where the Drass and Suru rivers met, she also taught Thatha how to kill this animal, which he did.

During Thatha’s reign several people migrated to Purig/Kargil. The first was the Ahmad-pa family (Interesting name. It helps fix dates. It indicates that these events took place after the founding of Islam) Then came Teesug and Gangasug. These goddesses were given the house in Chiktan mentioned above and over which area they later ruled, if briefly. The other contemporary sovereigns who then ruled in what is now Kargil District were Choo Paldan and Chocho Kunzum. From well before this era, ghe people of Turkmenistan were in the habit of attacking and raiding the Mon rulers of upper Ladakh. The time they took Teesug Gangasug, Cho Paldan and Chocho Kunzum back with them as hostages. Thatha moved in to the vacuum that was thus created and added their territories to his Sot and other principalities are united.

The ruler of Sot found himself caught between two aggressive, expansionist powers, the minority Tibetans and the majority Dards. He realized that he could’t resist both or even either, so he simply handed his kingdom over to thatha.

Now, many of Thatha’s supporters in Gilgit started migration to Sot, Thatha shifted his capital to Kokashu and built his palace where the former ruler’s house had stood.

After establishing power in sot, Thatha divertede his attention to development. He got forests cleared to establish Kargil and Poyen Shilikchay, where he persuaded people from Ladakh and Skardu to settle. Kargil was named after it pioneer, a noble called Kargeel. Thatha also established Oma Chak Thang, where his descendants still own land. After that he gradually brought Baru, Minji and Ground under his control. In time so were the Dard rulers of Khaltse.

He next turned to Suru Karchay, whikch were then ruled by the Tibetans. Their capital was at Phokar. The Tibetans administration had begun to show signs of decay. Thatha assigned this area to his son Navaldey. In turn, Navaldey sent his son Choraai Astan to establish an autonomous principality there with its capital at present day Sangrah. Their dynasty came to an end a few generations later with the immensely popular ruler.

(Navaldey’s eldest brother Boti Khan alias Moi Gasho was granted the main sot, Shaghar Chiktan territory. Their third brother was settled in Gund.)

A significant development during the reign of Abdal’s grandson Chahabza (C 1060-1090) was the spread of Buddhism. Lama Lotsava Rinchan Zangpo was goring back from the Indian plains to his native Guge (Western Tibet). He preached the Buddhist gospel wherever he passed. He got Lha Khangs (Buddhist temples: Lha=God) constructed at Chiktan and Wakha (Near Mulbekh). It is believed that it was he who got the stone idol of Chamba devi built at Mulbek.

The Mediaeval Era

The next important era is that if Amrrod Cho, also known as Mureed Khan (C 1450-1475). This was when Islam first spread in Purig, through the efforts of the saint Ameer Kabeer Syed Ali Hamdani and his disciple Syed Muhammad Noor Bakhsh. (According to some historians, Syed Mohammad was a disciple of Khawaja Ishaq of Khatlan and that it was the Khawaja who was a Khalifa or disciple of the Ameer Kaboor). That Amrood Cho had a alternate Islamic name seeds to indicate that he, too had converted to Islam, or followed two religions (as twelve percent of India does even today) Khan. Incidentally, is not an Islamic surname (Genghis to take a particularly celebrated example was not a Muslim).

The people gave Amrood’s ender son and successor Dooroo Choo the nickname Ald-dor Cho meaning the “Lax and administrative structure one” he was cruel as well. Not surprisingly under him the administrative structure of the state collapsed.

So, the Gyalpo of Tingmo (s) gang annexed the areas between the Khaltse bridge and the Kanji Nallah. The king of Astor, possibly Maqpon Shah Sultan. Helped himself to Drass. Gyalbom Aldey Raja Phokar took Suru and Karchey (Kartse). That left just Chiktan and Sot with Dooroo. His angry subjects punished him for his incompetence. They ensured that he was allowed to ear only half as much as he used to before. (He was under some kind of house arrest).

Dooroo died childless. He was succeeded by his younger brogher Habin Choo (C 1490-1510). During Habib’s reign Mir Shams ud Din, propagated Islam in Purig and Baltistan. Some historians says that the Mir advocated the Imamiya or Shia School in particular, the Mir was a saint from Iraq and a disciple of the son of the great Syed Muhammad Noor Bakhsh of Khurasan. Habib Cho accepted shia (Shiete) doctrines. His father has already converted to Islam. (Other missionaries from Kashmir and Baltistan carried the massage of Islam from village to village. Their descendants are known as Agas on the exalted ones. Till say the 1950s, before election began to be held in Kargil. The District was informally divided into turf controlled by two major and several minor Aghas. The Aghas were religious as well as temporal leaders. On festivals each family would present a small tribute, in cash a title to wit to the Agha it owed allegiance to. The system still continues but the hold is quite informal now, and much weaker, Real power has shifted to the state.

