Sunday, October 31, 2010

Cholistani colors come to Islamabad

A folk dancer performs during the three-day Cholistan cultural festival being held in Islamabad to showcase Cholistan’s cultural - APP.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Jalal HB Doodh Patti

Doodh Patti - Tea served by railway in the train (Karachi Express only perhaps) {Thanks JH)

Down to Dipalpur

An important battlefield for centuries, Dipalpur is now a quite and peaceful town. It is situated at the distance of 25 Kilometres from Okara on an old bank of River Beas in Bari Doab. Dipalpur is famous in the history as an outpost that has played a significant part in the defence of Delhi kingdom against Mongol invasions in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

History of Dipalpur dates back to ancient times. The coins of Sakas (Scythian) period found on the site suggest that the place was inhabited in 100 (BC). After Multan this is probably the oldest living city in the Subcontinent. General Alexander Cunningham writes that the place figures out in works of Ptolemy under different names. As per the tradition, Dipalpur was named after Raja Dipa Chand once he captured it. Dipalpur once used to be the first fortification in the way from Khyber to Delhi. In 1285, Muhammad Tughlaq son of Emperor Balban was killed in a bloody battle with Mongols and the famous poet Amir Khusuro was taken prisoner in Dipalpur. The dilapidated tomb where Muhammad Tughlaq rests stands neglected in a silent corner of the town, for removed from the noisy haunts of men.

Under Ala-ud-Din the town became the headquarters of Ghazi Malik. Feroz Shah Tughlaq visited the town in fourteenth century. Mughal Emperor Akbar made it the headquarters of one of the sarkars (revenue district) of Multan Province. The town lost its importance during colonial era. Partition changed the face of the town and it witnessed the new demographic and socio economic order in 1947. It is now a market town and tehsil headquarters of Okara district.

Dipalpur in the past was surrounded by a fortification wall, rising to the height of 25 feet and strengthened by a deep trench and other defences. When and by whom this fort was constructed is not known but it was renovated, repaired and improved during the rule of Feroz Shah Tughlaq and later by Abdur Rahim Khan-e-Khanan who was the governor during the time of Akbar. Feroz Shah Tughlaq constructed a grand mosque, palaces and excavated a canal from river Sutlaj to inundate the trench and irrigate gardens around the town.

Wide and airy tunnels linked the royal residential quarters inside the fort to the adjoining gardens outside. There were 24 burgs (musketry holes) on the fortification wall, 24 mosques, 24 bavlis (ponds) and 24 wells in the town in its hay days. The trench, ponds and tunnels have been filled but at places the location of the trench can still be defined. Most of the wall has been razed. Two of the four massive gateways with pointed arches also exist though they are badly damaged and their wooden doors have vanished. The coats of cement have marred the architectural importance of the gateways.

Inside the walled city that is a vital living part of Dipalpur, dismayed, I looked around and thought that I have entered a big and confused jungle of houses. The remains of once magnificent buildings of olden period adorned with beautiful wood engravings serve to relive the dullness of the domestic architecture. The whole area has a homogeneous urban texture that has survived for centuries. The narrow and winding streets lined by redeveloped and shoddily built new houses give Dipalpur a mean and gloomy look. The old character of the city is eroding due to erection of new structures and unsuitable repairs.

Besides doors with decorated latches, jharokas, bay windows and cut brick works still surviving despite all odds, the most noticeable feature inside the old Dipalpur, which reminds of the past prominence, is the monastery of Lal Jas Raj, a guru much venerated by the Hindus.

As per the famous legend, Lal Jas Raj was young son of Raja Dipa Chand, the founder of Dipalpur. The boy sank in the earth due to the curse of his stepmother Rani Dholran. Raja Dipa Chand constructed this monastery in the memory of his son. Today the dilapidated and empty chamber stands infested with bats and rats. I could not open the doors to the chamber because they are jammed and a stairway is serving as storage for dried dung cakes of the neighbours. The structure is crumbling. “There is nothing inside. There used to be a grand annual ‘mela’ here. Hindus have been coming here to shave off the heads of their sons till after the partition but no body comes anymore,” informed the residents who had gathered around me.

