Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Nandna: Al Beruni was here

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Abu Rehan Al Beruni, a native of the Ferghana valley, one of the greatest minds of his time, sojourned in Nandna in the year 1017. The fame of this ancient hilltop university and temple had reached him in Ghazni where he lived in virtual imprisonment under Mahmud, the Turkish despot.
When he finally received permission, he hurried eastward and fetched up at Nandna where he hoped to be tutored in Sanskrit. The brilliant man evidently took time off from his lessons for though he learned the language his book Qanun al Masudi also tells us something more. He wrote: ‘When I happened to be living in the fort of Nandna in the land of India, and I found a high mountain standing to its West, and also saw a plain to its South, it occurred to my mind that I should examine this method [of the astrolabe] there.’
As a geographer, besides his several other disciplines, Al Beruni was intrigued about the circumference of the earth as computed with the astrolabe, the predecessor of the sextant. The mathematicians in the court of the caliph Mamun ur Rashid had attempted the procedure while a thousand years before the Greeks had made the measurement by another method. Having read those old treatises, Al Beruni was convinced that those measurements were inaccurate. And now when he saw the conditions suitable for making the observations with the astrolabe, he got to work.
The fruit of his labours was a figure that came to within one hundred and twenty-seven kilometres of the exact measurement that we know today. The crowning glory of Al Beruni’s work was not the experiment itself; it was the accuracy of his calculations.
While his presence at Nandna is now common knowledge, though few know the nature of his work, it is only for the historian to divulge that thirteen centuries before Al Beruni, Alexander of Macedon also passed through here on his way to the epic struggle against the Punjabi king Paurava. Then the university of Nandna seems not to have yet been established. But the narrow cleft of the Nandna Pass, that long formed an important gateway to the Punjabi plains, lay right on the great east-west highway known as Rajpatha – the Royal Road. This therefore was the way all caravans, military and civil, passed.
The ruins of the university lie smothered in the overgrowth of bhekar bushes on the northern slopes of the hill above the pass. Interspersed among them are bulky turrets and bits of ramparts of the old fort. The hill is topped by the ruined temple. Though we have no exact date of its construction, but judging from its architectural style it is believed to have been constructed sometime in the early 10th century.
This was the fag end of five hundred years of peace: the Hunnic invasion of the early 6th century was all but forgotten and the Turkish eruption was still a hundred years in the future. In these years of peace, several dynasties of Kashmiri kings had in succession broadened their sway across Punjab and Afghanistan. Their finest legacy in Punjab is the series of worship places across the Salt Range that we know today as the Hindu Shahya temples.
Of these Nandna lies at the most easterly extremity. The remaining five temple complexes stretch westward along the axis of the major roads through the hills.
How To Get There: M-2 provides fast access to Nandna from Lahore and Islamabad. Coming from Lahore, exit at the Lilla interchange and go east through Pind Dadan Khan to Dhariala Jaleb (about 50 km). At Dhariala turn north for Baghanwala a short drive away. Skirt the village to the end of the blacktop road. The ruins of Nandna are visible on the skyline to the north, but do ask a local to put you on the trail up the hill. The climb takes less than thirty minutes.
Coming from Islamabad, exit at Kallar Kahar and take the road to Ara via Choa Saidan Shah and Basharat (about 75 km). Park at the Ara Rest House and ask the watchman or some other local to point out the trail to Nandna. The walk is through a wild and desolate gorge therefore inexperienced persons are advised to hire local guide. The walk lasts about fifty minutes for reasonably fit persons.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 08:56,


At 9 April 2013 at 17:25, Anonymous Kausar Bilal said...

A very nice and capturing post! Enjoyed it.

At 6 February 2014 at 17:22, Blogger Rehan Afzal said...

Dear Salman sb, I have been running after Al Beruni for some time now and I have been led to believe that though he was based in Nandna in those times, the actual experiment took place atop Tilla Jogian. I have actually been able to find the method used by Al Beruni, and it could not have been attempted anywhere else except at the Tilla; and I hope you can understand why.

At 7 February 2014 at 22:02, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Rehan, if it was Tilla Jogian, I wonder why Al Beruni had to categorically say he did his experiment in Nandna. Need I say more?


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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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