Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

The House that Jahandad Built

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Even from a distance one is impressed by the grandeur of the chunky building with one tower rising above what seems to be a vaulted car porch. To match, it has a picturesque setting: smack on the shores of the blue-green Khanpur Lake in the midst of lush rolling hills not far from the village of Khanpur on the highroad from Taxila to Haripur.

Sultan Jahandad Khan Gakkhar, who receives honourable mention in the Gazetteer of Hazara district and who was part of the Muslim contingent at the famous Simla Conference, built this haveli back in 1875. Then there was no lake; only the winding Haro river, copper-red during the rains, azure otherwise, would have complemented the scene. The lake came about thirty years ago when the river was dammed to store the water supply for Rawalpindi and Islamabad. If anything, it added to the picture postcard quality of the house.

On the far side of the high, arched entrance of the car porch a rickety wooden gate led into the courtyard. I looked in diffidently, not knowing if I would be allowed to enter the building. Apparently the servants were used to strangers poking about for I was invited in by the man and his wife; and, yes, I could look around all I wanted.

In the traditional vernacular style of construction, the courtyard was U-shaped with a paved patio in the middle and pillared verandahs fronting the rooms on the sides. At the end of the patio an unkempt, overgrown garden stretched to a crumbling boundary wall. Beyond lay the placid surface of the lake. From the verandah doors with stained glass led into spacious rooms, most of them roofless. Debris covered the colourful mosaic floors. Grass grew wild within the four walls. In one room there was even a young mulberry tree. Just below the level of the roof was a line of frescoes; and above it the rectangle of blue sky. The last coat of yellow wash on the exterior must have been laid many years ago when the owners still lived here – or at least visited every weekend. Now in many places it was peeling to show an older deep red wash underneath. The stained glass was missing in many places.

The caretaker said there were some rooms on the first floor where the roof was still intact. But I was dissuaded from going upstairs for the staircase, he said, was teeming with wasps. The basement was similarly choked with debris. Everywhere were signs of abandonment; assertive, unabashed, absolute abandonment. As if someone vehemently wished to break that connection with the past that this haveli represented. It was an act so wanton and sorrowful that I, without any affiliation with the mansion or the family who owned it, felt affected by the aggressiveness of the act.

In the back was an equally beautiful and similarly derelict zenankhana – the Ladies Quarters. Next to it a modern appendage grew like an ugly wart. The caretaker asked if I wished to see the modern house from inside. I declined: there would be no stained glass, cut brick, mosaic floors or frescoes to marvel at; it would only have all those accouterments that any modern house has. And of those I have seen plenty.

In neighbouring India mansions such as this were being meticulously preserved and turned into hotels that make money. And here we are allowing them to go to pot. Situated as it is on the shores of a lovely lake, this haveli holds the promise of being whatever it is not allowed to be. For one, it could be a first class lakeside honeymoon lodge where guests could relive the splendour of the time of Sultan Jahandad Khan.

I wondered aloud how it was that nearly all the roofs had collapsed in a building barely one hundred years old. My driver, who lived not far from the haveli, said that the missing rafters and doors had been ripped out to be fitted in a new house being built elsewhere. It seemed a bizarre thing to do to such a magnificent building. More so that although the owners are alive, no one should wish to live in it any longer. But, said the driver, one of the younger men of the family, Sheraz Haider Zaman by name, now planned to conserve this beautiful mansion. So, there seemed to be hope yet. We set out to look for this young man at his nearby fruit farm.

The retainers said he was still at home in Rawalpindi, but it being Sunday, he was sure to arrive by lunch time. We were offered tea to while away the hours as we waited. But it was yet very early and there was the probability that we would wait in vain after all. So we departed with some phone numbers to call. But instead of heading for the nearest phone, we stopped at the farm of Raja Sikander Zaman, a son of the worthy Sultan Jahandad Khan. Immaculately dressed in cream kameez, crisp white shalwar and Jinnah cap, tall and portly with a gray mustache and an unhurried manner, here was a gentleman through and through – one of the old school. He was on his way to a condolence, but I was given some time and asked to stop by whenever I was in the neighbourhood again.

The haveli, he said, had one hundred and four rooms and six large halls. It was built by his father in 1875 and abandoned by the family about 1980. He himself was born in that house. Since the construction of the dam, the old approach road had been flooded necessitating a detour along the bad trail that we had followed. This difficulty, he seemed to imply, had enforced the abandoning of the house. I felt it wasn’t a good enough reason, but kept my feelings to myself. In any case, the Raja continued, the family now lived in Rawalpindi where they had business to attend to and this haveli was visited less and less.

