Dr Farah Adeeb, Perth
Today when Westerners think of Pakistan, sadly the first thoughts may no longer be about its erratic cricket team, rather terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism, violence, nuclear weapons, fights with India, the Taliban, tribal unrest and perhaps corruption within the military spring to mind. However there is another side of Pakistan, which is not known to many people in the West.
Recently, I returned to Pakistan- the country of my birth and had a brief visit to a number of historical places in the district of Punjab. Pakistan is said to contain some of Asia’s most breath-taking scenery, a swarm of colourful cultures rich in grandeur and home to ancient civilizations which some historians say match those of Egypt and Mespotamia.
Each day of this journey brought a new discovery and a wish to see more of the country. I had spent my childhood in Pakistan and probably have not seen as many historical sites as I did during this recent visit. Is that as an expatriate you are curious to know about your country of birth more than if you are living there? I cannot still figure out. But well here is my recollection of some of the interesting places I visited.
HARAPPA- An Ancient Indus Civilization
I arrived at Harappa, the type-site of the Indus civilization, early morning in November. Morning mist in the mounds of Harappa seemed to tell the mysterious story of an ancient civilization which was buried in the hands of the fate or some unfortunate hand of the nature ruined the place. Today’s Harappa is a large village in the District of Punjab. It overlies and adjoins the mounds of the ancient city, which appear to have had a circuit of not less than three miles (approx. 4.8 km).
The site at Harappa was first briefly excavated by Sir Alexander Cunningham in 1872-73. The first extensive excavations at Harappa were started by Rai Bahadur Daya Ram Sahni in 1920. His work first brought to the world’s attention the existence of the forgotten Indus Valley civilization as the earliest urban culture in the Indian subcontinent.
A big chunk of Harappa still remains unexcavated and thus unexplored. However, the main features of the plan, the citadel on the west and the mounds of the ‘lower city’ towards the east and southeast are clearly visible. The earliest deposits on the site go back to 3300 B.C. (some scholars argue that Harappan civilization can be dated back to 2500 BC or earlier). and the area seems to have been continuously inhabited ever since. Archaeologists suggest that the ancient Harappa was the urban centre dominating the upper Indus region.
I met two teenage girls during walk to the Harappa on the cemetery side. They were wearing rugged torn clothes and it was an early winter morning with chill in the air. Both girls started walking behind me.
I asked “What do you want”.
One of them said “Please help us”.
I gave them Rs. 10 and said divide between the both, but not to tear the note apart as then it will be useless for both of you. They took a while to understand the joke and then there was this innocent chuckle in the remains of this ancient city.
A lot about the town and kind of people would always be unknown. We do not know who actually built the city and who first settled in and what was the social culture of the civilization.
The Harappans are said to be agricultural people whose economy was almost entirely dominated by horticulture. Huge granaries were built at each city, and there was highly structured bureaucracy to distribute this wealth of food. In addition, many of the Harappan seals have pictures of animals that imply a wet and marshy environment, such as rhinoceroses, elephants, and tigers. The Harappans also had a wide variety of domesticated animals: camels, cats, dogs, goats, sheep, and buffalo. Their cities were carefully planned and laid out. Whenever they rebuilt their cities, they laid them out precisely in the same way the destroyed city had been built.
Life in the Harappan cities was apparently pretty good with the residents having urban amenities like drains, sewers, and even latrines. Nothing is known about the religion of the Harappans. It is thought that the Harappans perhaps practised some kind of goddess worship.
Excavations at Harappa show evidence of the burial of the pottery and other items of personal use with the dead female or male. For example, excavation to the south of the citadel mound suggested a regular cemetery R. 37 of Harappa period. The bodies were extended from north to south, the head towards the north. The burials contained large collections of pots numbering 15 to 45. The dead wore ornaments, shell bangles, necklaces, a copper finger ring, an earring of thin copper wire. While another burial contained a pottery lamp and bones of a fowl.
The people seemed to be meat eaters, for remnants of the stag, buffalo, turtle, goat and ox have been found during digging operations. They seemed to grow barley as well as date palm trees. For rich, ornaments with precious metals like sometimes overlaid with gold, ivory, carnelian and other stones have been found.
So what happened to them as finally they disappeared without a trace? Some believe that they were overrun by the war-like Aryans, the Indo-Europeans who, rushed in from Euro-Asia and overran Persia and northern India. Some believe that the periodic and frequently brutal flooding of the Indus finally took its toll on the economic health of the civilization. It is possible that the periodic changes of course that the Indus undergoes also contributed to its decline over a period of time. All we know is that somewhere between 1800 and 1700 BC, the Harappan cities and towns were abandoned and finally reclaimed.
