Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Day 146: Bahawalpur's Treasures

Tues., Feb. 22, 2011

Bahawalpur, Pakistan is truly a treasure of a city. It is a smaller town that used to be a part of Rajasthan pre-Partition, and to this day contains beautiful works of architecture and artifacts from the 1800s and early 1900s, such as Noor Mahal. The city is a strange mix of true villages and old hawali-style homes, and the people who have grown up here, even the most educated, maintain many of the traditional ways of life. It is a more conservative city where, as my mami tells me, many of the locals still believe that women should keep pardah in the Hindustani fashion, and animals like parrots and peacocks are kept caged in large homes. An endless maze-like bazaar is the main shopping area, and the city is a mainstay for the much-respected Pakistani army. Noor Mahal, an old building from 1871, which was once home to princes and their courts, is now used as a tourist spot, wedding venue, and club for those who can afford it. Club members come to the mahal for Sunday brunches and Saturday night movies played on large projector screens set up outside in the garden (Indian movies are not allowed to be played at this location, as the mahal is located within a Pakistani army area).

We drove through real villages today (I cannot wait to show you all these pictures!) and then stopped for a snack in Lal Suhanara, a forest area where black bucks roam and gentle breezes make the trees whisper. It is such a peaceful spot, right next to a canal, and if I could I would ride my bicycle here every afternoon with a picnic basket and just sit in the park, watching the black bucks play and eat and run.

On our way back from Lal Suhanara, mamoo (who is well-known in Bahawalpur) showed us the library, another beautiful, old building containing volumes upon volumes. The librarian let us into the special volumes room and showed us incredible pieces of texts. I gasped when I saw this miniature Qur'an (yes, it is the entire Qur'an, hand-written), fitting between the librarian's thumbs, and was enchanted by aging copies of Pakistan's "Dawn" newspaper from the mid-1900s. Other than these, what I loved most was the special table they had set up here on which were presented a huge, gorgeous copy of "Guru Granth Sahib," the Sikh holy book, as well as a lovely illustrated copy of the Hindu "Mahabharat" and also a Christian Bible, all next to an old copy of the Qur'an. I really appreciated the fact that the city of Bahawalpur and its Muslim locals appreciated the sacred texts of various religions, and kept them well-preserved.

There is so much more to see here in Bahawalpur (such as Darawar Fort in Cholistan, in the middle of the desert) but I only have half a day left - I must return here some day with more time in hand!

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