Another noticeable building inside old Dipalpur, which reminds of the bygone glory, is a saray (inn) near the monastery of Lal Jas Raj. The architects of the period when this inn was raised were familiar with use of space, element of design and response to climate. It was a spacious building with airy rooms on four sides, a big courtyard in the centre and four arched entrances. The inn used to be functional and firm but now it is dark and dirty. It has been divided and subdivided by its occupants so many times that you can not make out its original shape. Even the verandas have been clogged to create additional rooms. The best would have been if the inn remained in public use. This does not seem possible now.

Muslim saints have been coming to this area to spread the light of Islam. Hazrat Bahawal Haq commonly known as Bahawal Sher Qalandar came from Baghdad and settled in village Patharwall near Dipalpur. The saint constructed a Hujra (living room) and a mosque outside the village. His grandson Hazrat Shah Muqeem continued his mission. The village came to be known as Hujra Shah Muqeem. This is the place that is mentioned in famous Punjabi folk love story ‘Mirza Saheban’. Though there is no historical evidence that Jati Saheban came here and prayed: “Sunjian howan gallian which Mirza yar phere” (the streets should be deserted where my lover Mirza should roam about).

Mughal king Akbar along with his son Saleem and royal entourage stayed in Dipalpur when he came to pay homage to saint Hazrat Farid Ghang Shakar 1578. Akbar named the corridor as ‘Bari Doab’ by combining the syllables of the names of two rivers (Beas and Ravi) that bounded the belt. Baba Guru Nanak also stayed in Dipalpur for sometime. A completely ruined Gurdawara (temple) reminds of the place where Guru Nanak stayed.

Situated on the old bank of river Beas, Dipalpur started expanding and spilling out of fortification long ago. It was declared as notified area in 1949, which has been raised to the status of Municipal Committee. Now it is a typical Pakistani market town with all the hazards of urbanization: congestion, mixed traffic, encroachments, potholed roads and piles of domestic waste. Municipal Committee does not seem to notice the plight of the residents, particularly those living in the old portion of the city. The area is very fertile and ideally suited for livestock and agro industries.

Sadly, our Archaeology Department is neither very keen to discover the missing links of human evolution in this area nor in preservation of bits and pieces of history lying under the layers of time. Challenge of restoring the ancient Dipalpur to its old magnificence might be too much, but the experts could carry out a survey to record the places having essential, historic, social and architectural value.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Mir Chakar Rind's Journey to Satghara

An old, sleepy and tranquil village Satghara lies about 80 kilometers from Lahore (20 minutes drive away from Okara) in the quiet backwaters of the Punjab. The coins found at Satghara prove that the place was inhabited at the time of the Kushan dynasty. The rule of Kushans was one of the most decisive periods in the history of the Subcontinent. At the height in the second century (A.D.), Kushans ruled from Oxus to Ganges and yet their influence spread beyond even these frontiers. On the southern bank of the Ravi, it is a typical Pakistani village where farmers live like rustics in the face of urban attractions. Though off the beaten track, it has never been out of limelight. Besides heritage conscious travelers from all over the world, Baloch leaders and contemporary historians visit the hamlet. Reasons: it is a "Tukia Nawab Chakar Ki" - last resting-place of Mir Chakar Rind. I see part of our history buried here whenever I have a look at it. And I do that often.

As per one account, Mir Chakar Rind came to this village with seven families, hence the name. Another legend has it that the village was named Satghara because it was destroyed seven times by floods. Shah Abul Mo'ali, descendant of sixteenth century saint Muhammad Ibrahim Daud-e-Sani Bandgi in his book 'Maqamat-e-Daudi' maintains that Satghara was known by the same name even before the arrival of Mir Chakar Rind. In Baloch history, the sixteenth century was a very eventful period. Baloch fought series of wars amongst themselves. The result of these tribal conflicts not only caused large-scale bloodshed but also resulted in their mass migrations to the Punjab, Sindh and Gujrat (India).

One such immigrant, center of Balochi love lore and war ballad, Mir Chakar Rind is regarded as one of the great Baloch heroes. Born in 1468, Mir Chakar Rind lived in Sevi (modern time Sibbi) in hills of Balochistan and became the head of Rind tribe after his father Shiahak died. A natural leader and warrior, Mir Chakar Rind was a man with resolute determination. In 1496, Mir Chakar traveled to Hirat (Afghanistan) to muster support from Sultan Shah Hussain. To prove his personal valor, he was made to fight a mad elephant and ride a tough horse in Hirat. He succeeded in all these tests though could not get the support. A class of Balochs even regards him having been invested with saintly virtues and mystic powers.