As I was leaving for Lahore, a sad thinking occurred to my mind; Why had I only given Rs. 10 to the little girls? Why not some amount which could have helped in buying winter dress for both? Would I ever see them again when I go back to Harappa in few years or they would also be a part of ancient civilisation?
The Harappa Museum contains a lot of collections from this civilisation and an information booklet is also available at the cost of Rs. 100 (approx. AUS$ 3). Although taking a video of the Museum site is not legally allowed.
With Australia’s Pet friendly society many Aussies would understand why the emperors built a memorial in honour of his faithful pet- an Antelope! According to Sujan Rai Bhandari in his book TUZKE JEHANGERI, Hirn Minaret is a memorial of an Antelope namely Mansraj. It was caught on 31st March 1607 and a general royal injunction forbidding hunting of any deer at this place was issued by Mughal Emperor Jahangir. Hirn Minaret is situated 4 KM in the north-east of Sheikhupura town (on the outskirts of Lahore). When the Antelope died faithful emperor erected this Minaret at his grave to honour its memory at an expense of Rs. 150,000 (a large sum of money at that time). Its original height was 130 feet which has been reduced to 110 feet after the fall of its top storey. Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan (the architect of wonders) during his reign ordered the construction of a large, almost-square water tank with an octagonal pavilion in its centre. The supply of water has been managed from River Chenab through a water channel. Boating competitions are held every year here and the place is popular among locals and overseas tourists.
SHRINES OF MYSTICS
One of the highlights of my trip was visit to Dar-ul-Ehsan (House of Blessing), perpetuated by Barkat Ali, a Sufi (muslim mystic) near Faisalabad. Barkat Ali moved to Dar-ul-Ehsan in 1984 and died in January 1997 at the age of 85 years. He led a life of simplicity, prayer and service to humanity. Even after his death, Dara-El-Ehsan presents a place where spiritual energies abound and one feels so peaceful in mind and light in heart. It is said that he maintained a clinic that provided medical care to the community and that he restored the sight of more than 30,000 persons without charge of any kind. While more thousands of people got operated in free eye clinic. He helped a number of poor deserving students by giving them scholarships. He wrote more than 300 books on Islam and Sufism, all of which have been distributed free of charge. He left thousands of followers who visit his shrine and say prayers.
Another highlight of the visit was the visit to shrine of Waris Shah who produced the best known major Punjabi tale, Heer Ranjha, based on the traditional folk tale of Heer and her lover Ranjha. Towards the end of July every year, central Punjab brims with functions in connection with the Urs (205th in 2006) of Waris Shah.
Waris Shah is a model poet who inspired and guided generations of Punjabi poets belonging to the medieval as well as modern period. He is said to be the most unique poet ever produced in Punjabi literature and is well respected in the Punjab and around.
The story of Heer and Ranjha had already become a great love-legend in a tradition of high romance and has been written by his predecessors like Damodar Daas and Mukbal and Ahmed Gujjar, but Waris Shah’s version is by far the most popular today.
His mausoleum is a place of pilgrimage today, especially for those in love. In the story that he conceived he shows Ranjha as a rebel against the society which had become extremely materialistic. He points to the spiritual hollowness of the people during those days.
Lahore (2nd largest city of Pakistan) is also famous for its beautiful mosques and tombs, mostly laid out during Moughal Empire and British rule.
It is said to be the world’s largest existing “historical mosque” and was built in 1674. It contains a beautiful blend of white marble and red stone, decorated with beautifully engraved “Quranic” verses.
Lahore also has many famous historical monuments and a very rich cultural heritage.
Walled City Also known as the Old City, is the section of Lahore that was fortified by a city wall during the Mughal era. The wall had 13 gates, and much of the wall remains intact today.
Jahangir’s Tomb In the memory of the most romantic prince Salim, turned to Emperor Jehangir, descendant of “Akbar the Great”, was built in 1637 A.D. by his beloved Queen “Noor-Jehan”. It is surrounded by a beautiful garden.
It was established during the British Rule in 1864. It displays a complete cross-section of the culture and history of the region with best collection of the Buddhist art form the Gandhara period, Islamic artefacts, Calligraphy, arms, costumes and Jewellery.
Lahore Fort was built by Akbar in 1560s. It is culmination of many buildings built over a period of time. The entrance to the fort is through Alamgiri-gate built in 1618 by Jahangir.
The Mall Historically a key city road, has many buildings from Mughal era and British Rule. It is crowded by people for most of the day and a bustling life. Lots of traditional food
places are situated along the Mall and food is all too yummy.
We all know that situation in Pakistan is unfortunately highly volatile at the moment and what a pity that this beautiful country with so much to offer is currently not a viable tourist destination for Westerners. However I am an optimistic and I believe that in 10-15 years this will change Inshalla and with more political stability and improvement in security situation, it would be a great place to visit once again.