Ghora Gali – Mysterious Ancient Stone Horses of Jammu & Kashmir

The name Ghora Gali itself suggests the presence of horse, as ‘Ghora’ means horse and ‘Gali’ means lanes. More than 200 stone sculptures of horses along with horsemen, intricately carved and of varied sizes are placed on hill slope of Pirpanjal Mountain Range. Who made these? How old are these? Nobody knows. That is the only information we had before visiting this hidden archaeological marvel of Jammu & Kashmir, India. But what we found there was much more than our expectation.

What we found in Ghora Gali

When we spotted the site at roadside and looked downward along the hill slope it seemed like multiple stone-horses were casually put together in a pine forest. We started descending the stairway made by archaeological department. Half-broken sculptures and stone-blocks were seen all along. What we got to perceive from the surroundings are as follows –

  • Here we came to see the stone-horses. But what we found there was more fascinating! Here the entire site was built over an underground stream flowing along the hill slope. They created sets of multiple artificial outlets on hill surface to make water come out like shower. Then, every set of outlets was surrounded by stone-slabs, and hence small reservoirs were formed to hold that released water. Now on the opposite walls of those reservoirs they put few water inlets, through which water would go automatically underground again. Often they made inter-connection between inlets and outlets of two consecutive reservoirs placed back to back on the hill slope. Thus multiple showers and reservoirs were constructed on different elevation of the hill, resulting a complex but visually wonderful water system. This is nothing but an engineering marvel of ancient era.
    Water outlets and reservoir of Ghora Gali
    Water outlets and the reservoir

    The complex but visually wonderful water-system of Ghora Gali
    Try to imagine how this water-site used to look like in past?
  • Horses along with riding horsemen on them were there to decorate the water-site. We found two types of them – 1. Full sculptures of horses with horsemen and 2. Relief carving of horses and horsemen on stone blocks or slabs.The stone-statues of the horses were not at all scattered haphazardly, rather they are placed according to their sizes, elevation of the slope and where in the water system they would fit best.

    Horses of Ghora Gali - Stone Statues and Engravings on Stone
    Horses of Ghora Gali – Sculptures & Engravings
  • The stone-slabs and columns used for building these reservoirs were fully decorated by intricate relief carving. Unfortunately many of them had been broken, unattached and spread all over the site. We observed the relief works on them minutely and found that apart from the horses and horsemen, men standing side by side, lady dancers, man sitting cross-legged and different patterns were engraved there. The weapons, costumes, body-postures of the horsemen and decors of the horses seemed more diverse than those of the sculptures. On few stone slabs, we saw elephants and camels along with riders.
    Relief work of horses along with horsmen on stone slabs of Ghora Gali
    Wonderful detailing
    Engraving of a lady with six warriors
    A lady with six warriors
    Engraving of 3 men standing side by side
    Three men standing side by side
    Itricate relief work on reservoir
    Decorated stone-wall of a reservoir
    Elephant, Camel & Horse – All in One

    Horses & Horsemen, inricately engraved on a stone slab of Ghora Gali
    Relief works were more diverse than sculptures.
  • While most of the relief works were small in size, sculptures of horses we saw varied in sizes; ranging from 2 to 10 ft in height. Two huge stone slabs with two human figures engraved on them were kept in a place.
    The biggest horse of Ghora Gali
    Bigger than us

    2 big engravings of human figures on stone slabs
    Almost same height! Were they ancient deities?
  • Initially the artisans used to make cubical stone blocks and then cut them in shape of horses and men. The cubical shapes had remained much unaltered in the faces and bodies of the horsemen. To portray the detailing like hands, legs, weapons, attires, shoes and ornaments of the horse-riders, they emphasized on relief carving on these cubical figures. The horsemen had big eyes, huge nose, but unusually small lips and chins. We noticed that their heads are mostly bigger in size, compare to their other body parts. On the other hand, horses were less cubical and more life-like. Their reins, ornaments, teeth, even nostrils were carved with better precision. Relief works had been done even on the uncovered body parts of the horses to give more gorgeous look. Presence of female figures at the bottom of the necks is noticeable.
    The cubical sculptures of the horses & horse-riders in Ghora Gali
    It was all about cubical formation
    Stone sculptures of horses along with horsemen in Ghora Gali
    Look-wise slightly different… Isn’t it?
    Intricate relief works on the bodies of the horse & horsemen
    Look how relief work had added all detailing

    Faces of the horsemen
    Look at their cubical faces, big eyes, big noses, head-caps, ornaments, outfits and weapons.

