Last year when the world was contending with Covid, I took a chance to explore my district (Kupwara), following all Covid related precautions. Initially, I was confused about where to land first. I remembered the old story told by my grannie about the caves of Kalaroos. The curiosity for exploring them increased, so I packed my belongings and left.
Picturesque landscape, mountains filled with pine and fir, beautiful roads surrounded by paddy fields and pretty houses, genial people, traditional households, and mysterious caves comprise the geography and demography of Kalaroos. It lies in the beautiful valley of Lolab which is 60 miles away from Srinagar. Lolab valley, named after Maharaja Lolo, is popularly known for its freshwater canals and streams. It’s also the home of Syed Anwar Shah Kashmiri, renowned Islamic scholar.
The name Kalaroos originates from “Qil-e-Roos” which means Russian Fort. It’s believed that “Tramkhan”, the largest mysterious cave of Kalaroos, leads to Russia. I wonder if it really does. It is located high on a mountain, some 1100 meters climb from the village of Kalaroos to the pine and fir-filled mountain. There lies a carved boulder named “Satbaran” which means seven doors. It’s believed that it indicates seven ways to Russia and it is also believed that it used to be a temple made by Pandavas. Satbaran is archaeological evidence of the ancient fort of Kalaroos.
Looking down at the village, the whiff of breeze touched my head and face and, entering through my nostrils, exhilarated my whole body. It was my first visit there; I was unaware of everything. Sajad, a local friend, had accompanied me. To add to my knowledge he said, “Kalaroos receives thousands of visitors every year. They arrive at Tramkhan but nobody dares to go into it.” This piqued my curiosity even more.
From Satbaran, we climbed some 1500 meters more and came to Tramkhan. It looked like a usual small cave from the outside but was deep and huge inside, embedded in a mountain, covered with orange and reddish boulders and cobbles. Scary but adventurous. Murky and frosty was the initial impression of Tramkhan. “It’s a mystery. No one has explored the cave to its fullest. Our old folks took their lantern into the cave but lanterns went kaput,” villagers said. After walking a few meters inside, darkness enveloped the surroundings. There are multiple ways inside the cave, which lead to different directions. Bats are the sole living members of the cave. Mineral-rich rocks with different colours and water droplets will fascinate you. There is no such archaeological importance inside the cave it has great geological importance. A geological surveyor said, “Mostly caves are formed by limestone lithology, but the formation of Tramkhan is a mystery.”
The stories of Tramkhan are so popular that in the year 2019, Amber, Eric, and Dustin, three American explorers, came to the village to find out the truth. They explored the cave and found no way to Russia. In an interview with local press, they said, “The caves are just a few miles long, except one which we couldn’t explore because of blockage.” Amber, Eric, and Dustin promised to come back but the mystery remains there. I thought I will be the Sherlock Holmes to solve the mystery finally, but my trepidation pulled me out of the cave.
After getting no clue from the cave, I knocked on Dr Ghulam-ud-Din Bhat’s (district mining officer) door. He said, “Preliminary investigations of the copper deposits in Tramkhan have been carried out by the Geological Survey of India (1957-58, 1966) and by Directorate of Geology and Mining from 1963. It was earlier used to extract copper but due to the poor quality, the process was stopped when the extraction cost exceeded the output.” People now visit Kalaroos only to see the caves. They blindly believe that it leads to Russia. “The way to Russia is a myth, there is no evidence of it,” assured the mining officer.
The writer is a student of Mass Communication and Journalism at Media Education and Research Centre, University of Kashmir. [email protected]