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.

Mohenjo-daro
Posted in Archaeological sites Sindh World Heritage Sites

Mohenjo-Daro

Mohenjo-Daro (also spelled as Mohenjodaro or Moenjodaro), meaning “Mound of the Dead,” is an archaeological site in Sindh province of Pakistan.  It was one of the largest and advanced settlements and probably the best known of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization (IVC) built around 2600 BC. Mohenjo-Daro, however, went to a sudden decline in 1700 BC for unknown reasons. The site was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site of Pakistan in 1080. The original name of the city is still unknown.

Early History

The melting waters from the mountains flowing southwards merged into the Indus River before meeting the Arabian Sea. About 5500 B.C. settled a nomadic tribe of people into the villages west of the Indus River. They learned to use tools, built small houses, cultivated crop, and domesticated animals. The gradual climate change helped grow jungles and wildlife.

With the passage of time, they grew in population and began to trade with people in the remote areas of Central Asia and in the nearby western regions. Gradually they also improved their skills in making and using sophisticated tools. By around 2600 BC, it turned out to be a civilization almost as modern as that in Mesopotamia and Egypt.

The Indus Valley Civilization

The Indus Valley Civilization (also called Indus Civilization or Harappan Civilization) is known to have consisted of two large cities called Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro besides more than 100 small towns and villages. It was the primitive metropolitan culture of the subcontinent.

The population lived prosperously on the flat alluvial plains along the Indus basin from 2600 B.C. to 1700 B.C. It was a literate civilization having their own script of 250-500 characters of the Dravidian language. It is also one of the world’s three great civilizations. It was initially identified at Harappa in 1921 and in Mohenjo-Daro in 1922.

Rediscovery and Excavations

Mohenjo-Daro was discovered in 1922 by R.D. Banerji of the Archaeological Survey of India. Following its discovery, large-scale excavations were carried out at the site under the supervision of famous archaeologists till 1930s. Excavations resumed for a short time in 1964-65 and then banned again due to problems related to conservation.

The ruins of the city of Mohenjo-Daro lie on the bank of Indus Valley. In a region as wide as 300 hectares (about 750 acres) with a peak population of about 40,000, Mohenjo-Daro was one of the largest and highly developed cities in the world during its time. It was all built with unbaked bricks set on high mounds, the ramparts, and the lower town. The whole construction illustrates an early system of town planning according to a strict rule.

Construction and Planning

Mohenjo-Daro was laid out systematically. It’s planned layout is based on a street grid of rectilinear buildings. Most of the city was built by standardized fire and mortared brick while there is also evidence of unbaked sun-dried brick and wooden superstructures.

The city is divided into two major parts – the 12 meters high Citadel and the Lower City. The Citadel was constructed with mud bricks and had two large assembly halls and attached public baths. The Citadel was believed to a place for religious ceremonies. Its large public residential structure could accommodate about 5,000 people.

The lower town courtyard houses were built for middle class. These houses had brick stairs to the flat roves and had small bathrooms with drains and sanitation. The houses were originally mud plastered to reduce the harmful effect of salts and react to unstable heat and humidity.

The Great Baths

One of the most spectacular structures at Mohenjo is the ‘Great Bath’, which is astonishingly well preserved and measures 180 feet north to south and 108 feet east to west. The outer walls of the Great Bath measure between 7 and 8 feet in thickness and were lined with bitumen.

Other important constructions also included the swimming pool, a waterproof pool of bricks lined with pitchmen, is still in good shape and it may have been used for religious purification. It sizes 39 feet long, 23 feet wide and 8 feet deep.

Water Management system

Mohenjo-Daro had a complex water management system. The city had a central grand marketplace, with a large central well. For households, there were smaller wells to obtain water. There was a complete sophisticated and covered drainage system for wastewaters.

High-status residents had spacious houses with attached baths with the covered drainage system. Most houses had inner courtyards with doors open to side-lanes. Some of the buildings found were a double story.

Production

The people of Mohenjo-Daro had an advanced system of weights and measures using arithmetic with decimals. They produced pottery with fine geometric designs as decoration. They also made figurines as a reflection of their attitudes. Major crops produced included wheat, rice, mustard, dates, and cotton. Likewise, they had dogs, cats, camels, sheep, pigs, goats, water buffaloes, elephants, and chickens.