Over a trifling mater - a Lashari youth butchered and roasted the kid-kamels - Mir Chakar and Gwaharam, head of the Lashari tribe went to war. Thousands of Rinds and Lasharis were killed in this war, and ballads that still echo in hills of Balochistan and are part of Baloch oral literature, commemorate the personal gallantry of the two heroes. After 'the thirty year war' against Lasharis, he left Balochistan and came to live in the Punjab in 1518." Why Chakar-e-Azam, as he was commonly known, preferred to settle in the central Punjab, far away from Sibbi is not known. Once at Satghara, he constructed a fortification wall around the village and burj (watchtowers) in 15 squares Kilometers area encircling the fort for early warning against impending dangers. In case of any threat, the guard on the watchtower would light up fire, which will be spotted by the other guards and the news would be communicated all around without delay. From one crumbling watchtower, I could see miles of waving cops in all directions.

Settled in Satghara, Mir Chakar Rind became a regional force to recon with. He was respected (and feared) in the area. Afghan King Sher Shah Suri approached Mir Chakar Rind to join hands with him and help him consolidate his gains. Mir Chakar Rind appreciated the situation and not only wisely refused to help Sher Shah Suri but also managed to elude Afghan armies. Instead, his forces under the able command of his son Mir Shahdad joined Humayun when after a long exile in Persia Mughal emperor came back, recaptured Delhi and ousted Afghan Suris in 1556. Emperor Humayun as a reward conferred a vast Jagir (including horses and slaves) upon him. Mir Chakar ruled this chieftaincy till he died at the ripe age in 1565. It is the tomb and fort of Mir Chakar Rind - or whatever is left of them - that curiously conscious and those interested in history come to see at Satghara. The fort is large. Actually the wall once encircled the entire village. Two gateways with flat bands and pointed arches still survive though badly damaged due to ravages of time. The wooden door panels have disappeared. With growth in population, the village has grown and spilled out of encircling wall long ago. Standing at a vantage point one can still feel antiquity permeating from the cluster of mud and brick houses inside the fortification wall. In some houses, one can see mythological and thematic murals of the Hindu period. On the periphery, the classical mud houses look nice.

Constructed of narrow red bricks, used in upright courses to ensure additional strength, the wall is 25 feet high and three feet thick. Some of its salient portions exist between the tomb and the first gateway. Despite the salinity and cracks creeping up the wall, the architectural feast seems to re-echo to the past memories. Beside one of the doorways, a sign has been posted announcing that the Archaeology Department protects the site. How seriously the 'warning sign' has been taken by the villagers can be seen all over the village. Red thin bricks excavated from the centuries old monument are found used in many spanking new houses in the village. At places the villagers have utilized the fortification wall as part of their houses. Major portion of the wall and what would have been the living quarters of the family of Mir Chakar Rind have been lost. The courtyard of the tomb has shrunk due to encroachments and presently it is being used as Shamlat deh (community center) for keeping the animals and elders to sit under the shadow of big pipal tree during lazy summer afternoons.

The followers who had accompanied Mir Chakar Rind to Satghara built the tomb after death of the hero. Today there is not a single Baloch living in the village. The neglected tomb is dilapidated and the surviving history is falling fast into decay. The main chamber of the once majestic and imposing tomb is octagonal in plan. The roof, decorative work and plaster have vanished. Cracks have snaked in all direction on the walls. The rainy water gathers in the roofless main chamber and stays there till sun dries it. The water is destroying the foundations of the crumbling edifice, which is gradually sinking in ground. There are seven rough mud graves inside the chamber. A small tablet distinguishes the central grave. It reads: Akhari Aaramgah, Mir Chakar (Khan) Rind, Satghara, Okara, Munjanib Yong Baloch Welfare Society, Ravi Road, Lahore. Even the name of the great hero on the tablet is not written correctly - having word Khan inserted quite unnecessarily. Similarly, the large plaque placed by the Archaeology Department needs improvement. The tomb was desecrated and its roof demolished by Maharaja Ranjit Singh who, on his way to Multan to fight against Nawab Muzafar, had stayed in Satghara about 150 years ago. It has never been repaired ever since. Governments, Archaeology Departments, visitors from all walks of life, police (there is a police station in the village), district administration, locals or Balochs, no body seems to be concerned about the state of this important monument.

