Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Pharwala Fort - قعلہ پھڑوالہ


The summers were at their peak in Islamabad. Salman Rashid had announced a couple of months earlier that he'd be coming to Islamabad in June for some official work and he'd be at my disposal in his free time. I had recently discovered a jeep-able track to the Bhamla Stupa on the Haro River, near the Khan Pur Dam, via the Margalla Hills and was writhing to show off my discovery to the Great Travel Writer (if not the greatest) of our land and time. But it just so happened that he was coming on a Sunday at 3 pm and we wouldn't have been able to make the journey in the limited time available. So we decided to go to the Pharwala Fort, yet another road discovered by me, that took you right up to the secluded Fort.


Pharwala Map


Now the Fort of Pharwala is located just 16 km from the Islamabad Highway, you take a left from the Pagh Chowk on to the Mehfooz Shaheed Road that was formerly called the Bhimber-Trar Road. This turning is by the way opposite the Lohi-Bher Park turning (a more renowned place). The single road for over 80% of the journey is pretty good and you can go at speeds over 60 kph with a few bumps and bad patches, reaching the destination in about 35 minutes, i.e., if you know the exact route at the end.


We were also going to be joined by a few friends from twitter, so I thought it best to do a bit of recce, so as not to look like a fool on the big day. So a day before the actual journey, I went to see the road and was able to reach the end point easily without much hassle. Just a few attempts of using the “chacha compass”, ie., asking directions from the locals and I was right there at the Fort, with just a rivulet of Soan to be crossed.


The Recce Pic


On the day, i.e, 14 June 2015, Noor chickened out and went to Lahore and we were only going to be joined by Sitara and her husband. Now normally Salman Rashid is very punctual and meticulous about his travel timings, and I was to pick him from the Kashmir Highway at 3pm, take him up to my place for a quick change and then on to Pharwala, but he called me up at around 1:45 pm saying that he was getting off the Motor-Way and would be at the rendezvous point in 10 minutes. I was taking our dog with the kids for his final rabies shot. I tried to explain my address to the great Traveler, but he excused himself from listening to the intricacies of Islamabad’s map and decided to go to a friend’s place instead where I could pick him up after I finished. So I informed Sitara about the early arrival and told her about the revised ETA.


An ancient tree at Bhimbar Trar


Salman Rashid (SR) met me with his singular guffaw, put the camera gear on the back seat and we were off. Sitara and her husband (a retired Colonel with a big burly walrus moustache) joined us at the Karal Crossing and we were off. Now there is no place in Pakistan that SR has not visited, and he had written about Pharwala Fort in his book, "The Salt Range and the Potohar Plateau", a long time ago, but he also wanted to get some digital snaps of the Fort, or what was left of it. So we had to hurry, so as not to miss the light. That meant I had to drive like a rally car driver! And I did. We were flying away only to be held back to see Sitara’s car in the rear view mirror. By 4 we were there. The Fort was just a couple of hundred meters across the canyon and there were many shallow points. So we parked our cars and set off to cross the river at its shallowest.






Being bestowed with great leadership qualities I quickly spotted a shallow part of the river which was very easily tread-able and guided everyone down to it. Even though the crossing was very easy and smooth, the soles of one of my old shoes came off as I slipped over a rock. Now I had seen the terrain the day before and had actually contemplated wearing my Mountain shoes, but brushed the idea aside since I wasn’t climbing K-2. Plus they were too heavy. I also didn’t want to ruin my brand new Nike trainers by wading thru the water, so I had decided to put on my old faithful pair of sneakers. Not caring much for the “lost sole”, I marched on. Now we had to climb a hill which was as steep as a cliff. The others easily trotted off while I straggled behind, panting and limping and huffing and puffing. Salman Rashid promptly set up his camera and was snapping away while Sitara came back to check on me saying “are we tiring the mountain or the mountain tiring us”. I was too out of breath to respond and just smiled. Finally up at the top, some locals gathered around and told us that we had come the wrong way. The path "I" had chosen, took us to a steep gorge with the Fort beyond our reach. It was hot, I was tired and thirsty as hell. Yes we geniuses hadn’t thought of bringing any water along. Thanks to the local villagers, we got water and they also guided us to a path to reach the fort without having to go back the way we came.



The sweet water provided by the locals - And the Colonel's moustaches



The deep gorge shallowed out as it ran east and we descended it at a passable point, only to climb the other side of it and reach the fort. The first gate we came across was the famous Hathi Durwaaza (the Elephant Gate), named after the infamous Hathi Khan Gakhar (Babur calls him Hati Kakkar).

