An An­cient Cave City

The Gon­drani caves are fa­mous for their mys­tery and prom­ise more his­tor­i­cal finds.

Southasia - - HISTORY PAKISTAN - By Aisha Ma­lik The writer is a graphic de­sign grad­u­ate who free­lances for sev­eral pub­li­ca­tions

The ge­o­graph­i­cal lo­ca­tion of Pak­istan has given it im­por­tance in the realm of an­cient cul­tures. One only needs to look to­wards Balochis­tan, es­pe­cially its coastal city of Las Bela, to get some idea of how old the cul­tural his­tory of Pak­istan is. Las Bela is close to the mys­te­ri­ous city of Shehr-e-Roghan, which is also called Gon­drani.

Essen­tially a cave city, Gon­drani has seen sev­eral ar­chae­o­log­i­cal dig­gings spon­sored by in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions. The lo­cals have many myth­i­cal ac­counts of how the cave city was founded, its cul­tural as well as re­li­gious back­ground and the evo­lu­tion of the area af­ter the ar­rival of the Bri­tish.

Sit­ting in the mid­dle of moun­tains, the cave city is home to a num­ber of Bud­dhist monas­ter­ies. Al­though it has largely re­mained hid­den from the me­dia, the city is reg­u­larly fre­quented by ar­chae­ol­o­gists and tourists.

At present, there are al­most 500 caves in Gon­drani but ac­cord­ing to the lo­cals, there were close to 1500 caves here at one time. There is a lack of ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion about the city and its caves but it is home to a real ar­chae­o­log­i­cal trea­sure. The city is said to have been built in the 7th cen­tury AD, and is lo­cated 18 kilo­me­ters to the north of Las Bela.

There are many the­o­ries sur­round­ing the cre­ation of th­ese caves, as well as about the peo­ple who lived in them. The ac­counts have evolved and taken shape over the cen­turies by dif­fer­ent his­to­ri­ans. The gen­eral con­sen­sus is that the caves were built by the fol­low­ers of the Bud­dhist ruler So­mani, who ruled Sindh in 636 AD. Bri­tish ge­og­ra­pher Colonel Sir Thomas Hunger­ford Holdich is said to be among the first ar­chae­ol­o­gists to per­form an ex­ten­sive sur­vey at this site.

Tourism op­por­tu­ni­ties in the area have been few due to the dif­fi­cul­ties that lie in the way to the lo­ca­tion as well as the po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity and poor law and or­der in Balochis­tan. It is mainly the lo­cals who of­fer their ser­vices for a tour of the in­ter­con­nected caves.

The over­all struc­ture of the caves presents a beau­ti­ful sight due to the in­tri­cacy with which it is built. The in­ter­nal walk­ways are carved out in such a way that each is con­nected with a veranda spread out in front. The gen­eral be­lief is that the area is haunted by ghosts, par­tic­u­larly of the de­ceased lo­cal no­ta­bles.

Al­though it gives the im­pres­sion of an omi­nous, dark moun­tain at first, the many caves in the area be­come more high­lighted as tourists make their way to­wards them. Walk­ing to­wards the caves makes for an ar­du­ous jour­ney but the beauty of the caves prove that the trek is worth the ef­fort.

In the day, the caves are lit up from the in­side and give off a very grand feel­ing of depth. There is a vast dif­fer­ence in the ap­pear­ance of each cave and they re­main well-pre­served ex­cept some ero­sion that has oc­curred due to the weather.

A closer look at the caves re­veal metic­u­lously de­signed dif­fer­ences in the struc­tures. A class-sys­tem is also vis­i­ble to the trained eye, as some caves are ill-con­structed and of­fer few com­forts in terms of space, while oth­ers are very well-formed with in­tri­cately de­signed in­te­ri­ors.

Even in the ab­sence of any kind of

fa­cil­ity and de­spite the rocky ter­rain, tourists are known to visit the place. Many use aids such as Google Maps to make their way to­wards Gon­drani while oth­ers cover the dis­tance through word-of-mouth di­rec­tions.

Visi­tors are of­fered tours to the area through the Karachi-Quetta High­way, which was pre­vi­ously known as the RCD High­way. As the caves are lo­cated at a cer­tain height, it is a dif­fi­cult ter­rain to nav­i­gate for most am­a­teurs. A dirt track ex­ists a few kilo­me­ters to the north-west of the city of Bela that leads to the caves. The dis­tance ranges from be­tween 15 to 18 kilo­me­ters and while the scenery around the area is quite dra­matic, the caves are dif­fi­cult to lo­cate.

There are sev­eral kinds of habi­ta­tion in the area with a num­ber of cave houses and huts among them. Since the con­struc­tion and fea­tures of the Gon­drani caves is quite dis­tinc­tive, it be­comes eas­ier to spot them once you reach the place.

The Gon­drani caves are soughtafter for their air of mys­tery and the prom­ise of a fur­ther un­veil­ing of his­tory. The area can be­come a center of ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion and a great tourism site if the gov­ern­ment takes some in­ter­est in its de­vel­op­ment. The Bud­dhist ori­gin of the caves can also at­tract in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion. In fact, the cave city can be­come a per­ma­nent source of rev­enue for the lo­cal tourism in­dus­try.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Pakistan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.