If one wants to absorb the sense of history, Satghara is a place to visit. One has to possess a sensibility shaped in granite not to be moved by the relics of past age, the monument of departed greatness belonging to a celebrated hero who now rests helpless and neglected in this silent place, far removed from the noisy haunts of men. The first impact that this monument gives is an emotional one, for it is a sign of identity and a part of our history. It also has architectural, documentary, spiritual and symbolic values. In the vicinity, a few van (salvadora) trees, may be as old as the relics, stand witness to the bygone era. Swooping and cooing wild fowls and running squirrels also testify to the continuity of the human habitation in the area. Though not mentioned in the touristy literature, yet travelers who come to see the ruins in Harrappa (about 40 kilometers from Satghara) make to this monument village: to study the history, architecture and culture of the time when the monuments were built. The remains of the monument have to be preserved and saved from ruination, a danger they are facing at present.

As I drove back on a single way metallic road, plied mainly by animal transport and milkmen on the motorbikes, I could not help thinking: Can the plight of the priceless site be brought to the echelons of power? Can some national or international agency be moved to act and save the place for coming generations? We owe them this.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Food, Fruit and History

With Balochistan in the news, maybe we should also talk about the locale and the beauty of the area.

Visit Pishin at this time of the year and you will find thousands of acres of fruit orchards. The rich harvest of apples, grapes, plums, peaches and apricots is seen every where. Legend attributes the origin of the name Pishin to a son of the Emperor Afrasiab. Until the middle of the 18 th century, when Quetta finally passed into the hands of Brahvi rulers, the history of Pishin is identical with the province of Kandahar. The earliest mention of Pishin is found in the ancient writing in which “Pishinorha” is described as a valley in an elevated part of the country and containing a barren level plain.

Little is known of the history of Pishin up to the 13th century. It was in 1221 that Kandahar and its dependencies passed into the hands of the Mughals. During the first half of the 15 th century, Kandahar was under the rule of the Timurs’ successors and it was probably at the beginning of this century that the Tarins emigrated from their original homes in the Takht-i-Sulaiman and made their way into Pishin.

Between 1530 and 1545 the province of Kandahar was in the possession of Mirza Kamran – the brother of the Emperor Humayun. After his death in 1556, Kandahar and its dependent territories were restored to the Safavid kings of Persia and they remained under Persia until 1595, when they were again acquired by the Mughals. It is mentioned in Ain-i-Akbari that Shal and Pushang (Pishin) were included in the eastern division of the Kandhar Sarkar. In 1622, Kandahar was again brought under the Safavid dynasty and, with the exception of a short period, remained under Persia. The Safavid Monarch Shah Abbas gained possession of Kandhar in 1622. He conferred the government of Pishin and tribal adjacent areas upon Sher Khan.

The end of the 17th century witnessed the rise to prominence of the Brahvis power. Quetta and Pishin both suffered from the encroachment of Brahvis, and it fell into the hands of Mir Ahmed whose reign lasted 30 years, from 1666 to 1696. Mir Wais obtained possession of Kandhar in 1709. It is curious that this feat was accomplished in connection with Pishin Brahvi. History relates that around 1725 Pishin has been annexed by Mir Abdullah. However, in 1733 Shah Hussain Ghilzai made a move against the Brahavis and he garrisoned in Pishin. Moving forward, he crossed the Ghaza Bund and took Quetta. He advanced to Pishin where the Brahvai submitted. Quetta remained under Kandahar and was transferred to Nadir Shah. It is said that Ahmed Shah Durrani finally conferred it on the Brahvis after the campaign in eastern Persia in 1751, when he received gallant aid from Nasir Khan I. Pishin meanwhile remained under the Durrani’s control. Ahmed Shah is said to have given Pishin as a jagir with the condition of the supply of military services to Pakar Khan. From the Durrani’s Pishin passed into the hands of Barakzai.