Habib allied with the kings of Khalpu, Shaghar and Skardu, Together they attacked Leh in order to recover the territory Dooroo had lost to the Gyapos. The Gyapoo agreed to pay a heavy tribute. However, this tribute was paid mostly to the king of Shaghar and not to the other three allies. Habib’s son Ahmed Malik Khan (C 1510-1535) succeeded him. During his reign, Sultan Saeed Waai, who was a Turkmen attacked Leh, Zanskar, Suru and Sot. (He also invaded Kashghar and Kashmir). Ahmed accepted the sultan;s superiority.

The Turkmens must have stayed in purig for awhile, because they left some major landmarks behind. Among them is the Hor Lam. The Turkmen road that runs between Bund Mangalpur and Salskot. The Turk mens left a deep impring on the culture of Ladakh including its songs and folk-tales.

Khokhor Badhram (C 1535-1555) inherited the throne from his father Ahmed. He made friends with Gyapo Tsewang Namgyal in order to buy peace of his eastern borders. His younger son Tsering Malik was the Governor of Chiktan. Tsering was an amnitious young man. Abit too ambitious. He wanted to be king. So he started going to the court of Gyapo Janyang Namgyal.

Now Jamyang fancied Tserings wife. So Tsering divorced her and handed her over to Janyant, who made an honest woman of her. She is best known by the hybrid name Tsering Gigyalmo (Lit.Queen Mother Tsering) The historian Maulvi Hashmatullah says that she was pregnant (presumably by Jamyang himself) when she married the Gyapo. The child thus born was Nawang Namgyal. The sordidness didn’t end there. In exchange, Jamyang gave his own daughter in marriage to Tsering promised to help him and asked him to go home. Jamyang was happy that he has ow obtained a foothold in purig.

According to tradition, en route the Gyapo got Tsering impriosoned at Matho and jailed Tsering’s new queen at Stok. Tsering’s supporters restored to arms, attacked Leh and got the royal couple freed. Subsequently perhaps the Gyapo and Tsering patched up on his return to purig. Tsering declared Chiktan independent. This could have led to a civil war between Tsering and his brother Rigyal Malik, their father Khokhor Baghram, acted wisely and saved the kingdom from ruination by partitioning it between the two.

Around this time, Ali Sher Khan the heir apparent of Skardu, conqured parts of Baltistan. In those days the Gyapo of Leh would post a representative (a resident of Sorts) as well as soldiers, at Khataksha (Baltistan). Ali Sher personally chased both the Residents and the soldiers out of Baltistan.

Now Tsering controlled the Chiktan area and Rigyal the Sot area. Relations between the two were tense. Tsering ever the ambitious not in touch return, Tsering gifted Bodh Kharbu and some neighbouring villages to Ali Sher. Ali stationed his soldiers at the Bodh Kharbu fort and left. On its way home his army burnt and destroyed several Ladakh villages.

An enraged Jamyang Namgyal and his army suddenly showed up at Bodh Kharbu. They had traveled through the Fatu La. It was a Friday. The Balti soldiers were offering prayers at Chhorbas spang. The people of Bodh Kharbu were Buddhists. Like Janyang they helped him seize the Bodh Kharbo fort. The areas was thus liberated from Ali Sher.

The Gyapo received Tsering at Bodh Kharbu. He wasn’t particularly angry with his son in law. He even allowed Tsering to retain his independence.

Just then Ali Sher was told about the defeat of his soldiers, he allied with balti princes and attacked Leh. So Jamyang had to rush back (See also “Losar” in the chapter on “The Buddhist Festivals of Leh and Zanskar.)

In the event, both Jamyang and Tsering retained their throunes, and kept their kingdoms intact, indeed Tsering added Pashkum to his territories by intervening in a dispute that centred on a loved affair. Encouraged by his closeness to the Gyapo, he also annexed villages like Kannaur. These villages had thitherto been under Pashkum.

Sultan Malik (C 1600-1610) inherited from his father Rigyal Malik both the throng of Sot and the grudge against Tsering. He attacked and annexed Chiktan and Pashkum. Tsering and his son Sankhan fought bravely but both were killed. Sultan imprisioned Sankhans’s minor sons Adam and Chhosaraang MalikYoukma Kharboo.

Most of the Chiktan were Buddhists. Some of them were related by blood to the kings of Leh. They started agitating against the people of and control by Sot. They sent a delegation to Ali Sher Khan who by then was the Maqpon of Skardu. They also contacted senge Namgyal of Leh, who did not seem interested in helping them.

In those days there lived in Skardu a Doctor from Chiktan. His name was Chhozaang Kashi. He had cured Ali Sher’s queen of som disease, instead of a reward all he asked of Ali Sher was that the delegation from Chiktan be listened to sympathetically. The Maqpon did just that. He even sent his vizier and nobles to sultan Malik who freed the two minor princes.

