Pakistan Travel and Culture

Hussain Agahi – A neglected shrine of Multan

August 17, 2014 – 8:05 pm

hussain-agahi-shrineMULTAN: Thanks to encroachments, the shrine of Hazrat Syed Husain Shah  Bukhari, commonly known as Husain Agahi, has gone out of sight if not mind.

The shrine is located at the famous ten Husain Agahi Bazaar – the biggest in the Walled City -to the southwest of the old Multan Fort (Qila Kunha Qasim Bagh). Hie market was named after the saint due to his fabled spiritual prowess that could help any of his devotees to start a successful business.

Dr Muhammad Shafiq of the Bahauddin Zakariya University’s History Department says there is hardly any dependable information about the saint but it is believed that people would invoke his blessings before launching any business. And that he would even indicate the location where the shop was to be established

He was recognised by the name of Husain Agahi after many began to believe in his foresightedness.

Syed Ghulam Dastagir, the caretaker of the shrine, says the saint is famous as “jalali” (wrathful) and his shrine has been constructed and reconstructed many times.

He says the saint was the caretaker of Hazrat Bahauddin Zakariya’s horse. There has been no Urs of the saint for more


than a decade, he adds, Sagheer Abbas, a devotee, says encroachments have made the shrine invisible and people seem to have forgotthe saint. — SHAKEEL AHMAD Courtesy Daily Dawn

The majestic Rawat Fort

August 17, 2014 – 7:49 pm

Among the many forgotten relics spread across the dry and arid land of Potohar Plateau is the Rawat Fort, which lies about 18km east of Rawalpindi on G.T. Road. The etymology of the word ‘Rawat’ is said to trace back to the Arabic word ‘reboot’ which mean ‘sarai’ in Urdu – a roadside inn for travellers. Contemporary historians have also concluded that the building’s design resembles a sarai rather than a fort.



Historically, many of these roadside inns lined the G.T. Road and were used by invaders from Central Asia and Afghanistan. According to traditions, Rawat Fort was built by the Ghakkar tribe in 16th century. The region is also said to have been the battleground between the Ghakkar chief Sultan Sarang Khan and Sher Shah Suri in 1546 AD.

rawat-fort-2 rawat-fort3


The central courtyard of the fort contains mined graves, that supposedly belong to the tribal chief and his two sons, who died fighting Sher Shah Suri. The two main entrances open to the east and the west. The walls of the fort are lined with small rooms, perhaps rented out to travellers. A quadrangular building, resembling a baradari, can also be found within the fort, along with a mosque. However, the original shape of the fort has been modified several times as it has gone under renovation and maintenance.




Inqlab March – Tahir-ul-Qadri’s Demands

August 16, 2014 – 9:01 pm

After marching from Lahore to Islamabad in 3 hours Tahir-ul-Qadri has put forth his demands for the sit-down and has announced that he and his supporters will remain in Islamabad until the following demands are met.

List of his demands-

1. Prime-minister Nawaz Sharief and his ministers must resign and be arrested and investigated.

2.  Current assemblies are un-constitutional and must be dissolved as most of the members are tax evaders.

3. After the dissolution of the Assemblies a national government must made which should cunduct national reforms.

4. Every one who is involved in corruption in the country must be strictly investigated

5. National government must provide rights to the poor people of the country and homeless people should be provided homes and a 25 years interest free loan must be given.

6. Every person must be given bread, clothing, and house.

7. Anyone who does not have money for healthcare government should provide him the necessary healthcare.

8. To eradicate illiteracy from the country all children should be given free education and programs for Adult Education must also be started.

9. Those who do not have resources must be given utilities at half price and low income households must be exampt of tax on electricity and gas bills.

10. Women should be provided with home-based (Cottage) Industries.

11. Difference in the salaries of different scales must be rationalized so that social differences may be eradicated.

12. Terrorism must be abolished constitution should be amended to include a clause that no faction of religion should declare other faction a “Kafir” non-believer. Peace centers must be established and textbooks should contain “Peace & Tollerance” as a subject.

13. Minorities must be given equal rights.

14 In comparison to other countries more provinces must be created Including Hazara & Gilgit Baltistan.

15. Local bodies District governments should be created so that citizens problems can be solved at their doorsteps.

16. He said that only 5 people make decisions of all the people of Pakistan which are the Prime minister, and 4 chief ministers, he said thru National government 1 million people will be Included.