I wanted to ask why they were cannibalising for timber, but thought it tactless to confront the gentleman with this indelicate question. What I did ask was if there were plans to rehabilitate the haveli and he said he himself had never considered the idea for it entailed too much work. There was not very much to talk about the mansion, so I inquired if he was still actively politicking. No, he wasn’t, because politics was no longer what it used to be. Surely a man of his class would find it difficult to rub shoulders with the current bunch of ruffians and blackguards who cannot say a word either sensibly or civilly.

I finished my cup of tea and Raja Sikander Zaman rose, apologising as he did so, that he could not attend to us any longer. As he was leaving I asked which Gakkhar sub-clan he belonged to. He said he was a Sarangal. That made him a descendent of Sultan Sarang Khan, the most glorious hero of the history of Potohar. This was a man, who having once given his pledge of friendship to Babur the Moghul, did not recant even long after the death of Babur. Despite the intense pressure of the wily Sher Shah Suri, this man of character refused to forswear his support to Humayun, then a fugitive in distant Persia. For such exemplary probity and honour I have long admired Sultan Sarang Khan.

I do not claim clairvoyance, but that was perhaps the reason to be affected by the dereliction of the mansion built by one of his descendants. If it were within my province, I would rehabilitate the Khanpur mansion and name it to commemorate Sarang Khan, that little known but truly a great hero of Potohar.

Postscript: Not long after this story appeared in the press (probably 1996), the mansion was pulled down by WAPDA to whom the family had sold it some years earlier. It did not make any difference to this government agency that the law protected this building and that it could not even be altered let alone demolished.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 6 May 2014 at 17:14, Anonymous Muhammad Athar said...

Sir after going through the article, i feel that i am personally visiting the place. Thanks for providing the detailes

At 8 May 2014 at 11:45, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Thank you, Athar.

At 7 October 2014 at 09:29, Blogger Ifti M2 said...

V nice article. I well remember the old Khanpur haveli of the Gakkhar Rajas of that village. The old village itself was also submerged in the dam and its 'new' Khanpur that we see today. Its truly sad that so many old places have gone to the dogs, this whole region from Rawalpindi and Attock to lower Hazara (Haripur) used to be full of such lovely heritage buildings. Some have been utterly destroyed and some are barely still there--look at the Bedi palace near Kallar Syedan for example, or the broken down remnants of the 'Maarhi' of late Nawab Muhammad Hayat Khan of Wah. Two other nice places, which still seem to be in reasonable condition are the residence of the Kot Fateh Khan maliks (home of the famous Malik Ata Muhammad, chap with the big mouche) and the nice old haveli of the Tareen chiefs at Taloker village, close to Haripur town. The latter is especially interesting. The original place was supposed to be larger, built in the 1770s, but the present building was rebuilt on the same site in the 19th c and some parts in the 1920s. Before the Ayub family rose to power in the 1960s, the family residing here were the real heads of the Tareen clan. Some of them still live in this building and though not as magnificent as some of the other havelis, its still worth seeing. It also has a nice little mosque attached to it. Maybe you can visit and write about it too.

At 7 October 2014 at 09:30, Blogger Ifti M2 said...

My name is Ifti Malik and I can be reached at if you wish to respond to my post/comment. Regards.

At 7 October 2014 at 11:18, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Ifti, please email me your contact details. We need to talk. My address is at the home or about page.

At 17 June 2015 at 11:11, Blogger Taloker Mahmood said...

My name is Malik Mahmood Iqbal Taloker. I belong to distt. Mianwali
I have complete shijra of Taloker Tribe of 12 generations, but still searching for Taloker's History.
You are requested to provide me with if any information about Talokers in Haripur Area

At 18 June 2015 at 13:22, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Sorry Mr Talokar but I cannot help you in this regard.

At 1 January 2017 at 01:41, Anonymous Anonymous said...

well written article, this havali was built by my granddads granddad sultan raja jhandad khan he was 14 generation of sultan sarang...we use to go visit this havali when we were young. miss good old days, Mosque is still there..

At 9 January 2017 at 21:15, Anonymous taj muhammad khan said...

mr taloker, there are not talokers jats living anymore in haripur hazara kpk. only there us village if that name occupied long ago by tareen afghans who drove away talokers and took control of this area. today afghan/pathan, awans, syeds, etc living there only.

At 4 September 2017 at 14:23, Blogger Jawad Janjua said...

Total expenditure on biulding this haweli was 17 lac in 1870s and govt of pakistan only paid Rs 19 lac to owners in 1970s haweli was never reached by water of khanpur dam but not returned to owners as per law that if dams water didnt reached the land it ll be returned to owners.


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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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