Curious fourth and fifth graders embarked on a cultural caravan tour organised by the Funkor Child Art Centre and Khaldunia High School on Wednesday.
The caravan was an effort to engage young students in the history of Islamabad and its cultural landscape.
The first destination was a magnificent tree in the Kaleenjar Valley known as “Mother and Nine Children”. From afar, the tree looks like a cluster of ten different trees. Over the course of thousands of years, the aerial roots of the primary “Mother” tree have found their way into the ground creating the illusion.
Banyan trees hold great significance in both Buddhism and Hinduism and have therefore been targeted by extremist groups. In 2003, a neighbouring seminary torched one of the wisest and tallest Bodh Gaya (trees with the face of Buddha carved into them) trees in the city. Other Banyan trees that remain are also endangered due to inadequate preservation efforts.
The young explorers swung on cascading branches, climbed into its nooks and learned how the tree brought the community – meeting and greeting under its protection – together.
They also painted a sign urging the Capital Development Authority to protect the trees, each child holding up a letter so that together they could unite, spread awareness and save these enduring symbols of culture and history. The letters were then piled back into the caravan for a bumpy ride to the Margalla Hills and the Buddhist caves that exist beneath them.
A student, Noor, said, “I really wish I could sleep under this tree.” She was referring to the serenity she felt under the generous shade of “Mother and Nine Children”.
Inside the cave with faces aglow, young boys inspected the texture of the walls, their fingers tracing its surface. Outside, students huddled around an ancient Banyan tree, its aerial roots spreading outward as though protecting the traces of the Buddhist civilization that once lived there.
Activist and Funkor Child Art Centre founder Fauzia Minallah stressed the importance of educating young boys and girls about the rich cultural heritage within Islamabad. “These Buddhist caves are such a big source of history,” she said about the centuries of history nestled under the Margalla Hills. “I fear that the next generation may not have the privilege of experiencing this part of our history.”
The next stop was Golra Railway Station, where the tireless explorers climbed inside the compartment of a parked train, running from cramped kitchen to rusty beds, and running their fingers across an old letterbox labelled in German. “The British must have stolen it from Germany,” someone chimed in while Minallah explained the importance of taking special care of things in bad condition. Built by the British, the station was once a bustling centre for travel but is now used principally for journeying between the twin cities.
The cultural expedition – intending to inculcate respect for the multi-cultural roots of the city, while developing a sentient relationship with the natural environment – ended in awe and excitement at the Golra Railway Museum.
“There are so many rich cultural vestiges from the past that people have yet to explore,” Minallah said. She added that the preservation of these sites is critical, as they form up the heritage of Islamabad, dismissing the age-old accusation that Islamabad has nothing to offer.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 5th, 2012.