Hungry Lions of Lal Sohanra and I

A few years back, while I was posted at Multan, a friend arranged a visit for me and my family to lal Sohanra National Park, near Bhawalpur.  We went to Lal Sohanra National Park and were lodged into the beautiful guest house of the Forest Department. At night, we lit a bon fire and our host slaughtered a goat which was roasted on open fire and we devoured every meat that we could find on its bones. I never tasted such a yummy dinner in my life.

The next day, our host informed us that we shall be taken to two places besides a drive through the forest. Our first adventure was to be Lion Safari – a drive through the caged portion where a pride of lion is set free in as close to their natural habitat as possible. So we made two groups – one in a car and the other in a coaster and entered the danger zone. After driving on the dirt track for a while, we spotted the pride resting not far away from the track. While the lion and three lionesses were a little away from the track, one lioness was sitting hardly 20-30 feet away from us. We stopped and I proposed to get out and have a photograph with the lioness in our background without realizing the danger of being attacked. So we got out, though very carefully, and posed for the photo. But the photographer panicked and could not snap clearly (when we got the prints it was all grass and nothing else). The look on the lioness face forced us to hurriedly get into our car from where I was able to shoot her (as seen in the above photo). Now when I see this photo, I shiver with fear because had she got up and ran after us, at least one of us would have been caught. 

Our next stop was the compound of the blackbuck habitat – now we need not fear and went as close as possible and saw them being fed. They were in hundreds and when the ran, they left behind huge smoke of dust.

Here I my add that Lal Suhanra National Park was declared a national park on 26 October 1972. Originally, the park comprised an area of 31,355ha, of which 20,932ha were desert, 8,488ha irrigated forest plantation and 1,934ha reservoir; it was due to be enlarged by 22,680ha. It is crossed by the dried-up bed of the Hakra River and features an important wetland, Patisar Lake. Blackbuck which is virtually extinct in the Cholistan Desert, is being raised in Lal Suhanra within large enclosures, together with Chinkara gazelle, Nilgai antelope, Hog deer and Indian rhinoceros. There is big lake in the centre of the park called Patisar Lake, which is ideal for bird watching. Patisar Lake regularly holds between 10,000 and 30,000 ducks and common coot in mid-winter. Over 13,00 waterfowl were present in January 1987. The park also supports a large population of birds of prey. 

PS: Sometime back I watched a video in which a group of tourists attempted a similar venture and were busy taking photos and making a movie. Suddenly one of the lionesses appeared from the rear and got hold of the movie maker. And right in front of the wailing family and friends, the pride of lions killed the poor man. So it is my advice not to make any such venture even if the lions are quite a distance away.

Lahore – a city like no other

Lahore – wow what a city on earth. There is a Persian saying that if there was no Lahore, Isphahan (Iran) would have been half of the world. There is yet another ancient proverb, “Even if Persia’s Shiraz and Isphahan were united, they wouldn’t make one Lahore.”

Lahore is the second city that vividly resides in my memory. It was here that a five year old lad was reared and brought up to grow up into a young man of 20 when he left for Abbottabad ( this would be my third post – soon to follow) to explore the breadth and length of Pakistan in days to come. But first let us talk of Lahore.

Lahore, when I along with my family arrived from Karachi,  was peaceful and calm. Roads were wide and open (or so they seemed to me at the age of five and beyond) – there were no congestion or crowds. The Mall Road, since long known as “Thandi Sadak (cool road)” – a name that it drew for its high shadowy trees in the centre of the green belt which provided shade from the scorching sun of plains during day time. It isn’t that way anymore since now there is so much of traffic that coupled with extra heat emitted by the air conditioned vehicles raises the mercury few degrees than other parts of the city.

I remember going to the Jinnah Garden early in the morning with my brothers on foot from our home, a distance of some 3-4 miles, everyday early in the morning. We would climb up the artificial hillocks in the garden, get scared of the bats hanging up side down on the huge trees (since Dracula had recently been aired in those days and I really thought those creatures to be vampires). Then in the evenings, my family would stroll down to the then famous “Shimla Pahadi” (near the present PTV station). In those days, there was nothing around the place and was an open patch with Shimla Pahadi standing tall. There used to be so many “Jugnoos” that my mother used to entrap in her dopatta ( an unstitched cloth just like a shawl) and would shine brilliantly.

