Celebrating the Past
Heritage sites in Pakistan are a testament to the country’s rich cultural history. Unfortunately, their preservation has largely been neglected.
Culture tells a story about the people who inherit it. Whether they choose to preserve it or not, their culture remains the link between a society’s past and its present. Any society that decides to ignore its culture cannot hope to go very far.
Pakistan’s early history dates back to two million years ago, when the first inhabitants were believed to have been the Soanian people, having settled in the Soan Valley and Riwat, in modern day Punjab. One of the first and most famous civilizations, the Indus Valley Civilization, also survived on Pakistan’s very soil. However, instead of being preserved as heritage sites or monuments, most of these cities with their ancient civilizations, now lie in ruins.
Similarly, numerous sites across the country were previously impor-
‘A people without the knowledge of their history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.’
tant centers supporting rich culture and heritage. Cities like Taxila, Makhli, Bhambore still bear a hint of the society that once blossomed within their perimeter.
Pre-partition Pakistan was a land that saw the rise and fall of empires and with it a plethora of culture and practices. The Gupta Empire that spanned most of the subcontinent brought with it advancements in architecture, sculptures and paintings while the Ghaznavid Dynasty, known for its wars and invasions, also introduced elements of literature, arts and learning. Through time, various colonized eras ranging from the Delhi Sultanate to the grand Mughal Empire lavishly flowered the region with South Asian architecture, Islamic art, cultural music, literature and advancements in sci- ence, technology and lifestyle.
Lahore, also known as the heart of Pakistan, is a city seeped with rich cultural history. A favorite site of the Mughals, today Lahore is home to the world’s most cherished and beautiful mausoleums and tombs. The famous Mughal emperor, Akbar was so fond of this city that he chose it as the capital for his empire. During his rule, the famous Lahore Fort or ‘Shahi Qila’ was constructed and today remains a true representation of the legacy the Mughals left behind.
Following in his grandfather’s footsteps, Shah Jehan too favored Lahore as the location for his magnificent Shalimar Gardens. A fine blend of Persian influence over Islamic architecture, the Gardens along with the Fort, earned a spot on the World Heritage List.
Moving further south, the culture of Sindh traces its roots back to the Indus Valley Civilization that survived and flourished alongside the banks of the River Indus. Excavations and digs reveal a highly complex infrastructure of societies, like Moenjodaro and Harappa, that once blossomed there. The different forms of art recovered from such sites provide a detailed insight into the lives as well as the cultural practices of those societies.
To the west lie the two provinces of Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa. Even though Western Pakistan is mostly hilly and the terrain is uneven to say the least, beautiful monuments and breathtaking architectural wonders await the curious eyes. The district of Lasbela alone is home to innumerable historical sites including the ‘Jams of Lasbela,’ which remain the most important. The Jams of Lasbela, over 100 at this particular site alone, are the tombs of the people who once ruled the area. The intricate patterns and the detailed artwork crafted delicately into the tombs speak for itself.
The province of Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa bears witness to the art and architecture influenced heavily by western settlers such as the Greeks and Romans. This province is also home to the Gandhara art that forms the basis of Buddhism. Huge statutes of Buddha carved into hills and mountains can be seen throughout the region.
In a country replete with such rich heritage, it is a shame to see no concrete efforts being taken to preserve such history. A reminder of this painful negligence is the ‘Ranikot Fort’ in Sindh. Also known as the Great Wall of Sindh because of its resemblance to the Great Wall in China, this splendid work of art is the largest fort in the entire world and until recently was widely ignored. Truly a marvel, the fort has fallen in ruins over the years taking down with it volumes of history.
While other countries around the world allocate entire budgets to preserve historical sites this practice is found wanting in Pakistan. Countries that are aware of the true tourism potential of their historical gems have successfully managed to preserve their culture and transform it into a billion dollar tourism industry,
However, in Pakistan even the most glorious monuments have been vicitmized to general apathy. According to the 18th Amendment, the federal government holds the power to control libraries, museums and other institutions. The Department of Archaeology and Museums lies under provincial control and therefore no effort on the part of the private sector holds any ground.
The department is responsible for issuing periodic reports on heritage sites focusing mainly on the extent of damages done to the sites as well the cost of restoration. Unfortunately, the departments’ negligence in the matter has cost Pakistan dearly in terms of heritage preservation.
Neighboring India too shares a similar culture and history with Pakistan. During the time of the Mughals, Pakistan and India constituted the subcontinent and the monuments found in India are increasingly similar to those found in Pakistan. Mughal ruler, Shah Jehan built both the famous Taj Mahal in Agra and the Shalimar Gardens in Lahore.
With much in common, the two countries can work together in preserving their rich history. However due to political reasons they refuse to see eye to eye. Collaborating on such a diverse cultural heritage, both countries can successfully manage to restore the damage done to the heritage sites and protect them from further damage.