The west part of the main settlement is fortified with guard towers and the south has defensive fortification. This type of layout indicates that Mohenjo-Daro might have been an administrative centre. Archaeologists believed that the city was successively destroyed and built almost seven times. The cause of destruction was either massive flooding by the Indus or encroaching. Each new construction was carried out on the old one.

Artefacts Recovered

Numerous antiquities found during excavation at Mohenjo-Daro include seated and standing sculptures, clay toys, pottery, stone axes, and flake knives, coins, and a number of copper and bronze objects. The famous “Dancing girl”, the 10.8 cm long bronze statue, found here in 1926 is believed to be 4500 years old. The circular space at the statue of the priest-king and the gold disc found from the same location perfectly matching the space on the forehead is suggestive of a third-eye or “Bindi” of Hindu myth.

A variety of copper and bronze objects discovered at Mohenjo-Daro suggest the city witnessed the transition period from stone-age to bronze-age. Some of these antique items are preserved in the Mohenjo-Daro museum. However, many important objects found earlier from Mohenjo-Daro are conserved at the National Museum of India in Delhi and the National Museum of Pakistan in Karachi. The artefacts found in 1939 as representative collection excavated at the site were transferred to the British Museum.

Extinction of Mohenjo-Daro

In around 1700 B.C. the whole Indus Valley Civilization, including Mohenjo-Daro, Vanished. The reason for their extinction is still unknown. Speculations behind the cause of extinction are either shift in the Indus River or ruinous flooding of dammed waters. Still, another suspected cause is a possible decline in rainfall which led to agriculture decline and people abandoned the place in search of food.

A dry core drilling conducted in 2015 revealed that the site is larger than the unearthed area.

Location and Access:

The archaeological ruins of Mohenjo-Daro are located about 510 km north-east from the metropolitan city of Karachi, 110 km to the southwest of Sukkur city, and about 28 km from Larkana. The city can be reached by road from Karachi, Bahawalpur, and Multan in one day.

The ruins of Mohenjo-Daro are just adjacent to the Mohenjo-Daro airport. One can fly from Karachi for an overnight stay and return the same way. There is another possibility of flying to Sukkur from Karachi, Islamabad, and Lahore and proceed by road to Moenjo-Daro.

Takht-i-Bahi Monastery and Sahr-i-Bahlol
Posted in Archaeological sites Buddhist Heritage Khyber Pakhtunkhwa World Heritage Sites

Takht-i-Bahi Monastery and Sahr-i-Bahlol

The relics of the imposing Takht-i-Bahi Monastery and Sahr-i-Bahlol are two major Buddhist sites 5 kilometres apart from each other. Both important sites are located in Mardan city of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa which has once remained a major city of Gandhara civilization. Both sites date from the same era – early 1st century – and made up to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Pakistan in 1980.

Takht-i-Bahi: Brief overview

Takht-i-Bahi is a combination of two Persian words Takht & Bahi where Takht means “top” or “throne” while Bahi stands for “spring” or “water”. According to locals, the term refers to two springs on a nearby hill and thus symbolizing a “high spring”.  The other yet credible notion is the term referring to as Throne of Origin which is a context widely used.

The Takht-i-Bahi grand monastery is situated on the flank of about 36.6 meters to 152.4 meters high hills. It is about 2 km east of Takht-e-Bahi bazaar on Mardan-Swat road. The main monastic complex is about 60 meters above the surrounding plains. There are a number of ruins stretching on the mountain around the main complex which can all be viewed from the top.

The scenic view from the top of the crest behind Takht-i-Bahi archaeological relics makes the hike up the worth of visit. One can see, across the plains, as far as Peshawar on one side and the Malakand Pass and the beautiful hills of Swat on the other. Sometimes fog covers the region in winters making it is even impossible to sight even the nearby Takht-i-Bahi bazaar and Mardan city.

