Noor Jahan's Tomb
Posted in Heritage Sites in Pakistan Punjab Tombs

Noor Jahan’s Tomb

Empress Noor Jahan’s Tomb is located in the Shahdra Bagh in Lahore, across Ravi River, just separated by a train track from that of her husband’s and her brother’s tombs. She was the beloved wife of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir and most popular queen of Mughal period. She died in 1645 and was buried in the tomb she built for herself during her lifetime. Empress Noor Jahan’s tomb is located near Emperor Jahangir’s Tomb.

About the Empress

Her original name was Maher-un-Nisa and Noor Jahan was the title given to her which literally mean “light of the world”. She was the daughter of Mirza Gayas Baig, a noble from Iran, and was the beloved queen of Emperor Jahangir from 1569 to 1627. She died in 1645 at the age of 72 years and outlived Jahangir by 18 years. Queen Noor Jahan was the most powerful empress in the history of Mughal dynasty and was the only empress to have her name appeared on the coinage of her period.

The mausoleum of Empress Noor Jahan was built in her lifetime and was completed in a period of four years at a cost of Rs. 0.3 million of the time. However, like other Mughal era monuments in Lahore, Noor Jahan’s tomb was also plundered during the Sikh era in the 18th century and the beautiful marble was removed to use in the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India.

Architecture

Noor Jahan’s tomb was built on an elevated podium, in the takhtgah (throne) style.  The platform making the base of the square mausoleum measuring 158 square feet, has the tomb in the shape of a square and measures 124 feet on each side and 19.6 feet high. There might be minarets previously have risen from the corners of the mausoleum, similar to the nearby Jahangir’s tomb but currently missing.

Exterior

Noor Jahan’s tomb is constructed using the red sandstone with flat roofing bordered with white marble grill similar to that of Jahangir’s tomb. It has 7 vaulted arches to each side covered with marble and fashioned with flower mosaics in semi-precious stone. The inner floor is covered with marble and outer platform with sandstone. The red sandstone was inlaid with floral motifs in addition to white, black and yellow marble. The central arch on each side protrudes out from the six flanking vaulted arches on its sides. The intricate patterns of the panelling and honeycomb shaped cornices in its several rooms surrounding the crypt.

Interior

The central vaulted chamber of the tomb contains a marble platform with two cenotaphs put together –  one that of Nur Jahan and the other of her daughter, Ladli Begum. It was built by Hakim Ajmal, Khan of Delhi in 1912, the original marble sarcophagus bears ornate workmanship and the name of Allah, in the same style and size as seen in the tombs of Jahangir and Asif Khan. On her tomb is inscribed an epitaph: “On the grave of this poor stranger, let there be neither lamp nor rose. Let neither butterfly’s wing burn nor nightingale sing“. The original tombs are underneath and accessible by a narrow entrance just outside of the mausoleum. The narrow room is dark and has two small openings to allow sun during sunrise and sunset as Noor Jahan was said to have a fear of darkness.

Gardens

The tomb stands in the centre of a Persian-style Chahar Bagh. The original garden no longer survives, but once included tulips, roses, and jasmine. It is under renovation currently on a 5-year project and hopefully will gain its past glory.

Tomb of Asif Khan
Posted in Heritage Sites in Pakistan Punjab Tombs

Tomb of Asif Khan

The Tomb of Asif Khan is a magnificent edifice crowned by a high bulbous dome. Asif Khan’s tomb is situated in Shahdara Bagh, adjacent to Akbari Sarai, in the city of Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan. Like that of other noble persons in the Mughal courts, Asif Khan’s tomb is also octagonal in shape and embellished using attractive designs and colours. Octagonal shaped tombs were only used for Mughal nobles and never for Mughal emperors.

Asif Khan was the title given to the Mughal statesman Mirza Abdul Hassan Jah, who was also known as Asif Jah. He was the brother the of Empress Noor Jahan, father of Arjumand Bano Begum who later became the consort of Shah Jahan under the name of Mumtaz Mahal, and he was also brother-in-law to the Mughal Emperor Jahangir. Asif Khan was elevated as Khan e Khana, commander in chief, and became governor of Lahore a year later.

Asif Khan died in a battle against the forces of rebel Raja Jagat Singh in 1641 and his tomb was commissioned to be built by emperor Shah Jahan. It cost 300,000 rupees and four years from 1641 to 1645 to complete the construction of this marvellous erection. The tomb is only separated by Akbari Sarai from Jahangir’s tomb which makes an axis.

Layout

The garden, where to tomb stands, measures 300 yards to each side and was divided by long pools along pathways into four squares (the Persian Chahar Bagh system). Each square is set with fountains, water reservoirs, and trails. The tomb once had water reservoirs at its four corners to fed fountains and pathways.

The garden was accessible through the gates erected on its northern and southern walls. The southern gate is a double storied structure, square in shape, serves as the primary entrance to the garden complex. Its southern face is decked with red stone and white marble while the other three faces are decorated with plasterwork. Its interiors feature small chambers. Its central portion features a tall two-story iwan portal finished with stucco work and flooring is done in geometrical design brickwork. The northern side gate is known as Jawab (response) gate, a two-storied structure with a central arched iwan portal flanked by four smaller portals. Its front is adorned with intricate tile work (Kashi Kari) but much of the intricate ornamental work has already gone. There is a small mosque found in the eastern wall which was used as a residence during the British era while there is access to Jahangir’s Tomb via the Akbari Sarai in the western wall.

Architecture

Asif Khan’s tomb was built in Central Asian style architecture.  The tomb was noted to feature some of the finest examples of building art and craft at the time of construction.

Standing in the centre of a vast garden the tomb is erected on a 3-foot 9-inch elevated podium accessible by stairs. It was built octagonal in shape with each side measuring 38 feet 8 inches with access to its interior from eight sides and arched window looking into the tomb. Each side of the tomb has a deeply recessed iwan or alcove.

The exterior of the tomb was originally decorated with red sandstone and rich marble stone inlay work. Its finishing was done with stucco tracery and blue Kashi tiles. The high bulbous double dome, resting on the octagonal base, was originally covered with white marble finishing. The use of bulbous domes was initiated by Emperor Shah Jahan and were never used before.

The interior of the tomb, renowned for its lavish use of white marble and precious inlay, ornamented with very bold stucco design, tile mosaic, and Ghalib Kari. The inner dome ceiling is decked in high plaster relief of interlacing patterns. The central cenotaph is made of pure marble carved with inscriptions from the Holy Qur’an like that in the nearby tomb of Emperor Jahangir. The floor on which the tomb stands was built red limestone (Sang-e-Abri) which does not exist anymore.

Sikh Era Mutilation

During the rule of the Sikh Empire, Asif Khan’s tomb along with Jahangir’s Tomb and other monuments were heavily damaged. Notable Sikh rulers like Gujjar Singh, Lahna Singh, and Subha Singh carried out the damages and planted large Pipal trees next to the tomb to obstruct its views which were removed later. Its marble, various decorative stones, and sandstones were pillaged and installed in the Golden Temple in Amritsar and to build the Hazuri Bagh Baradari in Lahore.

If the tomb had existed in its original shape with all designs and colours, it would have been a masterpiece. It did not attract much attention because its beauty was snatched by the Sikhs. It was later repaired by did not gain its glory. Also, the gardens and gateways were repaired too by the British and its walls were swept away by flooding in 1955 when River Ravi was inundated, and a second flood occurred in 1973 while repair work was carried out in 1986-87. But the tomb and its walls are still in disappointing condition.

