Sarai Kharbooza fading into oblivion

Ancient inn dating back to Delhi Sultanate era suffering from neglect


Asim Mir October 24, 2021
Sarai Kharbooza is in urgent need of restoration and preservation to maintain and uphold its status as a historical site. PHOTO: EXPRESS

TAXILA:

Pakistan is blessed with the possession of several ancient structures, with most of them retaining vestiges of centuries-old architectural prowess till this day. Unfortunately, many of these remarkable edifices also narrate the story of neglect, dereliction and ruin. One of such historical buildings is Sarai Kharbooza, an ancient caravan inn currently at the brink of collapse.

Sarai Kharbooza is located approximately 10km southwest of the federal capital and its construction dates back to the era of the mighty Delhi Sultanate.

The ancient inn derived its name from its domes that resemble melons; hence the moniker ‘Kharbuza’. However, three of these domes have been destroyed, while one is still intact.

When the Mughal Empire reigned, caravans used to stay at Sarai Kharbooza, which reportedly served as an inn for travellers until the 17th century. A stepwell was also part of the inn and all facilities, including food and accommodation, were free of cost, as it was run by the government.

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Its historical significance can be gauged from the fact that Mughal Emperor Jahangir mentioned it in his autobiography, Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri, while narrating his stay at the inn in 1605.

Now, the ancient building, purportedly built over 900 years ago, is illegally occupied by local inhabitants. The rooms and walls of the inn were demolished to make room for houses.

Notably, the Gandhara Week was celebrated at Taxila Museum this month in which Patricia McPhillips, UNESCO Country Director of United Nations, affirmed that the organisation will continue to extend all possible cooperation for the restoration of historical sites in Pakistan.

Federal Parliamentary Secretary for National History and Literary Heritage Ghazala Saifi said that the incumbent government has taken various steps to promote cultural heritage and increase the potential for religious tourism.

However, Sarai Kharbooza is among various historical sites that are in a state of disrepair due to neglect.

Dr Nadeem Omar Tarar, a cultural heritage expert, told The Express Tribune that the site is located in the region of the federal archaeological department. He said that several attempts have been made to bring the poor condition of the historical structure to the department’s attention.

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However, according to Dr Tarar, the relevant authorities have neither taken practical steps for the site’s restoration and preservation nor have installed any board declaring their adoption of the property. The gradual destruction of the building by squatters has also seemingly gone unnoticed.

When contacted, Dr Abdul Azeem, Director General (DG) of the Department of Archaeology and Museums (DOAM), said that if one looks at the historical background of the encroachment around the building, it was allotted to Kashmiri refugees after the partition in 1947.

He added that the department still possesses a portion of the building and that they have written to the Capital Development Authority (CDA) for its renovation and handing it over to the archaeological department after removing encroachments.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 24th, 2021.

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