By Nasira Jabeen
Lying at a distance of 85 kilometers from Chitral town, Awi in Upper Chitral is a valley of considerable length, stretching from the eastern end of Booni and narrowing up to the threshold of Meragram No.1. With river Mastuj flowing alongside, Awi spreads to claim seven kilometers of length.
One aspect of the introduction of Awi in district Upper Chitral is the valley’s renowned rich soil and its association with thickly-grown vegetation and unique plants. One can find here many plants of indigenous wild juniper trees, which are rare in other villages. The healthy grass, herbs and plants of different sort give the valley a lush green, clean and rich look which fills an onlooker’s heart with delight.
They say the valley has taken its name from the word ‘away’, as an Englishman finding it hard to cover uttered ‘away’ in his exhaustion while he walked through the valley. But Awi is a word of Arabic language meaning a place of refuge and security.
The population of Awi consists of 365 houses, including an adjoining area called Shotar. Enclosed by high projected mountains and with grooves of crystal-clear cold water ever flowing upon its breast, the valley is pleasantly cool even in the middle of summer. Cold water streams are one of the characteristic features of Awi. Two main streams from two different places flow down the valley to mingle with river Mastuj.
Various tributaries are drawn from these streams to carry the water throughout the village fulfilling the irrigation and domestic needs. Surplus water flows ceaselessly in the small canals and brooks; feeding the grasses, seeping through orchards and reviving the loaded trees. (This has a particular appeal to any dweller of an arid area.) The plentiful water entails that Awi may have one of the largest glaciers stock high in the mountains.
No wonder then the valley booms with singularly delicious fruits. Walnuts, mulberry, grapes, apples and apricots are the chief fruits here with only few parallels in the entire district. Local wood amply serves the purpose of fuel and architectural use. Every house generously consumes it for fire and garners a stock for winter use.
Two types of crops are grown here per annum: wheat, and after its harvest maize and other crops. It is the spot where this practice breathes its last. Only two kilometers away in village Meragram one crop is grown annually. From days immemorial Awi is a known fertile land.
Awi is equally ahead in human resource. In 1935 an Englishman published a gazette of Royal family of Chitral along with famous peoples of other clans. Total 114 great personalities from Chitral are mentioned there. Six individuals from Awi along with their designations have marked their entrance in this gazette. These include Mir Hakim and Mataib Shah from Razakhel clan, Sher Khan Hakim and Amir Subedar from Singey clan, Jang Mux Attaleq and Sahib Nagin (Charvelu) from Zondrey clan.
A few people from Awi also have their good names in the history of Chitral. Khair Ullah Mehtar from Taimuri family had his reign in Chitral and it is said about him that he forced people of Chitral to adopt Ismaili religion through the power of sword. His actual residence lied in Noghor (Awi). His son Durab Shah then remained Mehtar in the Noghor. Qizzil Baig, the forefather of Razakhel clan, after his long exile made peace with the children of Muhammad Baig and resided in Awi. The forefathers of Zondrey and Sing clans have their actual homes in Awi.
In bygone days people from Awi had taken part in the wars waged on the land of Chitral. In the war of Birkot in 1919, many of the Kablis were sent to death by Mataib Shah. After their victory from this war when they were to enter Noghor, none of the victorious warriors dared to enter owing to the anticipated internal dangers. But the courageous man Ghazina from Singey clan crossed over the wall of the fort and opened the gate. His valour preserved his name in a folk song too.
In 1895 when Englishmen invaded Chitral the local people countered them in Nisur Gol. This was regarded as the hardest battle fought on the land by Englishmen themselves. In this battle, Mataib Shah and Muhammad Nagin fought bravely and confiscated the Englishmen’s pistols which were retrieved later.
Different clans of people live in Awi such as Razakhel, Zondrey, Syed, Singey, Lorae, Dormaney, Kharbotey, Sheghneay, Mashorle, Khane, Tole, Boljawe, Behmane and Mahvare.
There are four government primary schools, three for boys and one for girls; one govt. middle school for boys, one government girls high school and one private school in Awi. One girls community school (project) is in Dumadumi. The people are educated. Doctors and many 16, 17 and 18 grade officials belong to Awi.
The people are religious and pious. There are seven mosques and eight Jamaat Khanas (Ismaili community centre) for their respective practices. The people of Awi have also been politically active. They have been good sportsmen too especially in volleyball. The valley was electrified from Reshun Power house in 2002 whereas the natives had access to local electricity since 2000.
Awi claims a ‘jeepable’ road from the times when Chitral used to be a state. It can’t get more bizarre: the same dilapidated road still operational and no measures are taken for its enlargement, nay no voice is raised for it. Let alone smooth crossing of two vehicles coming from either side, a car driver has to go in reverse for a space when a motor bike confronts. It is this road thing that mars the valley’s beauty. Awi owns three highlands (ghari): Oshar ghari, Ghari Muxdeh and Ghari Lasht.
Three foot bridges (one bridge for irrigation pipes for Dumadumi) lay across the valley from different points connecting it to village Dumadumi and to the lower end of village Parwak. Three very narrow, small, fenceless bridges also stretch across the river to the other side. As the locals are accustomed to crossing them for their need, they walk through them with perfect ease. Emboldened by it once I and my friend, by way of short cut from our exhausting trip, ventured to cross one of them. Once we took few steps ahead the bridge swung madly, and our blood froze, and eyes bulged; we quivered severely. We were about to totally loss our balance when our school chowkidar tightly held the other end of the bridge and we lumbered back.
Awi is a lively place with flourishing vegetation, abundant water and copious space. It fosters a rich history of valiant folks. With its mesmerizing natural beauty and richness, it attracts many people towards it. If the few shortcomings are overcome Awi could be a matchless valley.
Pictures provided by: Sher Afgan Riza.
(Deh ba Deh series of ChitralToday aims at exploring cultural, historical and other information about villages of Chitral).