Thursday, January 27, 2011

Railway station

This photo is by Malik Ayaz and it shows Attock Khurd station. This small station with its Victorian architecture is arguably one of the most beautiful railway stations in Pakistan.

I know for a fact that many people visit this little station to appreciate its architecture as well as the nearby Attock Railway bridge on the Indus. The rectangular structure in this photo, behind the railway signals, is the fortified approach to Attock Railway bridge. In other parts of the world buildings like this become tourist attractions in themselves; in Pakistan they often get neglected and decay.

What do you think of this building? Do you have your own favorite railway station to suggest? Should we really not be doing more to preserve these grand structures strewn all over the country?

The Lahore Fort

The Lahore Fort, locally known as Shahi Qila, is located in the northwestern corner of Lahore's Walled City. The majestic edifice is the result of many centuries' work. According to the Pakistani historian Wali Ullah Khan, the earliest reference to the Fort comes in the history of Lahur (Lahore) compiled by Al-Biruni, which refers to a fort constructed in the early 11th century. Munshi Sujan Rae Bhandar, author of the Khulasa-tut-Tawarikh records that Malik Ayaz, a lieutenant of Sultan Mahmud, built a masonry fort at Lahore and inhabited the city. It is generally believed that present Lahore Fort is the same fort, which was damaged by the Mongols in 1241 and again in 1398 by a detachment of Timur's army, then rebuilt in 1421 by Sayyid, son of Khizr Khan.

The Fort was extensively refurbished, extended and upgraded during the Mughal era. This is why it is rightly attributed as one of the gems of the Mughal civilization. Emperor Jalal ud Did Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan, and Aurangzeb all added to it. During the period of Sikh occupation, Ranjit Singh added several pavilions on the upper ramparts. Some modifications to the Fort were made during the British period beginning in 1846 for housing facilities for colonial functions. Those modifications have been reverted and efforts made to bring the Fort back in its pre 1846 appearance.

Minar-e-Pakistan, 60 meters tall and a relatively new landmark in Lahore is on the one side of the Fort and the Badshahi (Imperial) Mosque and deMontmorency – oldest Dental Collage in Pakistan -- are across the courtyard from Alamgir Gate of the Fort. History and heritage are kept alive in the Lahore Fort, a protected national monument on UNESCO's list of World Heritage sites, in the form of Masti Gate, Diwan-i-Am, Moti Masjid, Lal Burg, Naulakha Pavilion and Shish Mahal. The Fort contains marble palaces decorated with mosaics and gilt. The elegance of the splendid monument is matchless.

The massive fortification walls, built by Emperor Akbar in the 1560s, tower over the older part of Lahore. The huge rectangle they define, 380 by 330 meters (1,250 by 1,080 feet), is filled with buildings from a variety of periods. The main gates are located alongside the centre of the western and eastern walls. A tour of the Fort in one go is like eating an elephant in one gulp, so it merits to be seen slowly like a child looks at a huge mural.

Enter the Fort through Alamgiri Gate and you find yourself in a Maktab Khana (Clerks' House). It is a small cloistered court surrounded by arcades in which clerks use to sit, recording the names of visitors. The inscription outside tells that King Jahangir built Maktab Khana in 1618. Another gateway is the Masti gate - a corruption of Masjid Gate - named after the mosque, which still stands outside the Gate. Built in 1566, the Gate only assumed its present name after the construction of the nearby Mosque in 1641 by Empress Maryam Zamani, mother of King Jahangir.

Inside, the Diwan-e-Am (Hall of Public Audience) is an open pavilion with 40 pillars built in 1631-32 by Emperor Shah Jahan, in order to shelter his subjects when they appeared before him. Originally, Akbar had built the marble pavilion and red sandstone balcony that is at the back of the Diwan-e-Am. Here the emperor appeared daily before the public who, in his days, used to gather under a canvas canopy. The serpentine sandstone brackets are typical of Akbar's commissions, with the depiction of animals showing Hindu influence. His two-stored Diwan-e-Khas (Hall of Private Audience), built in 1566, is behind the balcony and is reached by stairs on the right. The Khwabgah-e-Jahangir (Jahangir's Room of Dreams) is the main building running the length of the north side of Jahangir's Quadrangle and is typical of Jahangir's period in its austerity. It is now a museum, containing some excellent illustrated manuscripts (including the Akbar Nama - the daily chronicle of Akbar's reign), some beautiful calligraphy, good miniature paintings and a collection of Mughal coins.

