Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Roghan Sheher – the city of Caves

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The ravine of the Kudi Kor, one of the several tributaries of the Porali River that flows by Lasbela town in Balochistan, is wild and desolate with water in the bed only when it rains. The sheer sides of the gorge rise from about fifty to a hundred metres above the floor and would be unremarkable but for the caves that pock them.

Carefully hewn into the walls of conglomerate, the caves form proper dwelling places with a veranda in front that gives access to a room behind through a doorway. The rooms have windows looking through the veranda and niches for lamps. In at least one or two, remnants of in-house grain storage vats can still be found tucked into a corner. Locals know this site as Roghan Sheher.

A quarter century ago, one could count as many as six hundred caves; today there are less than a hundred – the rest having been erased by erosion. Indeed, those near the top of the gorge walls are no more than shallow dents while the ones near the valley floor are somewhat better preserved.

In 1838 T. G. Carless of the Indian Navy visited Roghan Sheher – the first outsider to survey the site and write about it. He counted a total of one thousand five hundred cave houses at different levels with paths snaking up the gorge walls giving access to all of them. Even at that early date he noted that erosion had damaged both the walkway and the houses, particularly those at the higher level. Indeed, access to houses at the highest level was even then not possible because of absence of the path.

The houses and verandas Carless measured were each four metres square. He observed that those at the lower level were of a rude construction sometimes being no more than crude holes, while the higher ones were more finely made. This would indicate that the society that inhabited this unique and rare troglodyte city was not without class divisions.

Carless also found one remarkable cave house high up the verge. This was cut clear through the gorge wall so as to be open on two sides. The remaining two sides had rooms accessible from this open ante-chamber. Being so elaborate, his guides informed him that this was the palace of Prince Saif ul Muluk and his bride Badi ul Jamal.

The legend as related to the explorer had Badi ul Jamal’s father ruling over Roghan Sheher during the reign of King Solomon. Now, the princess possessed unsurpassed beauty and was much coveted by seven demons. Various heroes of the age attempted to deliver her of her tormentors but all failed until the valiant Saif ul Muluk, the prince of Egypt, arrived on the scene. One by one, he slew the demons all. The gratified king gave the heroic prince his daughter’s hand in marriage and together the couple ruled happily over the cave city for many years.

No detailed archeological investigation has taken place at Roghan Sheher, but some believe this may have been a Buddhist retreat. This seems doubtful because Buddhism faded out of this area with the coming of the Arabs in the early decades of the 8th century while in view of the rate of erosion – Carless records fifteen hundred cave houses; today there are all but a few scores – the cave city seems scarcely older than five or six hundred years.

Be that as it may, Sheher Roghan, certainly a residential city, is one of the most intriguing historical sites in Pakistan.

How To Get There: From the bridge across the Porali River outside Lasbela town, go north along N-25 (the old RCD Highway) a full 19 km. Take the road forking to the left (west) and drive 8 km to Goth Siyan where the blacktop road ends. A gravel trail goes another 2.5 km north-westward to the cave city marked as Gondrani on most maps. Accommodation in Lasbela (180 km, three hours by car, north of Karachi,) is restricted to a couple of government rest houses only.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


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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

Books at Sang-e-Meel

Books of Days