Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

girjhak of yore, jalalpur today

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The village that we now call Jalalpur was where Alexander crossed the Hydaspes River in the dark of night in May 326 BCE to give battle to Raja Paurava on the far side. Greek writers do not let on if, prior to this event, there was a village at this site or not. But in the 16th century, two thousand years after Alexander’s passage, we read in Abul Fazal’s chronicle of Akbar’s reign that there was a locality in the doab between the rivers Jhelum and Sindhu called Girjhak. (There is a village of this name just outside Model Town, Gujranwala.) This, the archaeologist Alexander Cunningham tells us, answers to the same Jalalpur, the latter name harking back to the interest in this area of Emperor Jalal ud Din Mohammad Akbar.

The interest was primarily for the chase and both Akbar and his son Jehangir favoured Girjhak for its chinkara that they call ‘red deer.’ Though Abul Fazal gives no word of the vast bags of game that Akbar and his retinue would have collected at Girjhak, Jehangir brags. In one hunting trip to Girjhak and Baghanwala (referred to in the Tuzk e Jehangiri as Nandna) in March 1607 he killed two hundred and sixty-five animals of which one hundred and fifty-five were taken in Girjhak alone. The bag included antelope, blue bull (nilgai) and wild ass. The last, now extinct in Punjab, was reported as fairly numerous around Pind Dadan Khan, Haranpur and Bhera even as recently as a hundred years ago could certainly have ranged this far northward. There were also mountain sheep and goats, writes Jehangir. The former, the Punjab urial, can still be seen, albeit very rarely, in the hills of Nandna above Baghanwala.

Besides his other qualities, the king could not be credited with environmental gumption. Retuning to hunt again in the spring of 1619 and failing to make the connection between his earlier wanton butchery and the dwindling number of wild animals, Jehangir was sorely disappointed by the paucity of his bag. Accordingly, he returned yet again in February 1622 to slaughter another one hundred and twenty-four urial and chinkara from the hills behind Girjhak. Modern Mughals have continued with this practice and the wild ass is not the only animal driven to extinction from this area.

When Cunningham carried out his archaeological surveys in this area about the middle of the 19th century, he learned that Girjhak was the name of the remains of an old Janjua fort on the peak of Mungal Deo which looms above Jalalpur village. (Practically nothing remains of the fort today). He was told that in days of old the village attached to this fort stretched all the way to Baghanwala, a distance of nearly twenty kilometres. This he attributed, and quite certainly, to ‘the usual exaggeration of ignorance that is told of all ancient sites.’ Cunningham noted, however, that for a considerable distance westward of Jalalpur in the direction of Mungal Deo, the ground was liberally strewed with broken pottery.

Besides the pottery Cunningham was able to turn up some coins dating back to the period of Alexander’s successors. He was, however, convinced that Girjhak was even older, situated as it was upon a ferry connecting it with the Punjab heartland on one side and the direct road into the main Salt Range highlands. Cunningham also postulated that Girjhak was the Girivraja of the Ramayana and therefore much older than the latter years of the 4th century BCE when Alexander rallied his forces here.

No detailed investigation into the past of Girjhak (or Jalalpur) was carried out by Cunningham nor since, and we do not know when its downfall came about. But there is a likely culprit. We know from various accounts that the Jhelum River of ld, untamed as it is now by dams, was susceptible to periodic floods of great intensity. The first of these is recorded in the annals of Alexander. His historians tell us of the river sweeping away the tomb of his horse Bucephalus during the monsoon spate of 326 BCE. Then again we hear of the great flood that swept down the river in early August 1640. This one, recorded in the history of Shah Jehan, surely had something to do with the decline of the city of Girjhak. On his way to Srinagar, the king was witness to a deluge of Sawan rain that raged unabated for four days raising the river to a dangerously high level. Kashmirian elders are reported to have told the emperor that they had ‘never either seen nor heard of such tremendous floods.’

The Shah Jehan Nama records that ‘considerable injury had accrued … to most of the districts bordering on the river Behat.’ The damage, we are told, spread to villages situated as much as ‘five or six kos away from the Behat.’ Taking the kos to mean about three kilometres, the flooded Jhelum would have spread over some twenty kilometres of forest and farmland! Jalalpur standing smack on the west bank of the river would scarcely have stood a chance. Indeed, there cannot be a habitation today, from Jhelum to Pind Dadan Khan, that would not have been flattened virtually out of existence by the flood of 1640. That this major catastrophe has not been preserved in local lore indicates that it was just another one in a long line of similar disasters – something too commonplace to become part of legend.

Closer to our time Girjhak, having become better known as Jalalpur, is famous for the lofty dome and minarets of the shrine of Ghulam Haider Shah. Miracles are attributed to this 19th century holy man who passed away from this life in 1908. The superstitious resort here in search of their heart’s desire and the keeper is quick to point out that no supplicant has ever been rejected; that the wishes of all comers are granted. This is known for they all return to give thanks afterwards, he says. The man forgets that those whose wishes remain unfulfilled seek other demi-gods elsewhere.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 19 June 2013 at 10:34, Blogger Khalid Saeed said...

Janab Salman Rashid sahib,I just had the good fortune of reading your article about girjhak of yore. It is such an impressive piece of history of this area and that era.
You have chronicled so much rich history and new information I had no idea about. Time permitting I shall revisit the blog to read more about other interesting stuff.

At 19 June 2013 at 15:19, Anonymous Saima Ashraf said...

I am travelling with you Salman....Being a student of history I love to ''suffer' the history (suffer both in Urdu and English...lolz)'
Such a great article on bygone truths!

At 20 June 2013 at 03:04, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Khalid Saeed, Thank you very much.

At 20 June 2013 at 03:05, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

All right, Saima. Take your pick: car, motorcycle, foot or donkey!

At 29 June 2013 at 22:17, Anonymous Ayyub Kulla said...

My village Mong ( another historic village nearby where the battle itself was fought) is on other side of the river Jhelum closer to Jalalpur / Girjhak, The lofty dome and minarets of the shrine of Ghulam Haider Shah are very much visible from here. My grand father Choudhry Khushi Muhammad in his early youth has witnessed many times Shah Sahib with his friends staying on our farmhouse as guests. Those were the days once the river was crossed through boats. His successors were few of the Peers in Punjab who supported Pakistan Movement. The “supplicant has ever been rejected; that the wishes of all comers are granted” could be true as we live these days in Pakistan and Haider Shah Sahib’s successors must have prayed too. Long Live Pakistan.

At 28 September 2014 at 12:13, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is Jalalpur the Sanger as Bhera?


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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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