During the period of the first Afghan war, Quetta was annexed by the British in 1839. After the British retired in 1842, Pishin and Shorarud were occupied by the Afghans. The first phase of the Afghan war closed with the signing of an agreement in May 1879 stating that the district of Pishin, along with some other districts, was to be ceded to the British government. It was in 1882 that final orders were given for the permanent retention of Pishin and British authority was extended over the valley.

When Quetta district was handed over to the British government on April 1883, it was combined with Pishin into a single administrative charge. Before its occupation in 1878 and its subsequent assignment in 1879, Pishin always formed part of the province of Kandahar. The Batezai Tarins played important part as governors. Before the British occupation and, up to 1882, it was under an assistant to the Governor General. From 1883 onwards, when Pishin was combined with Quetta, together they fell under one political agent, the Deputy Commissioner. Until 1975 Quetta Pishin remained a single administrative unit. When Pishin was separated from Quetta it was given the status of a district. In 1993 Pishin was split into Pishin district and Killa Abdullah district. Now there are three districts: Quetta, Pishin and Killa Abdullah, which before partition came under one administrative division, known as Quetta Pishin. The district consists of one tehsil, Pishin, and three tehsils: Huramzai, Barshore and Karazat.

An old Balochi war ballad describes the land of Balochistan. It reads, “Mountains are the Balochi’s forts; the peaks are better than any army; the lofty heights are our comrades; the pathless gorges our friends; our drink is from the flowing springs; our bed the thorny bush; and, the ground we make our pillow.”

But one sees a splash of color in Pishin Valley in spring, when most of the plants are in bloom. Nomadic tribesmen pass through the valley during spring and autumn with their herds of sheep and camels and have their assorted wares for sale. This seasonal movement also adds color to the life of the town.

Apart from fruit, the quaint little market town is famous for food Sitting on ground, we used to have their famous mutton dish known as rosh, specially made in lamb fat. Curry used to be charged whereas rotis (bread) was free. Among the delicacies “Sajji” (leg of lamb) is the most famous, which is roasted to a delightful degree of tenderness and is not very spicy. The people also enjoy “Landhi” (whole lamb), which is dried in shade and kept for the winters. Kabab shops in town are very popular.

Water is the major problem in the valley. The ground water present is most likely safe for irrigation, domestic and livestock consumption. The quality of ground water also varies from place to place. In Karazat tehsil from Kily Qasim Bostan to Choormian, the water is of very good quality, whereas in Pishin bazaar and its surroundings the quality of water is poor. The water from saline basins – Karbala, Khudaidad zai – is not suitable for drinking and irrigation. In Pishin Valley water is supplied through different sources: tube-wells, hand pumps, wells, karezes and springs. Tube-wells by far have become the major source of water supply. Children and women are still seen fetching potable water from far off areas. If the water problem is solved, Pishin can be a rich fruit basket of the country.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Living at their own in Chitral

Some places are so peaceful and unspoiled that it is almost unbelievable. One such locality is the picturesque, tranquil and pollution free (and undeveloped) boarder village Arrandu in district Chitral. The very sound of the name is musical. This village is located 'on' the Pakistan Afghanistan boarder. Dir-Chitral Road bifurcates near village Mir Khanni and a jeep able track along Kunar River leads to Arrandu through Domail Nisar and onwards into Afghanistan.

Gateway to the South Asia, the Chitral valley has been center of activity since ancient times. Macedonians advanced through this region in fourth century. In 1338, Timur subdued the area on his way to the plains of Punjab. Mughal King Akbar garrisoned here in 1587 and the British in 1897 in Chakdara on Dir side of Lowari Pass. Among soldiers who served here in Chakdara then was young Winston Churchill who later became Prime Minister of Britain. So far about the past importance of the valley but the little hamlet got the international fame during Soviet occupation in Afghanistan. It remained in the news and was commonly called as 'BBC Baby'.

Arrandu is set up on the bank of Kunar River flowing into Afghanistan. Terraced fields of wheat, barley, maize and fragrant orchards of walnuts, apricots, grapes, apples and mulberries are strung up the valley like flags, at the feet of bare or thinly forested mountain walls.