Discovery

The monastery of Takht-i-Bahi was first discovered by European Lieutenants Lumsden and Stokes in 1852. The remains, however, were mentioned in 1836 by General Court, the French officer of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Later in 1871, Sergeant Wilcher found numerous sculptures from the site depicting life stories of Buddha. For detailed information excavation was carried out in 1911 to 1913. However, the outcome never turned to be as expected due to lack of proper recording. The site underwent major restoration in 1920.

Historically the monastery was in continuous use from 1st century B.C. to 7th century A.D. Archaeologist divide the history of the complex into four distinct periods.

It was believed that the monastic complex was founded in 1st century B.C.  The basis serving as proof are the inscriptions found bearing the name of Gondophares (20-46 A.D.). The place then fell under the first Kushan king Kujula Kadphises. Likewise, in the second century, it came under Kushan king Kanishka, the Parthian and then again, the Kushan Kings.

Similarly, the second period which largely is believed as the creation of the Stupa Court and Assembly hall period is during the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D.

The third period is associated with the later Kushan dynasty as well as the Kidara Kushana rulers occurred during the 4th and 5th centuries.

The last construction period relates to the creation of the Trantic complex in 6th and 7th centuries which was overseen by invading Hun rulers.

Two different notions prevail regarding the destruction and abolishing of the site. According to historians White Huns of Central Asia destroyed the site along with other Gandhara sites. But according to the other account, one of the kings destroyed 1600 Stupas and monasteries and killed about two-thirds of Gandhara population. Thus, it was abandoned.

Architecture

The remains comprise of four main areas of the complex which are:

  • The main “Stupa Court” is a cluster of Stupas around a central courtyard.
  • The monastic chambers comprising of individual cells around a courtyard.
  • A temple complex consisting of several Stupas
  • The dark cells with low openings in the basement constructed for meditation

It is also believed that a number of other double-storey structures which may have served as residence or assembly halls also exist in the main complex as well as in the surroundings. The structure is all built with grey colored limestone in mud mortar. The reputation of this splendid complex, indeed, is based on its state of preservation and its prime location. Its location, hence, made it invincible from successful invasions.

Sehr-i-Bahlol

The second component is the neighboring city remains at Sahr-i-Bahlol. It is also pronounced as Seri Bahlol or Sehri Behlol. The ruins at Sahr-i-Bahlol are the remains of a small fortified town from Kushan period. The mound is about 9 meters high surrounded by a stone fortified wall. It was constructed around 3,000 years ago covering 9.7 hectares. The wall has damaged at several places.

The site contains remains of Buddha which have not properly been excavated. The local people, however, carried out illegal excavations to erect their own properties by building houses. As a result of excavations, people are said to have found antiques such as statues, coins, jewellery, and utensils. The covered site is surrounded by fertile fields. The site is now in danger of extinction due to continuous constructions.

The name Seri Bahlol refers to the combination of two Hindi words Sehir, Sheri, or Sri. and Bahlol. “Sheri or Sri” means Sir and “Bahlol” the name of a prominent political and religious leader of the area. On the contrary, another account explains Sahri-i-Bahlol as the city of Bahlol.

Access

Mardan city is about 80 kilometers from the main Peshawar city and can be reached in an hour and a half. It is about 150 kilometers from Islamabad and takes some 2.5 hours to reach. A day excursion from both cities is possible and both sites can be explored.

Takht-i-Bahi monastery, with a guarding view of the city, is situated on the crest of a small hill about 16 kilometers northwest of main Mardan city. The other component is the remains of the walled city of Sahr-i-Bahlol located to the left side of Mardan-Swat road about 12 kilometres from main Mardan city.

Taxila Pakistan
Posted in Archaeological sites Buddhist Heritage Punjab World Heritage Sites

Taxila

The ancient metropolis of Taxila is a town located in Punjab district of Pakistan north of the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad (the capital city). The name Taxila was derived from the Sanskrit term Taksasila, literally, means “city of cut stones”. It is an important archaeological site founded in the late 1800s by a renowned archaeologist Sir Alexander Cunningham. Taxila was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Pakistan in 1980.