17. No corrupt man should be seated on any government job, here the people in power do not get punishment and poors have to suffer the Jails.

18. Villages must be given development in line witht he urban areas.

19. All government offices must be made non-political and balanced and all departments must be non-political.

Spanish mountaineers set new record in Karakoram

August 16, 2014 – 5:25 pm

spanish-mountaineersISLAMABAD: Three Spanish mountaineers conquered the South Tower of Paiju Peak, establishing a new route on the virgin tower and negotiating a 1,000 metres vertical wall never climbed before.

The Alpine Club of Pakistan (ACP) confirmed that Alberto Inurrategi, Mikel Zabalza and Juan Vallejo spent a little over a month on the 6,050 metres high peak in Gilgit-Baltistan and scaled it on July 26.

The three climbers and their cameraman David Maeztu had to negotiate the ice during their climbing which was strenuous, technically difficult and dangerously unstable ascending from the base camp at 3,400 metres to the camp II at the height of 5,500 metres on the Big Wall.

“This is alpine climbing in the Karakoram, looking for cracks and rock tips that allowed us to climb up the vertical wall to the last 600 metres of ice, rock and snow leading to the top of Paiju Peak. They hang on their ropes for hours, thousands of feet above the ground, relaying only on the metal nails whose safety depends on the skills to fit them,” said ACP’s member executive council, Karrar Haidii.

He described how they had to scale down to sleep, scale back up the following day and so on, gained yards in the wall to find a point to move the
camp suspended along the wall with nails as high as 5,000 metres and higher.

According the ACP, Mikel Zabalza described the virgin tower as very hard technically. This tower has the distinction of having a downhill component with dangers of falling ice and sometimes rocks. One of those moments of dangers hit the team when a rock came down and hit Juan Vallejo’s left shoulder.

The climbers feared the worst but painkillers and an-ti-inflammatory from the emergency medicine kit were in the hammock camp and helped a little.

“Juan Vallejo was not able to last the long climb to the top of the tower with the snow and extremely vertical and fine edge,” said Karrar Haidri, explaining how a barrier of seracs (blocks of ice bigger than a house) falling chunks of ice continuously prevented access to the summit – 6,610 metres – of the Paiju Peak from that side.

Mikel Zabalza summed it up in these words: ‘It would have been suicide and absurd from the point of view of a mountaineer. The climb took a lot out of us in every way, physically and psychologically,” said one of the climbers in their report.

“We climbed to the very limit, the limit of our strength. We have rested almost nothing during the entire expedition and have come to the base camp with our last breath,” said Alberto Inurrategi.

History plaques to be put up in Lahore’s Bhatti Gate

August 9, 2014 – 6:17 pm

After completing installation of history plaques in the Delhi Gate, the Walled City of Lahore Authority (WCLA) has taken another initiative to place history plaques in the Bhatti Gate.

Under this new project, every monument, haveli, historical place and historical square from Bhati Gate to the Fort Road Food Street will be named as per its old and historical identity.

Sources said boards containing history of all important places will also be installed on the route. All boards have been designed as per international standards and colours, sources said.

A senior official of WCLA said the history of every monument, haveli, historical place and historical square from Bhati Gate till Fort Road Food Street was gathered from authentic books like Naqoosh Lahore Number, Tehqeeqat-e-Chishti, Tareekh-e-Lahore and other archival data. Local residents of the Walled City of Lahore have also been consulted for further authentication, he maintained.

Another senior official said the route included the house of Allama Iqbal, Mohallah Chomalah, house of the legendary singer Rafi, Gurdwara, Oonchi Masjid, the mosque where Peer Inayat Shah Qadri, spiritual father of Bullay Shah, was the Imam. He said that the Fakir Khana Museum and Naqsh Arts Gallery would be marked by placing special plaques.

Bazaar-e-Hakeeman, Tibbi Gali, Sheikhupurian Bazaar and Shajahani Mosque are also amongst other salient landmarks where history plaques will be placed.

He said that special plaques would be set up outside Aziz Theatre, one of the oldest theatres in Lahore, and Pakistan Talkies Cinema, a cinema of British era, to highlight their importance.

Tania Qureshi, Deputy Director Marketing and Media, said WCLA was trying its best to promote tourism through all means and mediums.

“The step will relay information about the places,” she maintained.

