Multan is known as the City of Saints due to a large number of shrines of Sufis and Saints. Strolling in the city is like a dip in the spititual world. Great Saints and Sufis lived here. The city is full of mosques, shrines, and ornate tombs. Not very far from Multan is the birth place of Fariduddin Ganjshakar, popularly known as Baba Farid, who is condidered father of the Punjabi language, and one of the pioneers in developing Shahmukhi script of Punjabi. The city is located in a bend created by the five rivbers of central Pakistan. The Sutlej River separates it from Bahawalpur and the Chenab from Muzaffargarh. [Image above is the shrine of Hazrat Shah Rukan-e-Alam, a symbol of Multan’s unqiue place in history as the city of saints. Image via Wikipedia]
FIRST TO MULTAN, THE CITY OF SAINTS AND SHRINES
by Hafeez R. M.
Seat 26, Bogy 9, Shalimar Express, this way, said the railway-officer in snow-white uniform after checking my ticket.
I made my way muscling & steering through passengers and porters. In red uniforms with silver-badges, the porters were carrying large boxes over their turbaned heads. Four Rupee per trip, the on-going rate was written on their chests. Bogy 9 was a lower-class compartment with bare wooden benches. Seat 26 was luckily on the window-side. A tall man soon occupied the next one. He was dressed in a shirt worn over a long wrap called a dhoti. First, he stacked his boxes and a hookah (hubble-bubble). Second, he greeted me with a smile. Meanwhile, other seats were occupied – four on each bench, facing each other. With shoulders rubbing, knees touching, eyeballs to eyeballs, it was difficult to conceal destinations. I was an odd man out in a leather jacket, jeans and joggers. All eyes darted at me to set the ball rolling. I disclosed my plan to go to Turkey by land.–
I’m Rezi Shah. Please place these coins on Roza Imam Reza as my humble offerings, said a fellow passenger. He had his hand stretched, containing three shining coins. Surely I was passing through Iran but the holy shrine was in the city of Mushhad, not on my route. I showed some hesitation. This brought a stunned look at his face. He thrusted the coins in my hand and said, When you go to Iran, the Imam would call you. Surely he did. On return from Turkey, I stayed in Tehran. I learnt that the Pak-Iran rail-link had been washed away by the heavy rains. The alternate was to go via Afghanistan. Mushhad was on the way. The high minarets of the shrine were visible miles before. Its golden dome with inscription from Holy Quran mesmerized me. I was drawn towards it in a trance.
With a long and a short whistle the train hauled out of the platform. Though it was early morning, the city was hemming with horse-drawn carriages, buses, and motor cycles with four or five school-going kids perched on them. In month of April, the city was lush-green with lofty trees and spacious parks. A lovely cannal flowed throughout its length. The train passed by beautiful old buildings and teeming bazaars. Lahore had indeed retained its sense of history.
The train was moving fast. It had a short stop at Raiwind, 60 km away. I saw a lone mosque in the midst of thriving crops. Come November, the winter harvest would be over. The land will be paved and marked for erecting tents, canopies and marquees. Over two million Muslims would gather for a three-day refresher course in teaching of Islam. In fact, after Haj in Mecca, it is the biggest gathering of Muslims anywhere. Known as Tablighees, the visitors are backpackers in real sense. They have a few worldly things: a stick of acacia for teeth cleaning, two handfuls of roasted wheat as emergency ration and some bare essentials. Placing them on a prayer rug, they would roll it and tie it with a plastic cord. They would haul it up on their right shoulders and set out in all cardinal directions to explain Islam in a most simple way to their own kith and kin.
I was lost in my thought when I heard Bismillah. I looked around and found that a fellow traveller was inviting all to share what he had for breakfast: paratha (bread without yeast fried in butter) and omelette with green chillies and onion. Everyone tore off a small chunk with right hand not to hurt his feelings. Meanwhile, the train had entered the most fertile land of Punjab, which means Five Rivers. This was peak season for wheat, barley, gram and oilseeds. Fairly strong and steady winds were assisting in threshing and winnowing of the harvested wheat. The entire trip was scenically rewarding. Orchards of citrus were in abundance where the oranges and kinnoo were glowing in glossy dark. Camels were pulling carts loaded with grains. Because of good pastureland at some places, buffaloes and cows were grazing in large numbers. At about 12:00, the training pulled into Multan covering 290 km in about six hours.
He, who travels light, travels far. Fetching the strap of my bag, I just walked out of the station and went straight to Hotel Silver Sand. For $ 12 equivalent, I got a spacious room with attached bath. It was midday. I had a long hot shower, ate some biscuits and slept like a log.
In the evening, I changed into national dress, Shalwar Kamis (wide trouser and shirt) and went to the bazaar. There was an aroma of kebab being grilled over charcoal. I gulped a tikka, barbecued chicken-piece, and naan washing them down with a soft drink. This was my standard filler, easy on pocket and low in cholesterol. It was a well-crowded area. Milk scented with pistachio was being sold in rickety stands lining the street. In smoky teahouses, people were mulling over state of the nation. In the dim interior of adjacent shops, cobblers, taxidermists, bookbinders and embroiderers plied their ancient crafts. Clip-clop of horse drawn tongas mixed well with the razzle-dazzle of the bazaar.
