During six years of my stay in Multan, I used to travel on Multan-Sargodha Road for coming home to a village perched in the foot of the Salt Range. Last March, on an invitation of a friend I ended up in Chiniot, a historic town on the bank of River Chenab. An exotic place rusted among the old mountain remnants where flocks of parrots still swoop and flutter and cooing crows are considered as a symbol for “the arrival of guests.”
The town is a very old one, inhabited before the time when Alexander of Macedon came here. It remained as the capital of the White Huns and was visited by famous Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsiang. Chiniot suffered much from the Durrani inroads during the last half of the eighteenth century and also during the troubles of I848; being the scene of constant fierce struggles among the leaders of local factions. It now bears a prosperous aspect, most of the houses being of excellent brickwork, towering and spacious.
The town boasts a grand mosque built by Nawab Sadullah Khan Tahim, the governor of the town under Mughal King Shah Jehan and three stories Umar Hayat Palace. Portion of the wall, surviving in situ, as per the local lore, had been built during Hellenic period. Masons of Chiniot are said to have been employed during the construction of Taj Mahal at Agra and Golden Temple at Amritsar.
Chaniot has benefited by the Chenab Canal and does a large trade in wheat, cotton, and other agricultural produce. It is also famous for brass-work, special type of furniture with brightly lacquered woodcarving.
But, instead of wandering through the town, I explored the rural district. One of the most romantic rivers of Punjab, Chenab (remember the classic folklore Sohni Mahinwal) flows close by. River and hills picturesquely intersect the fertile land. The dry mountains are not very high but there are some natural locations for Rock Repelling – a forgotten but thrilling sport. And, you get these places almost to yourself because the area is little known and seldom visited by sportsmen for Rock Repelling. The place reminded me of my days spent in Mountaineering School, when I used to spend all my quality time climbing and repelling.
Leaving a quaint old town by road for Chanab Nagar (old Rabwa) is like sailing through the ocean of green. Grassy meadows are seen rolling up to the river bank. Standing early morning at a gorge of Chenab, you find out that emptiness hushes the land. Every thing is sunk in peace. From distance comes the scarcely audible sound of bells. Gradually the clang dies away and silence spreads over the earth again. The splendour of the place is not only in the landscape. More than just visuals, there is something that touches even deeply: It is invisible, but palpable, air of freedom – the freedom of spirits. It was this oasis of body and soul where I along with my friends spent long morning relaxing and fishing.
Upstream, it was one sight that took my heart and left a lasting impression on me. As I crossed the bridge, next to the railway track is a solitary and simple cubical in the wilderness with few wild flowers and trees around. The garlanded sign in the room reads, “A place (chilla gah) where saint Sharf ud Din Bu Ali Qalandar prayed and mediated for years.” There is also another plaque with historic details about the saint in this bare room. Chenab water passes touching the room when it flows full in summers. Ghalib might have composed his famous verse – ghista hy jabeen khak pe darya mery agy – in some other context, but here it seems as if it was written for this place. It is an extraordinary sight. Standing there you feel comfortable, at peace and in the grip of history and mysticism.
Born in Pani Pat, Bu Ali Qalandar was a renowned saint, mystic, poet and writer of his time. During the period of Jalal ud Din Khilgi, he was appointed at the coveted post of ‘Mufti of Delhi’, which he left and went about mediating at different locations (including this serene place on the bank of Chenab). Thousands of non-Muslims converted to Islam on the hands of the saint. He passed away in Karnal in 1324 AD. Thinking about time spent by the saint on the bank of Chenab, I left the riverbank and proceeded to have a quick round of Rabwa before returning to Chiniot.
If we do not let the ‘busy life’ of the present time to intimidate ourselves: outing to such tranquil, pollution free and quite destinations is very simple and plenty of fun. To have time of life, all one needs is adventurous spirit and love for the nature. Of course, enjoyment increases exponentially with the level of interest. Here is my recommendation: get out and enjoy raw nature. There are a lot of places if you look around. And, Pakistan is such a beautiful country with rare diversity – sea, desert, plains and mountains, all available.