Friday, 26 February 2016

Keep Calm and Go Nawabi! (Part 1)

Our love for travelling and photography has taken me and my husband to various countries around the globe. Each year of our marriage has started with making an aggressive savings plan to be able to travel to our target destination(s) for that year. I have seen over 45 cities around the world and I love discovering new places – and more than that, I love to show people the beauty of our planet through my photos. The aim of this year is to show the world how amazing our own country is and the various experiences it has to offer to travelers and tourists. Agreed, it is not easy to access many of the beautiful places in Pakistan, but if you have the ‘jazba’ and the patience to remove all 'rastey ki rukaawats' , it is do-able – and I must add, you will not be disappointed.

One of the places we were eager to see this year was Bahalwalpur, so following our plan, we spent the last weekend in the fascinating princely state. When the north is too cold to visit, Bahalwapur is a good option for winter tourism. To say the least, the city is a historic gem, boasting of culture, full of legends and stories and definitely the pride of Pakistan. One thing you will surely notice is the cleanliness on the roads and streets – a wonder in itself for Karachiites! I will leave the history bit for you to discover during your own visit, which hopefully the pictures below will attract you to plan. SOON.

Piece of advice: Dig out the best army reference you have to make your trip to BeeDoubleYooPee successful and fulfilling.

Route to Destination
How to Get There: Bahawalpur is a city in South Punjab, 1 hr 25 mins away from Karachi by flight (ATR). The return ticket costs around Rs.13,000 per person. The other option is train which would take you about 12 hours to get there and cost you Rs. 4000-6000 for a round trip. Of course, driving in your own car is an option too – if you have the guts to travel by car through Sind. I don’t.

The Little ATR. You have to walk to your plane to board.
Where to Stay: Bahawalpur has a huge cantonment and the presence of the army there, like many other cities in Pakistan, is very conspicuous. I would suggest trying to get an army mess. That would turn out to be the most reasonable option in terms of cost. There is a Hotel One there too – costs about Rs.9000/night.

What to See/Do: This is a long list. We could not see/photograph all the places that were on our list as we had 2 days and 3 nights there. If you want to see each and everything in the list below, try keeping 3 days for a complete, yet not crazy tiring, trip. I came back with lack of sleep and hurting legs and feet.

1. Noor Mahal – Bahalwalpur is also known as the city of Palaces owing to the many palaces that have been built by the Abbassi Family that founded the state in 1690. Noor Mahal is one of them. It is sometimes called the ‘One-Night’ palace as the princess for whom the palace was built stayed here just for one night, didn’t like the view in the morning and decided never to stay here again! How nawabi! It’s a splendid sight to see, especially at night, when it is beautifully lit up.  It is open to public and the ticket is Rs.30 per person. Sadly, when we visited, due to renovation work going on, the palace was not lit in the evening and we were not able to get ‘the picture’ we wanted.

Noor Mahal Under Renovation - Some lights on and some off.
Majestic nonetheless!
2. Darbar Mahal –Now under the control of the Pakistan Army and is used as an office. The palace is not open to public so you need an army reference and permission prior to your visit. In terms of preserved beauty, this is definitely the best one you’ll see in Bahalwalpur. Within its premises there are Farrukh and Nishat Mahals, named after the wives of the Nawab Bahawal Khan V who sanctioned the construction. There is also a mosque, Bara Dari and a small museum to see.I promise you, this palace will leave you spellbound and you will find the stories of its past very fascinating.

The beautiful Darbar Mahal
Bara Dari in the background
How Bara Dari is ornamented 
Interior of the palace
A stuffed Pelican. Its female counterpart and other friends play outside in the garden.
Inside Bara Dari
 3.  Gulzar Mahal – Right next to Darbar Mahal, this too was  built for one of the wives of Nawab Bahawal Khan V and named after her. You need army permission to visit.

Interior of the Palace
4. Farid Gate – This historic gate leads you to the main market (Ahmedpuri bazaar) in the city and also the beautiful Al-Sadiq Mosque.
Baab e Fareed at night
5. Lal Suharna National Park – a beautiful area along the Bahawal Canal with forests on one side and lush green crop fields on the other, is an ideal place to photograph just before sunset. It is utterly peaceful. I wonder how green it would look during the summer monsoons! This park also shelters hundreds of black bucks and deer. You can walk among the animals and take photos! The drive is about 50 minutes from the city centre but totally worth it. In this vicinity there’s a children’s park and a zoo. Before heading back, you can stop at the park for a hot cup of tea from the canteen.