The 3118-meter Lowari Pass is normally open to vehicles from June to October. One can sometime cross the pass on foot in May or November, despite the snow. One can also reach this small hamlet from Peshawar to Chitral by air and then by road to Arrandu or from Afghanistan. Though taking flight to Chitral is not everyone's cup of tea because the Fokker Friendship can cross the Lowari Pass only if weather permits. It rarely does particularly once the valley is landlocked in winters. First time, I landed in Chitral after three attempts by Fokker. Flying above the clouds, I had a window seat on the West Side of the small and noisy aircraft and could see the sighs of Hindu Kush where clouds allowed. Chitral to Arrandu via Drosh along Kunar River is easily one of the prettiest drives in the valley.

Chitral Scouts have kept this post in a very good shape. And, when ever I happened to pass the post conducting 'travelers' from down country or alone, I was always given a warm welcome and send off by Essa Khan, a local who has the biggest store cum tea house in the village. He also has arrangements for Trout fishing in Kunar River near his store. After zig zagging on a difficult road, one can spend a good day at the riverbank fishing and relaxing, with supply of tea from the Pinion Shah's teashop. And, to me Pinion Shah used to present, every time I visited him, a gift of pure salageet (Shilajit) - an oozing black paste from rocks famous among men in this part of the world as an anti aging and sexual health. After Afghan refugees and occasional travelers, now this road is used by herd of goats lead by a lonely Gujars to and from greener pastures. That is the place, which I use as a retreat from the hustle and bustle of urban life and that is where "I go to reminisce about fairies."

While the entire Chitral Valley is breathtaking in its splendor and beauty, one of my most enduring memories of Arrandu is watching the sunrise over the hills. And, when you devote enough time to look at the mountains, it becomes a bit chameleon - clouding over, changing colors, cliffs turning into convex and concave according to the slant light.

Arrandu has red roofed grand mosque and some makeshift provision stores that are stocked in summers when Lowari Pass is open to road traffic. There is also a water mill for grinding grain. Lot of tracks interlaces the area that is frequented by Mazdas or pedestrians.

At night, lights glow in this isolated village. One finds men spending their quality time sitting on the retaining walls along the razor edged roads and tracks while women (mostly with enlarged thyroid glands due to lack of iodine) working in the fields, homes or collecting woods from hills in conical wicker baskets. Even in their fifties men carry guns along with a belt of ammunition. The fact is that I found them friendly and at peace with themselves.

There are side valleys that yawn on both sides of Kunar River for hiking in its upper reaches. Friendly people of Tajik origin who had came from Badakhshan in Afghanistan only a few generations ago, to manufacture matchlock rifles for the Mehtar of Chitral populate the area. Arrandu Road is an ideal place to study the effects of land erosion: how it ruins the land and clogs waterways. And, there are some beautiful geological formations along the road. Besides scenery, there are many well-used camping grounds on both sides of the road and river, which run side by side.

Isolated from the rest of the country because of the remote location, Chitralis live a primitive rural existence without any civic amenities. Even the TV transmissions, telephone and electricity only in some parts of distract are a recent phenomenon. "Why would anyone want to live in a country like that?" Pinion Shah smiled and said, "I guess we like it here because we like to be left alone. Oh, it is nice to have people visiting. And we like people all right. But we like them on our own terms." And, he was right. I could hear him, murmuring sitting on his old stool: a freedom that meets other people only on its own terms - and yet forces you to care about every one of your neighbors scattered across the hillocks. Most of the Chitralis whom I asked confessed, "We like and want our own way of life." That is what is keeping them there.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Minaret of Jahangir’s Tomb

The Federal Archeology Department has completed the restoration and conservation work on the minaret of Jahangir’s Tomb which had been in precarious condition for decades and tilted outside, Shahdra Complex of Monuments Project Director Naeem Iqbal told Dawn on Tuesday, reports Dawn.

“The minaret has now been conserved and restored by the Federal Archeology Department and each step of the conservation was handled carefully fulfilling all technical requirements,” he said.

He said Shahdra Complex of Monuments was working on three monuments: Jahangir’s Tomb, Akbari Sarai and Asif Khan’s tomb.

Up to Rs461 million was approved in March 2010 for the restoration and conservation of the complex which is a seven year project, he added. Mr Iqbal said the tilted minaret of Jahangir Tomb was placed on the priority list of the project because it had bulged out to a dangerous extent. The tilt in the north-west minaret was first detected in 1970 and a tilto meter was fixed on the top story of the minaret. The instrument, however, observed no sign of tilting.

