rape of Ketas
On to the green desert
So you thought that the
deserts of Pakistan offered nothing but vast expanses of monotonous grey
sands? Think again.
Thar Desert is a great
place to go for a vacation. In fact, the best geographic description of the
land is ‘green desert’ given that the occasional
rainfalls have ensured that there is a moderate amount of vegetation matting
the territory. Visitors have remarked that the smell of wet earth in the wake
of torrential rain is one of the most heavenly fragrances their nostrils have
What many don’t realise
is that the Thar Desert houses areas of great historical significance.
Emperor Akbar was actually born here and it is thus no surprise that forts
are one of the key attractions of the land. There is a multitude of mosques
and both Jain and Hindu mandirs. In fact you’ll find some of the most
intriguing Hindu worship sites around in this area.
The must-visit town in Thar
is Nangarparkar, which caresses the Indian border and boasts hills that are
described as egg-shaped.
Thar is a veritable zoo
where peacocks and deer abound and one of the most common activities is to
set out and observe them from a distance. To catch sight of the regal
peacocks, you may have to peep into the branches of the Pipal trees where
they attempt to camouflage themselves. Hunting is banned in most areas so
keep those rifles at home or at least inquire into local norms surrounding
If you’re the sort who
must collect a few trinkets and souvenirs on travel, you are highly
encouraged to check out porcelain goods and embroidery in this territory.
Also tune in to the many local musicians and their folk music including
fusions of sitar, harmonium and tabla.
A far cry from the hue and
cry of the urban areas, Thar is one of the most serene and peaceful lands you
can visit within our borders. You are advised to use your own transport to
drive through and experience it. It is described as one of the safest places
around and you should thus
explore to your heart’s content.
Blue tiles, fresco and
There are some delectable
options across southern Punjab. The Multan district offers more than
hibernating mango fields, copperware and the mellifluous Seraiki tongue. You
could traverse ornate tombs and shrines dedicated to revered spiritual
leaders. You could traipse around Multan Fort or Multan Clock Tower all
boasting classical architecture with blue tiles, fresco paints and mosaic
work. The winter temperatures here remain mild, but steer clear of those
abrupt dust storms.
Mysterious palaces of
Multan brings you within
striking distance of the mysteries of Bahawalpur. The premier attraction here
is the square Derawar Fort, bearing a striking resemblance to the Red Fort of
Delhi, and standing tall with 40 massive bastions. Bahawalpur is also home to
opulent palaces such as the Nur Mahal palace. Unfortunately, you may only
explore the lobbies and exterior since much of the interior and rooftops have
been blocked off from public visits. If you’re in for a bit of adventure
you could explore Cholistan by camel and camp in tents in lands where
conventional accommodation is not available.
Penchant for history
If you have a penchant for
history, you should plan a trip to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of
Mohenjodaro within Sindh. It’s a great chance to marvel over excavated
ruins from centuries ago which include meticulously planned layouts such as
street grids and rectilinear
buildings. Also check out the remains of public baths and granaries and if
you’re lucky you may stumble upon priceless statues such as those of
dancing girls and priest kings.
Beaches with pristine white
Balochistan may feel like
an alien land to many of you but with the right kind of planning, it can
provide an exotic holiday experience. Some love to drive along the coast
around Gwadar to indulge in the beautiful beaches with their pristine white
sands. Others just watch the dolphins as they pierce the ocean’s surface at
intervals and descend through a curved arc. Some are content with
experiencing the most vigorous of ocean sprays in their face while dreaming
of the day when this coast will be dotted with gargantuan wind turbines such
as those posted along the Mediterranean Coast. Ormara along Makran Coast is
the place to go for the grandest of aerial views. There are plenty of
hotspots for crabbing and catching and eating all kinds of fish and prawns.
There’s more to
Brave souls who wish to
experience the interior Balochistan are encouraged to contact appropriate
tour guides and plan a safe and fulfilling itinerary. Those with a real taste
for adventure may want to plan 4 day trips to areas like Kalat and Dasht.
Those who prefer to stay in the vicinity of the sea may journey to Nani
Mandir, a popular Hindu pilgrimage territory along the point where the Hangol
River is consumed by the voracious Arabian Sea. Kund Malir beach is a popular
destination not too far from the coastal highway. The Mazar of Shah Noorani
is great for aficionados of history.
But there’s more to
Balochistan than beaches and coasts. There’s a whole world out there with
valleys, small dams and swathes of land that are perfect for hiking and
trekking. You can even find small but high quality resorts within hours of
Karachi to experience areas like Sorh Valley. For such a series of excursions
with highly structured activities, it is best to book a trip through a
professional agency. Popular activities offered by such agencies include
mountain biking, fishing, kayaking, camping and archery. The wild boar, ibex
and black buck are feature attractions of this landscape.
In and around Quetta
If you can brave some
amount of cold and snow, you are highly encouraged to visit the areas around
Quetta. The city boasts a whole range of accommodation options from the high
end Serena to more economical choices. Once in Quetta, you are a two hours
drive from Ziarat, the final
resting place of Quaid-e-Azam.