One day early in the 60s, my father brought home glittering new coins of silver colour and announced that Pakistan has switched over to the metric system and now instead of anas, we shall have paisas. Prior to this we used brass made paisa, the lowest denomination of the currency, which still fetched us a candy. It also had a sister version with hole (like a donut). In those days, even an ana (later equivalent to six paisas) was a prize possession. The sight of a green 100 rupee note was a novelty and seldom seen. We only saw one rupee frequently. I would fetch meat for Rs. 4.50 a “sair” (equivalent to about 2.2 kgs now), beef for Rs. 2.50 and milk for Anas 6 and Dahi (curd) for 8 anas. Would you believe that? The present day rates are only hair raising. Read more about the  Journey of the Pakistani currency.

I was put into a nearby school for my early primary education. The time went by until 6 September 1965, when we had gone to our school for the first time after the summer vacation. Then around eleven, there was a big thunder which scared the hell out of us since there hadn’t been anything like that in the peaceful Lahore. We were then told that war has broken out between India and Pakistan and the school had been closed. Jubilantly (for the school being closed), we came home. For the next 17 days, Lahore wore a different cloak – people were emotional, ready to go to the borders to join their brethren en arms and fight out the Indians. I still remember the “5 Paisa Tank” donation in which everyone including myself participated everyday. We would cheer the military convoys passing by our house and listen to the roar of the “Rani” and “Sherni” – name given to two of the heavy guns deployed around Lahore and firing day and night. There would be sirens roaring all day whenever Indian jets intruded into Pakistan. We are also witness to the famous dog fight over Lahore, which the all Lahorites witnessed from their roof tops. The war ended but it was a cue for many in my age to vow to join the army when time came – and it did after some 10 years.

After schooling, I moved to the prestigious Government College (now University), a place where my father had been a student in 30s and two of my elder brothers. Being a Ravian gives one a proud feeling and sense of belonging. I would cherish the memories of the days spent in there and remember our charismatic principle Dr. Ajmal, our English language professor Mr.Tahir and others. I was in the fourth year, when I was selected for the army and left for the Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul (details of which shall follow in my next post soon).

Lahore is a city of its own kind – rich in culture, heritage and history. It is conglomerate of pre-Mughal, Mughal, Victorian and modern architecture and relics that abound it in its various parts. It may not be wrong to say that Lahore is the “Show-Window” of the pre-Muslim era, erstwhile Mughal and British Empires, besides a modern fast developing city. The majestic Badshahi Mosque, Masjid Wazir Khan, Lahore Fort, the Shalamar Gardens, the tombs of Noor Jahan and Jahangir, the Zamzamma gun (better known as “Bhangion ki Toupe” or the Kim’s Gun after famous British storey teller Rud Yard Kiplings who defied the then British law of sitting by the gun and wrote short stories) are some of the historic sites and objects worth visiting and admiring.

Lahore, or Laha-war, Laha-noor, Loh-pur, Mahmood-pur or Lohar-pur, has existed even in 1000 BC, when it was founded by Prince Loh, son of Rama Chandra. In 630 AD, the city was visited by Hieun Tsang, who remarked it as a Great Brahman City. However Lahore rose to its glory in the times of the Mughal empire and thereafter when many a landmark appeared on its landscape. In 1021 AD, Mahmood Ghaznavi Captured Lahore. From 1186-1206, Shahab-ud-Din Ghauri conquered and reigned Lahore and brought it under the Ghorid Empire. In between 1241-1310, the Mongols ransacked Lahore many a time, while Tamerlane plundered Lahore in 1398.

In 1524 Zaheer ud Din Babur, the first Mughal emperor captured Lahore (painting on left) and hence founded the Mughal empire which lasted till 1857, when British took over the entire Indian Sub-Continent. Lahore rose to its peak of glory in the reign of Mughal emperor Akbar, who made it his capital and held his court In Lahore for 14 years from 1584 to 1598, and built the Lahore Fort, as well as the city walls which had 12 gates. Some of these still survive. His son, Jahangir, is buried in its outskirts. Close by is the mausoleum of the famous Mogul Empress, Noor Jahan, who is known for introducing the rose plant and for initiating several cultural movements in the Sub-Continent. The last great Mogul emperor, Aurangzeb (1838 – 1707) built Lahore’s most famous monument, the great Badshahi Mosque. At that time the river Ravi, which now lies a few miles away from Lahore, touched the ramparts of the Fort and the Mosque.

After Aurangzeb’s death in 1712, the Afghans and the Persians came to rule Lahore when Nadir Shah Durrani, the King of Persia captured Lahore. Between 1748-67, Nadir’s successor, Ahmad Shah Abdali invaded Lahore eight times and it was during this time that the famous gun “Zamzamma” or better known as the “Banghian di Tope” (Bhangies Gun) or the Kim’s Gun was manufactured on the orders of Ahmed Shah Abdali. The Moguls transformed Lahore into a city of Gardens and beautiful landscape, which fascinated Amir Khusro, the great poet of Moguls’ time and say:

“Agar Firdaus bar rue Zamin ast, Hamin asto Hamin asto Hamin ast”

“If there is a paradise on earth, This is it, This is it, This is it.”

Lahore used to be a fortified city of twelve massive gates, whose names have outlived the largely pillaged walls. It has been a great city for at least a thousand years, but not when it was conquered, manhandled, occupied and ransacked by the Sikhs when they took advantage of the Mogul decline in the eighteenth century to seize the Punjab in 1764. During the Sikh’s rile, Lahore was ruthlessly robbed of its beauty and all precious stones and artifacts from the Mughal buildings were plundered and taken to Amritsar for the construction of the Golden Temple. The British annexed it into the British hold in 1849 and transferred to the British Empire in 1857.

Lahore played an important role in the Pakistan movement and the passing of the famous Pakistan Resolution on 23 March 1940 at Manto Park (now renamed as Iqbal Park) nest to the Badshahi Mosque and the Lahore Fort makes it more historic. The towering Minar-e-Pakistan reminds the historic event to all those entering Lahore from the north.

Although the city has expanded beyond proportions and many new localities have come up since the independence, but the indigenous people or the “Lahories” NOT “Lahorites” still abode the narrow gullies of Walled City (Old Lahore) which is surrounded by a wall, now in a dilapidated condition, with 12 entrances, namely Akbari, Bhaati, Dehli, Kashmiri, Lohari, Masti, Mochi, Mori, Shah-almi, Shairan-wala, Taxali and Yakki Gates. Here people know each other with their faces and ancestors.  Some well to do live in old but very well maintained “Havelis”. If an on looker really wants to meet the true Lahories, the walled city is the place to visit. Smiling, hospitable, warm hearted and always willing to serve the guests with traditional foods, though heavily oily and peppered, and local beverages like “Lassi and Neembo-Pani (made of fresh lemons, water, sugar and a pinch of salt).

Lahorites love sports, but of their own kind. Pigeon flying and fight of quails and roosters are also very common sites in Old Lahore. One can see pigeon cages high up on the roof tops on most of the houses of the walled city and elsewhere as well. Rare varieties of pigeons are reared by those who can afford and have the love of them for holding competitions. Kite flying is their favourite in spring, specially during “Basant”, when the entire walled city is on roof tops, day and night. However, due to some irresponsible kite flyers, who used metal strings which caused many a death, the kit flying has been banned in the entire province. Thus a good, cheap and lively sports succumbed to the interest of the few.

The people of Lahore are undoubtedly, the most warm hearted, loving, lively and jolly of all, the indigenous Lahorites are treat to be with. Friends of friends and people with open arms ready to receive any guest at any time of the hour. Simple and open always willing to help each other. Their weak point? – Food and lots of food, besides fun and laughter. In fact the world “Khaba” instead of mere “khana” takes it roots from Lahore. You will find people drinking the extra ordinary large glass of “Lassi” in one gulp.

With the development of Model Town, the migration from Old to New Lahore commenced. Now many a new and posh localities like the Gulberg, Shah Jamal, Defence (short for Defence Housing Authority – DHA) and many more have surfaced giving a new dimension to the glory of Old Lahore. From Mughal architecture, modern multi storied buildings and large villas abound the New Lahore. The wide roads and boulevards with houses which are generally built on western style with a tinge of eastern style. Here life style is much different from the Old Lahore, not only in attire but also eating habits. Instead of traditional foods, McDonald and KFC are preferred. Hotelling is more towards 4 – 5 star hotels rather than eating by the roadside. However, when in search of real food, people from New Lahore still flock the Food Streets and many other eateries in Old Lahore and its surroundings. As for attire, generally semi-western dress is worn by educated people while indigenous dress is worn at home. The traditional dress of Kurta and Shalwar (loose shirt and trousers) with a dopatta to cover their heads and upper parts of body. However, these days many hues and designs have been added to it. The women generally wear eye catching colourful dresses. Sari is also worn by women of the upper classes, but not a very common sight. In nutshell, Lahore is a modern progressive city built on a historic old Lahore – however, the Lahorites do not seem to have divorced their past while they move ahead and continue to preserve their majestic past and its grandeur as it is from its old traditions and hues that Lahorites draw their strength and pride.

I left Lahore in 1975 and then thereafter my visits to Lahore were only during leave.  But Lahore remains in my blood veins and no matter where I have been, there has been no parallel – no city could impress upon me its grandeur or culture as Lahore did in shaping me as a young man. The sweet nostalgic memories of my childhood and the teenage often take me to Lahore where I prefer to walk down the old alleys where I played as a child. All of it is fascinating and a sweet dream.

Karachi – The first city into my memory chip

I am adding my first entry into my new blog – and I take a start from Karachi. Not because it is the gateway to Pakistan “Bab-e-Pakistan” as it lies on the most southern portion of Pakistan on the Arabian Sea, but because my earliest childhood memories belong to this city. I was three years old when my father then serving in Police in Sargodha (where he was the Reserve Inspector at Police Training School “PTS” responsible for the training of the recruits – later PTS moved to Sihala near Rawalpindi and upgraded to the level of a college) was transferred to Karachi in the Intelligence Bureau (and had a great deal to do into its organization and functioning).

So it was Karachi – I had a faint memory of how our house looked. It was near the place where present day Haji Camp is located. There was a Fish Toll near our house. Once it rained very heavily and I remember we walked in knee deep water to a nearby complaint office to report for the electricity failure. I was almost five then. The famous China Creek was not far from our house and near that there was a small shop which beside other things sold “Till kay Laddoos” – then my favourite. Then there were Trams in Karachi, which I once remembered to have ridden with my brothers. Alas!! That treasure has since vanished. One of my aunt living with us was an air hostess in PIA and would always bring back bundles of chocolates and other sweet stuff. Once she brought me a small toy of Santa Claus riding a stag-driven cart. When the toy ran, it gave a ringing bell sound.

Then one day it was announced that my father had been posted to Lahore and we were to pack up. So we boarded a train (later it was revealed that we boarded the then famous Tez Gam). We left at night and I still remember the small hillocks passing by the moving train like ghosts.

I came back to Karachi in 1977 when I joined the Armed Forces and then there was no ending to visiting Karachi off and on.