Under pressure from the Valtis of Skardu, Sultan even restored Adam to his ancestral throne. Once again Pashkum and Chitkan became independent of Sot.

Now Senge Namgyal attacked purig, Ostensibly to avenge the then recent invasion of Chiktan. He wrested Wakha and Mulbek and after a while Kartsey (Karchey) and Suru from different kings.

Senge the prepared to attack Sot, Sultan Muhammad (C 1610-1650) the son of Sultan Malik, was the king of sot by then, he sought the help of Skardu’s Adam Khan. At Adam Khan’s request Ali Mardan Khan, the Mughal Governor of Kashmir, sent a detachment of the Mughal army to help our purig.

The Mughal-Balti force met senge at Karpokhar. By most accounts – at least according to the credible ones – the Mughals won. Thus Suru and Karchey were freed from the control of Leh. However, Wakha and Mulbekh continued to remain under Lerh. (So the historians of Leh were at least partly right when they claimed that the Leh army had defeated the Mughar – Balti combine.)

The Kargil’s believe that when the Turkmens (Mughals) invaded Kargil at pasri Khar, Muammad Sultan repulsed their attack in alliance with the Leh Army. (So the historians of Leh (and Badherwah) are not alone in claiming victory over the Mughals of their attack in alliance with the Leh army (So the historians of Leh (and Badherwah) are not alone in claiming victory over the Mughals for their Kings.)

This was the first time that the Mughals of Delhi Agra had sent their forces in to Ladakh. Or any other Indian power had.

Muhammad Sultan’s son Mirza Sultan (C 1650-1660) was the next king of Sot. Mirza Sultan’s throne, in turn, passed on to his descendants Mirza Being Baghram Big, Jangeer Bing and Yahya Khan, in that order, of folk – songs are to be believed, them of all these kings. Srbab shah was the best peace and prosperity marked his reign. During Badhram Khan’s tenure Sot Karchay allied against Leh. Together they captured Kharol, Chhotok and some neighbouring villages. However some influential people of sot were secretly working for the Gyapo of Leh. The Gyapo launched a counter attack with their help. Baghram Khan had to surrender the gains he has made only recently. (When the history of this period the late seventeenth / early eighteenth century is viewed from Leh, it appears that Leh exercised some king of control over Kargil).

Yahya Khan (C 1780-1810) succeeded his father Jangeer Bing His Mother was perhaps the sister of the king of Karchey. His son Salaam Khan (1810-1834) was the next and last king of Sot. It was during Salaam’s reign that the Dogras conquered Purig, Baltistan and Leh. (For more details See “The History of Leh”).

The Modern Age

In the summer 1834, Maharaja Gulab Singh of Jammu sent Zorawar Singh, his legendary army Chief to annex Ladakh.,

Officially Gulab was conquering Ladakh for his Maharaja. However, he sought (and received) the blessings of British to add Ladakh to Jammu, an al;armed kind of Ladakh sent numerious massages to the Birth that he would ally with them. He was ignored. Zorawar’s army traveled to Ladakh through Kishtwar and Zanskar.

Ladakh did not then have a proper army, just a civil deffence system. At Sankoo in Kargil’s Suru Valley volunteers got together and offered some resistance. The Dogra army brused them aside. By the time the invaders reached Pashkum Kargil’s dreaded winter announced itself. The Dogras of the scorching plaings of Jammu sent word to the king of Leh that they would withdraw if he would pay them Rs. 15,000. The kind rejected the offer, on his wife’s advice.

Snubbed, Zorawar retreated to a place near Sankoo, where his army and he decided to camp for the winter, biding their time, the ladakh army waited till the next April to attack Zorawar’s men. The Ladakhis were defeated. In 1839 rebellion broke out against the Dogras. Sukamir Rahim Khan of Chiktan and Hussain of Pashkum led the resistance, Zorawar rushed to Kargil and subdued the movement with an enormous show of force.

He then set up a joing command of Dogra and ladakh forces, Together they conquered Baltistan, reuniting that area with the rest of ladakh after a long while.

The Dogras appointed Salaam Khan, the defeated king as the Chief Administrator of the areas over when his father and their ancestors before that had ruled. (His descendents continued to occupy senior positions in the Gopvernment even in the sednd half of the twentieth century, after the state acceded to India.) The fortunes of Purig indeed of al Kargil, now merged with those of Leh and Jammu. Soon Kashmir would join the lot. Therefore, the history of Kargil after that would substantially be the same as that of Leh, Kashmir or Jammu.

Ladakh became a Union Territory on 31st October 2019. The Union Territory of Ladakh comprises of two districts namely Leh and Kargil.