Friday 12 May 2023

163. Serai Pakka, Khanpur, tehsil Gujar Khan!

The word serai is of Turkish origin and means a palace. In Persian and Urdu, it is widely used in the sense of an Inn or motel. The serais were common in the Middle East and central and south Asia. Along with baolis (step wells), these were an integral part of the road system. 

Serais were normally constructed along the main highways and were fortified, fort-like huge buildings. Which could accommodate a big caravan and provide all kinds of facilities for the stay of travellers. The primary purpose was to provide a safe and secure place for the caravans at night. Serais were located at a distance of 25 to 30 kilometers from each other. Just a few of them have survived the depredations of time and above all our negligence.

Such an example is Serail Pakka located at 33°18'34.87"N, 73°20'31.41"E about ten kilometers northeast of Gujar Khan, near the village Khanpur. It must have been located along the old route of the GT road, which no passes about six kilometers to the west. We visited it on 30 April on a pleasant afternoon. We approached it from the northeast from a lower ground and the first view was quite impressive. I only vaguely knew about its existence and was not sure what to find there. In the google maps the spellings of the place are given as Saray Pakka. 

The main entrance of the serai is northward and on this side, the complete wall still exists. Similarly, the eastern wall is still intact, though both are not in good condition. But the other two walls are almost completely gone. The whole structure is in bad condition and the interior of the serai is almost completely occupied and dozens of families are living inside and along the western and southern wall. 

The northern wall and the main entrance of the Serai Pakka. (30.04.2023.) 

The main gate of the serai. (30.04.2023.) 

The gate and a section of the wall. (30.04.2023.) 

Iftikhar Ahmad Bhatti.  (30.04.2023.) 

The writer. (30.04.2023.) 
While searching for some information about this serai, I found the following thesis, which provides the following information about the serail 

Architecture and Identity: 
The Occupation, Use, and Reuse of Mughal Caravanserais by 
Jennifer Lynn Campbell 
A thesis submitted in conformity with the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy Department of Anthropology University of Toronto 
© Copyright by Jennifer Lynn Campbell 2011

Much less is known about Pakka Khanpur Serai than Gor Khuttree Serai from the historic documents. Jahangir’s nama mentions Pakka Khanpur Serai, suggesting its date of creation was prior to Jahangir’s rule (AD 1605-1628) (Dar 1999:125 from his reading of the Tuzk-i-Jahangiri). The travel notes of William Finch (AD 1611) mention ‘Pakka’ as a place along the Lahore/Kabul route (as discussed in Ansari 1975:32 and Foster 1921:168). Martin Neill (1845:308) stopped at “Serai Pucka”, while on military tour sometime between AD 1839 and 1842. The Narrative of the Second Sikh War by Edward Thackwell (1970:136) records the arrival of the British army at “Serai Pucka” on the eighth of March AD 1848. A military notice from January 21st , AD 1852, also mentions “Pucka” Serai in Rawalpindi District (Allen’s Indian Mail 1852:158); this notice informed all European men serving in the British forces and alongside the Native Corps at “Pucka” Serai that they were required to grow their mustaches. In Hari Ram Gupta’s (1999:14) History of the Sikhs, “Serai Pakka” is the location from which Shah Zaman addressed a letter to Ranjit Singh in approximately AD 1796. Local residents today are of two opinions. Some suggest the serai was built by the Mughal Emperor Jahangir in the early 1600’s, while others suggest the serai is a Sher Shah Suri period construction. At this time there is little artifactual reinforcement for this inherited knowledge. Archaeological research has not yet determined a date of construction, although the structure does not resemble other Suri period constructions.

Pakka Khanpur Serai was square in plan, measuring approximately 123 m north-south by 119 m east-west, with two gates and four bastions. Only a north gate survives today, along with portions of three bastions and several cells along each wall. The serai has an internal well and a mihrab in the west wall associated with the ruins of a mosque. 

The cells at Pakka Khanpur are similar in size and arrangement to those at Gor Khuttree, discussed in section 7.1.1. The front sections of the cells (a total of 4 cells were recorded) at Pakka Khanpur on average measure 3.30 m X 3.30 m while the rear section measures 2.65 m X 3.30 m. Differences between the two serais’ cells include the style of the doorway used to enter the rear section of the cells and the methods of construction of the ceilings. The front sections of the cells at Pakka Khanpur communicate with the rear sections via a rectangular doorway with gently rounded upper corners, while those at Gor Khuttree generally communicate with the rear section via an arched doorway.


Insie the Sera Pakka. (30.04.2023.) 

The view of the gate from the inside. (30.04.2023.) 

Houses inside the serai. (30.04.2023.) 

The massive gate. (30.04.2023.) 

The northeastern bastion. (30.04.2023.) 

The eastern wall. (30.04.2023.) 

Another view of the northern wall. (30.04.2023.) 

The southwestern bastion. (30.04.2023.) 

A room in the serai. Picture from the above-mentioned thesis.

It is to be noted that the southern wall has completely disappeared and similarly southeastern bastion too does not exist. 

This serai is another example of our lost heritage, our negligence, and our total disregard for historic buildings and monuments. Though there is not much that can be saved as the haphazard construction has completely destroyed most of the structure, including the rooms for travellers inside the serai. But the main entrance on the north side and the wall can still be preserved with some effort. It is a historic building with considerable significance and some steps should be taken to preserve it, even only if partially, before it is lost completely.  

Tariq Amir 

May 12, 2023.  


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