Kashmir & Ladakh

Kalaroos Caves and Satbaran: Unsolved Mysteries of Lolab Valley

Finishing my kahwa as I desperately tried to put my bare hands back in the pockets of my jacket in that wet and cold evening at Tourist Bangalow, Chandigam, one of the locals I was chit-chatting with chirped happily while mentioning Kalaroos,

“Do you know, you can go to Russia directly from here without any formality!”

“How is that possible?” I was shocked.

“Well, not anymore! But yes, that used to happen years ago,” he claimed.

“But, how exactly?” I asked curiously.

“You know, there is this network of ancient caves that start from Kalaroos in Lolab Valley which reaches till Roos (Russia). Earlier traders and people used to travel between Russia and Kashmir through these caves.” He explained.

“That sounds interesting. I’ve never heard anything like that. Can I go and see it?” I asked enthusiastically.

“Of course, you should! You can go to Kalaroos on your way back to Kupwara.” He gave a go-ahead to my plan.

Read also: Lolab Valley, North Kashmir: A Bike Trip to the Land of Love and Beauty

Tangdhar, Karnah: Journey to the Wild (North) West of Kashmir

Landscape on the way from Chandigam to Kalaroos in Lolab Valley.
On the way from Chandigam to Kalaroos in Lolab Valley.

Reaching Kalaroos

Kalaroos is very close to Chandigam (around 20 kms), where I was staying. Upon knowing my plan, Abdul at Tourist Bangalow, Chandigam, informed Gulzar at Kalaroos who quickly agreed to show me around Kalaroos. And so, I packed my stuff, tied it to the bike, checked out from the Tourist Bangalow and reached Kalaroos.

The moment I reached Gulzar’s house in Dab Bal village at Kalaroos crossing the Kalaroos Nalla, my bike got a puncture. I was too excited to explore the caves that I decided to worry about the puncture once I was back from the caving adventure.

The old bridge and the under-construction new bridge to cross Kalaroos Nalla to reach Dab Bal village
The old bridge and the under-construction new bridge to cross Kalaroos Nalla to reach Dab Bal village.

In the typical Kashmiri hospitality, Gulzar welcomed me to his home and introduced me to his family. Gulzar’s house was located on the edge of the jungle and mountain where the caves were present.

Soon I was following Gulzar as we started our short trek and he started telling me more about Kalaroos and the caves. He told me that the name Kalaroos is derived from “Qil-e-Roos” which meant “Fort of Russia.”

Start of the short hike to reach Satbaran and Kalaroos Caves.
Start of the short hike to reach Satbaran and Kalaroos Caves.

Satbaran – Seven Doors

After gradually climbing some 1000 m by foot, we found ourselves in front of an ancient stone carved architecture known as “Satbaran.” Nothing much is left of this structure, except a huge stone wall with seven doors carved out of it.

Although the origin or the purpose of Satbaran is not known, few believe that it used to be a temple made by Pandavas of the Mahabharata, with idols placed on all 7 doors (actually, these so-called doors looked more like large dome shaped shelves to keep idols).

There are markings of cloth to be placed as Paradah in front of those doors to hide the idol. But nobody knows for sure!

Satbaran (Seven Doors): An unexplored archaeological structure at Kalaroos.
Satbaran (Seven Doors): An unexplored archaeological structure at Kalaroos.

Gulzar told me that decades ago, some idols were also discovered; but, owing to the rise of conflict in the valley, nothing further was explored.

Another theory about Satbaran is that these seven doors represent seven routes to Russia and other Central Asian countries through the hidden caves in the mountain that stands tall just behind Satbaran.

It is believed that these seven doors also represent seven routes/caves to Russia.
It is believed that these seven doors also represent seven routes/caves to Russia.

My Little Caving Expedition

We crossed Satbaran and the gradual climb took us to a mountain jungle through huge pine trees.

It is believed that the caves in this mountain extend till Russia and during silk-route time they were used when Kashmir valley used to get completely covered in snow.

We reached our first cave which had a small opening through which we squeezed ourselves in. Switching on the torch in my mobile, I followed Gulzar inside the cave on all fours, while occasionally saving my head from flying bats.

Inside Cave No. 1
Inside Cave No. 1

The richness of various metals and minerals present in these caves was evident from various formations and layers on the stones inside. After spending around 45 min to 1 hour, we came out of the cave and I was so relieved!

Relieved because I am claustrophobic and so it is extremely difficult for me to get into tiny narrow and closed space for long duration. So, even though I gathered courage to enter the cave, I couldn’t spend much time inside.

Hiking, climbing, tumbling, falling enroute Kalaroos Caves.
Hiking, climbing, tumbling, falling enroute Kalaroos Caves.

We climbed further up the mountain towards the second cave. The route was more challenging than expected; or probably it was challenging just to me because I don’t have experience in mountain climbing and trekking. Gulzar, he could do it even with his eyes closed; he was superbly fit for his age!

The second cave had a much grander entrance. After taking few photos, we sat there quietly for some time. Gulzar understood that it was one of those moments, where I didn’t feel like talking, but simply be present in the moment and soak in everything around in awe!

My little caving expedition was magical and scary at the same time!!

Sitting in front of Cave No. 2
Sitting in front of Cave No. 2.

Making my way back

Holding Gulzar’s hand, I carefully got down of the steep mountain track. We came back to Gulzar’s home, crossing his farm fields and a little garden full of green leafy vegetables and some strawberries.

There is nothing better way to have food than to grow it, pluck it and cook it. I plucked the juicy strawberries and they were gone from the plate within minutes. And then my favourite Kashmiri Kahwa.

Met Army Jawans staying near Satbaran for the night. My lovely host Gulzar in white Pathani.
Met Army Jawans staying near Satbaran for the night. My lovely host Gulzar in white Pathani.

My stomach was angry with me for underestimating the hike and not carrying anything to eat. So, the moment Gulzar asked me to join them for lunch, I knew my prayers were answered. And I had one of the best local food in Kashmir in traditional utensils just as the locals eat.

As I was about to leave, it started to rain and I just sat in the front balcony sipping Kashmiri Nun chai (salted tea) talking to the curious family members, especially women, who were amazed to see me there!

Something what I thought would be just one hour of sightseeing, turned into a full day of hiking, caving, and chit-chatting. It was the Universe’s way of telling me to stay back a little more; and so I did!

Traditional Kashmiri lunch.
Traditional Kashmiri lunch.

Uncovering the mystery of Kalaroos caves

Recently Kashmir Life News Network reported that in September 2018, a team from the USA came to explore the caves and uncover its mystery. After a preliminary visit to the terrain, they eventually got into the caves and later prepared a brief status report of the Kalaroos cave system.

Upon exploring the three main caves with the help of the local population and the State Tourism Department, the team did not find any passages going beyond several meters inside the caves. They went to upper and lower caves but did not find the tunnel that people speak about.

View from the Caves.
View from the Caves.

However, they noted that they could not get into the longer tunnel (the third cave) as it was blown up and demolished by the Indian Army years ago owing to the presence of bears and/or militants.

So, I think the mystery around Kalaroos caves still continues; after all, we still don’t know what lay behind those sealed caves!

Hike to caves was a little challenging to me.
Hike to caves was a little challenging to me.

Would you like to visit these mysterious caves? Let me know in comments below.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *