Saturday 19 August 2023

171. Shah Allah Ditta Caves & a Baoli - Islamabad!

Islamabad the capital city of Pakistan is a new city, but this area has a long history going back thousands of years to ancient times. The earliest civilization of this region was known as the Gandhara civilization. Its main city Taxila is located not far away from the city. Now almost the outskirts of this rapidly expanding city. Taxila is famous for its great stupas, monasteries, and many other archaeological sites. I covered most of these sites in my previous posts. One of the sites associated with Buddhist religious and cultural sites is Shah Allah Ditta caves. This site is located within the boundaries of the Islamabad Capital Territory and close to the modern residential areas of D13. The caves are situated at  33°43'18.09"N,  72°54'54.45"E

According to some general information available on different sites, the site was originally used by Buddhist monks for many centuries, starting around 400 BC. That is quite possible as the area lies in the heart of Gandhara civilization and the nearest stupa is located only 2 kms to the west on top of the hills. A trail leads to the stupa, but I did not visit the place. So cannot confirm the condition of the trail. However, the ascend is nearly 200 meters, which is considerable. 

The caves of Shah Allah Ditta. (31.07.2022.)

The caves are set in a very beautiful place, covered with verdant trees and foliage. The scene captivates your senses and soothes your nerves. The whole setting is very serene and peaceful. Lush green hills surround the place as if protecting it from the tumults of the outside world. 

A gorge in the west of the caves. The Ban Faqiran Stupa is located in the same direction. 

After the influence of Buddhism faded in the region, Hinduism became popular. This place too came under the use of Hindu Sadhus and reportedly they lived here up to 1947. The garden at the caves is still known as Sadhu Ka Bagh i.e. Garden of the Sadhu. 

A pond filled with spring water. 

Iftikhar and Obaid are closely inspecting the waterworks at Shah Allah Ditta. (31.07.2022.)

Ruins of old dwellings of sadhus and monks. 

The caves. (31.07.2022.)

Another cave. (31.07.2022.)

A spring flows out of the hills and irrigates the adjoining fields. (31.07.2022.)

Sadhu Ka Bagh.  (31.07.2022.)

On the way to Shah Allah Ditta.  

Obaid ur Rehman. (31.07.2022.)

Tariq Amir, the writer. (31.07.2022.)

Passing through D-12, on the way to Shah Allah Ditta. (31.07.2022.)

The caves are not the only attraction in the area. Up in the hills, at a distance of about 3.5 kms, is another historic structure. It is a baoli; stepwell. Again no authentic information is available, like when and by whom it was constructed. The road to the baoli, is very scenic and you can have a wonderful view of Islamabad City below. Needless to say that the surroundings are very beautiful. Some resorts are available and can provide a place for rest and dining. The Baoli is located at  33°43'48.05"N,  72°55'35.59"E.

Obaid taking shelter under a tree in warm and humid weather. (31.07.2022.)

It is a small Baoli, actually the smallest one I have ever seen. Its location suggests that once it was a busy trail used by people to cross the Margalla Hills. It is made of carved stones and still supplies water to the local people. It is in good condition and brimming with water, which suggests that people pay good attention to its maintenance. 

A view of Islamabad. (31.07.2022.)

From the left: Tariq, Obaid and Iftikhar. (31.07.2022.)

It is a very nice picnic spot for a day out to relax and enjoy in serene atmosphere, amidst lush green Margalla Hills. Hikers can also enjoy the walking tracks in the area. Some restaurants and resorts are open to serve the visitors. You can enjoy your dinner, in this peaceful atmosphere, while enjoying the beautiful scenery all around. 

Tariq Amir
August 19, 2023.

Tuesday 8 August 2023

170. Monuments of the Gandhara Civilization at Taxila - 08 (Bhamala Stupa)

The world-famous Gandhara civilization has many monuments, like stupas, and monasteries around Taxila. You can see the details on Taxila Museum, Dharmarajika, Mohra Moradu, Pipplan, Jaulian, Jinnan Wali Dheri, Jandial Temple, and Giri Fort, in my previous posts on this blog. So, I shall not repeat the information about the Gandhara civilization, its historical significance and architectural beauty. 

All the above-mentioned places are near Taxila or on the road to Khanpur Dam, hence, easily accessible. However, one of them Bhamal Stupa, the topic of this post, is a bit difficult to reach. This stupa is located on the other side of the Khanpur Lake i.e. the northern side. This site is located at  33°49'58.40"N,  72°58'34.71"E on a small hill, on the banks of River Haro. It is difficult to reach as the path leading to the site is unpaved and is just a stony track, with many twists and bends. Such is the condition for the last five kilometers. 