He said that surprisingly the base of the minaret had constantly been showing cracks and fissures that put it at bulging. In 2008, a thorough study of the minaret that is 100 feet high from the ground level was conducted and in the light of the study, restoration work was started.

Mr Iqbal said, “The minaret has been restored to its original shape and new stone pieces have been fixed according to the original layout and design.”

Department officials say that most of the original decorative features of Jahangir’s mausoleum and other monuments at Shahdara were plundered during political anarchy that stemmed from the decline of the Mughal rule, especially when the Punjab came under the domination of the Sikhs. Also, adverse effects of weather changes, temperature variations, periodical floods, earthquakes, rains, winds and other natural hazards contributed to the degeneration of the mausoleum.

The tomb, a single storey structure, is square in plan with 267 feet sides and built in red sand stone richly inlayed with white marble decorative motifs. It stands in an immense garden of 58.77 acres, divided into 16 sub-quarters by means of walkways and water channels. The principal effect in the embellishment of the tomb is obtained through applied colour decorations in the form of richly decorated fresco paintings and mosaic tiles in addition to the delicate pietra dura and marble intarsia of various colours. The idea of white marble motifs incised in red sand stone such as ewer, fruit dish and rose water sprinkler appears to have been taken from Persian miniature paintings.

While the low height of the building appears to be an architectural shortcoming, the four corner minarets crowned with white marble cupolas and rising up in five stages to a height of nearly 100 feet above ground, not only make good this drawback but also add to its magnificence and grace. These minarets are decorated with variegated marble in zigzag pattern and are the fore-runners of the refined and octagonal minarets of the imperial Mughal style.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Steeped in Doodh Patti

Rafay Mahmood

"For me, doodh patti is a blessing." So declares Dr Mustafa Ayubzai when confiding in Kolachi about his obsessive tea-drinking habit. For anyone who doubts his love affair with tea, Ayubzai adds, "Whenever I feel down or overworked, I order my peon to get me a cup of tea from a nearby dhaba. I need a cup every two hours just to keep my brain working. Without it, I don't know how I can ever see so many patients everyday."

Ayubzai's craving for tea is something many Karachiites can relate to, if the sales of tea are anything to go by. A local dhaba owner in a commercial area reveals that on average, 1,800 cups of tea are sold daily using a total 30 kilograms of milk. Affordable and addictive, it is the drink that unites college students, journalists, labourers and doctors alike.

Ever ready to serve their needs, doodh patti dhabas have always been a regular feature of Karachi, but surged in number twice in recent history. The first was after the Russian invasion in the eighties, when immigrants uprooted and moved to big cities, and the second in the aftermath of 9/11, when the Northern areas of the country were attacked, forcing residents to flee. Many of these residents wound up in Karachi and opened up doodh patti dhabas. Well-known names include Café Pyala and Quetta Unabi Hotel.

So just what is it about the famous doodh patti that endears it to so many hundreds of people? Kolachi spoke to Zaman Khan (not his real name), owner of a tea dhaba in Saddar, to find out. "People in Karachi are always busy, frustrated, and overworked. When they come to a dhaba, they want something strong enough to take their mind off things."

According to Khan, the trick lies in the boiling technique. "When making my tea, I don't add extra tealeaf. All I do is add extra milk and boil it until the real essence of the tealeaf – in other words, caffeine – is released. At home, people just boil it a little, but here, we boil it for longer, which makes it more addictive."

However, Khan says that this is not a technique all dhaba owners subscribe to. "I don't want to name them, but there are a few dhaba owners who extract opium from its stem, grind the stem left behind and let it boil in the tea."

The popularity of these dhabas becomes evident whenever they have to close, such as during ethnic riots in the city last month. "I did not care about what was going on in the city," confesses Ayubzai, "but when I couldn't get a cup of tea at my clinic during the four days the dhabas was closed, I felt really down – not because of the violence in the city, but because I couldn't get my doodh patti."