Across the Gorge


Salman Rashid


Now the story is that the great Pharwala Fort was constructed by Sultan Kaigohar Gakhar in the 11th century, but some say it was built over an existing Fort of the Hindu Shahiya period. At the start of 1519 the Gakhars were been ruled by Tataar Khan Gakhar and his nephew Hathi Khan Gakhar. Tataar ruled from Pharwala, while Hathi's strongholds were further into the mountains. Sultan Tataar Khan Gakhar, the father of the famous Gakhar Warrior Sultan Sarang Khan had accepted the authority of Daulat Khan, the governor of Lahore for the Sultan of Delhi, but Hathi did not. During Babur's first expedition into Hindustan in February-March 1519, Tataar, who had been blockading Hathi, was ambushed by his nephew and poisoned to death. Hathi Khan now took over the command of the fort and became the sole leader of the Gakhars. Salman Rashid tells us that Hathi Khan was so tall that his head was visible above all his horsemen.

It was the Janjuas who bad-mouthed Hathi Khan to Babur, who came to Pharwala (Parhala in Baburnama) on 18th March 1519 and conquered it, with Hathi Khan escaping from the Nort-Western Gate. He later acquiesced to Babur and the Gakhars became the allies of the Mughals for all times to come.

Hathi Khan Gakhar was the first ruler to rise from among the Gakhars to establish a dynasty, which he did by defeating the Janjua Rajputs of the region and driving them away from the present tehsils of Kallar Syedan, Kahuta and Rawalpindi. The fort they say, was completely renovated by Hathi Khan and was the seat of the power of the Gakhars, up until Sultan Sarang Khan moved to Rawat in the 1530s. Sultan Sarang Khan was later flayed alive by Sher Shah Suri for siding with the Mughals and all his sons and nephews, save one, were killed. The 16 sons and nephews along with Sultan Sarang Khan are buried in the caravan-serai at Rawat.

Apparently the Gakhars had converted to Islam by then and we find the oldest mosque of the region just across the river near the village of Bagh Jogian, known to have been built by Mai Qamro, Hathi Khan’s Wife.


Just as we were trying to photograph the Hathi Durwaaza, it started to rain. Clouds had miraculously gathered over the Fort, as if to provide the much needed relief from the heat, though much to the dismay of Salman Rashid who’d lost his light ! We later found out that it had rained just over the fort, in fact just around the Hathi Durwaza. Our cars parked just 500 meters away were totally dry.



The Side Rooms of the Hathi Durwaza being used as a granary


So we sat under the Gate as the downpour lasted a good 20 minutes and we were joined by a local lad who told me with great confidence that the fort had been built by the Emperor Akbar the Great. The Gate being in a pretty dilapidated form, was still being used as a granary. As soon as the rain ended, the clouds began to disappear and the sun came out and Salman Rashid bet his Mule, that we were going to get a rainbow, and voila, we did.



Hathi Durwaza & the Rainbow


The rain had really taken its toll on the time and we hurriedly tried to get some pics of the Baygum Durwaaza (the Queen’s Gate) on the north western side, just above the river. The local lad led us up to the Baygum Durwaaza, taking us through the Soan Durwaaza, into the settlement inside the fort, and up to the Baygum Durwaaza.




By the time we headed back, the soles of both my shoes had come off and I was virtually walking barefoot. Coming down the rocky hill with jagged edges became a nightmare and I was forced to improvise a quick and dirty solution.

Salman Rashid at the Baygum Durwaaza
Baygum Durwaza

The Sun was really low and the clouds were making spectacular patterns on the sky. As I crossed the river, I was just overawed by the beauty of all that surrounded me and took to taking quite a few snaps of my own.




Sitara’s husband then announced that they had some special Patties and other eatables in their car and if I didn’t join them soon, they would not be able to ensure my share being available. With this wake-up call I promptly got up and soon took them over.



The journey had come to an end. We stopped on the way at a “Driver Hotel” and enjoyed the Patties with a Cup of Tea. Speeding back we saw magnificent glimpses of the Korang Stream before we reached the Islamabad highway and bid farewell to Sitara and the Colonel.


What really troubled me was that the Fort’s remaining walls were being cannibalized into making the homes for the locals. Though they were the original descendants of the Gakhars living there, I saw no attachment of the locals with the place or any hint of preserving this beautiful place.


Looking South down the Soan Valley

P.S. The Naval Anchorage goes up to almost the mid-way point of the road to Pharwala and I am sure pretty soon, it would become more accessible.

P.P.S. All pics were taken with my LG G3 Phone, and enhanced with SnapSeed. Please feel free to use these pics! Hate morons who inscribe their names on pics.

This is how I managed to walk

Yours Truly in the River