Bounty of the Kushans
01 October 2014
Following Alexander Cunningham’s survey of 1848 and the resultant identification of a Buddhist site above the village of Jamal Garhi near Mardan, another military officer-turned-archaeologist came around in 1852 to make a cursory excavation. Though his work was inconclusive, he uncovered an array of damaged sculptures of very fine workmanship. Word was the site was periodically robbed of its reliquary, someone even removing 12 camel-loads of sculpture only a decade earlier.
The site was then mapped and most of the debris cleared to reveal a beautiful monastery constructed in large diaper masonry of stone quarried from the surrounding hills. The site, an elongated hill, offered sufficient space for the main stupa, a number of votive stupas and the various buildings of the monastery to be spread out instead of being packed close together as we see in Takht Bahi or most other Taxila monasteries.Read more »
30 September 2014
Sometime last year Nadeem emailed from England a photograph. He wanted to know what it was. I wrote back to tell him this was on the banks of the Sindhu River in the fair city of Rohri a group of graves known as Sut Bhen – Seven Sisters. Nadeem wrote back to say he had to see this group of remarkable graves for himself. I also told him that of all the cities in Pakistan, it is Rohri and Rohri alone that still preserved its medieval air.
Two years earlier we had travelled together in Afghanistan and fetched up in Herat. Both having read Robert Byron’s beautiful, beautiful 1920s travel book The Road to Oxiana, our minds were flooded with images of that city. We were not disappointed and we absolutely agreed with Byron when he said Herat was the only city in Asia without an inferiority complex. If I am not wrong, while walking the wide avenues of that magical city or exploring the crumbling hulk of the old fort or the grand mosque so lovingly being restored, I had said to Nadeem that we in the Land of the Sindhu River too had a city to match Herat. It was Rohri. And if Herat is the city to die for, Rohri is even more so.Read more »
29 September 2014
Image from DEOSAI: THE LAND OF THE GIANT - available at Sang e Meel (042-3722-0100), Lahore
Related: Deosai Truths - Book Review by F. S. Aijazuddin, Deosai - Book Review by S A J Shirazi, Podcast on BBC RadioOdysseus Lahori one year ago: Hundred Flags
28 September 2014
I gave up train travel in the year 2008. That was when Pakistan Railway was at its worst. Before that, trains were my favoured mode of transport. Then between December and March I was obligated to do two train journeys: the one from Jacobabad to Lahore and the other from Rohri to Karachi. On both occasions the trains were late by two hours. And now I was once again forced to travel from Lahore to Nawabshah. Forced because PIA has closed down the Lahore-Nawabshah-Hyderabad sector.
I arrived on the platform twenty minutes before departure (which is 5:00 PM) only to find my fears were true: there was no train ready to depart. Now, Karachi Express, the train I was taking, originates in Lahore and should have been at the platform at least half an hour prior. I sat down in the shade and soon had the company of two railwaymen in mufti. From their talk I gauged they were either Traffic Inspectors or Ticket Examiners.Read more »
26 September 2014
It is from a far-off time indeed that the name of prince Kunal shines through to us: from about the middle of the third century BCE. That was when we hear of an uprising in Taxila. Taking his eldest son to be a man of good sense and perspicacity, Asoka, who ruled the vast Indian kingdom from distant Patliputra (Patna, Bihar), sent out the prince to quell the disorder. Sources such as the seventh century Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang confirm that the prince was indeed celebrated across the kingdom for his great compassion, piety and humility.
The order for prince Kunal was to use his gumption to quell the rebellion. In case Asoka needed to send specific orders, they would be in a sealed envelope. And the seal, so said the king, would be the mark of his teeth, a copy of which he handed over to the prince to preclude any chance of forgery.Read more »
25 September 2014
Dharti Mata to suit Muslim sensibilities, my favourite is Channan Pir in Bahawalpur. But of that, another time. Even in the Mehsud heartland of South Waziristan, the cult lives on.
They call the peak Pir Ghar — the Saint’s Mountain — sometimes also pronounced Preghal for the shrine on its 3,515 metre-high, pine-clad peak is said to have been visited by the blessed Prophet Ismail. Since the prophet’s own birth was miraculous, his parents being of very advanced age when he was conceived, the peak is visited by couples seeking children.
I climbed the hill in June 2003, in the company of a two dozen-strong group of playful Mehsud youngsters armed to the teeth with weapons of all kinds. Led by the bearded and quiet Zahir Shah, none of them spoke anything but the local dialect of Pushto. They sang, whistled tunefully and joked, urging me on as we trekked up. Having flagged, at one point I was trailing behind my guides when I heard someone call out in Urdu.Read more »