Drive to the Black Bucks Shelter
View of Bahawal Canal at sunset
6. The Shrine of Hazrat Musa Pak Sharif – The original burial site of the famous saint.  The walk to the shrine takes you through an interesting bazaar of local handicrafts. You can stop here on your way to Uch Sharif, which is about 2 hours drive from the main city. Mind you, the handicrafts can be a major distraction and may interfere with your itinerary for the day!

7.  The Tomb of Bibi Jawindi in Uch Sharif – though now in shambles, one can imagine the grandeur of the ancient tomb at the time of its construction.  Two other tombs are also present here, making this site an ideal place for photography.However, seeing these beautiful historical pieces fall apart is utterly depressing.  If you intend to take pictures, try going to the tombs in the 'golden hour'. 

8. Head Punjnad – where the rivers meet. You can stop here for a photo. 4/10 experience. Not inserting a picture because it didn't really come out nice.

9. The Royal graveyard in Cholistan– where all the royal family of the Nawabs of Bahawalpur are buried. This place is serene. All you can hear is the chirping of birds and probably the sound of your own footsteps. Coming here makes you realize how little we know about our own country and the tourism opportunities it has to offer. You definitely feel like you’re in Iran or Turkey here. The facades of the tombs are decorated with beautiful tiles in shades of blue. Since it was day time and the light utterly bright, our pictures could not do justice to the beauty of this place. To see the graveyard, it is better to get in touch with the TDCP office in Bahawalpur (close to the Dring Stadium) to ensure someone is there to open the gates for you and give you a tour.

The Royal Graveyard.
Tombs of females of the Royal Family.
Males of the Nawab family buried together in one tomb.
Exterior of the Males' Tomb
Beautiful tile work
10. Shahi Masjid – Just like a white pearl in the middle of Cholistan, built, again, by the royal family. You can see fort Derawar from the balconies of the mosque courtyard.

11. Derawar Fort – a larger than life fort in the middle of Cholistan desert. It is mostly a ‘khandar’ as neither the royal family has the resources to maintain this nor the government has been able to manage the upkeep of this amazing historical wonder. The army barracks, the seat of the Nawab, the rooms of the princesses are all falling to the ground, brick by brick. In another 10 years, the situation will be worse, so GO SEE IT NOW! Use your imagination well to enjoy this place.

12. Sadiq Garh – the residential palace of the royal family, built by Nawab Sadiq Muhammad Khan (IV) in 1882. We did not get a chance to see this as we reached after maghrib and the gates were closed.  Right now, it is an abandoned property. No one is maintaining it and without maintenance, this place full of stories of the glorious history of the Abbasi family will not be able to stand the test of time. Prior to my visit to this wonderful city, I had no knowledge of its history of the existence of the the Royal family (I am embarrassed about that). Their architectural contributions are huge - true, but their financial and political support to Pakistan and to Jinnah at the time of the birth of our country is unparalleled. Maybe if this palace falls under army control like Noor and Darbar mahals, the splendor of Sadiqgarh can be preserved. I truly hope that happens.

A few pictures are given below to entice you. These pictures belong to Dr.Mohsin and are being added here with his permission. They totally make me want to go back to photograph this historical wonderland to complete my trip to Bahawalpur! Try to get a guided your through TDCP so your can hear tales about the 'shaan-o-shaukat' of the the Royals and the great historical personalities that visited this palace. Our beloved Jinnah was one of them and he happened to be a great friend of Nawab Sahab.

13. Central Library – a magnificent building with a white fa├žade. We were not able to photograph it for the lack of time. Pictures taken from google are given below.

14. Sadiq Public School – a local told me that the school, whose land was donated by the royal family, is bigger than Aitchison College in Lahore and that the campus is lovely. Because of the lack of time as well tight security at the gate, we could not go inside and see it.

15. Crop fields – If you are from Karachi and have never seen rural Punjab, this will be a great opportunity to see lush green agricultural fields and village scenes while you drive to Uch Sharif and Derawar fort. Sarson ke khet are my favorite!

I hope this pictorial journey of Bahawalpur makes you want to go there, experience the grandeur of the Nawabi architecture (fusion of Muslim, Hindu and Sikh styles) and get a few pictures of your own. We spend millions to see countries around the world, why not spend a few thousands to see our own 'watan', feel proud and contribute to our local tourism industry?

Stay tuned for the second part of this safarnama, in which I will be giving you a suggested itinerary and also some insights on what to shop for! Drooling already?

*This article was published in TGIF Magazine, Daily Times