Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Temple under threat

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The tower stands isolated and lonely just 10 kilometres east of the city of Rahimyar Khan. Once this was in the middle of a sandy wilderness which has since greened into new farmland. Locals have forever called it Pattan Minara — tower on the ford — and believe it was a lighthouse to guide rivercraft approaching a now lost city.

Indeed, situated on the abandoned bed of a long-lost river, it does seem to be just that. But anyone versed in the tradition of Hindu temple architecture in Punjab and Kashmir would know that the building is a temple dating back to the 11th century CE.

On its three facades, this mysterious building has decorations similar to those found in the Hindu Shahya temples of Punjab’s Salt Range. Here too the elevation of the temple is represented on the three facades and the omega-shaped device representing the Buddhist cella is repeated together with lovely floral motifs. The entire ornamentation is created by the use of cut bricks.

Above the ruinous decorated part of the building is a second floor. This plain, unadorned part is clearly a later addition for it is of much inferior construction. Before the recent restoration work, it was easy to note that the top floor had cantilevered balconies at least on three sides. Some of the woodwork of these balconies was extant until the mid-1990s.

It seems that at some remote time when the Sikhara, or steeple, had collapsed and the temple was no longer in use, the new room was added to serve very likely as a lookout post. But all this is recent: a cursory examination of the site by the Punjab Archaeology Department shows that Pattan Minara and its vicinity have been occupied for a considerable period of time. It is likely that the wasteland around the building was once a thriving city. However, a great deal of work needs to be done before that can be fully established.

To add to the mystery of Pattan Minara, the gazetteer of Bahawalpur gives us an interesting anecdote. In the 1890s, one Colonel Minchin carried out an exploratory dig at this site and uncovered a pot containing a foul-smelling liquid. Swarming on it was a bunch of very peculiar flies that stung some of the workers, killing them on the spot. The gazetteer then lapses into silence as if to magnify the mystery.

Clearly Pattan Minara is a monument to be protected and investigated.

In 2004, relying on the record of rights, the district’s revenue department allocated a large tract of government land to the military for further allotment to retiring officers. Consequently, much of the area around the monument ended up as private holding and came under cultivation. It was not realised that irrigation so close to it was bound to undermine the monument.

A local NGO, Jaag Welfare Association, lobbied for the annulment of the allocation and in 2008, the DCO pledged to reverse the allotment by offering the owner an alternative block of agricultural land. The DCO also pledged to earmark 84 acres surrounding the monument as part of the complex that could not be encroached upon for building or agriculture.

ANOTHER THREAT: However, even before that could come to pass, about eight years ago, this priceless piece of the country’s built heritage came under another threat. A large complex of sewage treatment tanks was built 300 metres from the temple with an overflow conduit directed to discharge excess treated water into the depression around the tower.

The NGO sprang into action again, and the mischief of flooding the area around Pattan Minara with partially treated sewage was halted. Meanwhile, the DCO moved to another assignment and the matter was shelved. Currently, even if the monument faces no threat from the sewage treatment plant, it is encroached upon by agriculture. If it goes unchecked, hutments for farm labour will soon swamp the monument and it will no longer be visible from afar as it has been for so long.

But again there’s hope. The present DCO is keen on heritage preservation and has moved to reclaim the land around Pattan Minara and hand it over to the projected district heritage committee. Those who stand for Pattan Minara’s preservation wait with bated breath to see if the files will move faster in Rahimyar Khan to save the monument, or shift a well-meaning DCO and relegate the case to the deep freeze once again.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 11:17,


At 26 January 2014 at 13:24, Anonymous Rai Saleh Azam said...

I've seen an almost identical tower on the road from Quetta to Ziarat.

At 27 January 2014 at 17:58, Anonymous Rukhsana Ahsan said...

This pic ( resembles the tower/temple in Rahim yar khan that you wrote about in this post.
Two papers by Dr. Paolo Biagi explore Paleolithic and Mesolithic sites discovered in the 1990s in the Thar Desert and at Ongar in Sindh, long before Indus times.

At 8 February 2014 at 12:49, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Rai Saheb, that is at Kach where the old railway station is now a police post. It's totally different; the similarity is only superficial.

At 12 February 2014 at 11:28, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Rukhsana, this tower does not exist in the Harappa ruins. It has to be somewhere else. I have also not seen such a thing in Thar. Could it be on the Indian side?

At 23 February 2014 at 00:35, Blogger Ameer Hamza said...

This is very informative and as always, classy !

At 21 November 2017 at 00:02, Blogger Right Path said...

It stood on the shores of Hakra river also known as Saraswati river now extinct.


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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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