Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

‘Dust unto Dust’

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In the year 1902 parts of the Shikarpur and Karachi districts of the province of Sindh were carved away to establish the new district of Larkana. Long before that this area was known as Chandka after the well-established Chandio tribe that still lives in great numbers in the western hills of the district. Now the newly established district was to get its new name from the Rajput clan of Larik.


In a paper submitted to the Government of India on 31 December 1847 Hugh James, the Deputy Collector (equivalent to the modern Assistant Commissioner) of Shikarpur, did not hesitate to call Chandka the ‘Garden of Upper Sindh.’ His reason for this appellation was the number of waterways, both natural and man-made, that meandered across the district bringing it great fertility.

And so when it was established, her British masters thought of bequeathing the new district a monument that would be commensurate with the revenue it was expected to generate. The Collectorate Building was to be the one. From behind its thick walls under high bulbous domes, the Collector (now the Deputy Commissioner) was to bring the European notion of law and order to the unruly Baloch, Brahui, Rajput and Jat peoples of the old land of Chandka.

Completed in 1902, the same year as Larkana district was established, the Collectorate Building is the only one of its kind in the whole of Upper Sindh. In fact, it will not be wrong to say that it is the only such building in the entire province with the exception of the city of Karachi. The building is unique for it is a splendid example of the architectural style so favoured by the British where the local architectural vocabulary was wedded to the European. It is therefore in the same class as, for example, the KMC building in Karachi or the High Court at Lahore. In the words of Kamil Khan Mumtaz, the noted architect, ‘It is a superb example of vernacular architecture with a graft of European veneer.’

The stone and kiln-fired brick building extends in an east-west direction and can be divided into three distinct segments. At either extremity are two identical buildings with bulbous domes of the kind one sees quite frequently at Makli (near Thatta), especially recalling the dome of Diwan Shurfa Khan, a Mughal nobleman of the 17th century. Each corner of the square base of the dome is adorned with short stubby minarets with two rows of mock windows. The domes of these minarets are replicas of the main dome.

The four corners of the structure again have domed minarets. Here the mock balcony below the dome has miniature corner turrets that would be as much at home on an English castle as they are here. It is interesting to note that while the main structure is of kiln-fired bricks, the domes, the octagonal drums below them and the square bases of the drums are all constructed from finely dressed limestone blocks. Similarly, the turrets and drums of the corner minarets too are constructed from dressed limestone.

These domed structures make up the east and west extremities of the Collectorate Building. Each is connected to the central two-storeyed office block by a simple single-storeyed wing. The double-storeyed main office block was certainly designed as a strong statement of ‘Europeanism’ in Larkana. The balustrades on the first floor veranda and the pediments cause no mistake to be made in this regard. Most interesting in the central block is the curious octagonal turret at each corner with the stepped teardrop structure below. This ornament is clearly drawn from English castle architecture of the Middle Ages.

For the Hellenistic touch there are wreaths circling the ventilating holes and Corinthian columns where the foliate capitals just about transform into the hooded serpent heads of Indian architecture. Of course there are the Greek pediments already mentioned above.

While the domed structure on the east end houses a branch of the National Bank of Pakistan, the one at the other end is still the office of the Deputy Commissioner. According to Iqbal Bablani, the incumbent DC, the Durbar Hall of the Raj was housed under the main dome. He says, however, that the days of royalty and Durbars being behind us, the hall is now used as a conference room.

Otherwise the story of the Larkana Collectorate Building is a sad one. The rising water table has attacked this priceless piece. Even a casual visitor will not fail to notice the disintegrating salt-caked bricks on the floors. In days gone by there being no damp proof course that we now have in walls at plinth level, the salt-laden moisture has risen to a height of two metres up the walls. In the process, bricks and limestone blocks that make up the plinth have partially been eaten away. Larkana’s most impressive building is slowly being undermined by the city’s high water table.

Iqbal Bablani is genuinely interested in the district he administers and I find his concern for the decaying Collectorate Building admirable. As a young Assistant Commissioner at Larkana in 1989, he had included this building’s conservation in the development plan of the district. Consequently a sum of five million rupees was sanctioned, half of which was released in 1994. Some work was carried out on the west, or the Deputy Commissioner’s end, of the building. This included replacement of salt and moisture damaged bricks and limestone blocks from the plinth. For this Bablani had acquired the best stonemasons of Makli. Some minor plastering and whitewashing was also done in the interior.

When this half of the fund dried up, the remainder was not released – a fine example of the ad hocism that plagues government functioning: since the fund was initially sanctioned by a PPP government, the PML regime only saw it appropriate to not release the remainder. Today one can see piles of dressed and undressed limestone blocks lying behind the building, reminding one of the day work was abandoned almost three years ago.

And so while the powers that be find it hard to rise above pettiness, the finest example of Raj architecture in perhaps all Sindh slowly crumbles to dust.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM,

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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