On the other end, the ethnic violence resulted in huge (financial) losses for the tea dhabas as well, which is a source of livelihood for thousands of people that sometimes work late into the night. Some dhabas remain open as late as 3:00am. "Hundreds of people visit our dhaba daily in the morning either for breakfast or just for a cup of tea," confirms Mohammad Nawaz, a waiter at a tea stall in Saddar.

Regardless of what is in the tea, however, there is a much simpler explanation for why these dhabas are always thronging with people. "The best thing about doodh patti dhabas is that they are cheap entertainment," remarks Saqib Anwar, a student. "Our group of friends goes to the nearby dhaba every day. It's a place where you can sit and talk for hours, and no one will stop you.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Multan Club

Importance of historical buildings is multidimensional. These buildings help us understand the people and culture that produced them. They also have architectural, aesthetic, historic, documentary, archaeological, economic, social and even symbolic values .

The first impact which any historic building gives is always an emotional one, for it is a symbol of our cultural identity, continuity and a part of our heritage. If it has survived the hazards and onslaught for "70 years (or above), it has good claim to being called historic,” says the law of land. Standing on bleared table in Multan Services Club with my old buddies, I could not help thinking of the message and a complexity of ideas that seem encircling the ornate building of the club.

During the last fifty two years, sadly, the destruction of historic buildings, urban cultural property and distortion of historic signs have occurred at an unprecedented scale. Due to the pursuit of quick profits and inordinately large returns by a few and through the indiscriminate use of valuable urban spaces and structures, many humanizing features of our cities have been irrevocably lost.

In the garb of modernization, through the use of the dreaded bulldozer, many a valuable historic and much loved buildings have been atomised by one more anonymous multi-storey structure, our city districts, once conducive to human interaction and civilizing influence, have been converted into unfriendly, concrete jungles. A fraction of the blame for the violence, increasing brutalisation of society and diminishing respect for human values and human life -- witnessed in the last couple of decades -- must be laid at the door of today's harsh and anonymous environment of our cities. An example of the "misuse" of city space: once upon a time there were eight mango orchards within the municipal limits of Multan. Today, there is none.

But the spanking new look of the old building of Multan Services Club is one of the finest example of the heritage conservation, technical expertise of the architects and devotion of the users to keep the symbol of our past in its original shape.

The Services Club, standing in wide and lush green lawns, looks straight out of the storybook. The building is a strange combination of horizontal emphasis and curvatures: surprisingly original in style. Four sizes of domes have been used. One in the centre of the plan being the largest and the ones set between the cluster of five domes the smallest. Two domes set on the corners of front are larger than the smallest ones but smaller than the other two sizes. The domes seem to have been influenced by Buddhist stupas. Largest dome has lantern like kiosk, painted in red, in place of a pinnacle.

Amir of Bahawalpur got this edifice built in late nineteenth century as a symbol of his entry into the city of Multan. The structure originally was a classic baradari. In the well-lit and airy interior, at least two successive Amirs of Bahawalpur would have spent their time: getting the glimpse of Multan through its windows while contemplating their strategic move to consolidate their gains.

Early in the 1920s, one of the well-established Multani family owned the building before it was acquired by the British army for use as Officers Club for the new founded Multan Cantonment, the role that the building is serving till today. Only the passing years kept changing the face of this gem in the history of Multan. The British officers, oblivious of the heritage of one of the oldest living city of the world, added an ungraceful hall on one side of the building to serve as a dance chamber and bar. Moreover, repairs that took place in those days were of the makeshift type, without any attention to the conservation of the structure. Cracks were merely hidden, and dampness coated with whitewash.

In the past few decades, ground water began eating at the foundations of this splendid building. This was compounded by cracks in the domes that started collecting rainwater. Owing to these cracks, the outer walls also began to slant outward, splitting the roof of the verandahs.

After deliberate planning (series of presentations and briefings), the task of conservation was given to Mr. and Mrs. Qurashi; Lahore based architects who were then completing their assignment of Multan Arts Council. They did a fine job using original material of the building and keeping it in its actual shape as far as possible. The architects have certainly added years to the life of this historic building, which is serving as a very restful facility.

One sincerely wishes, that the Auqaf Department, Archaeology Department, city development agencies and modern developers all over the country start appreciating the importance of national heritage. Only then they can plan to conserve bits and pieces of our history we are poised to loose forever. All is not lost still. Though, this has not started happening yet.