While travelling, off the National Highway, not only you travel in soot free and serene environment but you see more too. Riding my trusted old motorbike on Band Patri (not a thoroughfare) of Lower Bari Doab Canal (LBDC) from Sahiwal to Balloki Headworks. Many new and interesting things come in the way, which normally remain hidden from commuters on the National Highway or travellers in the area.
The journey embraces you with lovely colours, atmosphere, people and bits and pieces of history. And, there is no hassle anywhere in the way.
As harvest approaches, the traveller, especially in the irrigated tracts, ride through endless expanses of waving crops of different shades of colour, out of which the villages seem to rise like islets in an ocean of green. After the harvest all is changed: the dull brown of the fields is relieved by the trees, solitary or in groves and avenues, and by the hamlets and village ponds.
I took the side route and got onto the LBDC from Sahiwal — the city famous for greenery and best breed of mammals. The first thing along the LBDC that attracted my attention was Mandi Maweshian (animal market) near Okara — one of the largest in the country. It is a complete bazaar where a large number of fine quality animals changes hand every month. You can find makeshift hotels (with arrangements for night stay), veterinary doctors, milk and fodder shops and even provision stores. “It is a complete market that keeps moving from one place to another as per its permanent schedule,” told me an astute manager, who establishes a hotel wherever the market goes. “We have buparis (businessmen) from Karachi to Peshawar, local farmers as well as people working in the market as our customers,” he added. Another shopkeeper informed, “Farmers sell their live stock here and buy provisions for their homes.” The market has its own unique culture.
Near Renala, you see one of the first Hydroelectric Power Stations constructed in the Subcontinent. Sir Ganga Ram, an Engineer and famous Philanthropist had built this Power Station in 1925 in order to irrigate about 70,000 acres of agricultural land that is higher than the normal level in the area and could not be irrigated through the LBDC. Ganga Ram forked the canal, built the Power Station and installed five motors to generate electricity. The then Governor Punjab, Sir William Malcolm Hailey laid down its foundation stone of the station on March 22, 1925. Engineer in charge of the station Mr. Iqbal explained the working of the station and briefed about its excellent performance despite the old vintage. The Power Station is not linked with National Electric Grid and only provides electricity for the five pumping stations for lifting the water from the LBDC. The Power Station remained with Power and Works Department till 1958 when it was taken over by WAPDA. Why not more similar hydroelectric stations in the country? The question keeps coming back to my mind.
First sight of the Power Station reminded me of Venice City. The power house building seems to be floating on water. The canal is covered with trees up and down stream. There is a small white mosque inside the canal in front of the station building. Green areas adjoining the station are very restful.
Just about three Kilometres from Renala, you see a huge colonial ere mansion standing tall in the fields. This used to be headquarters of the Renala Estate — the land leased by Major D. H. Venrenen in 1913 on the condition of horse breeding (ghori pall). The company had been producing very fine breed of horses in the past. Villa — a symbol of the past era — is still owned by the family of landlady T. F. L. Taylor.
That is the place from where my real ‘hardship by choice’ started. I was travelling on a rural route, seeing the path but not knowing what was coming next. Not knowing what one is going to see ahead is sometime inspiring. But, about 11 Kilometres from Power Station, rear tyre of my bike went flat. There was no place in sight from where I could get it fixed. Advised by Chragh Din, a local, I waited for the ‘help’ to come and we talked.
Chragh Din, relaxed and amiable old man who was fishing asked about my destination, purpose of journey and why I was travelling on a bike. He did not seem convinced with my answers once I told him that I am travelling just to see the area. He was surprised instead. I enjoyed talking to him though. He was so candid and frank about every thing he said.
It pays to get out into the countryside and talk to ordinary people. They are eager to help — on their own expense — when you ask any body. I found volunteer ‘guides’ who were forth coming with wealth of information from history to myths prevalent in the area. But ‘chaudhry map’ is as vague in Punjab about the distances as is anywhere else in Pakistan. I learnt not to rely on chaudhry map during my days in the army but still cannot resist asking. Where is village Thatta Ghulam? Ask any body when you are riding a motorbike with haversack and water bottle on your sides. The replies will always be same: nearby. Apart from seeing pure rural built heritage, I was surprised to find a Solar Energy Station working in village Thatta Ghulam that is without electric connection.
The ionic counter point is the lack of attention in maintaining the bits and pieces of unique heritage – the resource base of tourism industry. The neglect may be attributed to lack of awareness, education, coordination between authorities, economic constrains and or simply the natural hazards. The magnificent vistas of a land of plans, fields and orchards have to be opened to the rest of the world.
There is a need for information in the form of travel guide writing, pure travel journalism, travel book writing and geographical description in form of maps. No ordinary coldness of phrasing can
express the surprise and delight, with which one makes acquaintance with the rural sites. Their perspective gives you a wonderful sense of being there. In fact, that is my recommendation: be there.
Mechanical and animal transport, plying on Pakistani highways and roads has almost equal right of the way. But, I was greatly pleased once a Tonga appeared on a track coming out of sugarcane and blooming mustard fields. A bit of usual haggling about the charges, and I loaded my bike on the back and rode a sturdy Tonga to reach Akhtarabad — the nearest place on National Highway with vulcanization facilities. It took me three hours to get on to my way to Balloki headworks.
Near Balloki Headworks on River Ravi, one passes through a wide water reservoir that looks like a lake. In winters, this lack is full of native waterfowls. Flocks of Wild Ducks, Cranes, Strokes and black winged Stilts are the commonest sights in the area. The fish kababs at Balloki Headworks are a speciality and culinary delight. I had a dinner break at Balloki, treated myself with fish kababs — fresh from the river — and proceeded to National Highway for onwards journey to Lahore via more familiar route.