Stupa at Bhamala. (01.10.2022.)

It was the first of October 2022, a very pleasant day. The rainy season had just ended and the weather was simply excellent, with no dust and haze and a cool breeze blowing. The scene all along the way was breathtaking. The road winds along the Haro River at the edge of hills covered with green foliage. The clean blue water of Haro flowing through the lush green hills was creating a scene that one cannot forget.


Bhamala is one of the most important Buddhist Archaeological Site in this region. This site was declared as a World Heritage Site in 1980 along with other monuments in Taxila Valley. Sir John Marshall excavated this cruciform type of Stupa in 1930-31. Scientific Archaeological excavations at Bhamala were resumed after almost 80 years in 2012-13 by the Department of Archaeology, Hazara University Mansehra under the supervision of Dr Abdul Samad (Assistant Professor at that time) in collaboration with the University of Wisconsin (Madison) USA.

Keeping in view the archaeological potential of the site, The Directorate of Archaeology and Museums, Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa carried out further field excavations and investigations at Bhamala from 2014 to 2016 under the supervision of Dr Abdul Samad (Director, Directorate of Archaeology and Museums, Govt. of KP).

The excavations have brought to light a large number of archaeological artifacts (terracotta and stucco sculptures, coins, iron, copper objects) as well as structural remains including the second main Stupa surrounded by a subsidiary Stupa and chapels adorned with stucco sculptures.

The most remarkable discovery made during these excavations was a 14-meter-long re(c)lining Buddha made of dressed blocks of Kanjur stone.

This colossal Buddha image is placed on a stone platform inside a long chamber. Like other monumental images of reclining Buddha reported from Afghanistan and Tajikistan, the Bhamala Buddha is also facing towards the main Stupa. A large number of terracotta images are reported from inside the Parinirvana chamber showing that worshippers and mourners.

Radiocarbon date of the charred wood and charcoals taken from inside the terracotta sculpture placed around the monumental Parinirvana has confirmed that the Parinirvana was made during the 3rd century AD. Thus, the monumental Buddha image from Bhamala is the earliest representation of Parinirvana Buddha predating all the known colossal Parinirvana images reported from the surrounding regions including Ajanta (India) Tappa Sardar and Bamiyan (Afghanistan) Adzihna Tepe (Tajikistan), Daunghaung (China) and Chui Valley (Kirghizstan). It is also the sole example of Parinirvana Buddha in Kanjur stone.

The Archaeological Site at Bhamala is protected under  the provision of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Antiquities Act 2016 and as per section 18 Sub-Section (2) of the said act whoever, destroy, break, damage, alter, imitate, deface or mutilate or scribble, write or engage any inscription or sign on, any antiquity or take manure from any protected antiquity shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term, which may extend to five years, or with fine up to rupees two million, or with both.  