The tomb, along with the adjacent Akbari Sarai and the Tomb of Jahangir, is on the tentative list as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Akbari Sarai
Posted in Monuments Punjab

Akbari Sarai

The Akbari Sarai (Palace of Akbar) is a large oblong shaped courtyard situated between Jahangir’s Tomb and Asif Khan’s Tomb in Lahore city in Punjab province of Pakistan.  This unique Mughal era structure was built in 1637 to host travellers and caretakers of Jahangir’s Tomb. It also served as mail station known as dak chowki.

History

The court historian to the Emperor Shah Jahan, Abdul Hamid Lahori, mentioned the original name of the building as “Jilu Khana-e-Rauza (attached court of the tomb) in his book the Padshahnama. The name Akbari Sarai began to be called during the reign of Islam Shah Suri in mid-1550s, not during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Akbar.

Architecture

The Sarai measuring 797 feet by 610 feet covering 12 acres of land is bordered by a raised terrace containing 180 cells with front verandas and a common passage. The Sarai has four Burjes in its corners containing elaborate chambers feature an elliptical hall in front with a veranda and an octagonal room in the back.

It is accessible by two stately entrances on its north and on the south. Featuring typical Mughal style art, these gates are beautifully adorned with frescoes and Ghalib Kari (a network of ribs in stucco and plaster applied to curved surfaces in each archway). Its topographies including the decorative elements, the style of the structure, the size of the bricks used for construction; the Sarai and the eastern entrance gateway to the Jahangir’s tomb, featuring a large double storied iwan linked by four other smaller arched niches, are believed to have been built in the same period.

To the west of the Sarai, in the middle of the row of cells, is a mosque from the Suri period with three splendid domes. Although most of the fine artwork is already gone, its sandstone facing decoder with inlay work is graceful. The cells which line the complex and its gateways date from the Shah Jahan period in the mid-1600s.

Administration

The Sarai actually served as a state guesthouse and was administered by a Shahna (official caretaker) and several assistants. It also had a physician and a resident baker. Fodder for animals, hot and cold water, and bedsteads were provided free of cost.

During the Sikh era, Maharajah Ranjit Singh converted the complex into a cantonment of one of his foreign generals called Musa Farangi. It was also used as a private residence. Likewise, during the British era, it was used as a rail depot and severely damaged following the construction of the nearby rail line.

All three monuments – Akbari Sarai, the Tomb of Jahangir, and Tomb of Asif Khan – were inscribed on the tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1993.

Jahangir's Tomb Lahore
Posted in Heritage Sites in Pakistan Punjab Tombs

Jahangir’s Tomb

The Mughal Emperor Jahangir’s Tomb is the most glorious edifice in Lahore, Pakistan. The tomb complex is sited in Shahdara – on the right bank of Ravi River, to the northwest of the Walled City of Lahore. In fact, it is the only Mughal tomb surviving intact in the region and is considered as the second most magnificent structure known for its beauty and texture after Taj Mahal in Agra, India.

History

The garden where the tomb is erected had been the most favourite place of Jahangir and his wife Noor Jahan. It was constructed by Nawab Mehdi Qasim, a special curator of emperor Akbar. When Meher-un-Nisa, title with Noor Jahan, became the Queen of India, she took the garden in her custody and further enhanced its charm with the beautiful trees and fountains due to which it was called Dilkusha Garden. Historically, this place served as a point of departure and arrival to and from Kashmir for Jahangir and Noor Jahan.

Emperor Nuruddin Salim Jahangir (1605-1627), the son of Emperor Jalal-Ud-Din Akbar (1556-1605) and father of Emperor Shah Jahan (1627-1658), was the fourth Mughal ruler in the subcontinent. Like his father Akbar the great, emperor Jahangir also made Lahore the centre of official affairs which resulted in the significant growth of the city during the rule of Akbar and Jahangir. When Jahangir died in the foothills of Kashmir near the town of Rajauri on 28 October 1627, his entrails were separated and sent to be buried in Kashmir and his body was transported to Dilkusha Garden in Lahore for burial.

Construction

Official records suggest that Emperor Shah Jahan was the head designer of the tomb who wished to construct a ‘Tomb befitting an Emperor’ to honour his beloved father. On the other hand, most historians believe his wife Noor Jahan had more influence over the construction of this tomb complex. The major bases that convinced historians was the profound Persian influence throughout the area as well as her inspiration from the tomb of her father, Itmad-Ud- Daulah, in Agra that reflects the design of the Tomb of Jahangir.

Besides leading the entire architecture of Jahangir’s tomb, empress Noor Jahan played a role in designing the gardens which resulted in making Lahore her permanent resident after Jahangir’s death. There’s also enough evidence that suggests the construction of this grand mausoleum was mostly financed by Noor Jahan rather than the imperial treasury. It took about ten years, from 1627 to 1637, to build the grand mausoleum at a total cost of one million rupees of the time.

Renovation

Later, during the Sikh regime, the tomb was used as army headquarters and as a private residence. During the time, it was desecrated, damaged, and precious pieces of art in the inner chambers were destroyed and pillaged. The tomb complex almost lost its prestige after the fall of the Mughal empire, particularly during the Sikh rule and British occupation. The British used the complex for coal dumping during the construction of a railway line which also separated Jahangir’s tomb from that of his wife’s.  However, the British later restored the tomb complex and Akbari Sarai to its former glory. Image of the tomb was used on the 1,000 Pakistani Rupee note until 2005 but no longer printed yet is still in circulation.

Layout

Jahangir’s mausoleum is set in a large quadrangle measuring 500 (600 gaz) meters to a side and is covered with a thick wall. The complex could be accessible by two grand entrances located to the west and east.  The eastern entrance gate of Jahangir’s tomb was destroyed because of the river the garden and is currently accessible by the western gate that features a small mosque and accessible through the Akbari Sarai – a square enclosure reachable from two gates standing to the north and south facing each other. The gate is artistically decorated with pietra-dura work – white marble inlaid in red sandstone – retains its unique glory. The arch of the gate is skillfully associated with the sun and the stars and present a beautiful example of human excellence.

Entering through the gate provides a panoramic view of the tomb which is surrounded by a retch of a magnificent garden laid out in the Persian Chahar Bagh scheme (Islamic paradise garden). The garden is separated into four squares by paved walkways (Khiyabans) and two bisecting channels of water designed to reflect four rivers that flow in the paradise (Jannat). All four squares are further divided into sixteen smaller squares with pathways and fountains in between.

Architecture

Jahangir’s great grandfather Babur chose to be buried in a tomb open to the sky, following the Sunni tradition, but the construction of Jahangir’s mausoleum with a flat roof compromised the conventional tradition as Jahangir was said to have explicitly forbade the construction of a dome. Standing gracefully on a 5 feet high podium and square in plan measuring, the 22-foot-tall single-story mausoleum measures 267 foot (100 gaz) to a side. The main grave is surrounded by forty rooms and every room has a corridor attached with a different design from the other. These rooms were used by Islamic scholars to recite the Quran in the al era in order to reward the king soul. The corridor around the mausoleum is adorned with a very elegant mosaic, floral frescos and verses from the holy Quran. Carved marble jali screens admit light in various patterns facing toward Mecca. The rooftop is remarkable, with intricate marble work on the ceiling that resembles a Persian carpet.  Its vaulted bays reflect Timurid architectural style from Central Asia.

