Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Capital of the Salt Range

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Even though the only monument of Chakwal is the century old Brandreth Gate, the town can rightly be assigned the status of ‘capital’ of the Salt Range. Now neglected and falling into decay, this gateway was built in 1892 to commemorate the services of a British civil servant.

Whatever local ‘historians’ may claim, no historical work mentions Chakwal even in recent history before the settlement of the 1850s. The name, however, appears to mean ‘Of the Chaks.’

During the reign of Sultan Zain al Abedin of Kashmir a little known but energetic people, the Chaks, sprang into prominence, harrying imperial authority and creating mischief in the land. Even when the Sultan secured their leader Pandu Chak and had him flogged to death, they only moved into the shadows but their activities did not diminish. In 1469 when the Sultan died and was replaced by his drunkard sop of a son Haji Shah a.k.a. Haider Shah, the Chaks moved in and took control of Kashmir.

Plucky and energetic as they were, they were yet not the people to found stable dynasties and history shows that within a hundred years their leaders had fallen into depravity. Watchful of their degeneration Akbar the Great moved his army to annex Kashmir in 1582 only to be roundly defeated. The Mughals did eventually take Kashmir on the third attempt and routed the Chaks who dispersed as mysteriously as they had first appeared. In this great diaspora, it is possible that a large body of these doughty warriors migrated to and settled in the flat land of the Salt Range that is now marked by the town that still bears their name. Over time, they either moved on or integrated with other tribes and clans for today it is possible only to meet few Chak families spread over various cities of northern Punjab.

The Gazetteer of Kashmir (1873) has this to say of them: ‘Of these (tribes or clans among the Mohammedans), the Chak, who were the warriors of Kashmir and so bravely resisted the invasion of Akbar, are the oldest and the most distinguished.’ Another source writes that ‘their pluck and patience suggest that they were not of the same blood as the Kashmiris.’ This same source further suggests that they came from the country of the Dards, that is, the people of Yasin west of Gilgit.

Be that as it may, even in the act of disappearing the bold and mercurial Chaks have left behind a town that commemorates their energetic exertions of four centuries ago.

Book is available at Sang e Meel (042-3722-0100), Lahore
Related: Xuanzang in Chakwal—

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 21 July 2014 at 15:49, Anonymous Ghulam Akbar Shahani said...

Now it is converted into shops. Hospital road bazaar.

At 21 July 2014 at 16:26, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Capital where we still don't have clean drinking water.

If we can take care of our water and sanitation problems, Chakwal can emerge as cosmopolitan city and industrial centre. People, politicians and municipal bodies have to do much more than give a good try.

At 21 July 2014 at 21:27, Blogger Unknown said...

Very interesting.


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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