Director Marketing Asif Zaheer said, “These boards have been placed to facilitate tourists and visitors. This initiative has been taken up to promote tourism and monuments and important places inside the Walled City. Text on the plaques is bilingual to facilitate all types of tourists i.e. local and international.”

Walled City of Lahore Authority Director General Kamran Lashari told The News the authority was taking initiatives to facilitate tourists and uplift the Walled City. “Previously, we have placed history plaques at the Royal Trail Project inside Delhi Gate. In very near future we will be placing more in the entire Walled City,” he concluded.

Earlier, WCLA restored original names of streets along the recently renovated Royal Trail area in the Walled City. The Royal Trail area comprises important historical buildings including Delhi Gate, Masjid Wazir Khan, Shahi Hamam and Havelis. Officials in Walled City of Lahore Authority said 57 street names had been identified and plates were installed.

6 people on motorbike

August 4, 2014 – 4:05 pm


Teasing the sweet tooth

August 4, 2014 – 3:47 pm

KARACHI: Laddoo, barfi, gulab jamun, churn chum, jalebi … how many sweetmeat, or mithai, varieties, are you familiar with? Which ones are your favourite?

While we have only a few names on our fingertips, there are many kinds of mithai available at sweetmeat shops and sweet marts across the city. Some of these shops aren’t even very big or located in a well-known area. Still it is their speciality in making a certain mithai or the other that earns them popularity.


It may look like some kind of chum chum, but Mohammad Ishtiaq at Dacca Sweets in Gulshan-i-Iqbal says it is something quite different. “Kutcha Gulla, which is more flavour and less sweet. But if you are looking for chum chum, we have something similar but with sweet cream stuffing in the centre. It is called malai karri or malai chum chum though some also call it *malai burger’ ” he says.

kaju-ki-barfiThe shop, opened about 35 years ago, is known to be specialising in Bengali sweetmeats such as paneer barfi, rasgulla, which they pronounce ‘roshugulla’, rasmalai, sandesh and also Dhaka paneer, which is saltish. “Some of the things we sell are also being offered by other sweet marts but customers come from faraway areas for them here to us because they find that others cannot replicate the flavour. Our mithai is made by people of Bengali origin. It’s a rare talent that cannot always be learnt or passed on,” says Abdul Hafeez at the counter.

“But this past Ramazan, wre opened another branch at Ba-hadurabad, which now caters to our Clifton and Defence customers.”

On Sharea Faisal in PECHS Block-6, there is the little Delhi Sweets shop that almost everyone has heard of. Apart from being famous for their halwa-puri and samosa, they are also known for several varieties of halwa. Mohammad Hasnain there says that his most expensive halwa will have to be the one with dates, figs, pistachios, cashew nuts, almonds, walnuts and an assortment of dried fruit all rolled into one. “It costs between Rsl,200 and Rsl,400 per kilogramme but we make it during winter usually as it carries a very warm effect,” he says.

“Otherwise we also have separate halwa for each type of dried fruit. Cashew-nut halwa is for Rsl,000 a kilo.”

At Ambala one comes across Punjabi mithai such as kaiser-pak, which looks like lush grass growing on rich soil. “Well,” smiles Kamil Mohammad Khan, the shopkeeper. “Actually,


it is a layer of kalakand and a layer of habshi halwa topped with khopra, or coconut.”

halwaThough S. Abdul Khalique is famous for several delightful treats, the shop’s speciality list includes pear-shaped malai pera with pistachio filling, nutritious panjiripera and malai
khaja filled with khoya, which all cost Rs620 a kilo.

But their most expensive mithai happens to be the kaju ki barfi or cashew nut barfi. “It’s made from pure crushed cashew nuts and is sold at Rsl,600 a kilo,” says Tariq Iqbal there. “People usually buy it as gifts for ministers.”




Sufis Shrines of Sindh – Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai

July 21, 2014 – 6:49 am

Clad in a black shalwar kameez, a 50-something Dargahee faqir waits for sunset. And the moment arrives. With alacrity, he starts beating the naqara (two small-sized drums kept in opposite directions) to mark the start of the dhamaal of Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, the revered Sufi saint.

