Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Al Beruni was here

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The fortified temple complex of Nandna sits smack on the Nandna Pass leading from the Salt Range highlands into the Punjab plains on the west bank of the Jhelum River. From times immemorial the pass, a natural and narrow cleft in the hills, has seen the passage of caravans of trade and invasion and because of its location, it would only have been natural for a fortress to be raised in the pass not just to hold adventurers at bay but also to exact taxes from passing traders. Having sojourned in Taxila, Alexander of Macedonia came through the Nandna Pass to the banks of the Jhelum River. This was in the month of May in 326 BCE. Here he fought his hardest battle against Raja Paurava (Porus in Greek) since the last confrontation against the Persians a few years earlier.

In the year 1013, Mahmud the Turkish ruler of Ghazni came against Nandna when it was in the possession of Jaipul II, the king of Lahore who held sway as far as Peshawar. Nidder (Dauntless) Bhimpal, the governor of Nandna, bravely held out for several days until the Turks sneaked around the surrounding hills and into the plains of the village of Baghanwala to the south of Nandna. With the water supply cut off, Bhimpal the Dauntless brought down his army to confront the Turks where the orchards of Baghanwala now ring with birdsong.

A hard contest was fought and Bhimpal’s tiny force was defeated before the arrival of reinforcements from Lahore. Mahmud did not destroy Nandna, however. We do not know why, but it may have been because Nandna was now a flourishing university whose renown spread wide across the land that caused Mahmud to restrain himself.

Four years later, in 1017, the celebrated geographer, historian, mathematician and linguist Abu Rehan Al Beruni, then living the life of a virtual prisoner in Ghazni was given permission by Mahmud to travel to India. The fame of Nandna drew him hither. He records in his Qanun al Masudi: ‘When I happened to be living in the fort of Nandna in the land of India, and I found a high mountain standing to its West, and also saw a plain to its South, it occurred to my mind that I should examine this method there.’ The method that he mentions was employing the astrolabe to measure the circumference of the earth.

Though such experiments had already been done even before Al Beruni, it was this remarkable man whose computations were the most exact: while others had been out by as much as a couple of thousand miles, Al Beruni’s error was a mere 143 km from the exact measurement that we know today. That was his great achievement.

The ruins that exist today represent a Vishnuvite temple built in the mid-10th century and a portion of a defensive turret. A ruinous mosque with its mehrab intact sits adjacent to the hulk of the temple. The hill across the cleft of the Nandna Pass still retains a semi-circular turret and parts of the fort’s defensive wall. On top of this hill is a bunch of Muslim graves that may recall the skirmish fought between the Turks under Kamruddin Kirmani who held Nandna on behalf of Iyultimish, the Sultan of Delhi, and Chengez Khan’s troops in the spring of 1221. The Muslims were routed. Shortly after, the Mongols too turned tail and fled. Their adversary was not Turkish arms, but the blistering Punjabi summer heat.

History does not tell us when the university of Nandna eventually stopped functioning and when the temple itself was deserted. But when in the 1580s Akbar the Great, and after him his son Jehangir, resorted to this region to hunt the Punjab urial and ravine deer, the royal record of neither king makes any note of the fortified university on the hilltop.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 23 February 2016 at 12:13, Blogger AHMED BAJWA said...

Truly remarkable research, which updated my brief knowledge. Thank You Sir

At 23 February 2016 at 13:42, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Glad that you enjoyed this short version. The original is in my book The Salt Range and the Potohar Plateau.

At 1 April 2016 at 13:42, Anonymous Hamid Janjua said...

Sir, your book The Salt Range and the Potohar Plateau has been launched or not yet?.

At 1 April 2016 at 15:28, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Hamid Janjua ji, the book has been in circulation since 2001. You can get it at Sang e Meel, telephone 042-3722-0100


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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

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