Located on the mouth of the Arabia Sea, Karachi was nothing much until the Mirs of Talpur seized it from the Khan of Kalat in 1795 and constructed a mud fort at Manora. Originally what now constitutes Karachi was a group of small villages including Kalachi-jo-Kun or just Kolachi and the fort of Manora. Any history of Karachi prior to the 19th century is sketchy. Karachi is also said to be called Krokola from which one of Alexander the Great’s admirals sailed at the end of his conquests was the same as Karachi. In 1729, Kolachi-jo-Goth became a trading post when it was selected as a port for trade with Muscat and Bahrain. In the following years a fort was built and cannons brought in from Muscat were mounted on it. The fort had two doorways, one facing the sea called the Khara Darwaza or Brackish Gate and one facing the River Lyari called the Meetha Darwaza or Sweet Gate. Currently, the site of those gates corresponds to the location of the neighborhoods of Kharadar and Meetha-dar. In 1795 the city passed from the Khan of Kalat to the Talpur rulers of Sindh. The town then swelled and by 18181, had a population of some 13,000. Not much happened thereafter until 1st February 1839, when a British ship – the Wellesley – anchored off Manora. Two days later the little fort surrendered without a shot being fired on either side. Three years later, it was annexed into British India as a district. The fickle finger of fate had suddenly shoved the sleepy back-water towards becoming a megalopolis, a world city.

Its development during Sir Charles Napier’s era has been significant, who once said “Would that I could come again to see you in your grandeur!“. Napier’s quote proved almost prophetic and today Karachi has all what a thriving seaport anywhere in the world should have – wide sunny beaches and yachting, deep-sea fishing, golf and horse racing all-year round. Karachi was not what many see it today. At the time of independence though trams were used as means of transportation in some selected sections of the city, it had mostly camel driven carts snailing around the city. Some Victorian style buildings could be seen in the city centre. In fact Karachi as a city lacked a rich cultural past or the absence of historical buildings. Some of the old Victorian buildings that still stand to their glory include the famous Frere Hall.

From camel/donkey carts and cycle rickshaws and trams, Karachi has come a long way. Today mini buses and metro buses have replaced carts and trams. While a majority of people wait for the buses after a hard day’s work, gleaming new air-conditioned cars whiz by on broad and busy roads. Although there are very rich people in Karachi, called “Seths”, a majority of middle class people, who Karachi feeds of his established industrial base, look on. Since independence in 1947, Karachi has swelled into a very big city with modern buildings replacing the old ones, though some old hearts weep with nostalgic memories when any old building goes down.

Today Karachi is bursting with skyscrapers, modern 5 star hotels and restaurants and many public parks and theatres. Karachi is host to the annual Kara Film festival. Although this festival is very new it has gained an eminent position in international circles. Karachi is the financial capital of Pakistan and also home to the largest stock exchange of Pakistan: the Karachi Stock Exchange. Most Pakistani banks have their headquarters in Karachi. The headquarters of nearly all the multi-national companies based in Pakistan are in Karachi. Karachi also has a huge industrial base. The Karachi Steel Mills, the pride of the nation, is located near Port Bin Qasim and provides the much needed steel for the development of the country. There are large industrial estates on most of the fringes of the main city. The main industries are textiles, pharmaceuticals, steel, and automobiles, besides many cottage industries. Karachi is also developing into a software hub of Pakistan.

Karachi has a number of beaches, sun bathed with blue water kissing and taking away the warmth from the sun baked sand. French Beach is the finest beach in Karachi. The water is clean and the air is crisp. There are gorgeous rocks embedded in the ocean. The waves splashing against those are quite a lovely sight. But the Clifton Beach is the most visited as it is the only beach that is in the immediate vicinity of the city. All the other beaches are farther away. Hawks Bay is yet another wonderfully sunny and sandy beach. The water is clean and if you need a tan, it is the beach to go to. The huts allow total privacy and the view is magnificent. If someone is interested in turtles then Sand Spit is the beach to go to. Paradise Point is the last beach on Sind’s limits. It is a fairly rocky, allowing no swimming. French Beach is a recent addition, but mostly it is restricted to foreigners and members only.

Karachi is a true representation of Pakistan as people from all races and regions of Pakistan abound here which also is the chief reason that its restaurants provide a wide choice and range of Pakistani cuisines. One can find endless variety of Pakistani handicrafts like rugs / carpets of rare design and beauty and ornaments and clothes. In fact one can call it an ethnic and linguistic pot pouri of Pakistan.

So this is all about Karachi from me – my next travel will be through streets of Lahore (logically too as we came to Lahore from Karachi) where I grew up eating one of the best food anywhere in the world.