Moti Masjid was built in the Shah Jahan era about 1645 A.D., and is one of the of three Moti (Pearl) Mosques built in the Mughal period, the others being the one at Agra Fort and another at Delhi built by Aurangzeb. The Moti Masjid was used as a treasury during the Sikh period.

The Lal Burj, an octagonal tower, was constructed in 1617-31. Intended as a summer pavilion, it is decorated on the outside with mosaic and filigree while the interior is filled with paintings from the Sikh period. The lower two stories were built during Jahangir and Shah Jahan's reign, while the upper story is a Sikh addition.

The Bungla, popularly called the Naulakha pavilion - edifice, which was built at the cost of nine lakhs (900,000 was a lot of money then), is a unique marble pavilion with a curved roof. It was constructed during Shah Jahan's reign in 1631-32 A.D. for the Empress when she resided at Lahore. It is often considered one of the finest buildings in Pakistan. The Shish Mahal is a multi-storied structure north of the Bungla. It is also part of the royal residence constructed by Shah Jahan in 1631-1632. The mirror work has been renovated lately.

No ordinary coldness of phrasing can express the surprise and delight with which one makes acquaintance while seeing the built heritage and sensing history and accumulated memories spread all around the Fort. The first impact that the Fort gives is an emotional one. It also has architectural and documentary values. The perspective of the Fort gives the visitors a wonderful sense of being there. In fact, that is my recommendation: be in Lahore.

Books by Salman Rashid

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was
Hardcover, Sang-e-Meel Publications, ISBN 9693501918 (969-35-0191-8)

Jhelum: City of the Vitasta
Hardcover, Sang-e-Meel Publications, ISBN 9693517342 (969-35-1734-2)

Prisoner on a Bus: Travels through Pakistan
Hardcover, Sang-e-Meel Publications, ISBN 9693515250 (969-35-1525-0)

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau
Hardcover, Sang-e-Meel Publications, ISBN 969351257X (969-35-1257-X)

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan
Hardcover, Sang-e-Meel Publications

Te Apricot Road to Yarkand
Hardcover, Sang-e-Meel Publications

Monday, January 24, 2011

Absolute garbage

A new hotel has opened in the heart of Madrid proudly declaring that it's complete rubbish. More of a wooden shack than a five-star establishment, the walls of the Beach Garbage Hotel are strewn with detritus dragged up by the tide, recovered from landfills or snapped up at flea markets.Among the wall decorations: Plastic drums, wooden frames, musical instruments, striped socks, tyres, and children's books.

In the five rooms there are street lights, wobbly sideboards, and torn Persian rugs, ready to welcome the lucky winners of a Facebook competition whose prize was a free stay. Out front, there is a small patch of sand and palm trees.

Located in the city centre's Plaza de Callao, it is the work of German artist Ha Schult, timed to coincide with Madrid's hosting of the annual international tourism trade fair.

"I created the Beach Garbage Hotel because the oceans of our planet are the biggest garbage dump," Schult said.

Rosa Piqueras, spokeswoman for the environmental project, said the idea was to show something a little different from the ideal destinations touted by the tourism industry. "We wanted to show what our holidays could become if we don't clean our beaches," she said.

About 30-40 per cent of the objects adorning the hotel were picked up from beaches in Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain. The dirtiest, said Piqueras, were the beaches in southern Italy.

Hotel notices warn guests of environmental developments, such as: "One Spaniard in 10 no longer goes to the beach because of their bad state. Fourteen per cent of Europeans do the same." AFP

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Basant in Lahore

The word is out that Basant will be celebrated in Lahore on Feb 26-27, 2011. Controversies, debates and the situation in the country notwithstanding.

Friday, January 14, 2011

My Cup of Tea

Pakistan is one of the best travel destinations in the world – desert expanses in Thar and Cholistan, Lush green plains in Punjab, mighty mountains in Northern Pakistan, Chitral and Swat, so many unexplored and just to yourself places, what else. Start of some of the world history can still be traced down to Pakistan – Indus Civilization. Moreover, Pakistan being one of the cheapest countries in the world is best for budget travelers. Which is why it is said that Pakistan has a lot to offer to every one; not only to travelers, hard core adventurers, mountaineers, and rural tourists, vacationers but also to anthropologists, archeologists, and researchers? (Also for those who want to sit back and enjoy the ride from the comfort of home). Read about my travel experiences at Doodh Patti - My Cup of Tea.

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Meet Birds

From the cold lakes of the Himalayas to the sand dunes of western Rajasthan to the tropical rain forests in the south, India hosts a dizzying variety of birds, like a dizzying variety of everything else.