The four octagonal minarets topped with white marble cupolas measuring 100 feet in height rising from the corners are decorated with zigzag inlay of brilliant white marble and yellow stone. Each one of the minarets is 5 floored, easily accessible, and provide a scenic view of the city. Badshahi Mosque lies opposite the tomb of Jahangir and the fun fact is that these structures have been built in such a way that only three minarets of the tomb are visible from the mosque and, vice versa. The exterior of the mausoleum, including the lowest stage of the towers, is clad with red sandstone facing with rich panel decoration inlaid with marble decorative motifs. The geometrical perfection and exquisite symmetry combine to reflect dexterity and human excellence simply admirable in this piece of art.

Cenotaph

Jahangir’s grave is situated at the centre of the mausoleum in an octagonal chamber 8 meters in diameter. It is connected to the outside of the tomb by four hallways facing the four cardinal directions. The floor is beautifully decorated with floral designs using a variety of stones including four types of 400 years old original marble while walls are decked with mosaic samples. The tomb was constructed in a Mughal style influenced by Safavid-style architecture from Persia, which may have been introduced into the Mughal Court by Noor Jahan – who was of Persian origin.

The cenotaph is laid out as a takhtgah – built upon a 1.5 ft high podium measuring 9ft by 6 ft which serves as a Takht, or “throne”. It is decorated using white marble on which beautiful floral fresco work is done with precious and semi-precious stones including Aqeeq, Suleiman, Sapphire, Zehar Mohra (Bezoar Stone) and Ubri Marble. The platform of the cenotaph is 2.5 ft from the podium made with white marble. The cenotaph has 99 traditional attributes of Allah decorated with pietra dura inlays. The flat top of the cenotaph is engraved with Quranic verses. The inscription to the feet side confirms the Persian influence, reads, “This is the illuminated grave of His Majesty, the Asylum of Pardon, Nooruddin Muhammad Jahangir Padshah 1037 AH”

The Original Building

There is another notion that the tomb structure was a three-story building and there was a Baradari on the existing building (Pavilion with 12 doors) where Jahangir’s grave amulet was built. During the Sikh rule, on the orders of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh, several Mughal era buildings were undermined including the Jahangir’s tomb. The Baradari was said to removed from Jahangir’s tomb and reassembled at the garden (Hazuri Bagh) located between Badshahi Mosque and Lahore Fort which is standing even today. After extracting Baradari, Ranjeet Singh installed a temporary wooden roof which was replaced with a permanent concrete roof by the British, but the structure never looks the part of work done in the Mughal era. The roof of the tomb had intricately carved marble grill which was also removed by the Sikhs and sent to Darbar Sahib in Amritsar, India. To fill the space, lime plaster had been done on the roof of the mausoleum.

Well respected for their architectural marvel, floral designs, geometrical patterns, extensive application of natural colours, pietra-dura work, and use of precious and semi-precious stones for ornamentation, the Mughals have earned a name for their aesthetic brilliance. The intricate work inside and outside this massive complex is the testament of the marvellous art the Mughals have demonstrated. Visiting Jahangir’s tomb is always a rewarding experience. The two other complexes in Shahdara Bagh – Asif Khan’s tomb and Akbari Sarai – built by Shah Jahan are worth the visit and give a deep insight into the glorious days of the Mughal empire.

Shalimar Gardens
Posted in Heritage Sites in Pakistan Monuments Punjab

Shalimar Gardens

The Shalimar Gardens in Lahore is an exceptional Mughal garden complex. It was constructed during the artistic and aesthetic zenith of the Mughal rule. The construction of the Shalimar Gardens began on 12 June 1641 by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and completed after 18 months at the end of 1942. The Shalimar Gardens and the Lahore Fort together were inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981.

The gardens were built primarily to entertain the royal guests yet the general public could enter to a specific section of the garden. The construction of the Shalimar Gardens was influenced by the older Shalimar Gardens in Kashmir built by Emperor Jahangir (Shah Jahan’s father) and Shah Jahan himself was involved in the construction of the old gardens in Kashmir.

Covering about 16 hectares (658 meters north to south and 258 meters east to west) by crenelated walls of red sandstone, the rectangle garden is constructed in three terraces descending from south to north. Each terrace has been given a special meaningful name. The upper-level terrace, for instance, was named “Farah Baksh” meaning Bestower of Pleasure, the middle-level terrace was named “Faiz Baksh” meaning Bestower of Goodness, and the lower level terrace was named Hayat Baksh meaning Bestower of Life.

There are a total of 410 fountains rising from the canal and from the basin water discharges into the marble pools. The water circulation system was so technically engineered that even scientists today still find it hard to understand thermal engineering. The architecture of thermal engineering was aimed to create cooler air through fountain water during beating down summers to relief visitors. Out of 410, there are 105 fountains in the upper-level terrace, 152 in the middle-level terrace and 153 in the lower level terrace.

Inside the covered boundary wall, there are a number of buildings used for a variety of purposes. The names of the buildings are:

  • Sawan Bhadun pavilions
  • Naqar Khana and its buildings
  • Khwabgah or Sleeping chambers
  • Hammam or Royal bath
  • The Aiwan or Grand Hall
  • Aramgah or Resting place
  • Khawabgah of Begum Sahib or Dream place of the emperor’s wife
  • Baradaries or summer pavilions to enjoy the coolness created by the Gardens’ fountains
  • Diwan-e-Khas-o-Aam or Hall of the special and ordinary audience with the emperor
  • Two gateways and minarets in the corners of the Gardens

Besides the terraces, various buildings, fountains, marble pools, and pathways, there used to be a variety of trees in the garden named as Almond, Peach, Apple, Plum, Apricot, Poplar, Cherry, Quince Seedless, Gokcha, Mango, Mulberry, Sapling of Cypress, Shrubs and Sour and Sweet oranges.

Historically the project of Shalimar Garden was supervised by a noble of Shah Jahan’s court named as Khalilullah Khan. The site originally belonged to the Arian Mian Family and the title “Mian” was given to the family by the emperor for its services to the Empire. However, the land where the Shalimar Garden was built was acquired by Mughal engineers by placing pressure on the Mian family only because of its ideal position and soil quality. In return, the Arian Mian family was granted the governance of Shalimar Garden which lasted for 350 years. Later, General Ayub Kahn nationalized the Garden only because the Mian Family had opposed his imposition of Martial law.

 

Lahore Fort
Posted in Forts Heritage Sites in Pakistan Punjab

Lahore Fort

The modern-day Lahore Fort is located in the north-western corner of the historical city of Lahore. Locally known as Shahi Qila, the royal fort is an architectural masterpiece bearing a rich history. Its irregular design covering an area of almost 20 hectares, measuring about 427 meters east-west and 335 meters north-south, excluding the outer fortification wall erected during the Sikh rule of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1799 – 1839 A.D).

The site where the existing Lahore Fort (Shahi Qila) is erected has been established for several centuries. The mud-brick fort of the 11th century, for instance, was the first structure ever recorded during the rule of Mahmud of Ghazni. Between the 13th and 15th centuries, the fort was damaged, demolished and rebuilt several times by numerous invaders and rulers before it came under the domain of Mughal emperors.