بھمالا اس خطے کا سب سے اہم آثار قدیمہ ہے، اس سائٹ کو 1980 میں ٹیکسلا کی دوسری سائٹوں کی طرح بین الاقوامی ہیرٹیج سائٹ کا درجہ دیا گیا۔ 1930-31 میں سر جان مارشل نے اس سائٹ کی کھدائی میں ایک صلیب نما سٹوپا دریافت کیا، 80 سال بعد اس سائٹ پر ہزارہ یونیورسٹی نے یونیورسٹی آف وسنکانسن، میڈی سن (یو ایس اے) کے تعاون سے ماہر آثار قدیمہ اس وقت کے اسسٹنٹ پروفیسر ڈاکٹر عبدالصمد کی زیر نگرانی اس سائٹ پر جدید طریقے سے دوبارہ کھدائی شروع کی، اس سائٹ کی اہمیت کے باعث محکمہ آثار قدیمہ اور عجائبات، حکومت خیبر پختونخوا نے 2014 سے 2016 تک محکمہ ہذا کے ڈائریکٹر ڈاکٹر عبدالصمد کے زیر نگرانی ایک بار پھر سے تحقیق اور کھدائی کا سلسلہ شروع کیا، اس کھدائی کی روشنی میں بڑی تعداد میں قدیمی نوادرات، مٹی اور چونے کے مجسمے، قیمتی سکے، لوہے اور تانبے سے بنی اشیاء دریافت ہوئیں۔ اس کے ساتھ ساتھ قدیم دیواروں کے باقیات جن میں دوسرا مرکزی سٹوپا شامل ہے جس کے چاروں طرف ذیلی اسٹوپا بھی برآمد ہوا، ان کھدائیوں کے دوران سب سے قابل ذکر دریافت کنجور پتھر سے بنا 14 فٹ لمبا سٹوپا ہے۔ اس شاندار بدھا کی شبیہ ایک لمبے چیمبر کے اندر پتھر کے اندر ایک پلیٹ فارم پر رکھا گیا۔ افغانستان اور تاجکستان سے ملنے والے بدھا کے ساتھ ملنے والی دوسری یادگار مجسموں کی طرح، بھامالا بدھا کا بھی مرکزی اسٹوپا کی طرف رخ ہے۔ پرینیروانا چیمبر کے اندر سے بڑی تعداد میں مٹی کےمجمسے بنائے گئے ہیں۔ جن میں راہب اور ان کے پیروکار بنائےگئے ہیں۔ یادگار پریزوان شبیہہ کے آس پاس رکھے گئے مٹی کے مجسمہ کے اندرسے لی گئی چارڑی ہوئی لکڑی اور چارکول کی ریڈیو کاربن ڈیٹنگ نے اس بات کی تصدیق کی ہے کہ پرینیر وانا تیسری صدی کے دوران بنایا گیا تھا۔ اس طرح بھمالا کی یادگار پرینیروانا بدھا کی ابتدائی نمائندگی ہے۔  جس کی ارد گرد کے علاقوں سے آجنتا (ہندوستان) ٹپا سرداراور بامیان (افغانستان)، اڈیز ہناٹٰیپے (تاجکستان)، ڈونگہونگ (چین) اور وادی چوئی (کرغیزستان) اور ارد گرد علاقوں سے موصولہ یہ کنجور پتھر میں پرینیر وانا بدھا کی واحد مثال ہے۔ بھمالہ کے آثار قدیمہ کا تحفظ خیبر پختونخوا نوادرات ایکٹ 2016 کے تحت محفوظ ہےاور مذکورہ ایکٹ کے سیکشن 18 سب سیکشن (2) کے مطابق جو بھی تباہ، توڑ، نقصان، بدلاؤ، زخمی، خرابی یا مسخ شدہ یا لکھائی یا دستخط کرنا، کوئی نوادرات یا کسی محفوظ شدہ نوادرات سے کھاد لینے پر ایک مدت کے لیئے سخت قید کی سزا ہوسکتی ہے، جس کی مدت پانچ سال تک ہوسکتی ہے، یا بیس لاکھ روپے تک جرمانہ ہوسکتا ہے، یو دونوں ہوسکتے ہیں۔   

After a considerable time, we finally covered the arduous route and reached the stupa. The stupa and the adjoining monastery are located on a flat hill, covering an area of a little over 2 acres. The site is protected by a fence and the entrance was also closed. We became a little bit anxious but soon found a guard on duty. But he had no good news for us. He informed us that the site was going under some repair and restoration work and was closed to visitors. But we were not ready to give up easily, especially after coming so far on such a tortuous road. On our repeated requests the guard agreed to call his superior and luckily got permission to allow us in. 

The mountains around Bhamala. (01.10.2023.)

Monastery in the east of the main Stupa. (01.10.2023.)

It is a typical Buddhist site with one huge stupa, surrounded by the figures of Buddha. And on the east of the stupa is located a monastery for the living and learning of monks. Very similar to the other sites around Taxila. It is a very beautiful place, with lush green hills around and a river flowing nearby. I felt that the monks could not have chosen a better place to worship God. Indeed a place where one feels himself close to his Creator. 

The interior of the Stupa. (01.10.2023.)

The monastery at Bhamala. (01.10.2023.)

Iftikhar Ahmad Bhatti. (01.10.2023.)

Tariq Amir. (01.10.2023.)

The Haro RIver. (01.10.2023.)

A statue of Buddha. (01.10.2023.)

On the way to Bhamala. (01.10.2023.)

The Khanpur Dam Lake. (01.10.2023.)

The road to this historical site is not good, but I assure you that visiting this place is worth all the trouble it takes to reach there. The beauty of this area will captivate you. There is an additional attraction, as on the way to Bhamal you can visit and take a break on the Khanpur Dam.  A beautiful picnic spot that offers a lot of activities to visitors including boating, skiing, and gliding. Many resorts are located around the lake to facilitate visitors.

Tariq Amir
August 8, 2023.