Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Lyallpur Museum

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Faisalabad has a brand new institution that recalls the original name of the district: Lyallpur Museum. Despite its large size, both in area and in population and its enviable wealth, there was no such institution in the city. Most lay persons like me believed that the Sandal Bar (the belt of land in which Lyallpur was built) had no history. I had always believed that this country between the Ravi and Chenab rivers was a wild and desolate forest of peelu, tamarisk, ber etc where bandits lurked to loot hapless travellers.

I knew that after the laying of the irrigation system that greened this part of Punjab, population was moved in large groups from the eastern doabas of Jalandhar and Ludhiana. From those relatives who were allotted land in the Sandal Bar, I had heard how they slept outside on summer nights to be roused by the wild boars crashing through the fields and how they had to be wary of snakes not just at night, but during broad daylight as well. None of my relatives had any interest in ancient cities or mounds covered with pottery shards and old bricks. So, I gleaned nothing of history.

In 2008, a certain Amir Sarfraz, an old Lyallpuri now settled in Britain, with close ties to Mian Shahbaz Sharif, the Chief Minister, obtained sanction for a museum. Two years later, a lovely brick building was in place in University Road, cheek by jowl with the old Coronation Library of 1902 (renamed Allama Iqbal Library – how good we are at renaming!) and the District Council Hall. Then the illness that afflicts Pakistan took over.

Though funds were in place, the museum only had a tiny collection of artifacts that seemed to have been collected almost half-heartedly. From 2010, when the building was ready, until 2012, Lyallpur Museum seemed to be a non-starter – a stillborn project conceived by a man who was absent in a distant land. In 2011, with no qualified specialist interested in taking over the top job at the museum, it was on the verge of being closed down. But then somewhere a change of mind occurred.

Early in 2012, archaeologist Mian Attique Ahmad was posted to Lyallpur Museum as the curator. Despite his physique (he is overweight); he went to work as a man possessed. Through the spring and blistering summer of that year, Attique and photographer Majid scoured the district like no other archaeologist had ever done. One of his great achievements was that he acquired the sizeable collection of ancient artifacts collected by school teacher Jamil Bhatti of Shorkot.

Now, the late Jamil Bhatti was another unique and blessed man who I met in 1993. As a native of Shorkot, he had always been curious about the items that appeared on the surface of the mound after the rains. Over time, this man had a large stock of cultural relics from the mound of Shorkot. Today, these are part of the Lyallpur Museum inventory, thanks to the efforts of Mian Attique.

Interestingly, though the usual annual funds were sanctioned, they were not released for use by the museum. Consequently, since 2012, Mian Attique managed to keep the institution going with financial help from the DCO’s coffers. Also, what saved the museum from dying before it could get going was the interest Commissioner Tahir Shah, trained as an anthropologist, took in it.

Besides the Shorkot hoard, Attique managed to collect items from several other sites. However, his crowning glory certainly is the identification of Mai di Jhuggi as a Hindu Shahiya site (600-900 CE). Now, Mai di Jhuggi, that once lay just outside town was, and still is, the bus station. Only, now it is almost in the centre of the city. From the late 1960s, I remember a disorderly bus station surrounded by open fields, but I strangely missed the mound. It is almost completely built over with a few open places in between. Much of the secrets that the dust of this mound held in its bosom are now lost. But the little left can still divulge tales and tales without end. All of these will end up in Lyallpur Museum to enthral and titillate the inquisitive mind.

With only a year and a half to show for itself, the museum has a pretty respectable display. However, Mian Attique’s office is still cluttered with cardboard boxes containing the relics that await going on the shelf. There are more in other storage spaces. Slowly, painstakingly, the labelling is in progress as more and more artifacts come on display.

Attique notes that British colonisers listed one hundred and twenty cultural mounds in Lyallpur district. Many of these, he points out, are now levelled and under the plough. But there are still a few dozen left to explore. Among them, Shorkot and Bhir Abdur Rehman (25 km southwest of Shorkot) are the most significant. As of July 2013, Lyallpur Museum is in the process of securing permission from the Department of Archaeology to excavate these and other sites.

If things go the way Mian Attique Ahmad plans, Lyallpur Museum will, in the next few years, reveal the secrets of places that many of us do not even know exist. We may yet learn if Sangla Hill really was the Sangala of Alexander’s campaigns and what transpired within the walls of the fortress that nestled below the rocky outcrop that once reared above Shahkot town. Like the fortress, the hill too has been levelled. The archaeologist, however, recognises the remains of the fortress.

I do not know what other good things happened for Faisalabad in recent years, but this museum certainly is the big bonus. Surely there are curious minds that want to hear tales and learn the secrets of ages past. For the first time since the district of Lyallpur came into being in 1902, the museum will be just such a teller of tales and divulger of secrets. I hope there will also be a visiting Lama and an urchin called Kim (even if there is no gun for him to play on) and someone bewhiskered and bespectacled called Rudyard to record the story of these two.

The beginning for all that to come to pass has been made.

PS. Entry to the museum is, for the time being, free. Make the most of it!

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 28 July 2013 at 16:24, Blogger ARSHAD FAROOQ said...

Very comprehensive and well elaborated article.Congratulations Mian Attique sahib, Congratulations Faisalabad. My city needs this kind of honest and dedicated officers. Thanks to Rasheed sahib for this well researched work and a great effort..

At 28 July 2013 at 20:49, Blogger Nayyar Julian said...

Nice to know. Must visit this facility to learn about Faisalabad.

At 31 July 2013 at 13:56, Blogger Abdul Ghaffar said...

Salam Rasheed is a big name in tourism and research, his comments on the establishment of Layallpur Museum are of great value, oi think these are the words a researcher wants to hear from the mouth of some intellectual

At 28 July 2014 at 11:20, Blogger Rehan Afzal said...

Salman Rashid

At 29 July 2014 at 08:16, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Thank you for clarifying, Rehan. Other people's names mean so little to most Pakistanis. They corrupt them every which way they fancy. Thank you very much.

At 30 October 2014 at 15:43, Anonymous Aadil Rauf said...

Interesting article. The beginning part especially caught my interest. My ancestor - par dada - was alloted land in Faisalabad district in the 30's, as he was a police officer overseeing gangs of prisoners building the canal system. He was from UP and I have often wondered how it must have been for him and his family to be suddenly in the hinterland of Punjab, being from from UP & ethnically pathans. Anthropology, in addition to archeology, can be very interesting to be captured in a museum.

At 30 October 2014 at 17:07, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Aadil, this is a must visit museum. Do go.

At 16 March 2015 at 09:38, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting article. Would you know about Mai of Mai di Jhuggi? Who was she that the area came to be named after her? Thank you, Natasha

At 16 March 2015 at 10:56, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Sorry to disappoint you, Natasha, but I have no idea about Mai. Incidentally, where the Mai di Jhuggi bus stand was built was land owned by my father back in the 1950s. But thgis is an interesting idea you have given me. Might be useful to dig into this little detail.

At 4 March 2017 at 19:45, Blogger Arv Singh said...

Your efforts are much appreciated and it will help upcoming generations learn about their rich heritage. My grandmother hailed from Lyallpur and her parents were well known traditional medicine doctors with their herbal pharmacy in Lyallpur. Their familyname was Kharbanda and they were famous for thier herbal medicines and perfumes. I would appreciate if someone from Faislabad can help me trace the family history.

At 5 March 2017 at 10:56, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Thank you very much Arv Singh. Please write to me at my email address with a little more detail. I might be able to help.


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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

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