Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Degh River

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Long before he became the emperor of India, Jehangir, Prince Salim for all and sundry and Sheikhu for his father Akbar, used to go hunting in forested country some miles west of Lahore. Later, after a pet deer died, he ordered the building of a memorial tower as well as a water tank and pavilion. He also had a fort built nearby and called it either Jehangirpura or Jehangirabad. Today we know it as Sheikhupura after the emperor’s childhood name.


Aside: both the emperor’s names, that is, Sheikhu and Salim are after the saint Sheikh Salim Chishti for whom Akbar had great regard.

Like his father Akbar, Jehangir was a great exterminator of wildlife whose Tuzk (diary) lists at various places rosters of all the animals he bagged during his hunts. Indeed, without seeing the irony in it, subsequent to one hunt his diary complains of the paucity of his bag. But one supposes those were times when nobody connected dwindling wildlife with wanton hunting.

Toward the fag end of the monsoon of 1620, Jehangir was encamped with his wives and court at Jehangirabad. It was the month of October and the monsoon had not yet petered out. As the court began the short journey back to Lahore, the rains continued to fall. And they fell with a vengeance.

Now, the Degh River that rises in the hills below Jummu, flows past Sialkot and dumps itself into the Ravi south of Lahore, lies between Jehangir’s hunting lodge and Lahore city. As the royal caravan neared its banks, it was found to be a roaring, surging alluvial-red torrent. It was impossible to get across even astride the elephants. For four days the royal court was held up until the sodden tents became too much for the king and his family.

The rains eventually let up, the water receded and the procession passed on to Lahore. Those were days when monsoon rains were what young people today have never known. Indeed, anyone who cannot recall the rains of 1973 and again three years later takes a shower of fifteen minutes to be a monsoon shower. Those were days when the rain would not cease once it began. When it started to come down it would continue for days on end until the rivers flowed over their banks to flood farmland and cities.

To forestall a future repeat of the hold up on the Degh, Jehangir ordered the throwing of a bridge across the river that is normally fordable. To this day the bridge spans the river and serves as a connection between the village of Kot Pindi Das and the Lahore-Sheikhupura highroad.

Haroon, my young companion, and I asked for the umpteenth time for Kot Pindi Das before turning off the highway to the right (north). The new black-top road had not been there when I first went this way nearly twenty years ago. This branch lies just after one goes over the Degh River bridge heading for Sheikhupura and is about eighteen kilometres short of the latter. Kot Pindi Das is six kilometres from the turning and the bridge itself lies a kilometre southeast of the village.

We were joined by a trio of pre-teenage boys who said the bridge was probably built by the angrez. I smiled and by way of explanation the tallest among them said all such things had been done by the angrez, hadn’t they. When I told them the bridge was nearly four hundred years old and that was much before the angrez, they wanted to know how I knew. They had heard of the Chugattas – the variation of Chughtai by which the Mughals are known in parts of Punjab, but Jehangir was a name that rang no bells for them.

The bridge is actually two separate structures about thirty metres apart. The one to the south has two arches while the main structure is lop-sided with a main arch flanked by two smaller arches on one side and one on the other. And the once-good river Degh that flows beneath now stinks with dark untreated poison that it carries down from the factories of Kala Shah Kaku.

Yet buffaloes wallowed in the poison and I found myself wondering what sort of milk we would be getting in Lahore if they also drank the water. When I warned my three local companions against swimming in the river, the tall one said the river was good. A minute later he had stripped and was paddling about midstream.

Thirty years after this bridge was built, in October 1652, Shah Jehan face a similar situation as his father: the rains had persisted and the Degh was flooded. Only this time, the flood was so high that even the bridge was submerged. Once again the royal camp had to halt four days because ‘certain members of the forward party of the entourage had already been swept away …’

Floods in the Degh have passed out of living memory. Surely 1976 would have seen the swollen river almost touching the top of the arches. After that rains steadily dwindled away to a time that we now regard a fifteen-minute shower a proper fall of rain. Meanwhile, the bridge continues to serve. We saw tractors with trailers laden with sand or bricks going back and forth and I stood at a respectable distance regarding the crumbling foundations of the bridge piers.

There is a branch of the Degh called the Chhoti or Lesser Degh not many miles to the west. That too has a bridge; only that one collapsed, so they claimed, during the floods of 1976. Its debris lies in the bed of the stream and I cannot but wonder if overuse by laden trailers and lack of maintenance will one day cause the demise of this bridge during a similar flood that may yet come one day.

Odysseus Lahori one year ago: History’s uncharted Backwater

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM,

4 Comments:

At October 16, 2014 at 1:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

enjoyed the write up, quite interesting. River Degh, now called Degh Nullah, is a representative story of all perennial streams across South Asia, now drains industrial and household waste-water, full of toxic elements. Continued mindless urbanization and unplanned sprawl of cities has been resulted in relegating these hallowed streams, into dirty nullahs. May God have mercy on us!

 
At October 16, 2014 at 6:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Ravi river has five major tributaries namely; Ujh, Bein, Basantar, Deg and Hudiara. These are all called nullahs now, except for Hudiara which is interestingly identified as Hudiara Drain. The upper catchments of all these nullahs lie in Indian Occupied Kashmir. The largest tributary is Deg Nullah, which is 256 km long with a catchment area of 730 km2.

Historically Deg Nullah has never lost its significance till to-date.

For Sheikhu of 1620s, it was an obstacle holding hostage his royal entourage through the swell of its banks, due to the ferocity of monsoons.

Closer to history, in addition to having been a witness to the biggest tank battles since Second World War during 1965, Deg still retains its military significance while dividing the Shakargarh salient which is jutting into Indian Occupied Kashmir, having significant military implications.

Every nook and corner of this country holds thousands of years of history in its bosom. The insignificant Deg is one such unsung and speechless geographical entity.

Thank you Salman Sahib for reminding us that the land we call ours is so rich in every form and feather.

Regards.
Sufyan.

 
At October 17, 2014 at 5:07 PM, Anonymous Muhammad Athar said...

A good write up reminded the old days of service. Mr Anonymous has very rightly discrived the details of the area

 
At November 15, 2015 at 9:43 PM, Blogger Ali Usman said...

Today i visited this place. The structure is not in good condition. the supporting wall of main structure are already cracked.

 

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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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