A few men instinctively start moving their bodies, unaware of their surroundings or who is there. As the beats of the drums gather pace, the group begins to swell: soon, women join in too. Lost in the trance are devotees of all kinds and hues: landless peasants, pregnant women, professionals, those suffering at the hands of poverty, even those looking for businesses to boom. The dhamaal continues for around 10 minutes; it ends moments before maghrib prayers, when the dargaee faqir prays to the Almighty for the welfare, prosperity and peace of the universe in line with Bhittai’s message.

Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai’s shrine in the town of Bhit Shah, District Matiari, is among the shrines in Sindh that hold a special place in the hearts and minds of devotees across the world. Some devotees’ association with Bhittai is purely in spiritual terms, while others bond with Bhittai over his widely acclaimed mystic poetry. Everyone who visits the shrine has a purpose — everybody seeks Bhittai’s blessings and help.

Elderly couple Umra Khatoon and Mehmood Chandio arrived at the shrine from Ratodero of Larkana district. Sitting in a pensive mood in a corner of the courtyard, the couple explains that their family and home was ravaged by the recent heavy rains. “We lost everything. Our house collapsed and we didn’t get our rice crop,” says Umra — a peasant woman — as she tries to make her point in Sindhi. Umra tills the land of a private landowner; she would have got a share in the rice harvest had rainwater not accumulated in the standing crop. “Murshid [Bhittai] will arrange money for us,” she says, folding her hands and pointing towards the shrine’s dome.

They provide solace to the seekers and a place of rest for both the weary and the wanton. They are where the material and the spiritual worlds meet. They are the sufi shrines of Sindh.
Bhittai attracts visitors from around the globe year-round, with the devotees’ number swelling at the time of the saint’s urs that is held in the Islamic calendar month of Safar. Urs otherwise marks the death anniversary of a spiritual personality, and for commoners, it is a mournful affair. But not for the devotees: they consider the occasion to be a milan (meeting) of their murshid (spiritual guide and mediator) with the Almighty. The devotees celebrate the urs with jubilation as their saint remains the only contact between them and the Creator; they congregate at the shrine to have their prayers answered.

The practice of urs is traditionally carried out by followers of the Ahl-i-Sunnat sect (inclusive of the Deobandi and the Barelvi schools of thought, albeit with some difference of opinion over its observance). The Ahl-i-Hadees (non-conformists) dismiss the practice and call for total submission to the Holy Quran and the Almighty. An element within the Deobandi sect exists that dislikes the urs narrative, for they consider the practice to be “un-Islamic”.

Theological differences over the place of urs in Islam have caught Sindh’s shrines in the line of fire in the recent past. Most attacks were attributed by the police to Taliban groups, comprised mostly of non-conformists and the extremist element of the Deobandi sect. It is for the three-day urs celebrations alone that Bhittai’s shrine receives some security cover, that too due to VIP movement, but otherwise, devotees are left to fend for themselves.

Photos by Mohammed Hussain
Photos by Mohammed Hussain
In fact, security around the shrines in Sindh has never been ideal — thanks to an under-resourced police force that is hit by capacity issues. Around 23 policemen are deployed at Bhittai’s shrine for security purposes, but six of them work as guards of the present family members of Bhittai. The shrine has multiple exits, none of which are manned adequately. There are no permanent walkthrough gates either; these devices are only borrowed from the special branch by the district police during the urs.

Even the SSP of Matiari, Mohammad Amjad Shaikh, can’t help remarking: “I am not satisfied with this kind of [security] arrangement.”

Apart from the urs, when the Sindh chief minister and ministers want to lay floral wreaths at the shrine, occasions such as Bhittai’s birth anniversary on Rajab 1, the ‘Sahu Soomar’ (first Monday of the Islamic month), Eidul Fitr and Eidul Azha merit no attention in the government’s eyes despite devotees arriving in large numbers to catch a glimpse of the shrine’s sajjada nasheen (custodian).

Near the shrine is the Dambora Roundabout — named after a musical instrument Bhittai used to carry. From there, a passage with shops on both sides leads to the staircase of the shrine’s premises. Vehicles, including buses and rickshaws, pick and drop commuters near this spot, thereby clogging an already-cramped area. Hotels in the area offer accommodation to guests without any record requirements, such as NIC copies. In the market’s hustle and bustle it is often hard to differentiate between buyers and devotees.

Inside the shrine, there is complete calm: some recite the Holy Quran, others stand in front of the gravesite to have their prayers answered and many others raise spiritual slogans. A group of faqirs, right in front of the gravesite, are busy reciting the Sufi poet’s ‘surs’ that are centred on famous folklores. Those who arrive at Bhit Shah mostly have nothing in hand or hope. “I have been here for around a month now, after leaving the agricultural land of my landowner, as I couldn’t clear his debt of Rs10,000,” says Amb Kohli, who hails from the Tando Adam area of Sanghar district.

Kohli is staying in the courtyard with his young wife and three children. He gets food through the lungar provided by the Auqaf department, twice a day, and so, he is comfortable with his stay. “Phutti [cotton] picking is going to start soon, and I believe Bhittai will send some other landowner to engage me. Then I will go there, earn money and clear my debt,” says Kohli

For most devotees, security is not something to be worried about nor have they given much active thought to it. They come here only for solace, to find peace in the dhamaal, and to enjoy the professional performers’ dance to the drumbeats.

“We stay for four days after arriving a day before the urs,” says devotee and professional performer, Mohammad Aslam. “Then we leave for Baba Salahuddin’s urs in Jamshoro, on the other side of the river [Indus]. His urs is scheduled right after Bhittai’s urs.” Aslam was here last year, and he brought his family this time round too. “We earn handsomely by participating in the urs but when no celebrations are scheduled, we work as daily-wagers in Punjab.”

But amidst the hubbub of daily life, the shrine’s security remains highly compromised. People from different sects and religions frequent the shrine in large numbers and stay there for weeks, sometimes even for months, without being questioned. They bring with them their beddings and some edibles to consume; some puff on hashish-filled cigars [chilam] without any check by the Auqaf department or the police.

Given its management and security scenario, even average deterrence measures are missing. An under-resourced police is supposed to handle issues with policemen deployed at two entrances performing the ‘ritual’ of checking. This doesn’t serve any purpose.

According to the SSP, other policemen “remain invisible in the premises,” but he admits that at least 100 policemen are required to have an acceptable level of security at the shrine — one whose parameters are clearly defined to segregate the shrine proper from the other areas.

“The Auqaf department hasn’t defined even the basic parameters of security for Bhittai’s shrine. While shops at the main entrance are a few paces away, those on other side abut the shrine’s walls,” contends SSP Shaikh. “A commercial complex can be built to house these shops at some other location. It can help resolve things.”

Much like the SSP, Waqar Hussain Shah, son of the shrine’s 11th sajjada nasheen, Syed Nisar Hussain Shah, also finds much fault with the Auqaf department. “There is no regulation by the Auqaf department; on our own initiatives, we are trying to take some basic measures in and around the shrines. Even the narcotics business is patronised by those who are considered among the shrine’s stakeholders and the police.”

The Auqaf department, in theory, looks after the administrative side of things at the shrine, with its manager sitting in a room within the courtyard. For all practical purposes, however, the department remains irrelevant to the shrine’s security as it is more concerned with its oft-repeated renovations. The Auqaf office is largely concerned with the collection of money donated by visitors and the overall supervision of the shrine through its volunteers.

“We are doing our level best to manage the shrine. There is clear directive to the manager that if anyone goes wrong, action should be taken through the police,” remarks Auqaf chief administrator Abdul Rehman Channa. Comfortable with how the shrine is being managed, Channa says that he didn’t find anything untoward on the shrine premises.

But Mazhar Ali Shah, the sajjada nasheen’s younger brother, remains concerned about the state of security affairs. “We can’t compare our shrine’s security with that of Data Darbar which is much better than this shrine,” he contends.

On an average, Mazhar explains, 12 policemen are posted but only three or four are on duty. He says that if the shrine’s two entrances are manned properly, it could improve the situation to a great extent. “Yes, there have to be searches of those staying in the courtyard. No one knows who is carrying what in their luggage and given the present conditions, security checks are of utmost importance,” he remarks.

Waqar Shah echoes the thought. “Recently, when we randomly checked devotees (lodged in the courtyard), we found some of them staying there for 50-60 days, some for as long as two years,” he says.

“The Auqaf department owned the shrine for monetary considerations but disowned its sajjada nasheen and ideology,” alleges a dejected Waqar. He claims that his elders handed over Bhittai’s shrine to the government for better management and control, but the government’s “core interest” is money alone.

According to Waqar, it is shrines that have become more relevant today than ever. “We need to promote shrine culture and reject the face of Islam being projected by extremists,” he said.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, July 20th, 2014