Wednesday 11 November 2015

Temples Of Kafir Kot & Bilout

Aryans migrated to India around 1500 BC and made the Indus Valley their home. For the next few centuries they settled in the river valleys of Punjab, before spreading towards Ganges plains. This period is called Vedic period, as the holy scriptures of the Hindu religion, known as Vedas,  were written during this time. This area hence became the cradle of Hindu civilization. For the next 25 centuries it was an important area of Hindu culture and religion, until the arrival of Muslim by the end of the 10th century AD.

During this time many cities were built by them, with great temples as symbols of religion and culture. Some of the ruins of those ancient cities can be seen in the Salt Range, at Nandana, Malot, Amb and Mari Indus. (For Malot and Amb see my previous posts). In addition to that there are temples at Kafir Kot and Bilout, in district Dera Ismail Khan, which are considered to be extension of the Salt Range Temples. During my recent visit to these two places I found them to be best of all temples of Salt Range.

I seldom venture out of Punjab during my excursions, so entering Khyber Pakhutnkhwa was an additional excitement. Though I was not expecting anything extraordinary, but frankly speaking I was looking forward to a few glimpses of hardy Pathans with Kalashnikovs. I also regretted my inability to speak or understand any Pashto. But to my surprise all were speaking in Punjabi or Seraiki as they call it. But the same language we speak in my native town, Lilla in tehsil Pind Dadan Khan. First I thought I have met labourers from Punjab, but soon realized that the whole population along the river Indus speaks Seraiki / Punjabi. (They call it Seraiki).

My cousin Shah Sultan of Nali, District Khushab was with me, along with another companion. We entered KP after crossing the river Indus at Chashma barrage. Huge amount of water was gushing through the gates of the barrage with a big roar. The road passes right above the barrage. 

After crossing the barrage we turned right (northwards) towards Kafir Kot our first point of interest. The distance of Kafir Kot is 7.3 kilometers from this turning. Soon we were on an almost deserted road winding past hills on left side and high banks of the bed of river Indus on right. Contrary to my expectations it proved to be a little difficult to locate Kafir Kot, despite having already marked the place on google maps. Actually it is on top of the hills and not visible from the road. However, a few labourers were clearing the debris on the road, result of recent rains and they showed us a winding path up the hill top. The track was constructed just a couple of years back, according to a local man, but now the lower half is completely destroyed by heavy rains and is nothing now but a heap of loose stones. The first one third of the distance is particularly very difficult but rest of the path is easier to travel on. We parked our car beside the road and walked up the track. The distance from here to the gate of the city is approximately 630 m. It was a cloudy and hazy, but humid day. Not suitable for photography.

What we saw on the top of a plateau type hill was nothing less than a complete surprise. I was expecting just ruins of a couple of old temples, but what we saw was a complete fortified city, with large parts of the walls intact. Similarly at least two of the four or five temples are in a good condition, considering that they are more than 1,000 years old.

Track to Kafir Kot. (13.08.2015.)

River Indus. (13.08.2015.)

Walls of Kaifr Kot.  (13.08.2015.)

Bastions and walls of Kafir Kot.  (13.08.2015.)

Approaching Kafir Kot.  (13.08.2015.)

Probably the main gate of Kafir Kot.  (13.08.2015.)

Stone work around the gate reminded me of ancient historic cities in South America.  (13.08.2015.)

View of the two main temples from the East.  (13.08.2015.)

Wall of the city.  (13.08.2015.)

One of the two best preserved temples.  (13.08.2015.)

View from the front.  (13.08.2015.)

Another view of the first temple.  (13.08.2015.)

The second temple.  (13.08.2015.)

An enclosure and platform of the third temple.  (13.08.2015.)

View of the two temples from the west.  (13.08.2015.)

Two structures on the western edge of the city of Kafir Kot. (13.08.2015.)

Probably the largest temple in the city.  (13.08.2015.)

View from the front.  (13.08.2015.)

 A structure at the western most edge of the city.  (13.08.2015.)

View of a branch of Indus.  (13.08.2015.)

A fifth small building on higher ground, in the southern part of the city.  (13.08.2015.)

A parting shot of the two temples.  (13.08.2015.)

Even a layman like me soon realized that this is a no ordinary place. It is a huge archaeological site, with an area of approximately 27 acres and circumference of 1.6 Kms, about 70 meters above the road. It is also evident that it has never been properly excavated or explored. Though we saw a few signs of attempts on preservation but saw no evidence of a large scale restoration work. Neither we saw any board providing any details of this site. We strolled around the ruins for nearly an hour and took some pictures.

Our next destination was Bilout temples, about 35 kilometers in south, towards Dera Ismail Khan city. We reached there in half an hour and found that this site is also located on a hill, nearly 60 meters above the nearby ground. In additional problem was the flooded plains between the road and the hills. We luckily found an opening and reached the base of the hills. I was already tired by my mountain climbing at Kafir Kot, so it proved to me more difficult. As there was no proper track leading to the top. Perhaps the better way is to approach it through eastern side from the Bilout town. Yes unlike Kafir Kot, a thriving small town exists just east of this site. 

The similarities between the two sites are great, which clearly indicate that both were inhabited in the same time and by the same civilization. This city though smaller in size with an area of approximately 21 acres and circumference of 1.4 Kms, houses bigger and more beautifully constructed temples. The number of structures here is about seven.

Flooded plains near Bilout. (13.08.2015.)

Parts of the ancient city of Bilout. (13.08.2015.)

 Temples complex from a distance. (13.08.2015.)
Two temple. (13.08.2015.)

A square building surrounded by ruins of small houses. (13.08.2015.)

Twin temples facing each other. (13.08.2015.)

See two persons on top for scale. (13.08.2015.)

A partially destroyed structure. (13.08.2015.)

A row of temples, along the western wall of the temple. (13.08.2015.)

Front view of a temple. (13.08.2015.)

Another set of twin temples. (13.08.2015.)

Another view. (13.08.2015.)

A destroyed temple. (13.08.2015.)

Platform of a temple. (13.08.2015.)

A herd of goat on the slopes on the way downward. (13.08.2015.)

These two cities of Hindu Shahi era are truly a fascinating sites. I wonder why these have not drawn more attention of local or international archaeologists. These two sites, along with other similar sites in the Salt Range can be easily developed as tourist sites. If you ever plan to visit these places, the map given below will help you in reaching there.

Tariq Amir

November 11, 2015.
Doha - Qatar. 

Wednesday 28 October 2015

Rohtas: Gurdwara Choa Sahib, Gurdwara Mata Kaur ji & Tomb Of Khair un Nissa

Rohtas is a village in district Jhelum, just 10 kilometers south of Dina a town on GT road. It is famous for the fort built here my great king Sher Shah Suri in mid 16th century. I too knew Rohtas only for this fort. While trying to find more about the fort I found that besides this great fort, Rohtas has some other historic monuments as well. 

Two of those three sites are historically and religiously very important Gurdwaras of Choa Sahib and Mata Kaur Ji. Hence it is a significant place for Sikhs from religious point of view. The third is a tomb built during the Mughal era of a princess, Khair un Nissa. 

After entering the fort through Khwas Khani gate I and my cousin Nasir Mehmood reached the populated part of the fort. Here, we asked people about a Sikh Gurdwara, they told us to see Bhola, who runs a tyre repair shop under a tree, near a mosque. Bhola turned out to be the caretaker of Gurdwara Mata Kaur ji. It is a small beautiful gurdwara, it has recently been renovated by a persona Gurbachan Singh. Who lives in some foreign country but frequently visits this place. He has appointed Bhola as the caretaker. The gurdwara is small one room building but very beautifully decorated. 

Now something about Mata Kaur ji. She was born in Rohtas in 1681, into a religious family and had great devotion for Guru Gobind ji. Her father wanted her to marry guru ji. But as Guru Gobind ji was already married, so she decided to serve and accompany him throughout his life. Observing her great devotion, Guru ji declared her the mother of all Khalsa. Thus she has a very respectful position in Sikh faith and all Sikhs consider her as the mother of their nation. She led them through many crises and died in 1747. (For more details, see Sikhiwiki)

Gurdwara Mata Kaur ji, before renovation. (Picture:

Entrance of the Gurdwara Mata Kaur ji, (18.08.2015.)

Ceiling of the gurdwara Mata Kaur ji. (18.08.2015.)

Engraving of Hamandir Sabhib. (18.08.2015.)

Decoration on the left wall. (18.08.2015.)

A picture of ten Sikh Gurus. (18.08.2015.)

A picture of ten Sikh Gurus. (18.08.2015.)

Ghulam Mustafa, aka Bhola, the caretaker of the Gurdwara Mata Kaur ji. (18.08.2015.)

Bhola opened the door of the gurdwara and let us enter and take pictures. He took off his shoes at the door and we also followed him and entered the room after removing our shoes. The gurdwara is a small but very beautifully decorated room. With beautiful tile works on the walls and roof, and also many pictures of Sikh holy places and gurus. The gurdwara is located at  32°58'5.66"N,   73°34'41.48"E.

Now something about Bhola (in Urdu and Punjabi means, simple or naive). Though not rich or well educated, he is a gentleman. I did not see an iota of greed or cleverness in his conduct. He performs his duty of taking care of the gurdwara Mata Kaur ji, with honesty and sincerity. But I shall write more about him later on. He can be contacted at

Our next point of interest was an old historic gurdwara associated with Baba Guru Nanak Dev ji, who was born in Nankana Sahib in 1469 and died at Kartarpur, near Shakargarh in 1539. Guru Ji spent his whole life in preaching love of humanity, tolerance and harmony between the followers of different religions. To learn and preach he travelled extensively all of India and beyond. He is said to even visited Makkah and Medina also. During one of those travels he came to Rohtas. The place where he stayed and prayed became holy for Sikhs and they constructed a gurdwara to commemorate his visit. Sikhs occupied Rohtas in 1765 and probably they constructed a simple gurdwara soon after that. But the current building was constructed in 1834, during the rule of Maharaja Ranjit Sikh ( 

Gurdwara Choa sahib is located just outside the Talaqi gate of Rohtas Fort, at  32°58'16.49"N;  73°34'23.75"E. So when we reached the fort. We told our guide, who was lurking in the parking lot and immediately offered his services to us, to cut his lecture on the legends of Rotas fort short and take us straight to the gurdwara. While passing through Chand Wali gate and seeing the haveli of Man Singh and Rani Mahal we proceeded towards Talaqi gate. The whole path from Rani Mahal on wards to the gate, almost half a kilometer was totally covered with wild thorny plants and bushes. I expressed my doubt and repeated my intended destination, but the guide assured me that we were on the right path. When we reached Talaqi gate, we indeed saw the gurdwara right in front of us. But there was a precipice staring at us with sheer fall of at least 30 meters or perhaps more. We had no other option but to return back. The return journey in the hot suffocating weather itself was a big challenge. 

After seeing a few more parts of the fort, we again came to Bhola and asked him to take us to the Gurdwara Choa sahib. He readily agreed. We came out of the fort through Khwas Khani Gate and turned left on a track, along the walls of the fort. The gurdwara is exactly 1 kilometer from the gate. The path is very bad and stony. Bhola told us that it was reasonably good, but recent heavy rains have damaged it. We had to park our car half way to the gurdwara. The building of the gurdwara is in a reasonably good condition. Bhola told us that Sikh Yatrees occasionally come to visit this place. Especially on a annual festival they come in hundreds. 

The gurdwara is located between river Ghan and the Rohtas fort. It has three storeys. Though there are no religious articles of Sikh faith in gurdwara but it is in good condition and sometimes Sikhs come here to visit it and offer their prayers. However, the sarovar beside the gurdwara is not in a very good shape. Bhola holds the keys of this gurdwara and took us inside. 

