Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Facets of Fusion, Collectorate Building, Larkana

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In 1902, large chunks of Shikarpur and Karachi districts were carved out to form the new district of Larkana. Until then, this country was known as Chandka, after the well-established Chandio tribe. With natural and man-made canals that endowed it with rich forest, abundant agriculture and fruit farms, Larkana had already been noticed as the ‘Garden of Upper Sindh’. The men who were on their way to rule over the district knew it would be a source of plentiful revenue.

In keeping with the promise of a large levy, the administrators thought it appropriate that there be a building of impressive proportions where the proceeds be held in transit on their way to the central treasury. With its crenulated towers that come straight from a castle in Britain, its Greek columns and pediments and its Indian domes, the Collectorate Building in Larkana becomes just the fulfilment of this need.

The south-facing frontage, nearly 100 metres broad, is divided into five distinct parts. On either extremity is a manifestly subcontinental building with a bulbous dome and corner minarets. Its lower portion up to the roof level is constructed of baked bricks. The jamb, lintel and spandrel of the arched entrance, minarets and domes above are of finely polished Jungshahi sandstone. Both these corner buildings abut galleries which, in turn, run into the central two-storey atrium.

If the wings are grandiosely subcontinental with their domes and elegantly hybrid minarets, the central part is Hellenic. The entrance is a sort of a Greek stoa with a short overhang and columns topped by somewhat spare Corinthian capitals and the windows on the upper floor shaded by pediments. But the most interesting element of all is the four garrets, one at each corner of the roof that project ever so slightly out of the line of the parapet. All four have corbelled teardrops below them achieved by the use of moulded bricks.

The turrets and domes on the flanking buildings and the garrets on the central part are miniature ornamental devices with mock loopholes and crenels that do not serve any defensive purpose. The other point of interest is the melding of oriental and Hellenic elements as the transition from the domed buildings to the central wing is achieved by the plain galleries connecting the two. If the flanking buildings underline the Indian leanings of the Raj, the central shows strong European aspiration.

When it was completed in 1902, the Collectorate Building was a unique architectural example in Upper Sindh. In fact, other than the city of Karachi, nowhere else could the province boast of a government building of such proportions that was aesthetically pleasing to boot. This was the time that proponents of incorporating vernacular architectural vocabulary had made their voice heard at the highest level of government. And the Collectorate Building was one of the countless examples of this fusion.

At the turn of the century, the building was seriously endangered by salinity rising through the walls. As of 2011, a slow and painstaking conservation effort has staved off the threat and this superb example of vernacular architecture with its European veneer appears to have been preserved.

Note: This story first appeared in Stones of Empire - Pakistan Petroleum Limited (PPL) book of days 2013.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 09:22,


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Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand

Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

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