If you’re traveling to the tourist areas of Northern Pakistan by road from Islamabad, chances are you’ll pass by the town of Chilās. Just outside the town, right on the side of the highway, there is a vast gallery of ancient art that includes engravings of Ibex, stupas, meditating Buddhas, and religious motifs and inscriptions in various languages.
This route along the Indus River was part of the Silk Road for thousands of years. It was used by merchant caravans, military expeditions, and explorers who all left their marks on these rocks. Over thousands of years, religions, ideas, knowledge, and cultural exchanges spread along this “highway,” and based on the rock carvings, this area must have been a popular place to stop and rest.
You can see many of the stone carvings from the road, but as you walk into the mountains, if you look hard, you’ll keep finding more and more. There are hundreds, if not thousands of these petroglyphs in this area, and the earliest ones date back to 600 BC, making some of them nearly 2,700 years old.
You would think that this would be an enormous tourist attraction and that the area would be locally and internationally protected, but there is no formal protection. Some of the rocks have recent graffiti painted on them, but this did not seem like a malicious effort to destroy priceless relics, as locally, the artwork is thought of as slightly older graffiti and nothing special.
There are few tourists in this area, so you will likely be able to wander among the rocks and discover the images all on your own.