Historically, in 1241 Mongols destroyed the fort and Sultan Balban of the Delhi Sultanate constructed a new fort in 1267. In 1398, the invading forces of Timur destroyed the fort and it was rebuilt by Mubarak Shah Sayyid in 1421. Similarly, the fort was occupied by Shaikh Ali of Kabul in the 1430s and it remained under the control of the Pashtun Sultans of the Lodi dynasty. Lahore was later captured by the Mughal Emperor Babur in 1524 after the defeat of Ibrahim Lodi’s forces. It remained under Mughal Empire until their fall and was then captured by the Sikh followed by the British.

The foundation of the modern Lahore Fort was laid in 1566 during the reign of Emperor Akbar (1556–1605) when he made Lahore his capital. Akbar carried out modifications to the fort with architectural style featuring Hindu motifs. After Akbar, it was continuously damaged, renovated, improved, and expanded by successive emperors. Shah Jahan, for instance, changed the model by using luxurious marble with inlaid Persian floral design. The fort was entirely rebuilt in the 17th century when the Mughal Empire enjoyed the peak of its prestige and prosperity.

The Lahore Fort is located very close to the Badshahi Mosque, only separated by Hazur Bagh. The Fort has two distinct sections: the northern half of the fort comprises of the private or residential section and the areas for royal audiences make up the administrative section.  The Lahore Fort comprises several notable monuments each having a distinct name and history. Prominent buildings and structures of the fort are:

 Akbari Gate or the Masti Gate

The Akbari Gate was built by Emperor Akbar in about 1566 A.D. and later on, it was called the Masti Gate. Actually, the Empress of Akbar built a mosque outside this gate in 1614 A.D that still exists in good condition. The word” Masjid” (Mosque) in local version was corruptly pronounced Maseet and transformed as Masti; thus the name Masti Gate affixed. The fort during Akbar’s times had two gates including Masti Gate. The other gate was later replaced by Alamgiri Gate in 1673 A.D.

Alamgiri Gate

The iconic Alamgiri Gate, located on its western side, opens in the Hazuri Bagh and facing the renowned Badshahi Mosque, was the masterpiece built by the last of the Mughal ruler Aurangzeb (ruled: 1658 – 1707 A.D) in 1673-74 as a private entrance to the royal quarters enabling the elephants carrying members of the royal household enter at one time. It has two semi-circular bastions decorated with lotus petal designs at the base.

Diwan-i-Aam (Hall of Public Audience)

Diwan-i-Aam is a forty pillar complex built under the supervision of Asif Khan (brother of Nur Jahan, the empress of Shah Jahan’s father, Jahangir) during the reign of Shah Jahan in 1631 to receive official visitors, make a daily public appearance to address the issues, and review parades. It was demolished when Ranjit Singh’s son Sher Singh bombarded Lahore Fort by light guns during a fight against Chand Kaur, the widow of Kharak Singh (the elder son of Ranjit Singh). After the occupation of the fort in 1849 A.D The British rebuilt Diwan-i-Aam.

Jahangir Quadrangles

The northeast corner of the fort is made up of Jahangir’s Quadrangles. The construction of the Quadrangles started in during the tenure of Akbar in 1617-18 while it was completed by Jahangir in 1620 at a cost of seven lacs (Seven Hundred Thousand) of rupees. The design of the Quadrangles reflects Akbar’s influence as it employs column brackets carved in the form of animals. Moreover, the quadrangle’s layout differs from the mainstream Mughal quadrangles and its features reflect Hindu temple architecture referring the Akbar’s policy of tolerance. Usually the Mughal quadrangles used the layout of a Persian paradise garden, and instead, it is formed by concentric rectangles with a fountain in its center.

Diwan-i-Khas (Hall of Private Audience)

Diwan-i-Khas is a hall commissioned by Shah Jahan where state guests were received and discussed matters related to the state. It is an arched pavilion built in semi-chaste marble and its parapet was decorated with pietra dura work (by inlaying semi-precious stones into white marble).

Khwabgah-e-Jahangir (Jahangir’s sleeping chamber)

The north end of the quadrangle is dominated by the Barri Khwabgah, or ‘large bedroom’, is Jahangir’s sleeping chamber attributed to Jahangir’s period and is located in the residential section. The current building is the reconstruction version from the British era. It is now used as a museum housing Mughal antiquities.

Khwabgah-e- Shah Jahan

It was the sleeping chamber and the first building built by Shah Jahan under the supervision of Wazir Khan in 1634 during his first visit to the city. The Khwabgah comprises five sleeping chambers aligned in a single row. The carved marble screens inside the chambers are decorated with inlaid white marble and frescoes. The incised work known as Ghalib Kari in Urdu and stucco tracery on the arches of this monument are the main features of this building.  Its original decorations have gone astray presently except for a trace of the marble.

Maktab Khana (Clerks’ Quarters)

Originally known as Dawlat Khana-e-Jahangir, the Maktab Khana was constructed in 1617 during the reign of Jahangir (1605 – 1627 A.D) under the supervision of Mamur Khan. There the carved Persian inscription on marble slab relates to the construction.  It was designed by Khawaja Jahan Muhammad Dost and used as a passage to the Audience Hall from the palace buildings to the north. It was also used by the clerks to record the entry of guests into the fort.

Moti Masjid (Pearl Mosque)

It is one of the two mosques built between1630-35 by Emperor Shah Jahan; the other one is in Agra Fort and was built in 1654. The mosque has three superimposed domes, two aisles of five bays, and a slightly raised rectangular-framed central portal. The distinct five-arched front distinguishes it from other mosques of the similar class usually with three-arched facades. The interior is simple and plain, however, the ceilings are adorned and designed in four different orders, two arcuate, and two trabeated.

The white marble structure is a small building, a prominent addition, located on the western side of the Lahore fort closer to Alamgiri gate, the main entrance. After the fall of the Mughal Empire, it was used as Sikh Temple and renamed as Moti Mandir (Pearl Temple) under the rule of Ranjit Singh. Later it was used as state treasury by the Sikh. When the British took over Punjab in 1849, some precious stones and other inventories were collected inside the Mosque. It was revived to its former state later.

Lal Burj (“Red Pavilion”)

The Octagonal shape Lal Burj (watch tower) is a three-storied summer pavilion building lies adjacent to Diwan-e-Khas and stands in the corner of Shah Jahan’s Quadrangle, in the northeast corner of the Khilawat Khana (Place of Isolation). The top storey including most of the interior frescoes is the Sikh era addition while the lower two stories together with the basement chambers are the beautiful work of Emperor Jahangir while finished during the reign of Shah Jahan. The exterior is beautifully furnished with tile mosaic and filigree work. Its primary windows opened to the north are meant to catch cool breezes.

Kala Burj (“Black Pavilion”)

The Kala Burj stands in the northwest corner of Khilwat Khana and was also used as a summer pavilion. It is the most significant of the Jahangir-era additions and is similar to Lal Burj in many respects. It occupies north-west corner of Khilwat Khana. The top storey belongs to the British period and used as a bar. The Chhajja (eave) of the Kala Burj is built with interlocked brickwork. The arched ceilings in the pavilion feature paintings in a European-influenced style of angels which symbolize the virtuosity of King Solomon – a ruler with whom Jahangir identified.

