Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Baghanwala: place of gardens

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Kamil Khan Mumtaz, the noted architect and architectural historian, calls Baghanwala ‘a poor man’s Fatehpur Sikri.’ While that fabulous ghost town of Akbar the Great bedazzles with red sandstone buildings splendidly curved as if stone was but puttee in the hands of the masons, the tiny village of Baghanwala too boasts a few houses with lintels and mock pilasters of similar sandstone. Of course, this is not the famous Jodhpur sandstone, but thee somewhat more porous one quarried locally in the Salt Range.


The town itself, placed in tiers upon a hillside, has a pleasing appearance as one approaches it from the east. At closer quarters it is not very different from most Salt Range hill villages with neat flagstoned streets and houses constructed mostly from dressed grey and red sandstone. Brick construction is only now catching up. But it is not the architecture of Baghanwala that drew the attention of kings and adventurers in the past and today that of the tourist and student of history. Great events unfolded right outside this village.

The beginning of the 11th century saw the outbreak of Turkish attacks from the west. Ostensibly in the service of Islam, these were in reality plundering raids to enrich the impoverished kingdoms of Turkish warlords in Afghanistan. Mahmud of Ghazni was the champion of these raids who plundered the Muslim principalities of Central Asia in summers and Vedic India in winters. In the year 1013 CE, on another one of his several raids, Mahmud came down upon the fortified temple and university complex of Nandna.

Nandna, the histories tell us, was held by Niddar Bhim – Bhim the Dauntless, a governor under the Pal kings of Lahore and Peshawar. Though the tale of the taking of Nandna falls outside this book for Nandna that towers above the orchards of Baghanwala lies in the neighbouring district of Chakwal, the actual battle for it was fought outside Baghanwala. Bhim’s forces held the pass of Nandna fast, but the Turks worked their way around the surrounding hills and even as Bhim expected a frontal attack, he was one morning surprised to see the oasis of Baghanwala bristling with Turkish arms. But that was only part of Mahmud’s army; the rest maintained the siege of Nandna in order to starve the garrison out.

For several days the defenders sent out patrols to harry the Turks in minor skirmishes. Then as reinforcements arrived from the east, they broke out to give battle. The final contest for Nandna between Mahmud’s Turks and Bhim’s Punjabis was fought where today the orchards of Baghanwala echo with the call of the koel and the sleepy cooing of doves. The defenders fought well, but the Turks bettered them and carried the day. The historian Mohammad Qasim Ferishta tells us the victors were rewarded with ‘rich spoils’ that were removed to the destitute capital of Ghazni.

Akbar the Great resorted to the oasis of the great battle to gratify his passion for the chase. Game was plentiful, water from a clear spring copious and untainted and trees grew in a profusion. In the tradition of his illustrious grandfather Babur, Akbar ordered the laying out of a garden. Fruit trees were planted and, though no trace remains of it, a perimeter wall was raised to protect them from wildlife and livestock. A gatehouse with a domed roof and sentries’ cubicle afforded entrance to Akbar’s garden. Time, the Great Destroyer, laid low this garden, however. All that now remains of this intervention in this quiet corner of Jhelum district is the ruinous gateway of the garden and the name Baghanwala that arose when the garden was laid out by royal decree.

Jehangir followed his father to Baghanwala. His diary for the year 1606 mentions his departure from Lahore to hunt in ‘Girjhak and Nandna.’ Now Girjhak is the old name for Jalalpur where Alexander crossed the Jhelum to give battle to Raja Paurava while Nandna is the fortified temple complex above Baghanwala. Jehangir goes on to tell us that during the outing he resided for four days in the garden of a certain Ram Das. He does not comment on the garden nor indeed upon whether this Ram Das was a native of Girjhak or of Nandna. It might be that Ram Das was a local zamindar who held the garden that gave Baghanwala its name.

So plentiful was the wildlife in the red-tinged hills around Baghanwala that Jehangir gloats over his bag of a hundred and ten animals. The list includes Punjab urial and ravine deer or chinkara. On the subject of the latter, Jehangir says there were few places in the subcontinent that offered better ravine deer than the gorges of Nandna (or Baghanwala) and Rohtas. Today these hills are an environmentalist’s nightmare where wanton and illegal hunting has exterminated the chinkara and very nearly the urial. The only animals that can still be seen in some numbers are wild pigs, some foxes, the elusive brinda or leopard cat and perhaps an odd wolf or two. Although leopards are also reported, their presence is doubtful.

The one redeeming feature of this corner of the Salt Range, once rich with wildlife, is the plentiful birdsong that still rings through the thickets of Baghanwala. `

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM,

3 Comments:

At July 15, 2013 at 2:44 AM, Anonymous Archad Awan said...

Sometime comparing architectural styles of different eras (Mughal, Sikh, Colonial) is so fascinating. You do it so seamlessly in your writing. I love this cube shown here. Does it resemble with building in Hajira here http://odysseuslahori.blogspot.com/2013/05/hajira-mystery-in-salt-range.html?

 
At July 15, 2013 at 12:53 PM, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Archad, The Hajira building dates to about 1200 CE, this is clearly Akbari and was a garden gateway. In the earlier building, the walls slant inward like those of the tombs of Rukn e Alam etc in Multan, Uch and Sitpur et al in southern Punjab. Here the walls rise straight up because now the science of making the drum from which the dome sprang was well understood by the Mughals.

 
At July 15, 2013 at 4:20 PM, Blogger Nayyar Julian said...

Another powerful post on Mughal history. What a tug of war it has been.

 

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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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