5 October 2016
Inching our way towards the Centre of Pakistan, our first stop was Harappa ہڑپّہا. Like Taxila, we were perhaps the only foreign tourists in a month to pay the site a visit. Unlike Saidpur village which was well restored and preserved, I can’t say much about the other sites that we’ve seen so far. Can’t blame Harappa though since it is an ancient city part of a chapter of history that I am not very familiar about: the Indus Valley Civilization. Completely in ruins and said to be 85% fully excavated by the Punjab Archaeology team, the city once had around 24,000 residences with complete clay houses during 2600 -1900 BC. We rocked up to Harappa and after quick museum tour, a security personnel/commando followed us around the site for protection.
So…not a lot is left standing and in a complete state. It was somewhat funny that after doing a loop around the area, you have this newly paved and half-done path that led to nowhere. Some building foundations are left in the main excavated areas alongside a half collapsed temple and remnants of walls and houses. The heat got to me so I found it hard to imagine a functioning Harappa. Random fact: Excavation of skeletal remains did show one thing: The Harappan society was not a peaceful one due to high rate of injury and diseases.
Apart from the passage of time, one of the main reason why Harappa is heavily ruined was due to British rule since bricks were used for the Lahore-Multan railway. In 2005, a plan to build an amusement park ( stupid proposal) was abandoned after the discovery of archaeological artifacts.
We stopped for some food at a very local restaurant frequently visited by truck drivers.The drive towards Multan مُلتان was much smoother and cleaner and most importantly, less chaotic than Lahore. Perhaps it is far easier for the local government to ensure proper infrastructure for a city with fewer people? As the 3rd largest city by area and the 5th largest in Pakistan by population, Multan or the City of Saints offers visitors a nice overview of shrines, bazaars, mosques and tombs. Multan is famous for its crops, cotton, sugar cane and fruits such as mangoes, guavas. pomegranates and citrus (I bet the great fruit drink that we had after Taxila was produced here). The grounds of the Tomb of Shah Rukn-e-Alam was quiet and relaxing, unlike the busy traffic just outside the gate. A display room ( which gives a nice panoramic view of the city and the Timb) is filled with paintings about Multan. A quick scan made us realise one thing: throughout history, people have always attacked the city.
Why? You capture Multan, you capture the path between South and Central Asia. Most, on their way to Delhi would try to bring Multan under their control. So Alexander the Great invaded in 326 BC, nomads attacked in the mid -5th century CE, a local Muslim ruler conquered the city in 712 AD and secured it under Muslim rule of which ( interestingly) the subjects were non-Muslim. It was attacked again in 965 CE, 1005 CE and more destruction followed until Akbar’s Mughal Empire. So from the start of 1557 CE to around 1700s, the city enjoyed 2 centuries of Dar al-Aman (Abode of Peace). Many historians accredited Akbar’s rule, reasonable taxes, effective government and religious tolerance as major factors in finally bringing to the often ravaged land. BUT- Nothing lasts forever. The decline of Mughal rule, meant that Multan went back to her old self- being captured by successive empires and their kings.
During the divide, Multan supported the Muslim League and Pakistan Movement due to its Muslim population. Independence of Pakistan meant that Hindus and Sikhs went to India and Muslims settled in Multan ( I cannot even imagine that feeling of leaving your home and being forced to re-locate due to political nonsense…..deep down, if Emperor Akbar could display religious tolerance and merge it into his policies then surely human beings in “modern” times can do the same. Maybe without the British, things would be different?)
It was great to look out at the city, the busy roundabout and just close my eyes for a second to take in the sound. Yes, a busy city with a growing population.
The Tomb of Shah Rukn-e-Alam stands tall and overlooks the busy roundabout. Whoever planted that tree is a genius since it blends in so well with the tomb and DO NOT get me started on the shape of it. Built between 1320 and 1324 CE in a pre-Mughal architectural style, it is a cute deep red octagon with stunning blue, white and azure tile-works. The Saint that lies inside the Tomb is worshipped by many pilgrims.
After a quick visit to another mosque and quietly observing the prayers, we made our way to another Tomb (What a shame that I actually forgotten the name). It was well hidden amongst the alleyways so after getting some directions from the locals, we made it to the entrance of the tomb.
Unlike the earlier one, this place was packed with people.
