Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Through Tunnel

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Visit any Mughal monument and the self-styled guide, secure in the knowledge that all comers are uneducated, ill-informed and gullible will foist himself upon you. Beside all other rubbish he spews out at you at blinding speed, he will also tell you that there are tunnels from the monument, say, Lahore Fort, to Delhi and Kashmir via Shalimar Gardens.

At Derawar, I have been told of such a subterranean connection with the fort of Jaisalmer and Bahawalpur; at Rohtas, of a link with Rewat (outside Rawalpindi which, incidentally, is not a fort but a caravanserai) and also Kashmir. The so-called guides proclaim that the emperors not wishing the unwashed subject to take a gander at their womenfolk travelled secretly between all these places by the tunnels.

This rubbish has received so much notice over the years that most folks visiting a Mughal site firmly believe in the existence of the non-existent tunnels. Try to tell them that it is hogwash and they look at you as if you are a heretic. Which actually proves what I have long-maintained: proclaim with all your passion a truth and see it rejected; but whisper the most absurd inanity to the winds with no human within miles of you and it becomes gospel within seconds.

There were no tunnels of any considerable length built by the Mughals. There may have been short escape passages from the bastions of, say, Lahore Fort to the Ravi in days when the river washed the walls of the fort. I believe there is one about 15 metres long from Attock Fort to the Sindhu River.

If the tunnels were required to be any longer, it was beyond the capability of the Mughals: they simply lacked the capacity of tunnel engineering. By extension, since none of us in Pakistan belongs to the subcontinent and many of us (those who are not Syeds) are the descendants of the Mughals, we are still deficient in the science. Observe that in four decades, we have still not been able to complete the Lowari Tunnel between Dir and Chitral. Since we are on the subject, also consider the Lak Pass tunnel between Quetta and Mastung.

This was commissioned in 2007, after hundreds of overloaded lorries had crashed on the perilous bends of the pass and dozens of good men, who worked long hours as drivers, had died. It was completed about the 60th birthday of Pakistan and it is about 60 feet long. In a way, it took us one year to build one foot of it!

But back to the Mughals. We never hear from any original source that royalty travelled underground. All the books, whether authored by court historians (Akbar, Shahjehan, Aurangzeb) or by the king himself (Babur, Jahangir) or by the king’s sister (Hamayun), are totally silent on this mode of invisible travel. Indeed, there is no mention anywhere of any great tunnel builder, who connected the great cities of Mughal India with one another by underground roadways. Nor, too, do we hear of someone such as Sher Shah Suri having ousted the milksop Hamayun and trapping him and his army in the tunnel under Chaunsa where the final defeat took place.

The question, then, is where do these crazy stories originate? Anyone who has spent more hours than the average tourist in the Lahore Fort will know of the dungeons and cellars under the fort. The romantically fertile minds of storytellers blew these chambers out of all proportion, turning them into tunnels to all over the world.

Years ago, having heard the tunnel story at Lahore Fort, I very conspiratorially told the so-called guide that I had a map of the tunnel leading from Lahore to London. I said if he was ready to join me, we could begin a company sending uneducated, unskilled young men to UK. We could take our half million per head, split it 70-30 (since I had the map, I took the greater share), stuff the boys into the tunnel and they could virtually pop out of the ground in Britain or anywhere else in the continent as they pleased.

Sadly, the man was not half as gullible as those who listen to his balderdash.


posted by Salman Rashid @ 09:00,


At 26 November 2015 at 10:37, Blogger Engr.Khayam said...

Very Nice read,
Recently I visited Lahore Fort. there are some underground basement and chambers, you can see windows opening at floor level. I wonder for what these cellars were used for.
One of my friend was of the view that these cellars are still used by ISI for secret operations :D

At 26 November 2015 at 10:51, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

We know that in Zia's time the basements were torture chambers for Bhutto followers.

At 26 November 2015 at 11:26, Blogger Spade said...

On tunnels , I would like to add that we have competed : Kohat Peshawar tunnel ; tunnels for hydropower plants like , Allai Khwar, Reshun, Khan Khwar ,Duber Khwar , Jaggarn ; besides large tunnels at Tarbela and Mangla Dams. We do have indegenious capability of building tunnels, we did not have capability of using tunnel boring machines , one is now currently under use on Neelum Jehulm Hydropower Plant . I would say that we do need some technical assistance and capacity building in tunnel technology of we are to build the over 30000 MW hydropower potential that we are gifted by nature . We as usual flaunt our gifts and use a paltry portion of this potential


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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