In Ziarat, you can scale a
mountain in a place called Kharwari Baba and observe the word “Allah”
naturally carved into the land through flowing rain-water. Bask in the
jungles of juniper trees, the largest across Asia, or just take in the frigid
beauty that is Hanna Lake. You could plan for a picnic in one of many
orchards that dot the path from Quetta to Ziarat and produce the finest
apples in the country. Trekking through the valleys and around the springs is
popular. The lands are dry, barring evergreen trees, and have a charm very
different, but no less compelling, from that of the Himalayas. The Bolan Pass
is another great option within striking distance of Quetta to plan a group
picnic. But proceed with caution: the locals you may encounter off the beaten
paths are not necessarily amiable and there have been rare cases of
Into the Galiyats
If your heart still yearns
for the far north, rest assured that trips to areas like Nathiagali, Ayubia
and Kashmir Point are still possible. But you will mostly be confined to the
interiors of buses as you meander through the mountains and admire the
So this winter, switch off
the television, move off the couch and shed those layers of fatigue and rest.
Invest some time and effort into planning a trip to one of these incredible
destinations with friends and family. Go experience the parts of Pakistan
that you never get to see or read about, the parts that we can only share
with the rest of the world after we get to know them better ourselves. Return
with the renewed belief that not even the remotest corners of our country are
lacking in any form of physical resources. It is now up to the human
resources to fulfill their side of the bargain.
No one in the blighted
department of archaeology is capable of understanding the essence of
conservation — that an ancient monument must never ever be rebuilt, that
the best conservation is simply to arrest further decay. And if anything need
be done, the restoration should be in exact accordance with the soul of the
But in six-and-a-half
decades we have not been able to get this right. In the early 1990s, we
destroyed the Baradari of Kamran Mirza that once stood in its ruinous state
on an island in the Ravi. Since there was no record of what the original
looked like in the mid-16th century when Kamran (Babur’s son) ordered it,
some government department under orders of the chief minister tore down the
shell and rebuilt the gaudy new structure. Men like Dr Ajaz Anwar created a
shindig, but that was merely stonewalling a deaf wall. Being ignoramuses we
do not realise that the building in the Ravi is no longer Kamran’s Baradari.
Then we did in Akbar’s
bath inside Delhi Gate. The tanks were filled in, plastered over and, if
memory serves, given a marble floor. For some years in the early 1990s, the
historic building served as a wedding hall!
And now the department of
archaeology is doing a hatchet job at Ketas. Among the holiest of the holy
shrines of Hinduism, Ketas sits just outside Choa Saidan Shah in the Salt
Range. First of all there is a bunch of individuals infesting the premises,
claiming to be from the department, who go into spasms the minute they see a
camera on a tripod. “No photography!” they admonish. For crying out loud,
is this another one of those many places where we hide our nuclear war heads?
But what appals is the rape
of the place with marble tiles. Where, until only a few years ago, I walked
on roughly cut steps in the grey limestone, there are now staircases with
railings and marble risers. The temples all have marble floors. The interior
of the haveli of Sardar Hari Singh Nalva, though inaccessible because of the
padlocked door, also has marble flooring! And the worst is yet to come.
On the high ground behind
the haveli, there is a complex of buildings. The white-washed temples here
once rose above three ruinous buildings made of dark gray limestone. These
three date from the latter Hindu Shahya period, that is, from about the year
1000 CE. There is one chunky building with its roof and much of the walls
gone. This is flanked by two smaller buildings which are clearly temples.
I have returned to Ketas
dozens of times over the past three decades, and am witness to the rape of
this place by vandals, particularly following the destruction of Babri Mosque
in December 1992. But recently with a bunch of youngsters from LACAS, I saw
the worst ever official vandalism of Ketas. This was not the first time
idiotic officialdom had tried to ‘beautify’ the place, but this certainly
was the worst.
Some three years ago, they
added steel piping as railings at random spots. But this time around, the
morons of the department of archaeology have destroyed the Hindu Shahya
temples. The ancient buildings have been either demolished and rebuilt or
they have been extensively remodelled and added to.
We know that such temples
had porches above the entrances. But in Ketas, the porch of the one on the
right had collapsed at some point in the past. Only the one on the left had a
vestige still clinging on. The most interesting aspect of these two buildings
was that their porches had cinquefoil arches. Among Hindu Shahya temples in
Pakistan, cinquefoil arches are only found at Amb (in one of the two temples)
and Bilot and Tilot (Dera Ismail Khan). All others have trefoil arches.
The department that has
rebuilt the Hindu Shahya temples of Ketas have redesigned the cinquefoils.
They are nothing like the original anymore. Students of ancient architecture
who could earlier have simply stepped off their cars and studied these
architectural features at Ketas will now have to take the tedious journey to
Amb or the dangerous one to Tilot or Bilot — dangerous because of proximity
to South Waziristan.
The mind boggles at the
stupidity of officialdom. If these people did not have a clue about
conservation, why did they not consult those who know the business? But I
suppose there is a secret room in every government department where they
crack open the skulls of all new entrants to put in some diabolical programme
that makes them turn into unthinking vermin who only believe that they know
Did these fools not know
there were experts like Kamil Khan Mumtaz, to name only one, who could have
put them on the right track? Had they never heard of their own illustrious
predecessor Dr Saifur Rahman Dar? Why is it that we must go from bad to worse
with every passing year?
Time will come when the
department of archaeology (whether provincial or federal) will have
successfully ravaged every single historical monument so that students of
architecture will never know what was being built in, say, the 10th century.
We have started well with Ketas. It will soon be a monument of tinsel.