Shahi  Hammam (Royal Bath)

The Shahi Hammam, also known as Wazir Khan Hammam, was built during the reign of Emperor Shah Jahan in about 1635 A.D. and lies adjacent to Shah Jahan’s Khwabgah. It is patterned on Turkish style, so it comprises Jama Khana (dressing and undressing room). The baths were built to serve as a waqf, or endowment, for the maintenance of the Wazir Khan MosqueThe bath, also had the facility of warm and hot water. No longer used as a hammam, the baths were restored between 2013 and 2015 by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and the Walled City of Lahore Authority and restored in 2016 to its “former prominence.

Seh Dari (three-door) Pavilion

She Dari is located on the eastern side of the Barri Khwabgah inside Jahangir’s Quadrangle. The Sikh period architectural style pavilion is called Sah Dari (of three doors in the Persian language) because it has three entrance doors. The building is said to have served as an office of Faqir Syed Noor-Ud-din, the trusted Governor of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. It is decorated with fresco portray floral designs of birds and scenes shown reflect Hindu religious themes suggesting obviously belong to the Sikh period.

Sheesh Mahal (the Palace of Mirrors or the Crystal Palace)

Sheesh Mahal is the intricately worked white marble pavilion inlaid with pietra dura and complex mirror-work of the finest quality and is considered as a jewel in the crown. It was built by Asif Khan, brother of Noor Jahan, under the reign of Shah Jahan in 1631-32. It is located within Jahangir’s Shah Burj block in the northern-western corner of the Lahore Fort and was built for personal use by the imperial family and close aides. The extensive use of marble reflects the typical Shah Jahan style of construction. The palace has a complex mirror work, called Ayina Kari, in order to conceal from meddling eyes. The palace used to be the favorite place of Ranjit Singh during Sikh occupation of the Fort. Its walls were rebuilt in the Sikh period.

Summer Palace (Pari Mahal or Fairy Palace)

The summer palace or Pari Mahal is a jumble of chambers located directly underneath Sheesh Mahal and Shah Burj Quadrangle dating back to Shah Jahan period. The palaces were only accessible from Sheesh Mahal and used as a residence during hot weather months. The fairy palace was constructed skillfully using the flow of natural air and perfumed water to create a cool temperature with the aroma. The palace was even used during the Ranjit Singh’s reign and it was the store of British Civil Defence Department during World War II before it was transferred to Pakistan. Its integrity was affected by its use as a storehouse. It will now be restored to show how it looked as summer palace once.

Naulakha Pavilion

Constructed in 1633 during Shah Jahan’s period at a cost of 900,000 (as the name suggests), the Naulakha Pavilion is an iconic building of the Lahore Fort. It is located on the west side of Sheesh Mahal, made of prominent white marble and covered by a distinctive curvilinear roof, having inside lavishly decorated with tiny jewels as AgateJadeLapis-Lazuli, and Goldstone etc in intricate floral motifs. The Naulakha Pavilion served as a personal chamber reflecting a mixture of contemporary tradition at the time of its construction.

Paien Bagh (Ladies Garden)

Paved paths for walkways were the main feature of the Mughal Gardens. The Paien Bagh was built for royal ladies to sustain their health. These paths were surrounded by green patches and filled with cypresses and dwarf plants emanating delighted fragrance. In addition, the garden was adorned with a water basin in the middle of the spacious platform built in brickwork.

Hathi Paer (Elephant Stairs or path)

The Hathi Paer was built by Emperor Shah Jahan in 1631-32 A.D especially meant for elephants carrying the royalty from and to the palace. The 58 low and broad steps each measuring 216 inches in length and 18’-8” inches in width starts from Hathi Paer gate and ends on the outer courtyard of Shish Mahal.

Ath Dara ( having eight openings)

Located at an elevated podium at the original entrance of Shish Mahal, the Ath Dara was built, and used as Kachehri (court), by Maharaja Ranjit Singh who ruled over Punjab. The gilt frescos paintings on its northern wall were made by Maharaja Ranjit’s court artists and its ceiling is decorated with beautiful woodwork. The Department of Punjab Archaeology has magnificently renovated the woodwork with beautiful mirror work recently.

Kharak Singh Haveli

The Haveli of Kharak Singh, the heir to Ranjit Singh, lies in the south-east of the Jahangir’s Quadrangle. When it was occupied by the British, the first and the ground floor were used as a Commandant’s Quarters and servants’ house respectively. It is used as the archaeological survey office currently.

Picture Wall

The greatest artistic triumph, the monumental “pictured wall” in Lahore Fort was commenced by Emperor Jahangir in 1624-25 A.D and may have been completed under the reign of Shah Jahan in 1631-32 A.D. It is exquisitely decorated with a vibrant array of glazed tiles, faience mosaics, and frescoes stretch over much of the northern and western walls of the fort. The 116 embellished panels altogether measuring approximately 1450 feet by 50 feet is the most representative relic of Mughal period depicting an array of geometrical and floral patterns including elephant fight, angels, hunting, dancing, mythological scenes, and polo game. This art is known in Persian as Kashi Kari because it originated from Kashan the city of Persia (Iran).  These pictures do not seem to have a strong cohesion to explain a single story.

Khilawat Khana (Palace of isolation)

Khilawat Khana, the residence of the royal ladies of the court, was built by Shah Jahan in 1633. It is located to the east of the Shah Burj Pavilion, and west of the Shah Jahan Quadrangle. It is a building with a curvilinear roof made mostly with marble.

Lahore Fort Museums

There are three distinct museums in the Lahore Fort – the Armory Gallery, the Sikh Gallery, and the Mughal Gallery.

  1. The Armory Museum

The Armory Museum is located in Dalan-e-Sang-e-Surkh of Moti Masjid and showcases various arms captured by British during Sikh battles. These arms include pistols, helmets, guns, swords, daggers, spears and arrows

  1. Mughal Gallery

The Mughal Gallery is located in Jahangir’s Quadrangle and houses historic manuscripts, coins, calligraphy, miniature paintings and an ivory miniature model of India’s Taj Mahal.

  1. Sikh Gallery

The fall of Mughal Empire leads the control of fort to Sikh suzerainty before it was passed to British colonialists. The British took over Punjab following their victory over the Sikhs at the Battle of Gujrat in 1849. Located in the Haveli of Rani Jindan, the Sikh Gallery houses the Princess Bamba (the granddaughter of Maharaja Ranjit Singh) collection belonging to Ranjit Singh. This gallery carries a rare collection of oil paintings including some beautiful paintings by European artists.

Visitors Guide

 The entrance and the office for the entry ticket to the fort for the general public are through Hathi Gate.

  • The fort is open to public seven days a week as per the following timings.
Summer:

1st April to 30th September: from 7:30 hrs to half an hour before sunset.

Winter:

1st October to 31st March: from 8:30 hrs to half an hour before sunset.

 

Museum and Galleries timings

Summer:

8:30 to 12:30 hrs and from 14:30 to 17:30 Hrs

Winter:

9:00 to 16:00 Hrs

Toilets:

Toilets for the visitors are located in front of the Diwan-e-Aam area.

 

Derawar Fort
Posted in Forts Punjab

Derawar Fort

Derawar Fort or Qila Derawar is a gigantic citadel in Bahawalpur district, on the edge of Cholistan Desert, in southern Punjab, Pakistan. Square in shape and towering over the wide stretch of surrounding semi-desert, the massive fort can easily be seen from miles. It looks glowing gold particularly when the early morning rays hit the fort and during evening sunset on the fort. Derawar Fort is considered as one of the most impressive structures in the area that dwarfs other Nawab Palaces in architecture.  As a must explore landmark it makes an exciting trip from the city center.

