So Long, Excalibur
01 October 2016
Legend has it that Alexander, having crossed the river, fought his epic battle against Raja Paurava and made peace with the Punjabi king, paused to inspect the state of his army’s weaponry. Finding most of it much the worse for wear and in urgent need of repair, he sought the nearest armourer. Such an establishment, he was informed, was at Wazirabad. Thence his quartermaster went and had the armament refurbished.
|Fantasy knives such as these are manufactured specifically for movies like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings|
But that is only legend. When Alexander entered this part of the country there was no township worthy of notice on the site of modern Wazirabad. Also, we must remember that in his train Alexander had a full complement of armourers, as well as other artisans. However, what seems likely is that when Wazirabad was founded in the 1640s by Emperor Shah Jehan’s courtier, Wazir Khan, families of cutlers and armourers may have been established in the new township to cater to the requirements of the army in camp.Read more »
30 September 2016
Read in Urdu about Moola, the wonderland in Balochistan. This article appeared in newspaper Roznama Pakistan [double click the image below to enlarge].Read more »
Greeks in Pukhtunkhwa
29 September 2016
Upon taking over as the Deputy Commissioner of Bannu in the Northwest Frontier Province [Khyber Pukhtunkhwa], my friend Jehanzeb Khan called me. Here was a city, perhaps the only one in the entire country, said he, whose old quarter was still circled by a wall punctuated with gates. These gates, I was told, were shut every day at sunset until the following morning – just as it would have happened in a past forgotten by most of us. It sounded like a town that had been left alone by the soul-destroying march of time and immediately a vision formed: thick, high town wall behind which rose tower houses of timber lattices and gloriously carved wooden balconies and doors, shuttered windows and rooftop parapets with lotus-shaped corner adornments. All closely packed together to look like the finest of all subcontinental walled cities.
Yet it took me two years to get to Bannu. The town wall is there all right. Some three metres high, it is constructed entirely of the brick that was introduced to us by civil engineers of the Raj and that we still assiduously employ. The gate posts, topped by domes and finials too are constructed of the of the same bricks. But neither the wall nor the gate-houses possess the hoariness that I was expecting. They are, wall and every single gate-house, disappointingly new. Indeed, behind the city wall the old part, that European travellers would have called the ‘native’ part of town, is set out in grids, a layout that we of the subcontinent had forgotten after the downfall of the great cities of Moen jo Daro and Harappa.
The Battle of Jhal Magsi
28 September 2016
Jhal Magsi, the seat of the Baloch tribe of Magsi, lies northwest of Larkana in Gandava district of Balochistan. This quaint little town may not be famous for many things, but I remember a local bard who sang for me the ballad of the battle between the Magsi-Chandio confederacy on one side and the Rinds on the other. His rasping baritone and the lilt in his voice was goose bump-raising and I write his words in translation.
The Jamalis and Buledis, he sang, stole some properties of the Mugheris. Now having domicile in Magsi area the Mugheris were under the protection of Nawab Ahmed Khan, the Magsi chieftain. They petitioned the chief who immediately rode out at the head of a small army and came upon the Jamali lashkar at the town of Qabula. Ghulam Mohammed, the Jamali chief, made off with his life but the rest were cut down and the stolen properties restored to the rightful owners.Read more »
The north face of Chhogho Ri
27 September 2016
On the left, Chhogho Ri (K-2) the Great Mountain of the Baltis (that is what the name means), Chogar of the Uighur and Kirghiz people of Xinjiang and Chogoli of Chinese. At a little before eleven when I became the first Pakistani to see its north face, the mountain was blue clad. This image was only for the record.
From The Apricot Road to Yarkand - Book is available at Sang e Meel (042-3722-0100), Lahore
26 September 2016
In August sparse grass provided a veneer of green to the rocky hillside. Otherwise it was barren with nary a tree for shade. But there was silence. Silence, overwhelming and complete that remained undisturbed by the distant sound of traffic. Such is the hill of – that lies outside the village of Bilot some forty kilometres north of Dera Ismail Khan on the highroad to Chashma. Barren and rocky, it would be an unremarkable place but for the group of seven extraordinarily ornate buildings, all Hindu temples, that crown its top.
Here is a flat-topped edifice whose tapering shikhara, or steeple, gave way long ago. It is likely that more than the malevolent hand of man, it was the passage to time that wrought its overthrow. A little way off behind it are two more on a high plinth. One has an angular shikhara whose unique feature are the gaping oblong windows. Barely ten metres across on the same plinth and directly facing this building is another. A couple of hundred metres to the north, across a stretch of ground thickly sprinkled with the detritus of houses whose foundations are all that remain and broken pottery, is a group of four buildings. These too sit atop a raised plinth.Read more »
Philosophers of Taxila
24 September 2016
Read in Urdu about Philosophers of Taxila who astounded Alexander with their wisdom [double click the image below to enlarge and read].
Read more »
23 September 2016
Marot Fort lies between Fort Abbas and Yazman on the fringes of the Cholistan Desert. Back in 1985 when I visited it I was told of a shrine with the supposed footprint of some early Islamic personage. Having seen one footprint too many and knowing for sure that this was a hangover from our Buddhist-Jain-Hindu past, I cannot get myself to believe in them. Nonetheless, I did check out the rather misshapen mark on white marble that could possibly have been a yeti instead of a human footprint.
Two years ago, I was in Marot again. The shrine was there but the footprint was gone, reportedly having been removed by a Pukhtun captain of the Pakistan Army. The captain, it was said, did not approve of the idolatry and had the object removed and presumably destroyed. Good for this man and we could do with a few more of his ilk to bulldoze all these Zinda, Ghaib and Nine-Yards-Tall saints.
To begin with, the 1904 Gazetteer of Bahawalpur State mentions a mosque in Marot, not a shrine of the footprint. That is, this Islamic footprint was invented some time after the publication of that document. It is Dr Saifur Rahman Dar, the pre-eminent archaeologist, who lifts the veil off the shady tale of the mosque-shrine. In a paper published in the Journal of Central Asia (Vol IV, No 2), he presents a reading of a tablet with a Persian inscription that was preserved in the Bahawalpur Museum when he was in charge there.Read more »