Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

The Shergarh Palace

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Under the placid waters of the lake formed by the damming of the Sindhu River at Tarbela, there repose, among others, the water-logged remains of two ancient settlements. The one called Amb on the west bank and the other Darband on the east. It was from Darband that the chief of Amb ruled over a largish fiefdom that spread partly along the west bank of the Sindhu and largely on the east side. The plain area of modern Haripur district east of the river being known as Tanaval, the family favours the cognomen of Tanaoli for itself.
The Shergarh palace as seen from the northeast

Their own history, fawning and full of flaws and misrepresentations (not unsurprisingly written by a Tanoli), makes them conflictingly either Pukhtuns from the vicinity of Ghazni or Turks of the Barlas sub-clan. In both cases it takes the line back to the prophet Joseph as an explanation for their good looks. Painting the family in the most glories of martial colours, this document brings the Tanaoli family to the trans-Sindhu territories about four hundred years ago. Having taken over the level tract of Haripur district, the family, it is recorded named it after Tanal, a mountain pass between Kabul and Ghazni. Interestingly, all of the several maps (both modern and from the 19th century) consulted for confirmation of the existence of this pass turned up blanks. It consequently appears that the name Tanaval pre-dated the arrival of this family and that they simply took the name from the area.

The Gazetteer of the Hazara District-1883, looks upon the Tanolis as a peaceable and industrious agricultural lot. It also says that they make ‘fair soldiers.’ The extensive Glossary of Tribes, Castes and Clans of Ibbestson, Maclagan and Rose while agreeing with the Gazetteer regarding the Tanolis’ habits, makes them neither Pukhtun nor Turk, but Aryans of Indian stock and Olaf Caroe (The Pathans), similarly places them unequivocally outside the Pukhtun circle.
Be that as it may, there is no reason to doubt that the Tanolis have held the area of Tanaval for close on four centuries. Their seat of power was at Darband on the east bank of the Sindhu, but with the growth of Sikh power under Maharaja Ranjit Singh and their far-ranging sallies, the seat was moved to Amb to use the river as a barrier. Although there are no 19th century or earlier travellers’ accounts of Darband and Amb, the Tanolis tell tales of two fairly impressive little towns.

In June 1841 when the Tanolis under Painda Khan were fighting against the Sikhs under Arbel Singh, a mighty flood swept down the Sindhu River. While it obliterated a Sikh encampment near the fort of Attock, it also washed away both Amb and Darband. This was on the second day of June and nearly two decades later Henry Haversham Godwin-Austen was to confirm that the Biafo Glacier in Baltistan having extended itself across the Braldu River (that emanates from the Baltoro Glacier), had dammed up the river creating a small lake. When the dam burst, a huge wall of water went roaring down the gorge of the Sindhu destroying everything that stood in its way.

Arch above a door leading from the veranda into one of the rooms of the zenana
Evidently the revenue of the Nawab of Amb was sizeable for shortly after this cataclysm, both the destroyed towns were rebuilt. Little did he known that in a hundred and thirty years these towns would again be laid low by the filling up of the Tarbela reservoir. But back then, with the advent of British influence, the Nawab was quick to learn modern ways. One of these was to build a summer getaway. It is not hard to imagine that one midsummer a passing British bigwig entertained by Nawab Akram Khan commented on the stifling heat of Darband. Smack on the river bank and at a height of no more than five hundred metres above the sea, it would indeed have been a rather muggy sort of place.

The spot for the appropriate summer retreat was quickly pinpointed: outside the little village of Shergarh on one of the byways leading from Darband to the Kashmir highlands. Here at a height of about 1600 metres above the sea, in a rolling landscape amid fine stands of blue pine, was an old fort where the Tanolis kept a small garrison. The fort, so ordained Nawab Akram Khan, was to be reordered into a residential palace. The family maintains no records of expenditure, architects, masons, time of beginning and completion of this project or any other detail.

The massive pillars and arches
In one of the rooms, however, a broken marble plaque records another similar construction project. In nastaliq script it mentions in Urdu the name of the ‘Builder and Supervisor,’ as Rahim Baksh Overseer Gujrati. The bottom line records the commencement of the project in 1935, but for some strange reason the year of completion is completed obliterated as if on purpose. Nawabzada Jehangir Khan, the custodian of this romantic place, says the elders used to mention one Rahim Baksh Bhatti as a builder long associated with the family. He does not know however where the plaque was actually installed.

View from the northeast

The year 1935 was the advent of the reign of the last chief of Amb, Major Sir Farid Khan. The broken plaque therefore refers to some work undertaken on his orders. Though the family is not certain, it appears that the portion known as the Raees Khana or hostel for the Nawab’s guests and above it the dera where he entertained them was constructed at this time. Sir Farid Khan ruled until 1969 when the country’s princely states were abolished. The revenue and judicial system of Amb was amalgamated with the State of Pakistan. The family was only permitted to retain their properties.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 19 October 2014 at 23:18, Blogger Ayesha Sadozai said...

I dont know much about this, but as a student of some history, I would please like to point out three things.
1. As you rightly say Tanolis or Tanawalis are not Pathan or Pashtun people, they are of probably mixed Turki and Kashmiri descent, long settled in Hazara area. Some historians say they are a branch of the Dhond tribe (who now call themselves Abbasis) of hill Rajput origins, living in part of Hazara and Murree.
2. No accurate or real records exist in history beyond 1860s, all Tanolis claim to be descended from 'Ameer Khan Turk' in existing shajrahs of Amb and other main families. He had maybe two sons Hindu/Hindal and Pall/Palla, and from them probably are descended the two main branches of Tanolis 'Hindwals' (Amb and Phulra families are from this) and 'Pallal' (other minor chiefs of Lower Tanawal).
3. Till 1830s there was no united Amb or Phulra or other Tanoli area etc, and no single chief or leader. There were many sections of Hindwals and Palals fighting each other. Till Mir Painda Khan Hindwal, forcibly subjugated all and made himself overall Khan/chief of Tanolis. He gave Phulra to his younger brother Madad Khan, as a jagir. Painda Khan died in 1843 or 1844, and his son Jahandad succeeded, and he was later given title of 'Nawab' when Amb was made into a state, by British. His descendants then ruled as nawabs from that time till 1969/1970, when the state was abolished. Last full, proper nawab was Major Sir Fareed Khan, died in 1971. For a short time, titular nawab only was Nawab Saeed Khan (son of Fareed Khan) he died 1973. His son Nawabzada Salahuddin Saeed is titular chief/head of Tanolis now, though titles are only courtesy.
Thank you.

At 22 December 2014 at 10:45, Anonymous Mrs Naila Waheed said...

Hello, I really like your article thanks. I am also Tanoli of Amb area, my husband is also related to Nawab family. I am a teacher in Oghi, Distt Mansehra. I would also like to inform you, please, that in old times, according to our elders, there were no town of Amb or Darband. Both towns were made by Sikhs not Tanoli family or tribe people, they preferred to live in villages. In Amb there was also once an old palace and fort which was drowned and that was first made by Sikhs then occupied by Mir Painda Khan. In Darband the same was the case and also in Shergarh. About Shergarh fort it was set up by Hari Singh Sikh governor of Hazara, much later Amb Nawabs renewed it into the present building in 1930s. (Mrs Naila Waheed)

At 22 December 2014 at 13:56, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Thank you, Ayesha and Naila. Appreciate the information passed on.


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