The shrine of Shah Shams Tabrez is one of the thousands of saints buried in Multan. There are quite a few legends and / or miracles associated with the saint, the most popular being him requesting the sun to come down and roast a raw fish he held in his palms. To this day, many natives relate the insanely temperate summers in Multan with this legend, but only God knows better. The shrine was built around 1330 AD by his grandson and renovated around 1710 AD. Keeping with the tradition of the exquisite Islamic architecture prevalent in the era, the shrine has a very distinc t style, particularly the use of colored, glazed tiles all over the dome and the axterior of the shrine.
Strolling in the Multan City was like a dip in the spiritual world. Great Saints and Sufis had lived there. Mansur Hallaj, the famous martyr of mystical love, had visited the place to call people to God. He was later beheaded for just uttering one word: An-ul-haqq, I am the creative Truth. No where else, there was such a cluster of shrines and tombs. Their domes were visible from every direction. They were decorated with glazed tiles. Love for God was brought near via sublime words and versus. A good singer could hold his listeners spellbound with poetry and tune.
Next morning, I rang an old friend, Yunus, and asked him to accompany me to see the handicrafts. He reached in about fifteen minutes and embraced me three times, left, right and left. You have not much changed, said he looking at me from head to toe. Hand and hand, clinging together, pushing each other to left and right, we moved toward his car. This might give a wrong signal to Western but it was an acceptable norm for the two friends to move together. We went from one place to another to see craft centres. Artistic furniture was being made with both classic and folk motifs.
Brass inlay on wood was specialty of the area turning raw wood into tea trolleys, cigar boxes and salad bowls. Worth seeing was lacquer-work. Once the wooden objects were lathe-turned and rounded, they were lac-layered in fast rotation and patterned by etching out one colour beneath another. Lastly, we went to a sweet shop famous for its Halwa, made with green flour, butter, pistachios and sugar, its recipe handed down from generation to generation. I tasted freely many varieties oblivious of warning by my doctors to keep the cholesterol low. Afterall, one has to die one day, why not die with a mouth full of sweet.
Meanwhile, we heard the wail of the muezzin, a call to prayer, long and passionate. Vehicles & camel-carts came to a screeching halt. Many people went to the nearby mosques; other spread their prayer mats on the ground facing Mecca.
TiIBBI, VILLAGE OF YUNUS
In the evening, we headed for the village, about 145-km away. A good road, a new Corolla car, an experienced chauffeur made me feel as if time has stopped. After about an hour and a half, we turned to a side road. The sun had dipped behind the trees when we reached the village. There was no telephone, not even electricity wire was seen nearby. Yet many people and a donkey were waiting for us. Do you come here every Monday, I asked. No but I did send a message through a friend, about 5 km away from here. In a while, a middle-aged person, in tattered and dusty clothing saluted Yunus and told him, I rushed on my donkey when asked to take the message of Bara Sahib (Big Boss). Yunus puffed up with pride on being elevated and fished out some cash for the man. I thanked God, the donkey was not for my ride. In old days, the donkey was used to disgrace a thief. His face was blackened with charcoal and he was forced to sit on a donkey for parading throughout the town. Perhaps, one would prefer life imprisonment.
The village was small but houses were large and spacious, built with mud bricks and clay, just like they were made centuries ago. We were led to an open-courtyard of the house and offered wooden cots covered with embroidered bed sheets. An old lady took a brass pot to milk a buffalo tied in a corner. She brought two bowls full of foaming milk. It was delicious and I praised her. I am milking buffaloes since I was knee high, said she beaming with pleasure. We had dinner and slept on the same cots. Yunus rose early next morning and woke me up. There are no toilets here, we have to go out in the fields, he whispered. I knew it well; I was son of the same soil.
Carefully, tip-topping on the toe-path, we moved for high crops. On the way, Yunus remembered his childhood, My mother used to get early and her first duty was to grind grain in the chakki (stone-mill). Its sound was very soothing. A poet had it well described: ‘Chakki is working, night is fading, and dawn is breaking’.
After breakfast, Yunus asked me to stay on while he went back. The village was quite small, population in hundreds, engaged in land cultivation in age-old ways. There were no tractors nor tube-wells but bulls, wooden ploughs and Persian Wells. A villager led me to a back street where a cow was being given a bath. Young girls and ladies in their fanciful attire were singing songs. This is a golden bath, said an elderly lady. Golden! This is ordinary water, I showed my amazement. No ordinary water, we have dipped our golden ornaments in it to welcome the new arrival, a young girl chipped in. While in cities, women are rarely seen out, they roam here freely. They work un-veiled in the fields or stitch bits of cloth to make rilli in bright and dazzling colours.
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Note: This is an old yet interesting travellogue [as you might have also noticed], hence the prices and costs of staying at different places mentioned by the writer may be much higher than the ones prevailing at the time he undertook this journey.
More Posts from Hafeez R. M. on Wonders of Pakistan
1. Footloose in East Africa – [in three parts] 2. Escape for a while 3. The Shrine of Hazrat Ayub Ansari in Istanbul 4. Sacred Crocodiles 5. Shalimar Gardens, Lahore 6. Gorakh Hills, A pleasant surprise 7. The tomb of Hazrat Abdullah Shah Ghazi 8. Thar coal – hope or despair [in three parts]
Hafeezur Rahman Malik is an ex-Bank Executive. As says Hafeez, he now whiles away his time in teaching and traveling. Each year in summer and winter holidays, he goes on a footloose and fancy-free safari to a new country or to a new area of a large country like USA. His travel tales are published by various websites specially www.hubpages.com & www.cstn.org . He lives in Karachi, Pakistan, with wife and a cat.Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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