Following a brief hiatus from writing, I am back to share my latest adventures travelling in Pakistan. After being caught up with my internship at IDEAS (Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives) where I have been busy doing fieldwork in low income settlements in Lahore, interviewing prospective students for Dartmouth, starting an excel course, joining a new crossfit gym and going to various art and culture performances its has really been a wonderful time to enjoy the glories of Lahore and all this city has to offer at this time of the year.
A few weeks ago, I kept seeing pictures of friends, instagramers and bloggers talking about their experiences travelling around Pakistan and I realised how little I had actually seen of my country. After living in Islamabad for 10 years and then moving to Dubai, London and now America, coming back to Pakistan during the holidays usually meant spending time with grandparents, family and friends rather than sightseeing. And although, I have been fortunate enough to see almost all the historical sites in Lahore and its surrounding areas such as Sheikhupura we never really ventured far from the city. Therefore my mother and I spontaneously decided to take a trip to Southern Punjab to see the wonderful sites on offer.
We left Lahore around 11 am and crossed the mazing cars, rickshaws and motorcycles making their way around the city. For quite some time we found ourselves stuck on the canal road as the government is in the process of widening it, however we soon made our way on the Multan road, making some headway on our adventure. As we drove in the midst of trucks, lorries and occasional obstacles, we crossed the luscious fields of the famously fertile Punjabi countryside filled with large mango orchards in the midst of mustard and wheat crops. The backdrop of the age-old Punjabi folktales Heer Ranja and Sohni Mahiwal famed for their stories of unrequited love and family feuds which take place on the banks of the many rivers which make up the province.
A brief overview of the site in Harappa.
Our first stop was Harappa, an ancient city in the Indus Valley civilisation that flourished around 2500 to 1700 B.C. Harappa today is a small semi-rural town which lies between the fertile fields of Punjab around 24km from the city of Sahiwal. The cities of the Indus Valley civilisation was were known for their immaculate planning with wide streets, public and private wells, drains, bathing platforms and reservoirs and the remains of these features are something to be seen even today. The civilisation flourished on the banks of the Hakra river, an ancient riverbed which once flowed through the areas that today make up the Cholistan Desert. One of the most unique features of this civilisation was their use of bricks and unfortunately many of the bricks were used in the building of the East India Railway until the site was discovered by the explorer Charles Masson, Alexander Burnes and the archaeologist Sir Alexander Cunningham. The first excavations took place in the early 20th century by Rai Daya Ram Sahni.
When we first approached the site, the one thing that struck me was the size of the area spanning almost 100 acres. We first entered the museum and saw some of the fascinating artefacts of the site including male and female figurines, pottery, jewellery, toys, burial urns and all sorts objects which had survived the test of time. As we made our way around the sites, I was particularly fascinated by the carefully thought out plans of the sites including the communal wells and drainage facilities. During the visit I was absolutely astounded to learn that there was a pre-Indus Valley settlement dating back to 3900 – 2800 B.C which was also found during recent excavations. The entire scenery of the site was utterly mesmerising with the landscape ecosystem consisting of trees dating back to the ancient times. I throughly enjoyed my visit but I hope that for future visitors there can be guided tours of the settlement to really get a sense of what it was originally like.
Although the upkeep and maintenance of the site are often criticised, we were very pleasantly surprised to see some of the recent restoration work at the site. The entire site was fenced off from the city and had many pathways for visitors to navigate around various ruins. Unfortunately, some of the areas within the site are illegally being used by the people of the town but thankfully there is no encroachment on the historical sites although there is now a Sufi shrine.
Following our visit to Harappa we drove to Sahiwal where we would be staying the night and made ourselves comfortable at the home of a relative who had agreed to host us for the night. After a quick simultaneous lunch and tea break, we set off for our next adventure in the early evening.
The drive from Sahiwal to Pakpattan took about 50 mins although time seem to pass by quickly as we chatted to our relatives. My great-uncle who agreed to take us to Pakpattan had also been an MPA from Sahiwal previously and was full of stories about the local area and its history as well as about Sufism, poetry and a whole host of other subjects. When we arrived in Pakpattan, we were met by the old bazaar and winding alleys around the shrine filled with colourful souvenir stalls, costume jewellery and wedding decoration shops. I felt as if I had travelled back in time to the 16th century. The area reminded me a lot of my visit to the shrine of Moulay Idriss I, the founder of Morocco, just outside of Fez.
When we arrived at the shrine, we were surprised by the lack of visitors, as it was neither Thursday night, the traditional day for visiting shrines, nor the time of the ‘Urs’ or the death anniversary of Sufi Saints which usually consists of a month long festival which attracts thousands of people. Although ‘Urs’ literally means wedding in Arabic it is celebrated like a wedding signifying the unifying of a saint with his divine beloved (God). The famed shrine in Pakpattan is of Fariduddin Ganjshakar, an immensely popular Sufi Saint from the 12th century who is believed to have turned salt into sugar. Legend has it that one day a trader was taking a caravan of camels laden with bags of sugar from Multan to Delhi. When he passed through what is now Pakpattan, Baba Farid asked what he was carrying and the trader said salt. When the trader arrived in Delhi he found that all his bags of sugar had actually turned to salt so he immediately returned to Baba Farid to apologise for his behaviour. When the trader left again, the salt had once again turned into sugar.
I heard of Baba Farid as he’s commonly known as when I read Tim Mackintosh-Smith’s retelling of the travels of Ibn Battutah as he mentions the occasion when Ibn Battutah visits Baba Farid and his interactions with him. When Ibn Battuta visits Baba Farid he mentioned that Baba Farid was the spiritual guide of the King of India Muhammad bin Tughluq and met his family also. In the durbar of Baba Farid there are now many more tombs of subsequent saints and of some of the Tughluq dynasty. Another famous aspect of the shrine is the “Bahisthi Darwaza” or ‘Gate of Paradise’ door decorated with silver which only opens during the Urs and many believe that passing through the door means direct entry into Heaven. While there is no segregation at the monument and women can freely wonder around the complex, women are not allowed inside the tomb unlike in many of the shrines in Southern Punjab and Sindh.
The first day had us jump thousands of years in order to comprehend the vast history that Pakistan has in store. Although as a nation-state Pakistan only came into being in 1947, the Indus Valley Civilisation was populated at the same time as Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia and then moved onto the Hindu and Buddhist civilisations before coming under the rule of the Delhi Sultans such as Muhammad bin Tughlaq and then the great Mughals with their founder Babur and his line of descendants such as Akbar, Jahangir and Shahjahan. After a day filled with taking in the sites and sounds each of the places we visited had to offer, we retired to our beds filled with the excitement to continue the next past of our journey.
For more information on Harappa, please visit: http://www.harappa.com