Yep….the Islamic New Year. Security was tense around the area due to police presence and detectors at the entrance. Men and women were separated into different lines and checked thoroughly. Once again, we were the only foreigners. I just love that feeling since travelling should be about completely immersing oneself in the local environment. After making sure that my headscarf is on properly, we headed inside the Tomb. Unfortunately, I lack background information about the place except to say that there is a certain sense of tranquility and great spirituality.
I leaned against the corner of the brick wall and quietly watched on as locals offered their prayers. I loved every second of it. There is nothing more mesmerising than to watch others at peace- in search of their own happiness and balance.As we headed out, a journalist from Such TV (Such means Truth) stopped us for a quick soundbite-interview. Since foreign tourist numbers are down, seeing a few during the Islamic New Year makes a great short piece on how the world sees Pakistan. Given the tension with India, I wasn’t surprised that questions was asked about the Pakistan-India relationship as well. Basically, some of the questions that they asked was 1) Your view of Pakistan and the perception of Pakistan in the international community 2) Islamic New Year 3) View of India.Like every country in the world, Pakistan is uniquely mesmerising. Pakistan, unfortunately alongside many other countries in the world are painted in a negative light by media which is anything but objective. Terrorism, honour killings, backwards, muslims are just some of the unfair tags that many associate Pakistan with. Underneath all this fear lies a cultural rich country waiting to be discovered. To find the true Pakistan, you need to venture into the heart of the country and expose yourself to the beautiful and the ugly. Sometimes, even when you are on ground zero and taking in the sights and sounds of the place, you are not exactly taking everything in since you always have blind spots. I certainly did. I can be quite slow sometimes and it was after being whisked away by a nice lady at Jahangir Tomb that I realised it was the Islamic New Year. See? And do you think that I would have the rights to vocally make statements about Pakistan: my host country? I don’t have the confidence to say I do. And finally this grievance with India, it is too historically and culturally difficult for anyone to truly comprehend. Both countries are beautiful and misunderstood in their own way so there is no possible way to make such comparison. No doubt. people are proud of their country. There is nothing wrong with being a patriot since this is just one of the many self-respect that humans have. However, if this sense of patriotism needs to be magnified and re-affirmed through using it as a weapon of insult against someone else then it becomes a shame. There is no need to turn a love for ones’ country into a hate for someone else’s. For an outsider who lack proper understanding of the history, culture and issues surrounding e.g. kashmir, I have nothing to say about the India-Pakistan tension except for one thing: Make my visa application easier so that I can travel with ease and visit these places please.
After the interview, I turned around and saw two to three police vans and some concerned policemen – noticeably the Punjab Police Chef and his men. I was asked to stay with the policewoman who first checked my belongings as I made my way to the Shrine. I was asked to sit inside.
“Come…stay with us. You are safe. From now on, you will be placed under our security,” she said.
Sigh….but the people are so kind and friendly. And that is the blind spot I was talking about earlier- potential attacks on locals, shrines and foreigners do occur so no doubt the police will pay special attention on the only two foreigners running around in Multan.
“Ma’am, now is the New Year and many people are here. You’ve come at a very sensitive time so we are not taking any chances!” said the Punjab policewomen.
Alongside two of her other colleagues, we huddled inside the tiny room and I helped them inspect the bag of visitors. We chatted about Pakistan, why I’m here, perceptions of the country, terrorism, social issues, their work and challenges that they face.
“Our male colleagues are very understanding and nice. That man you saw there is our boss. He is the head of Punjab police and he make sure that we play a visible role in keeping our country safe.”
Wow- such impeccable English and above all….what a great chance to chat so candidly with three top Pakistani police women around my age. For that one hour I was there, I felt great connection with these three independent young women. I salute you all.
After finishing a soft drink handed over by the police and spending time waiting for the next arrangement…fatigue set in. My movements were restricted since they asked me not to wander off. So I sat there…waiting and waiting……finally, we were escorted back to our hotel. along the way, we were looked after by different police vans and there were lots of change overs. a few things didn’t change: the serious look on their faces, their “NO FEAR” Commando/Police uniform and their guns. It was VIP style all the way and we travelled like we were important Heads of States…..it drew a lot of attention which ( if someone felt like it) could make us more bigger of a target than we wanted it to be. We finally arrived at Hotel One- the only hotel in the city that could take in foreign tourists. Located near the airport, the hotel is very isolated with the high walls, barbed wires, metal detectors and security personnels.
What a long day- if only I could stay in Multan longer.
Tomorrow at 8am, the police will be waiting for us…a field trip for everyone.