 Pre-History

The pre-historic era of Taxila is associated with microlithic hunters of the period before 3500 BC. The evidence of the three important caves discovered, particularly the one at Khanpur tracing history back to Stone Age.  However, the small mound unearthed by prominent late prof. Hasana Dani at Saraikala proved the existence of agricultural communities that developed around 3000 BC. Moreover, axes, chisels, spatulas and a variety of handmade pottery has also been found from the site.

The town spreads over an area of 30 km sq. and has more than 50 archaeological sites. Most of the sites of Taxila (600 BC to 500 AD) are located around the Taxila museum. Three distinct cities: Bhir Mound, Julian, and Mohra Moradu are in a very good state of preservation, decked with images of Buddha in stone and stucco. Other structural remains include Sirsukh, Dharmarajika, Mohra Moradu, Jandial and Pippala temples; the Giri fortress; and the Dharmarajika, Bhallar, and Kunala stupas (burial mounds). The type of masonry used indicates their respective period of origin and all the important stages of the great sage’s life.

Brief Political history of Taxila

Taxila, the main centre of Gandhara, has for centuries been an abode of peace and knowledge. The city once flourished as the hub of Buddhism and a great centre of learning. Its prosperity originally resulted from its location at the crossroads of three great trade routes – the Royal Highway from Eastern India, from Western Asia, and from Central Asia respectively.

Historically Taxila was ruled by several empires. Achaemenid Empire began in 6th century BC followed by Alexander the Great in 326 BC. Alexander, however, could not remain for too long and the legacy passed on to the Mauryan dynasty in 321 BC. It reached a remarkably mature development level under Asoka the Great who influenced Buddhism and moulded the city into a great centre of learning. However, with the death of Asoka in 232BC, the dynasty also collapsed.

Indo-Greeks remained for a brief period till 190 BC and then came Scythians who ruled from 2ndcentury to the middle of 1st century BC. Under the Indo-Greek descendants of Alexander’s warrior, Taxila finally came to the most creative period of Gandhara. The final and longest period of the ruling was enjoyed by the Kushans who invaded in 50AD from 1st to 5th century before the White Huns destroyed the region in the 5th century.

Taxila University, however, is believed to have existed even before Asoka (7th century BC) where philosophers gathered to have their own schools of thought and imparted instructions. By the time of the Buddha, it rose to be a strong educational centre where instructions were given in military science, medicine, political science, philosophy, religion, language and literature, and grammar.

Taxila, Swat, and Charsadda (old Pushkalavati) became three important centres for culture, trade, and learning and hundreds of monasteries and stupas were built together with Greek and Kushan towns such as Sirkap and Sirsukh. Gandhara civilization was not only the centre of spiritual influence but also the cradle of the world famous Gandhara culture, art, and learning. It was from these centres that a unique art of sculpture originated which is known as Gandhara Art all over the world.

Taxila Museum

The ivy-covered Gothic-style museum of Taxila houses rich archaeological finds. It is one of the well-maintained museums in Pakistan frequently visited by local and foreign tourists. Its caskets are decked with a rich collection of coins, jewellery, surgical instruments, vessels, grinders, rare inscriptions, plaster and terra-cotta figures, and stone and stucco sculptures arranged in chronological order and properly labelled.

Taxila Museum remains open from 08:30 am to 05:30 pm during summers (1st April — 30th September). While during winters (1st October — 31st March) visit timings are from 09:00 am to 04:00 pm. The museum, however, remains closed on the first Monday of every month and obviously during Muslim religious holidays.

Archaeological sites

The archaeological remains around Taxila include stupas, mounds, and ancient cities the brief account of which is detailed as below.

Bhir Mound

The earliest city of Bhir Mound dates from the 6th century BC Achaemenid period to 2nd Century BC Bactrian-Greek period. It was built on a small plateau in the open fields and situated on the ancient trade route. Earliest findings of the city as evidence included cramped houses of early rubble and irregular streets. However, the consistent masonry of Mauryan era and later from thick coating to lime coating plaster in the Indo-Greek period shows the period of maturity. King Ambhi received Alexander the great and his armies in Bhir Mound. Its glorious history ended with the Bactrian Greeks built Sirkap as a well-planned city.