History

Historically the fort was built in the 9th century under the kingship of Rai Jajja Bhati, a Hindu Rajput from Jaisalmer in the Rajasthan state India. It was captured by the Abbasi Nawab of Bahawalpur, Sir Sadeq Mohammad Khan I, in 1733. The fort was said to have rebuilt by the Nawab to its present looks. The fort was once lost owing to Bahawal Khan’s preoccupation at Shikarpur but was regained by Nawab Mubarak Khan in 1804.

The Cholistan desert covers 26,000 sq km (10,000 sq miles) and extends into the Thar Desert to India. The desert surrounding the fort was once well watered by Hakra, the then Ghaggar River known as the Sarasvati in Vedic times. Until 1960 when the Sutlej was diverted, Derawar was still watered by a canal but afterward, it was deserted and dried out. The fort has already lost most of the features and is in a state of turmoil. Along the 500km of the dried up river, there are almost 400 archaeological sites and most of the sites date back to Indus Valley Civilization.

Architecture

The red brick edifice has been fortified by a 5 foot thick and 30 meters high walls with a series of bastions on each side. Most of the bastions present geometric design made by burnt bricks. Running 1500 m in circumference with each side measuring 204.8m in length, the square fort is the most robust and glorious stronghold.

Inside of the fort, there are several buildings including quarters of the royal family and quarters for Nawab’s army. However, the entire building is deserted and turning to dust. In the dusty courtyard of the fort, there are two old vintage guns mounted on pedestals. There are small underground cells on the western side now infested with bats and wood being eaten by termite.  It still looks more impressive from outside than from inside.

The impressive Derawar mosque is situated nearby which is the exact replica of Moti Mosque at the Red Fort in Delhi and was built in 1844 AD. Moreover adjacent to the fort is the magnificent site of the burial ground of Nawabs family. Visiting the burial site requires prior permission. Moreover, there are some shops nearby but it is recommended that all visitors arrange prior arrangements for food/drinks, etc.

Access

Derawar Fort is located about 45 kilometers from Ahmed Pur East (Dera Nawab Sahib) and about 95 km from the city of Bahawalpur taking roughly 3 hrs to reach. A 4WD is preferred for this trip. The gate of fortress located on the southern side is reached by a winding ramp. Prior permission from the present Amir of Bahawalpur to get into the premises of the fort and royal graveyard is required.

 

 

Shah Allah Ditta Caves
Posted in Archaeological sites Islamabad

Shah Allah Ditta Caves

Shah Allah Ditta Caves are located in the village of Shah Allah Ditta, a more than seven hundred years old village nestled in the Margalla Hills of Islamabad, was actually named after a Mughal period Darvesh. The caves, on both sides of a spring under the shadow of deep-rooted banyan trees, contains traces of human existence from ancient times are believed to have been a meditation site of Buddhist monks in the 4th century BC. Hindu families lived in Shah Allah Ditta until the partition of the subcontinent and the caves were used for their daily worship. Shah Allah Ditta is a model village and an ideal picnic spot worth a visit for locals and foreign tourists alike.

The village was located on the historic route between Afghanistan and the Subcontinent. The pathway right next to the village was said to have used by Alexander the Great to invade the subcontinent by defeating the local king Porus. Moreover, the lion king Sher Shah Suri and Mughal rulers and emperors often passed through while traveling from Afghanistan to the subcontinent. Its history, therefore, dates back to the Gandhara civilization of Taxila.

The caves on both sides of the spring are located on a fair elevation. Historically these caves were used for spiritual meditation and believed to have attracted monks and priests from all over the region who sought peace and enlightenment. There is also a Buddhist stupa deep inside the gorge at approximately1.5-hour walk from the caves. The tomb and shrine of Shah Allah Ditta are also located in the vicinity.

Physically the caves have slightly eroded in places over time yet still are well preserved and the area around them has been conserved by the CDA as ‘Sadhu ka Bagh.’ There are the remnants of an ancient water well lies at a short distance from the caves and was believed to had it constructed by Mughal Emperor Akbar. However, one can enjoy the typical village environment with natural streams all around the area, enhancing the serenity of the village.

Besides the caves, there is much more to enjoy. The model village is continuously developing. Food outlets, live music, horse riding facilities for children, Archery and Paint Ball, Rock Climbing and Camping facilities, walking trails to the hilltop, construction of the road leading to the summit of the hills offering magnificent views, and its cool climate make this place a great retreat in summers and a must visit tourist spot.

Shah Allah Ditta Caves are situated to the west of Islamabad, near the D-12 sector of Islamabad, about 15 km from Golra interchange, in a centuries-old village, once called Sadhu Ka Bagh. It is easily accessible and highly recommended to visit, particularly in summers.

Danyore Suspension Bridge
Posted in Gilgit-Baltistan Monuments

Danyore Suspension Bridge

The Danyore Suspension Bridge near Gilgit is one of the oldest suspension bridges in Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan. The 510 ft long bridge has served as a source of commute to the people otherwise had to take the local raft or a detour to travel to Gilgit city – the administrative headquarter and the capital of Gilgit-Baltistan, formerly northern areas. It is now serving as one of the major tourist attractions in Gilgit-Baltistan used only by the pedestrians and motorcyclists.

History

The construction work of the Karakoram Highway completed in 1978 while before the construction of the highway, Gilgit-Baltistan was a remote territory. Access to the region from other parts of the country was hard and the poor infrastructure within the region made things tough for the residents.

Gilgit being the headquarters and business centre attracted people from immediate and far surroundings for many reasons – education, jobs, merchandise selling, medical treatment and for other purposes. For the people settled to the immediate south of Gilgit Town otherwise separated by the Hunza River, along with the northern bank of Gilgit river, that include Danyore, Oshikhandas and Bagrot, crossing over to Gilgit was a tough job. Before installation of the local raft (Jaalo) on the Hunza River in 1945 to cross over to Gilgit, these residents would make a long detour to reach the town and that would cost almost an entire day as compared to about 15 to 20 minutes today.

The need for construction of a bridge was conceived and a hefty fund of Rs. 20,000 was generated through the contribution by the residents of Danyore and southern regions in the late 1950s.  As soon as the suspension bridge was erected, it was washed away by the Hunza River being extremely low to the riverside. It was indeed a huge loss.

The location for another bridge, on a fair altitude from the river, was selected and again through the contribution of funds and donation of construction wood by each household, the construction of current suspension bridge was accomplished in 1960.

The Danyore suspension bridge has for more than five decades served as a reliable source of commute to the people travelling to Gilgit and reduced the ordeals of frequent travellers. The local raft could provide transfer only in daylight; the bridge provided a 24-hour hassle-free service and made the lives of the people easy. Its construction proved as a big relief.

Construction

The bridge was constructed by Ahmed Ali (late), well-known as “Thikedar Bereno”, a renowned constructor and self-taught engineer from Hunza who had earned name and repute for his construction expertise and projects, particularly of bridges, across Gilgit-Baltistan.

The construction of Danyore suspension bridge began in 1957 and completed by the end of 1960. Principal work included the construction of the bridge itself over the Hunza River and the annexing single lane curved tunnel to the south leading access to Danoyre which was dug by locals without proper engineering equipment.

