In December 2004, I was traveling from Islamabad to Lahore on the M-2 motorway, which is the first motorway to be created in South Asia and which was inaugurated in 1997. It is also one of the most expensive to be constructed under the Korean company, Daewoo. The journey of 184 km takes one via the magnificent Salt Range and Kallar Kahar, a subdivision of Chakwal District (Punjab) and conveniently located close to the M-2.
Kallar Kahar is also a popular tourist destination with captivating lakes and the Katas Raj Temple complex, dedicated to Lord Shiva, dating back to 615-950 CE. The founder of the Great Mughal dynasty, Zahir ud-Din Muhammad Babur (1483-1530), stopped here with his army, while en route to north India in 1519. During this stay, a throne was built by cutting a piece of limestone formation to create a raised platform, from where he addressed his army. This throne, known as Takht-e-Babri, was located within the Bagh-i-Safa, the first of many Mughal gardens to be created. Salman Rashid in his book, The Salt Range and the Potohar Plateau (Sang-e-Meel, 2001), mentions how Babar, described the area of Kallar Kahar Lake as a “charming place with good air”.
Read further: “Kallar Kahar: blessed by nature, neglected by rulers” by Nabeel Anwar Dhakku, Dawn, 28 February, 2016.
“Takht-e-Babri, the first Mughal construction in the subcontinent, is grand only in name” by Haroon Khalid, Dawn, 5 June, 2017.
Back in 2004, I also stumbled upon the first fossil museum in Pakistan! Actually, it was less a museum and more a room with a variety of fossils scattered randomly on the floor. Neglected and dusty, they appeared to be of little significance. I recently came across this old photograph, which I had forgotten about.
I was so intrigued by the plaque with this inscription of the first fossil museum that I started doing a little digging about it, with little to show. A search for Mustafa Zaidi throws up a famous poet/civil servant (born 16 October 1930 in Allahabad and died 12 October 1970), while Tanvir Jafri, the then-DC of Chakwal, might still be around with recollections of this fossil museum.
I think the fossil museum is perhaps part of the Kallar Kahar Museum now, which is located opposite the Lake. It was finally inaugurated earlier this year in April, after seven years of its completion. At the time, I remember the caretaker saying that they there was something bigger in the pipeline, to create a better museum space. In South Asia, these matters take time (years), unless there is political mileage in the project. Though I should not have been so dismissive of the fossils, because this region is rich in history and has dinosaur fossils dating back 15 million years. But heritage remains a low priority for the country, whether prehistoric, ancient or modern, and is a simultaneously contested and marginalised space.
“Kallar Kahar Museum’s doors remain firmly shut” by Nabeel Anwar Dhakku, Dawn, 20 January 2016. https://www.dawn.com/news/1234117