Sirkap

Sirkap was built by Bactrian Greek king Demetrius around 180 BC when he invaded South Asia. It became the major city of Taxila with Greek influence in city planning. The city once said to have covered with 6-meter thick rubble wall running for 5 km. It was first identified and excavated in 1912 and more detailed excavation was carried out in 1944 & 45 by Mortimer Wheeler and his team.

The city of Sirkap is located on the opposite side of the Tamara Stream. The remains of the layout of Sirkap city indicate a well-planned construction. The sides of the main street are decked with houses of the affluent and the farther cramped settlements dwelt by the common people. It had evidence of having a sophisticated drainage system for runoff water and soak wells for sewage. The main street also has, till date, Royal Residence, Sun Temple, Apsidal Temple, Double Headed Eagle Stupa and the Jain Temple. Valuable finds include gold and silver jewellery in a house near the Stupa and Indian punch-marked bent bar coins. Sirkap flourished under several regimes including Greeks, Scythians, Parthians and finally the Kushans.

Sirkap enjoyed the kingdom until 10 BC and lost its significance when King Kanishka of the Kushans founded Sirsukh. The narrow strip of fortifications around the Lundi rivulet adjoining the walls on one side has revealed coin hoards. These coins belonged not only to Kushan rulers but also dating to the time of the Mughal emperor Akbar. It is the evidence that the city was dwelt for at least 1000 years after its original foundation.

Sirsukh

Sirsukh is the third and comparatively the modern city built by the Kushan Kings in the 1st century A.D. Roughly it is rectangular in shape with no significant defence system.  Sirsukh is patterned after Central Asian cities. Though not fully excavated due to the local forming, clearly it is a well-fortified city.

Dharmarajika

Dharmarajika stupa was established by the Maurya emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century BC to house the relics of the Buddha. It is located 3kms east of Taxila Museum. It is one of the eight shrines and considered to be the earliest Buddhist monument in Pakistan. Dharmarajika stupa is also popularly known as Chir Tope. Beside stupa, it also has a monastic area located in the north.

The partially ruined stupa was once coated with lime plaster and gilding. The seven-tier umbrella stone crowned the top of the stupa while the main monastery and the series of annexing chapels were inhabited by monks. Findings from the site included a wealth of silver and gold coins, gems, jewellery, and other antiques. It reached the heights of size and fame in the 2nd century A.D.

Julian

Julian site in Taxila is an impressive site in Haripur, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan located at a fair altitude. It comprised of several erections consisting of two main parts – The main stupa and the monastery & the University of Julian.

The main stupa is comprised of 21 votive stupas and some of the stupas are believed to be tombs of revered monks. The famous “healing Buddha statue” is also located in Julian. Believers put their finger in the naval whole and pray for the ailment or fulfilment of wishes.

The monastery consists of a 28 students’ rooms, a stone staircase for second-floor rooms with the same setting, and statues of Buddhas in front of some of the rooms surrounding a pool for washing. The monastery also has a spacious assembly hall, a kitchen, storerooms, and bathrooms. Moreover, there is a stone for grinding spices for the preservation of food. The other two stone mills were used to grind different types of grains. The hole made in one of the brick stones of the kitchen wall was used for placing large spoons.

The monastery was burnt in 455 CE by the White Huns and thus destroyed.

Mohra Moradu

Mohra Moradu is another well-preserved monastery located between Sirkap and Julian. It was heavily damaged for treasure and the main stupa was split apart. However, the lower portion was protected. The monastery once served as a place of meditation. The monastic cells surrounding stupa are badly damaged.

Jandial Temple (2nd Century B.C. to 2nd Century A. D.)

The remains of the classic Greek style imageless Jandial temple is about 1.5kms north of Sirkap. It is one of the unique buildings in Central Asia closely following the paradigm of the temples of classical Greece.

General Information

At 512 m. above sea level, Taxila is a place anyone can visit. The temperature in peak summers is sometimes unbearable soaring to a maximum of over 40 C. The winters, however, are delightfully cool and pleasant with temperatures ranging between 5 – 15 C. September to March is the best season for a visit. The summer season is from April to September.

Access

Taxila is about 35 km north of Rawalpindi and 45 km from the nearby capital city of Islamabad. Roughly it is about 01-hour drive from both cities.

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