Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Tower on the Ford

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If anything, the solitary tower standing on its high plinth amid rich farmland is enigmatic. Locals know it as Pattan Minara – Tower on the Ford – and believe that this lofty tower once stood on a ford upon the Indus River. It is indeed true that when Alexander passed through this region in the year 325 BCE, the river did indeed flow nearby and not forty kilometres to the westward as it does today. All around the building several mounds strewn with pottery shards mark the remnants of cities past.


Though no detailed study has been carried out at the site, the archaeologist and the historian provide a few sketchy details. Pattan Minara was built in two distinct phase. The ground floor with its square plinth and west-facing doorway is a Hindu temple. The building style and the embellishment on the exterior show a clear connection with the Hindu Shahya temples of the Salt Range, the most telling of which is the representation in miniature of the front elevation of the building on the three façades. 

As in the Hindu Shahya temples, Pattan Minara is adorned with the omega-shaped device that historians say was a pictorial representation of the Buddhist cella. Dating back to the 4th century BCE, atime when Buddhism was the major religion in the subcontinent, this eye-catching emblem was absorbed in the rising tide of Vedic religion in the 6th century CE. Thereafter, it became a frequently recurring totem in many Vedic religious buildings.

At the top of the ground floor the three façades preserve the remains of half-vaults that once reached out to shade the miniature representation of the temple. Below this two bands of widely spaced omega patterns enclose within a frieze of wave design. At the bottom runs a band of semi-circular flowers similar to those seen on one temple in the Salt Range. The exquisite trimming is achieved entirely by the use of cut brick.

The upper storey which like the temple has a single doorway facing west is clearly a later and rather more crudely built addition. The brickwork is shoddy and devoid of artistic frill. Below the doorway there is an indication of some sort of a balcony resting on a cantilever. There being no other means of reaching the top floor, it appears that a ladder would have rested against this balcony to afford entry. At some point in time, when it was no longer in use as a temple, the building was taken over to serve as a watch tower.

In the absence of any scientific investigation, it is only the Gazetteer of Bahawalpur State (1904) that is the teller of tales about Pattan Minara. It says that there were once four similar but slightly smaller towers with the existing building in the centre. The complex, we are told, was a Buddhist monastery. In the beginning of the 18th century, the peripheral structures were so dilapidated that a local chieftain ordered their demolition.

At that time an inscribed brick was discovered which recorded, in Sanskrit, the founding of this monastery during the time of Alexander the Macedonian conqueror. The Gazetteer does not record what became of the brick. This may indicate that while the monastery may have originally been built in the 4th century BCE, the same bricks were re-utilised to erect the Vedic temple almost a millennium later.

In the 8th century the Arabs overran this region. Then the temple may have ceased to function. It is very likely that about this time Arab settlements came up and living as they were in a largely hostile land, they raised the top floor to serve as an observation post.

The Gazetteer adds to the mystery with yet another bizarre tale. It tells of the investigative dig made here in 1870 by Colonel Minchin, an officer of the Raj: ‘In the course of the excavations the labourers came upon some putrid semi-liquid matter over which swarmed flies of a large size and peculiar colour. The deadly smell of the decayed matter and the venomous sting of the flies caused the instantaneous death of several coolies.’

To add to the mystery, the Gazetteer says no more and the riddle of Pattan Minara, the purported Tower on the Ford, lives on. It will abide until the archeologist’s brush and scalpel arrive to unravel it.

How to get there: Accessible by rail and air from Karachi and Lahore, Rahim Yar Khan is the base camp for a visit to Pattan Minara. The site lies about 10 kilometres east of the city centre and is accessible by a blacktop road.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 11:19 AM,

2 Comments:

At May 4, 2013 at 5:12 PM, Blogger momers said...

Location for those interested: http://goo.gl/maps/rLgZh

 
At May 6, 2013 at 4:24 PM, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Rahim Yar Khan city sits in the middle of Pakistan in south Punjab. Pattan Minara lies, in a straight line, 11.6 km south of the DC's house. Ask anyone and they'll point you in the right direction. Coordinates: North 28°-19.295', East 70°-10.355', Elev 75 metres.

 

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My Books

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

Books at Sang-e-Meel

Books of Days