Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Well in the Margalla

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Out on a walk in the Margalla Hills outside Islamabad, my friend Shahid Nadeem discovered a well. It being a baoli or a well with steps leading down to the water, the story he heard was that it was built by Sher Shah Suri. Every stepped well that we Pakistanis see whether at home or, say, on the moon, we attribute to Sher Shah Suri. As if until this able Pukhtun administrator came along to rule India in the 16th century, we had not known the intricate science of digging wells. In so doing we don’t mind the fact that, as in this case, the Suri king might not have ever been where the well exists. But that is a minor punctilio.

This one, I was told, was located a nice hill walk from where you parked the car and was worth seeing. And so it was that we reached the grotto outside village Shah Allah Ditta a few kilometres from Golra. The grotto with its spreading banyan and mango trees, clear bubbling spring and the several caves in the conglomerate cliff would have been a favourite place for hermits for heaven knows how many centuries. Surely they would have resorted here long before Lord Buddha preached the Word. Then the grotto would have been way out in the wilderness where panthers and wolves roamed and in that loneliness human passions would easily have been laid low. That was what the hermit and the dervish sought.

But now there were men. Thankfully no one came around to recount some moronic story concerning some saint or the other who had struck the rock with his staff and caused the water to flow. And having paused only briefly we took the trail that leads to village Kainthla. A brisk forty-minute walk through hills covered with sanatha and phulai brought us to the plateau and the well. Being up in the hills, I had expected the water to be way down the shaft. Surprisingly, however, it was only about two metres below the brink. We could see the steps disappearing into the murky depth and imagined that at one time, when the well was used, the level might indeed have been much lower.

The workmanship of the well was of a superior quality. Its rim, shaft and the steps were constructed from finely dressed limestone and laid in with immaculate care. The blocks of the brink showed a carefully crafted bevel form in order to attain the perfectly circular shape of the shaft. The stones below it were obviously similarly shaped for whatever we could see above the water was a flawless tube. The workmanship clearly belongs to the Mughal period and this was not something where expense was spared. It would therefore not have been paid for by contributions from passing travellers, but by the local bigwig. Next to the well was a chunk of limestone sticking out of the ground which had been hollowed out to provide a sort of trough to water animals. The plateau afforded no other signs of past construction that could possibly have been a caravanserai.

As highroads go, this footpath through the Margallas connects the older Golra and more recent Shah Allah Ditta with villages in the heart of the hills. We asked a passing traveller where the footpath led and he said it ended at village Kainthla. That of course was not true for no footpath actually ‘ends’ anywhere. Those before us who made us human and our own ancestors have been walking ever since time began. They walked millions of years before we divided up the good earth with frontiers and invented visas. They walked from one end of the world to the other and therefore the paths and roads they wore into the face of the earth do not have an end. They just go on. The man, apparently being a traveller of necessity only who walked to the road head to commute to work and back again, did not know it, but this trail too would have led on to hamlets on the far side of the Margallas.

There, across the hills, once lay the great and wonderful city of Taxila that the Greeks who came with Alexander said was the ‘richest between the Indus and the Jhelum.’ Travellers heading from Taxila to villages that would have existed where Islamabad and Rawalpindi today stand would have used this trail. This was no Rajapath – The Royal Road that we know existed as early as the 4th century BCE, just a byway through the hills. Perhaps a well at this very site was dug in those long ago days. As time went by, it would have been renovated until this present lining of dressed limestone blocks was given it during the Mughal period.

Friend Shahid Rajput who has always made a lot of sense concerning little-known buildings has an interesting item to share. According to him, in Mughal times the village of Shah Allah Ditta was a centre of tax collection for this area. It is logical, therefore, that revenue officers passing back and forth between this village and those in the Margallas would have paused at the well. And what better place to tarry a while than this wide-open plateau. This explains the Mughal period stonework.

But for the past few decades the well has no longer been in use and the springs that feed it have filled it up almost to the brim. Some thoughtful person planted a banyan tree nearby that will by and by turn into a handsome, spreading umbrella of green to invite passing travellers to pause for a rest. Maybe then they will go through the old routine of drawing out so many buckets of water to purify the well and make it useful again.

Odysseus Lahori one year ago: Al-Bakistan auto registration plates  

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 16 July 2014 at 01:39, Blogger M.Alizain Rizvi said...

Have you seen the shardah ruins?

At 16 July 2014 at 08:50, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most of what you wrote is fiction, please use more descriptive account of the places you so tirelessly visit sir. The path from the stepwell does lead to kainthala, now there is a road. Keep writing sir!

At 16 July 2014 at 14:06, Blogger Memoona Saqlain Rizvi said...

If u r in Islamabad, kindly visit the carved rocks n throw some light on their history as well.
You make our journeys of these historical sites all the more meaningful n fun.

At 17 July 2014 at 14:08, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Alizain, I have seen Sharda. There is only one ruined Hindu Shahiya temple dating early 10th century. The rest about the 'university' seems to be fiction.

At 17 July 2014 at 14:09, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

I have not seen the carved rocks of Islamabad. But my friend Zulfi Kalhora is the master of all our rock art from everywhere to everywhere in Pakistan. I am sure he has written on these.

At 21 July 2014 at 15:11, Blogger Pervez Khan said...

Thank you.

At 23 July 2014 at 13:42, Blogger Rehan Afzal said...

The well is known as Losard Baoli by the locals...Here's a link to the picture to the Lone tree there:


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Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

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Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

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Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

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