View of the Gurdwara Choa Sahib from Talaqi gate. (18.08.2015.)

Three storey building of gurdwara Choa sahib. (18.08.2015.)

View of Talaqi gate from the gurdwara. (18.08.2015.)

Sarovar (sacred pond) of the gurdwara Choa sahib. (18.08.2015.)

View of the sarovar from the roof of the gurdwara. (18.08.2015.)

Ground floor of the gurdwara. (18.08.2015.)

View from the first floor. (18.08.2015.)

After the partition, a water pump was installed here. Now that has been shifted to its own building nearby. (18.08.2015.)

A closed door of the gurdwara Choa sahib. (18.08.2015.)

A corridor on first floor. (18.08.2015.)

 A view of upper floors. (18.08.2015.)

 A view of upper floors. (18.08.2015.)

A view of upper floors. (18.08.2015.) 
North eastern corner of the gurdwara. 

View from the north. (18.08.2015.)

View from the north. (18.08.2015.)

Gurdwara Choa sahib with Talaqi gate in the background. (18.08.2015.)

Now it was almost 1230 and the real feel temperature was 48° C. By then I and my companion Nasir, were so completely exhausted that it became extremely difficult for us to go back to our car just half a kilometer away. A little ascend of 25 meters became a big challenge for us. Bhola was just smiling at our condition and advising us not to go on an adventure in such a weather. But that advice came too late. We twice sat under the shadows of bushes and drank whatever little water we had. 

To drop Bhola, we again entered Rohtas and asked Bhola to find cold lemon water for us. As I was not in a mood to drink just water or even my favourite drink Pepsi. He said in that case we should go to his home. After a little hesitation and on his insistence we went to his home which was close by. It was a loadshedding (power cut) time, but the interior of the house was more comfortable than outside. Luckily power came in ten minutes and in the meanwhile Bhola's wife brought a jug full of cold Rooh Afza with the addition of lemon. Needles to say that that was the most delicious drink that I ever have had in my life. We stayed there for almost half an hour. Bhola and his wife insisted on preparing lunch for us, but after thanking them properly for their hospitality we took our leave. If anybody go to Rohtas, I suggest to take Bhola as a guide and I also request the visitor to thank Bhola on my behalf and give him a message that I have not forgotten his hospitality. Ghulam Mustafa (Bhola) can be contacted at +92 332 583 2019.

Though by this time little strength was left in our lazy bodies, but I thought it would be a mistake not to touch our third and the last target and that was the tomb of Khair un Nissa. To our good luck that was the easiest to reach. As our small car easily reached the tomb. I could not find much detail about the tomb of Khai un Nissa, except that she was a princess of the ruling Mughal family and died on a journey and was buried here. The tomb is located at  32°58'40.43"N;  73°34'51.30"E
Entrance of the Tomb of Khair un Nissa. (18.08.2015.)

View of the tomb from the south side. (18.08.2015.)

A tower beside an old graveyard. (18.08.2015.)

 View from the south east. (18.08.2015.)

View of the grave yard from the platform of the tomb. (18.08.2015.)

A distant view of the Rohtas Fort. (18.08.2015.)

One of the four cupolas. (18.08.2015.)

A cupola and the stairs passage. (18.08.2015.)

Another view of the tomb. (18.08.2015.)

A closer view of the tomb. (18.08.2015.)

The first look of the tomb completely surprised me. First I was not expecting to find such a great building and the second surprise was that such a magnificent building has been completely abandoned by the concerned government departments. Perhaps that is the reason that this tomb draws so little an attention of the general public. The building is is in a reasonably good condition but due to the negligence of the authorities is occupied by squatters. Who have put an rusting iron gate on the main entrance and locked it. Other passages are also blocked. Once there must have been a beautiful garden around the tomb. Its boundary wall is still visible around it. All I can say is that please someone do something to preserve it. 

Please comment and if possible provide some details about the tomb of Khair un Nissa. 

Tariq Amir

October 28, 2015.
Doha - Qatar.