The bridge is situated over the Hunza River almost 2 km short of its confluence with Gilgit River. It was only meant to use for mini vehicles since it was constructed until an alternate concrete bridge was built. The western end of the bridge is connected to KIU campus that further leads to Gilgit town while the eastern end is connected to a single lane tunnel in Danyore side that further meets the Karakoram Highway.

The location, length, and design of the bridge make it one of the spectacular bridges in the world. Driving on the bridge and passing through the tunnel, abruptly connecting the bridge, is quite a technical job and a test the skill and nerve of local drivers.

The bridge has been closed for conventional transportation recently and only pedestrians and motorcyclists can pass through after it was declared unsafe by local administration.  For general traffic, a concrete bridge has been constructed nearby that can sustain the flow of all type of traffic.

Attraction

The Danyore Suspension Bridge was renovated in 2018 and the sections of road on both ends of the bridge have been refurbished and decorated to turn it as a tourist attraction. To the Gilgit side, there is a significant Buddhist rock carving site preserved for the visitors that further adds to the attraction of the site. The nearest attraction to the Danyore side, on the KKH, is the Chinese Graveyard which is a must visit tourist site.

The views of the bridge from both elevated sides are quite spectacular as the bridge itself has been built on a comparatively lower setting. Likewise, the views from the bridge are equally amazing. For new visitors, visiting this site is simply a memorable experience.

Victory monument of Taj Mughal
Posted in Gilgit-Baltistan Monuments

Victory Monument of Taj Mughal

The 700 years old Victory Monument of Taj Mughal is a commemorative tower, measuring 21’-10” high and 14’-4” wide, located on a mountain lap in Gilgit town, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan. The monument was named after Taj-ud-Din Mughal, an Ismaili ruler from Badakhshan, who came to Gilgit -Baltistan during the 13th century AD. The monument was built by his soldiers to celebrate his victory.

Location and access:

The victory monument of Taj Mughal is sited on the backdrop of the southern mountains of Gilgit city, about 1000 feet above Gilgit town, overlooking the Gilgit and Danyore towns. The monument can be reached by foot from the southern end of Jutial by crossing the water channel followed by a rocky track in about 45 minutes hike. It is about another 10 km drive if you plan to visit from Gilgit town. There is an alternate route from Jutial Nalah, yet very perilous, and is hard to trace. It is perhaps only used either by shepherds or local people. This track leading from Jutial Nalah is not recommended for anyone including tourists.

The monument is erected on the ridge of the Rocky Mountains using local stone and clay.  The tower is round in shape yet gradually losing its composition and may come down to disappear at some point. Although the base of the tower is given temporary support by mending some sections, however, the southern face has almost worn down and an immediate renovation is required.

The site offers a scenic view of the entire stretch of Gilgit town from Bagrot in the east to Baseen in the west with Gilgit River running across the length of the city. The tower is called “Shikaari” in local Shina language. One can enjoy the picturesque views of Gilgit and surrounding valleys covered by guarding mountain peaks.

Best time to visit:

The monument should be visited either in the early morning or in the afternoon if planned in peak summers (May to August). The best season to visit is between February and November. It is a half day rewarding excursion for tourists. Erected on the barren mountain, there is no water available; a bottle of water is must to carry.

Gilgit Town:

At an elevation of 1454 meters, Gilgit, the district and provincial administrative headquarter of Gilgit-Baltistan, is a spectacular quaint little town gradually a modern city. The town is located amidst three mountain ranges – the Karakoram, Hindukush, and the Himalayas – and has for centuries been a prosperous trading center and a melting pot of ancient civilization.

Gilgit is surrounded by beautiful lakes, gushing rivers, longest glaciers and some of the world’s highest mountains such as Nanga Parbat (8,125 meters) and Rakaposhi (7,788 meters). It is one of the world’s multi-lingual regions where more than 10 languages and several dialects are spoken. The local dialect is Shina, however, Urdu and English are also spoken and understood widely.

Besides the Victory monument, there are a number of attractions in Gilgit including the 7th century Karga Buddha, Hal ga Naal, Hanzal Stupa, Gilgit Suspension Bridge, Chinar Bagh, Buddhist Rock Carvings near KIU, Danyore Suspension Bridge, Rock inscriptions in Danyore, and Chinese Graveyard Danyore.

Gilgit has an airport and flights are operated from Islamabad on a daily basis though subject to weather condition. Gilgit can be reached by road from Islamabad along the KKH, Chitral via Gilgit-Chitral road, and from Kashgar in China along the KKH. The best season to visit is from May to mid-October.

Things to carry:

  • Water bottle
  • Sunburn cream
  • Shoes with good grip
  • Glasses and cap/hat
  • Camera/cell phone
Altit Fort Hunza
Posted in Forts Gilgit-Baltistan

Altit Fort

Perched on the edge of a 1000 feet high rocky cliff rising sharply from the Hunza River, the epoch-making 900 years old impressive Altit Fort is one of the ancient forts surviving today in Gilgit-Baltistan (formerly northern areas), Pakistan. It has, for centuries, served as a palace to the local Mirs – the hereditary rulers of the state of Hunza – and later as a fort following some subsequent additions. The award-winning Altit Fort is a major tourist attraction not only because of its longstanding rich history but also for its unique architectural design facing the Karakoram Highway and for its strategic location on the ancient Silk Route.

Historic Background

Before its formal accession to Pakistan in 1974, Gilgit-Baltistan was divided into several independent princely states and the kingdom of Hunza was one of the states ruled by the Mirs. The rule of local Mirs came to an end in 1974 when the state system was abolished, and socio-political reforms took away their power during the reign of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Altit Fort was then handed over to the Aga Khan Foundation in 1990 for renovation.

The village of Altit was the oldest settlement (Altit Khun) founded in the 11th century and served as a capital of Hunza. The ancient name of Altit village was Hunokushal referring to the arrival of people from Turkic tribe of Huns from the Persian Empire in A.D 47. However, the name later changed to Burushal – the village of Burushaski speakers who were spirit worshippers before Islam was introduced in the 15th century and eventually people converted to Islam.

According to historical accounts, the rulers of Hunza first resided in the Altit Fort. A dispute between the two royal brothers – prince Shah Abbas (Shabos) and Prince Ali Khan (Aliqan) of the then Mir Sultan- lead to a divide and eventually, Shah Abbas had to move to Baltit Fort which soon became the new seat of power. With the capital shifted to Baltit, Altit Fort began to lose its significance. Prince Ali Khan made Altit Fort his stronghold and launched offensives against his elder brother. The fatal fight ended up with the death of Prince Ali Khan.

When princess Shah Khatoon from Baltistan was married to Mir Ayaaho II of Hunza in the early fifteenth century, she was accompanied by craftsmen as a dowry. The Balti craftsmen made some significant amendments in the fort with a Tibetan touch in its design. During their stay in Hunza, they used two Balti words to refer to the two forts as “Elte” and “Delte” to say “here” and “there”. Later, the term Elte became Altit and Delte was modified to Baltit as both valleys are famously known today.

The fort was purposefully built by the ruling family of Hunza as a display of power, to defend Hunza from external attacks, and to safeguard the predominant feudal system. Altit fort has undergone several ups and downs before it was abandoned. It has been dexterously renovated and now the fort houses a museum, a culture center, and the offices of a successful Social Enterprise.