A guest searches the skies for birds at Chhatra Sagar, a luxury camp on the banks of a dam in parched western Rajasthan, in northern India. The dam's reservoir attracts water birds, including terns, cormorants and ducks, as well as mammals like antelope and jackals.

See beautiful images of the birds at NY Times

Related: Guest birds in Pakistan

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Karakorum Highway - Caravan Road

The souls that pave the way for the modern tarmac road known as the Karakorum Highway (KKH) still seem to flicker amongst the sharp moving shadows of the unstable rocks and the almost countless but crumbly semi-transparent glaciers that constantly threaten its existence. There has always been a long pass into, and out of China and Pakistan over what is sometime called the "Roof of the World" but in ancient times it was a very hazardous passageway. One wonders how Alexander might have crossed the Karakorum Mountains in 325 BC or how early travellers like Marco Polo, Hieun Tsang and others might have tracked on the route without backpacks, four wheel driven powerful vehicles and even the roads, till Pakistan Army engineers spread asphalt through one of the most difficult terrain in the world and created this great engineering feat called as the eighth wonder of the world.Northern Pakistan has some of the most beautiful and mightiest mountain terrain -- Hindu Kush and Karakorum -- in the world.

Besides raw natural beauty, the territory is very difficult for men and machine to work even in this modern age. The road is in fact reflection of man's incessant struggle against transcendental power.

What one sees while commuting on the highway? Extinct writings, Chinese traveller's diary and quoted in the North West Frontier Province Gazetteer that reads, "the path is certainly narrow, and often clung to the sheer faces of the many deep resonant gorges that confine their turgid, animated rivers. A traveller along the path sees at one glance the shadowy valleys from which a shiny mist columns rise at noon against a luminous sky, the forest ridges, stretches fold behind fold in softly undulating lines -- dotted by the white specks which mark the situation of Buddhist monasteries -- to the glacier draped pinnacles and precipices of the snowy range. He passes from the zone of tree ferns and endless colonnade of tall stemmed magnolias oaks and chestnut trees, fringes with delicate orchids and festooned by long convolvuluses to the region of gigantic pines, junipers, firs and larches. Down each ravine sparkles a brimming torrent, making the ferns and flowers nod as it dashes past them. Superb butterflies, black and blue, or flashes of rainbow colours that turn at pleasure into exact imitation of dead leaves, the fairies of this lavish transformation scene of nature, sail in and out between the sun light and gloom. The mountaineer pushes on by a track half buried between the red twisted stems of tree-rhododendrons, hung with long waiving lichens, till he emerges at last on open sky and the upper pastures -- the Alps of the Himalayan - field of flowers: of gentians and edelweiss and poppies, which blossom beneath the shining store house of snow that encompass the ice mailed and flouted shoulders of the giants of the range."

Get off the Grand Trunk Road -- main social as well as economic artery of Pakistan -- near Hassan Abdal; travel northeast through plains of Hazara and you are already in tourists' zone. Cyclists riding trendy machines and cellular phones even with local are commonly seen and almost all commodity items for the use offoreigners are available with vendors right on the roadside. Lucky ones may also have the pleasure to watch performance of Chinese artists at Silk Rout Festival that moves from place to place and gives spectacular performance.

Passing through outskirts of Mansehra, the road starts winding and climbing through forested hills, with houses climbing to the contours of hills and countless eateries lined up along the road. The travellers here are introduced to forbidding nature of the terrain. The river Indus gushes below and cliffs of bar rocks soar above as the KKH begins to cut its way through the gorges of Kohistan. After dipping into, and out of the Indus's wide bed the road also seem vying for the right of way with Gilgit and Hunza Rivers before it heeds direct to the historic Khunjerab Pass into China. Voluminous traffic and rather unpleasant riding conditions becomes lighter after leaving Mansehra and remains so almost to Khunjerab Pass and beyond (to the end of the highway in Kashgar, China.)

Before crossing on the Chinese side of the Khunjerab Pass, the road passes through Hunza Valley. The intricate terraced fields, held in places by dry stone or wooden retaining walls and the complex system of irrigation channels leading down from mount Rakaposi or Ultar are testimony to the skilled labour of the locals who are famous for their different culture, friendly nature and long lives.

While the entire Hunza Valley is breathtaking in its splendour and beauty, one of my most enduring memories of this place 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 colours, cliffs turning into convex and concave according to the slant light.

