If the devastation unleashed by the floods in 2010 swept away nearly 200 bridges in Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B), it also led to the restoration of the historic Partab Pul to re-establish the communication link between Bunji and Gilgit.
The suspension bridge had nearly collapsed from a decade-long neglect until its renovation soon after the floods. Another comparatively wider bridge had been constructed for Bunji, the regimental centre of Northern Light Infantry, a regiment of the Pakistan Army.
Named after Partab Singh, Maharaja of Kashmir in the 1890s, the Partab Pul served as a vital communication link for the entire region as it connected Gilgit with Bunji, Astore and Kashmir.
According to Sherbaz Barcha, a historian, the bridge was constructed by Col Algernon Durand, the British Agent at Gilgit from 1889 to 1894 and named in honour of Maharaja Partab. “It was used for defence and trade,” Barcha told The Express Tribune.
Realising its importance, the British had banned even riders mounted on horses or other animals on the bridge, he said. The bridge was burnt down during the insurrection of 1947 when Gilgit won its independence from Dogra rulers.
According to historians, Bunji is also important because it commands the traditional highroad from Gilgit to Kashmir via the Tragbal and Burzil passes. Skardu, the capital of Baltistan, is further upstream.
Bunji is associated with the Bunji Dam which is to be constructed in its vicinity. Located on the west bank of River Indus, this small and little known town is 50 kilometres short of Gilgit. Accessible from the Karakoram Highway by this old suspension bridge, historically known as Partab Pul, it forms part of Astore district.
In G-B, the floods of 2010 swept away 180 bridges. The G-B government estimated losses of around Rs12 billion.
Since Partab Pul had been abandoned, residents of Bunji suffered after the floods washed away the new bridge.
At times, they even used locally made rafts to cross the river. Protests by the people and the town’s importance from a military standpoint led to the restoration of the bridge, a remnant of British engineering.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 31st, 2012.
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