Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Riches beyond Measure

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As Alexander approached the vicinity of present-day Sukkur, he was much impressed by the fertility of the land. This was “the richest [country] in India”, his historian Arrian tells us. Fearing for the safety of his life and kingdom, King Musicanus made an overture for peace, resultantly retaining the throne with Alexander entering the city as guest rather than victor. The conqueror, Arrian asserts, was all admiration for the country and capital city and ordered for its citadel to be strengthened so that a Greek garrison could be left behind to keep watch on neighbouring tribes.

Another Greek historian would have us believe that the land was so rich and fertile and its produce so healthful and abundant that people ordinarily lived to ages well beyond 100 years. Though such longevity is doubtful, the fertility of the land is believable: we know from British travellers of the early 19th century that during summer floods, the Indus in this vicinity spread from its bed over 30 kilometres between Sukkur and Rohri all the way up to Shikarpur and Larkana.

Naturally, when the alluvium-rich water receded, it left behind vast, extremely fertile farmland that led to the city’s prosperity. The awe notwithstanding, Alexander’s historians did not leave a name of the capital city or its district. We had to wait 1000 years to hear it from the Arabs. When they arrived in Rore, the second ‘r’ being palatal, they called it Al-Rore, according to their usage. Forever after, the name of this great city of Sindh remained Aror.

Chachnama, a 13th century history of the Arab conquest of Sindh based on an earlier account, waxes lyrical about Aror: “It was a town adorned with various kinds of royal buildings, villas, gardens, fountains, streams, meadows and trees and was situated on the banks of a river called the Mehran [Indus].” Surrounded by a defensive wall, Aror occupied the flat hilltop. Below, along the riverbank, stretching in both directions were farmlands, pleasure gardens and the houses of the elite. Even in the 8th century, when the original version was written, the book told us of the wealth beyond measure owned by this wonderful country.

Like Alexander, the Arabs too did not attempt to lay this magnificent city low. For three decades after the conquest, they loved and cherished it and maintained its status as the capital city of Sindh, adding to it in their own fashion. But in the year 744, the Arabs moved the capital south to another ancient town. Nevertheless, Aror was not abandoned and became the seat of the governor of Upper Sindh.

Nature did not permit this to last very long, unfortunately. In about the year 960, a cataclysmic earthquake altered the course of the river. Of a sudden, the Indus left its bed below Aror and began flowing some six kilometres to the west. Bereft of its water, Aror’s fountains ceased to play, its streams ran dry and gardens withered away. With its only water for domestic use gone, the city was soon abandoned by its inhabitants and passed out of human memory. Only its name was retained by a nondescript little village that grew in its stead, a far and modest cry from the glorious original.

Some maintain that Rohri took its name with the diminutive ending for Aror, for that is the place to which repaired the population of the abandoned city. But we know that over the next several centuries after it was abandoned, the bricks of Aror were being freely plundered and used as building material by the citizens of Rohri and nearby villages. In fact, as modern tourists regard the now eroding ramparts of Bhakkar Fort on the island between Sukkur and Rohri, few know that its kiln-fired bricks, brought in the 1520s, were once part of Aror’s buildings.

Of all ancient lost cities, Aror was perhaps the easiest to identify. In 1837, explorer John Wood recognized it and made a passing reference. But it was Henry Cousens, architectural historian and antiquarian, who wrote in 1924, “About five miles south by east of Rohri ... is the present small village of Alor or Aror, of a few hundred inhabitants, which stands upon part of the site of the old capital of Sind of more than a thousand years ago.”

Time was when the hill on which the ruins of once-celebrated Aror stood was liberally scattered with shards of blue-green glazed pottery from the Arab period, fired bricks and millions of stone tools from more than 100 millennia earlier. Over time, enthusiastic visitors scavenged what they found. But even as these unwitting plunderers despoiled this rich historical site, no organized excavation and study was carried out. Today, the windswept hilltop of bleached white limestone is littered only with millions of shattered bricks but rarely with any pottery favoured by the Arabs.

The site is unmistakable: the flat-topped hill with its broken bricks and below it to the south the old bed of the Indus marked by a wide swathe of exceptionally fertile land caught between two lines of limestone hills. And the legend related even today is true to form: the pious man of God and his young daughter sailing down the river are reported to the evil king of Aror. He plans to intercept the boat as it passes below the ramparts of his fortified city and make the beautiful young woman part of his harem.

The plot becomes known to the holy man. He prays for deliverance and, miraculously, the river shifts course. Aror is abandoned and the boat bearing father and daughter passes safely beyond the king’s evil reach.

Today, Aror has only two ruins: the gateway and mehrab of the mosque built by the Arabs in the 8th century and a single brick wall that was once part of an 18th-century mosque that finally collapsed in the rainstorms of 2011. Other than that, the secrets of Aror lie deep beneath for the time being, at least. So they will remain until a dedicated effort is made to learn more of the Eden of Sindh that so dazzled the Greeks and Arabs.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 1 July 2014 at 17:30, Blogger Lahoremassagist said...

Reliving history.

At 2 July 2014 at 20:37, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is the route to Aror? How to reach this interesting site?

At 3 July 2014 at 07:03, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Aror lies 8 km east of Rohri (Sindh). It can be approached by the eastern bypass. Ask anyone in Rohri and they can guide you.


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My Books

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

Books at Sang-e-Meel

Books of Days