At night, lights glow in this tiny isolated villages. But, the village women still do not know the use of simple electric appliances of modern age. Community hydroelectric system has been installed on torrents. The system allows only few bulbs per household. Men and women are found working together in the fields, homes or collecting woods from hills in conical wicker baskets. They are welcoming and seem to be living at peace with themselves.

The highway is also called the "Silk Road" because it approximates the trail of what was once one of the many silk, jade and spice carrying caravan trails that congregated somewhere near Xi'an, in China, and terminated in the vicinity of modern Syria on the Mediterranean sea coast. Like long lines of exploring ants, determined traders, merchants and adventures wore a path through narrow gorges, high grass sheathed valleys, across waterless deserts, around higher mountains, and over ranging rivers in pursuit of bargains.

The passage of time has not altered any of these geophysical conditions. Rest every thing in the area has changed though. The developments found their is greatest physical manifestation with the construction of the KKH, built along the path of the caravan routs of the Silk Road, a joint venture between china and Pakistan (which is why it is also called as Pakistan China Friendship Road). Work on the mammoth project, which is said to have cost one life for every kilometre of road constructed, was begun in 1966 and completed in 1982. With commissioning of the road, the entire area has been laid open to trade and tourism. The resulting progress is undoubtedly causing a great deal of visible societal change.

While regular bus service ply the KKH to Gilgit, Hunza and the Khunjerab Pass, and the route eastwards through the Indus gorge to Baltistan, four-wheel drive powerful vehicles can only negotiate many of the remaining roads dissecting the region. There are lots of rough tracks leading to off road habitats on both sides of the road. For the adventurer who wants to go beyond these to really explore the mountains there is a highly developed system of trails built up over thousand of years by the porters, radesman, nomads and herdsmen, all granting access to some of the most magnificent mountain scenery on earth.

Pictorial: This is Pakistan (Grand Slide Show)

Sunday, January 9, 2011

What is in the name?

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Ava Gardner in Lahore

Owais Mughal

This photo was taken on April 22, 1955 and it shows American actress Ava Gardner at Lahore Railway Station. She was in Lahore for the filming of Hollywood Movie ‘Bhowani Junction‘. When Ava came to Lahore, there was only one reasonable hotel in Lahore. It is still there – Falletis. The suite in which Ava stayed has been named after her – “The Ava Gardner suite”. In it’s lounge one could see a beautiful large size, black & white portrait of Ava Gardner smiling.

‘Bhowani Junction‘ is the name of a novel by John Masters which came out in 1952. Bhowani Junction In mid 50s Hollywood decided to make a movie out of it. The movie is set amidst the turbulence of the British withdrawal from India. It is notable for its portrayal of the Eurasian (Anglo-Indian) community, who were closely involved with the Indian railway system. The film was directed by George Cukor, and was shot on location in Lahore, Pakistan. It starred Ava Gardner as Victoria Jones, an Anglo-Indian nurse in the British Army, and Stewart Granger as Colonel Rodney Savage, a British army officer.

I found following review of movie plot at The Internet Movie Database

The town of Bhowani is a railroad junction and both the Congress Party and the Communist Party are doing all kinds of sabotage to help the British quickly get out of India. Of course each is doing it for their own reasons. In the movie, two people who may have given the outstanding performances of their careers are Ava Gardner and Bill Travers. Both play bi-racial people who don’t fit in either society. But they react differently. Gardner is going through a whole lot of angst, really seeing both the British and Indian point of view.

Bill Travers is the railroad station manager and his whole life is his job. He focuses narrowly on that and his tunnel vision leaves him oblivious to the momentous changes around him. Except for the fact that when the British leave he might lose that little piece of authority where he is, that which gives him stature in the Raj society.

In the movie, the issues are complex, but in the hands of a great director like George Cukor the characters and their struggles become real and even more important, the audience becomes interested. Stewart Granger who was the British Colonel in charge of the whole mess in Bhowani, said that Bhowani Junction was one of the few films he was really proud to be associated with. He has a struggle to, he really does see the Indians as human beings and not just “wogs.” He’s quite knowledgeable about their customs and at one point utilizes that knowledge to unjam that railroad terminal.

Pakistan’s famous writer Mustansar Hussain Tarar‘s has mentioned at least at two places and dedicated a whole chapter in his book ‘raakh’ on the making of Bhowani Junction. While I cannot tell if all of account is real or fictional, there is certainly some degree of truth to it.

Read Urdu and English excerpt from ‘raakh’ on Bhowani Junction at ATP.

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