Architecture

Altit Fort presents an unusual piece of building art and stood the test of time. The building is standing on a pair of rocks – the higher eastern rock and the comparatively lower western one. Its construction was completed in six different stages – the first stage construction, initiated over 800 years ago, was a two-floor building at the lower western edge as level one and another single floor on it as level two; the three-floor watch tower as the second stage construction; the storage space as third stage; the mosque as fourth; grain storage on the eastern side as fifth stage; and the guest rooms as modification of grain storage as sixth stage construction. The rooms at a lower level are accessible through narrow corridors while the upper ones can be accessed via the way to the watchtower.

The main entrance facing Ultar leads through a narrow dark corridor of the ground floor to the rest of the interconnected constructions. The fort has a main space with a rectangular seemingly supporting structure which has its anecdote. A prince is said to have killed by his own father after believing his involvement in a plot against his kingdom and was buried in the structure in a standing position.

The royal kitchen on the first floor decked with dexterous carvings inside is a little piece of interesting patterns to enjoy. Surrounding it are the lobby, the multipurpose traditional royal room, the queen’s room, and the rubble stone masonry.

The watchtower on the top built strategically, to monitor the entire land especially during the time of war or threat, provides a 360-degree scenic view. The tower was sometimes used to throw off prisoners who served their death sentence. The other major constructions including the mosque, the royal throne, and the guest rooms are located to the north of the tower while the storage space is to the south. The royal throne in the front of the mosque has a panoramic view of the whole settlement of Altit Khun.

Restoration

The fort was in great despair and Raja Amin Khan donated it to Aga Khan Cultural Services in 2001. After an extensive restoration work done by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture Historic Cities Support Program and the Government of Norway, it was opened to the public in 2007 as a museum. Even since then, several development projects within and outside the premises of the fort have been carried out. Notable developments include the women’s social enterprise, the restoration of the Altit Valley, the Kha Basi Café in the lush green royal garden providing traditional Hunza Food, the apricot orchard, and the new art center cum guesthouse also providing special accommodation services. Special historical tours are organized within the premises running from 9.30am to 5.30pm, 7 days a week.

Access and location

Altit Fort is located on the edge of Altit valley, near the confluence of Hunza and Nagar rivers, about 3 km from Baltit Fort, in Hunza valley of Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan. The main entrance opens into the royal garden – an apricot orchard grown over an irregular plain of lush green grassland – leading through a path filled with sawdust all the way to the fort entrance.

The fort has several locations offering scenic views of Hunza and Nagar. The galleries in front of the royal guest rooms provide a beautiful view of the Altit village with its unique houses packed around each other. Likewise, the galleries hanging from the royal chambers has a scenic view of the Hunza River flowing parallel to KKH besides the beautiful landscape of Nagar Valley. The watchtower on the roof of the fort provides an exclusive view of the whole Hunza and Nagar valleys no other place can provide. Altit Fort also has a great view from the Karakoram Highway.

Awards

Altit Fort is the recipient of 2011 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Award for Cultural Heritage Conservation.

Conservation project mainly focused on fixing structural defects, mending and stabilizing existing walls, replacing some rooftops, treating wood decay and supplying appropriate lighting.

 

Manthal Buddha Rock
Posted in Buddhist Heritage Gilgit-Baltistan Heritage Sites in Pakistan

Manthal Buddha Rock

The Manthal Buddha Rock in Skardu is a 9th century Buddha relief on the natural flat surface of a large granite rock. Resting on the edge of Manthal village, overlooking the town of Skardu, it is a significant relic of Buddhism at Skardu town in Gilgit-Baltistan province of Pakistan. The Buddha Rock is a famous tourist attraction and an iconic archaeological heritage representing the “rich glory of the past”. The Manthal Buddha Rock was not known to the world until Jane E. Duncan, a British traveller, documented it in the early 20th century. There are several other interesting and unique petroglyphs present in the region yet to be unveiled to the world.

History

Prior to the arrival of Buddhism in the 4th century, Baltistan was the land of Shamanism. The monks from northern India came and built monasteries during the Palolashahi kingdom that ruled the area. Buddhism continued to flourish after the Tibetan conquest of the region in the second quarter of the 8thCentury. The era between 8th and 10th centuries, therefore, is believed to be the “Golden Era of Buddhism” in the Upper Indus Valley.

Buddhism was the major religion of the time and Buddha was engraved on several rock pieces found so far in Gilgit-Baltistan. Historically, the migration of Buddhist people of Gandhara through the mountain kingdom of Gilgit-Baltistan allowed them to settle in different areas. During their stay, they engraved different images including drawings of Stupas, images of Buddha, expression of their experiences, and at some rocks imprinted texts in Kharoshti language.

Several Buddha carvings including Manthal Buddha rock in Skardu, carvings of stupas and Buddhist reliefs in Shigar and Khaplu in Baltistan; Karga Buddha and the Hanzal Stupa in Gilgit, rock carvings in the premises of KIU (Karakoram International University) in Gilgit; Rock carvings on the main KKH (Karakoram Highway) near Hunza (Haldikish); and hundreds of petroglyphs scattered along the KKH are the imprints left by the Buddhist caravans during the time of Buddhist height in the region.

It was the time the region was the epicentre of Buddhism and Islam was still not known to the people of the area. However, almost centuries passed ever since Buddhists have disappeared from the region, but Buddhism is still alive in the form of rock carvings and petroglyphs. Yet, sadly, the rich heritage is ignored and almost forgotten.

The arrival of Ali Hamadani and his followers from Iran in the 14th century changed the dynamics of the region forever. Buddhism gradually vanished, and the places of worship fell into despair. Locals embraced Islam and by the 15th century, the region became purely a Muslim state.

Art on the Manthal Buddha Rock

The Manthal Buddha Rock that stands gracefully even today has in the past been a place of ultimate significance. Bearing testimony to a tradition that has already disappeared, the Manthal Buddha still has the makings of a heritage site.

The triangular shaped rock measuring 20-foot wide and 30-foot high is decked with significant sculptures and inscriptions carved during the period of Buddhist sovereignty in the region. The front face has a dexterous carving of a huge sculpture of a meditating Buddha surrounded by 20 Bodhisattvas and two vicegerents (future Buddhas) standing on either side. According to Buddhist tradition, the convention of all Buddhas, from past to future, as represented on the Manthal Rock, is called ‘Mandal’ from which the name of the village Manthal is derived.

The apex of the Buddha rock is coloured black. The hole right over the head of the meditating Buddha, measuring four-inch-high and wide, was used as a fireplace and the surrounding of the fireplace is therefore coloured black. According to a myth, visitors try to throw pebbles inside the hollow box believing that success would mean a wish come true. The Tibetan script on the rock, being incomplete and not easily decipherable, could not be translated clearly even by experts.

It was also believed that there was a platform to perform religious practices on the eastern side of the rock. Likewise, the area right behind the rock was spared to provide medical facilities by the Lamas. However, the actual platform does not exist anymore, and it was all believed to have washed.

Location and Access

Manthal Buddha is located about 3 kilometres from Satpara (also known as Sadpara) Road that leads to Satpara Lake in Skardu. The town of Skardu has an airport and PIA operates flights on daily basis yet subject to weather condition. By road, Skardu is accessible from Islamabad in almost 24 hours along the KKH. One can also fly to Gilgit and travel to Skardu by road. Currently, the Gilgit-Skardu road is under construction; once it is completed may take around 3 to 4 hours as compared to more than 7 hours now.

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