 

 

What we think about Ghora Gali

We have not found any scholarly article written about the historical significance of this place. No board was there by archaeological department. There is a myth that these site had been made by Pandavas of Mahabharata. Anyway, we have not seen there anything related to Mahabharata. What we have tried to interpret from our observation are like –

  • The multi-leveled water system was a community bathing place. The mini reservoirs were used as bathtubs and water coming out through the artificial holes on stone slabs used to generate the shower-effect.
  • Sculptures and architectural artistry are usually seen in religious sites, royal palaces or forts. But here the entire set up had been built around the source of water. It seems that whoever made this, source of water was important and valuable to them and public bathing was a celebrated practice. That reminds us the hamam-culture of central Asia.
  • Whoever patronized to construct this site, the key component of his/their success and prosperity was definitely horse. That is why they made so many horse-statues. Trade? Or battlefield? What made them successful? There might be an ancient trade route along the bottom of Pirpanjal Range connecting India to central Asia. But the horsemen seemed to be warriors from their costumes, swords, combat knives and shields.
  • We noticed more than one rider on every horse; even found four on one. It seemed their horses were huge in size.
  • The dress and head-caps of the riders are very much similar to central Asian attire.
  • The cubical shape and style of the sculptures we found is very unique; had seen nothing like that in other parts of India.
  • There is a city called Ghora Gali in Pakistan too. I have no idea whether similar sculptures are found there or not. But in India, I heard that there are few other places in J & K, where similar stone-horses are placed. We wished to be there, but since had no idea of the exact locations, could not manage to visit those. Anyway, presence of stone-horses in different areas indicates that these places might be under same rule.
  • Since building human figures are not usually encouraged in Islam, therefore, probably this site was constructed before the Islamic invasion in this area; if not so, then the ruler might be a non-Islamic person.
  • Some of the horses had been broken and fallen on ground; but many of the horsemen had lost their heads or upper body-parts. No. Time did not do this. The way the heads are destroyed or chiseled out, that indicates deliberate human intervention but as the cut surfaces were smoothened by weathering effect probably that happened in distant past.
  • Now, coming to the present day, It is encouraging to see that archaeological department had set a boundary surrounding the site, made a staircase, even made some shades to sit and take rest. But no sign board was there in front of the site. We did not see any security guard; found locals riding stone horses, drying cloths on them, even some unwanted colors on a horse and plastics in stream. That was my experience of 2021. Hope situations will improve in future.
    Broken horse-statues of Ghora Gali
    The broken!

    Locals riding on the stone-horses of Ghora Gali
    Today’s Ghora Gali!

 

How did we get there?

Ramban is a small town located midway on the road connecting Srinagar and Jammu. It took 4-5 hours to be there from Srinagar. (Or you may come from Jammu.) After a night-halt in a hotel of Ramban, on next morning we headed towards Sangaldan. From Sangaldan, we took the road leading to Gool. We found Ghora Gali on right hand side of the road, few kilometres prior to Gool. Ghora Gali is 42 kms from Ramban.

The longitude and latitude of Ghora Gali is: 33°15’27.4″N 75°00’15.8″E

The landmark of Ghora Gali
While heading towards Gool from Sangaldan, keep an eye on the the right hand side of the road. You will get to see this horse-head placed on the road-side. Welcome to Ghora Gali.
A view of Ghora Gali from the road
The first glimpse of Ghora Gali from the road

If you want to hire a car from Srinagar and looking for a driver who knows the location, then you may contact Showkat Wani (+91 9906876232). He was the driver of our trip to Ghora Gali.

Ghora Gali remains almost untouched by most of the travelers. Hundreds of tourists cross Ramban everyday during their journey from Jammu to Srinagar or vice versa, unknowingly that a much worth visiting place called Ghora Gali is located just one & half hours drive ahead! That is why the locals of Ramban are not familiar to see tourists taking night halt there. None of them even know what or where is Ghora Gali. Therefore, do not expect any guidance from them. A prior research about the location is mandatory.