The Kalaroos caves in Kashmir’s village by the same name are one of the most mysterious sites in the valley. Located in North Kashmir's Kupwara district, about 130 km from Srinagar, many believe these caves have secret tunnels that end in Russia.
The Kalaroos village derives its name from the myths related to the caves, earlier called Qila-e-Roos, which means Russian Fort. These caves attract people from adjoining areas and have become a popular picnic spot.
The Kalaroos caves lie midway between Lashtyal and Madhmadu villages. There is a giant carved stone at the end of the Lashtyal village named 'Satbaran'. The stone has seven doors, known as 'SathBarr' in local parlance. The origin of Satbaran is unknown.
Some believe it was a temple in the ancient era where the Pandavas used to worship, with idols placed on all seven doors.
A narrow path from there leads to the mammoth caves.
Mysteries of the caves
Locals say that the doors symbolize seven distinct routes to Russia and other neighbouring countries.
A giant carved stone at the end of the Lashtyal village named 'Satbaran' has seven doors, Pic: Sajad Mir
Assistant professor of Archaeology at the University of Kashmir, Dr Ajmal Shah says Kashmir historically had strong trade ties with the former Soviet Union going back 2000 years. Kashmir exported minerals such as copper, limestone zinc and bauxite to the erstwhile Soviet Union.
Kashmir and the Soviet Union share cultural and linguistic similarities as well, Dr Shah adds.
An aged native, Zahoor Ahmed, says he has heard from elders in his family that Russians used to come to Kashmir through these seven tunnels.
There are other caves situated a few meters away from this giant stone. Locals usually visit the Tramkhan (copper mine) cave which is crimson in colour. The cave has depositions of poor quality copper.
Inside one of the caves. Locals usually visit the Tramkhan (copper mine) cave which is crimson in colour. Pic: Sajad Mir
After visiting the site, locals were surprised to see the peculiar aura of the caves. “I went about 2-3 km inside the cave with my friends. We only had torches with us. Deep in the cave is the old discoloured board which has something written in Chinese,” says Ghulam Rashid, a resident.
Some villagers believe that these caves have huge water bodies inside. A young man who recently visited the cave said he heard the sound of running water.
“As we were approaching towards the noise of water, our torches got dim and we went back,” he says.
One of the caves has a clear opening entrance to let you in, but after some distance, it requires skilled techniques to walk in due to the presence of honed uneven slopes. "On entering the cave, the coolness of the air and darkness increases enormously," said Mohammad Younis, a local.
Locals say they have heard from elders that Russians used to come to Kashmir through these seven tunnels. Pic: Sajad Mir
These structures are of unique archaeological and geological importance. The Satbaran has meticulously crafted half-buried stone in the ground.
The most recent and the only documented information about these caves has been provided by a group of Americans lead by expert cave explorers Amber and Eric Fies. They investigated the three caves in 2018 and reached the termination points for each of them.
They mentioned the possibility that two of the caves might have been connected in the past. While one of the two caves is thrust upwards and the other trends downward, both of them have similar elevations and azimuths.
The explorers couldn’t determine a similar elevation for the third cave as it was sealed by the Indian army several years ago to prevent militants from hiding in its crevices.
The explorers concluded that there were no signs of any recent human passages in the third cave where they could not reach the terminal end. The cave, however, had large porcupines.
Referring to Satbaran, they stated, “No one knows the history behind the structures who built it or its exact age."
Everyone who has visited these caves once has fallen in love with their antiquity and wishes to visit them again. The team’s exploration of the caves has greatly helped Kashmir understand the cave system that has been quite an enigma for generations.
Concerned about the importance of these caves, locals are demanding to declare them as heritage sites.
Yasin Lone Muhammad, Chief Executive Officer of Lolab Bungus Drangyari Development Authority, says, “We have written to the Directorate of Archaeology and Museums to identify and declare these sites as protected monuments and heritage sites.”
"Tourists who come here are interested in knowing about the history of these caves. The research and restoration will increase cultural tourism in the district,” he adds.
Dr Ajmal Shah says proclaiming these caves as a heritage site is not enough and concrete steps should be taken for their conservation and protection.
He believes that due to the prevailing conflict, the government does not consider heritage as a subject of immense importance. "It is quite far down on their priority list,” he says. Lack of resources is another factor responsible for the lack of research work on these mystical caves, according to Shah.
Lolab Bungus Drangyari Development Authority has written to the Directorate of Archaeology and Museums to identify and declare these sites as protected heritage sites. Pic: Sajad Mir
Throwing light on the role of the government, Mushtaq Beigh, Deputy Director of the Directorate of Archaeology and Museums, claims that they have commenced work on the site to preserve the caves. He says that the department looks into the damaged sites that require immediate attention and then moves to other sites, following priority.
Revealing that the caves have already found their mention on tourism pamphlets and brochures, Beigh says, "The conservation of such sites is a slow process. The funds have come in and the work has begun."
(Parsa Mahjoob is a Srinagar-based freelance journalist)