Tilla Jogian

Published: July 20, 2012
The writer is author, most recently, of The Apricot Road to Yarkand (Sang-e-Meel, 2011) and a member of the Royal Geographical Society 

The writer is author, most recently, of The Apricot Road to Yarkand (Sang-e-Meel, 2011) and a member of the Royal Geographical Society salman.rashid@tribune.com.pk

Tilla Jogian — the Hill of Jogis — sits some 25 kilometres southwest of Jhelum town. Rising to 1,000 metres above the sea, it is a dethatched spur of the main Salt Range. On its summit, richly forested with ancient olive trees, pines, phulai (Acacia modesta), are the ruins of an ancient monastery.

Established in the 1st century BCE by the celebrated Guru Goraknath, the founder of the sect of Kanphatta (pierced ears) jogis, it lived for a full two millennia before it was finally abandoned in 1947 following the greatest transmigration in human history. In the 16th century, Akbar the Great visited the monastery — twice in four years — and was much impressed by the practices followed by the jogis. He marvelled at the great age of establishment.

In 1748, the brigand chieftain Ahmad Shah Abdali sacked and looted the monastery. But barely had he withdrawn and the smoke cleared, that the monks and jogis returned to rebuild and revitalise the age-old school.

In 1974, a friend and I went there and found a pristine, mysterious and utterly deserted clump of buildings. Young and ignorant, neither of us could date the buildings. Now, I know that they range from the mid-18th century to the first decade of the following, with some earlier ruins peaking from beneath to the uppermost layer.

There was one building from the last decade of the 19th century. This was a colonial bungalow, a rest house built to accommodate the deputy commissioner and his retinue during the months of April through August when the administration shifted to the cool hilltop. I returned again in 1986, only to find the rest house demolished and replaced by a new building. Two years later, this building was also in ruins, the doors and windows having been torn asunder, the interior vandalised and plundered much like Abdali had done over two centuries earlier.

Thereafter, I returned again and again, spending more and more time examining the ruins. I realised that the nearly two dozen samadhs my friend and I had seen in 1974 near Akbar’s tank were systematically being demolished. Sometime in the late 1990s, I noticed that the floors of two temples were uprooted. Until then, still too naïve to understand the real reason for this damage, I attributed it to the hatred we harbour for all built heritage of non-Muslim origin.

I stumbled upon the truth when, purely by chance, I ran into a man selling old coins. He said he had found them from some building in Tilla Jogian. I then realised this was a modern Abdali, one of many, who was laying the monastery waste.

With the turn of the century, the bile reserved for Tilla Jogian was suddenly magnified. A small and beautiful little domed building at the doorway of the main temple courtyard, nestling under a magnificent olive tree had its roof torn apart. I had admired this particular building since my first visit in 1974 and knew this damage was not caused by nature but by the vicious hand of another modern Abdali searching for treasure and not finding any.

The most heartbreaking act was committed in late 2004. On the western edge of the hill, there stands a building that looks vaguely like a miniature of Jinnah’s tomb in Karachi. This was raised during the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh to mark the spot where Guru Nanak Dev performed his 40 days of penance and worship.

First of all, a small opening was made in its north wall and a bit of the domed roof broken. By late 2005, the damage had been enlarged and the floor uprooted. I made every attempt to rouse the sleeping bureaucracy, but to no avail.

And so it continues. Vandals have a free hand whenever they descend upon the most ancient and long-lived monastery of Pakistan. And no one cares.

The miscreants who uproot the buildings searching for treasure are incapable of recognising the fact that those who became jogis gave up everything worldly to follow the monk’s life. They did not bring their wealth to Tilla; they came as paupers. The few coins of little value that some rapacious moron found were a chance discovery.

But we do not care. This country is the same to us as it was to Ahmad Shah Abdali: a foreign land to plunder and destroy.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 21st, 2012.

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Reader Comments (31)

  • Ahmed
    Jul 20, 2012 - 11:15PM

    Salman sahab

    You are the conscience of the nation. And a one man fighting army battling the jihadis, looters, thieves, thugs, religious extremists, tax evaders, art demolishers, car bombers, radical mullahs who make up much of the rest of the nation. You ain’t winning this war salman sahab. But you fight a good fight.


  • 3rdRockfromtheSun
    Jul 20, 2012 - 11:18PM

    The lamentable fruits of sustained efforts (official and otherwise) to distance oneself from one’s own culture and genes, and try to become someone else and copying their culture and rituals as your own. A land with one of the earlist recorded civilizations, its rich cutlure and hertitage forsaken by its own peoples.
    Hopefully there are still some monuments left, that could be saved from such wanton destruction!


  • Babloo
    Jul 21, 2012 - 12:04AM

    Sir, what more can I add. I wish Indian government had shown some interest in preserving the historical heritage in W Pakistan , and not leave maintenance of non-Muslim heritage to the administrations in W Pakistan, to do as they deemed fit. The result has been total destruction and annhilation of Hindu heritage on a land , where few centuries ago, they were the majority.
    The sikh heritage has survived better .


  • Waseem
    Jul 21, 2012 - 12:19AM

    This is so sad. It is a shame that no one cares about history of such value. I think our children will only have stories to read about our structural history and culture, or may be they won’t even believe in these stories. Thank you sir for taking me back home, a few miles on the other side of Tilla Jogian..


  • Awans
    Jul 21, 2012 - 12:38AM

    The Durrani Empire was an Eye Opener for Muslims of Punjab who helped Abdali because they thought that they are Muslims and must be supported. But as soon as Durrani Empire established Afghan Leaders killed local Kings in Punjab and they plundered the lands and killed scores of people and it was a Saying in Punjab that dont leave you grain for the next day otherwise Abdali will took it away snd eventually Muslims of Punjab joined hands with Sikhs and Ranjit Singh born in Gujranwala said that this time Khyber belongs to the people who belong from Punjab and eventually he attacked Peshawar and took it away and Like Rohtas he will build a Jamrud Fort , No historian will tell that who build the Jamrud Fort and why and what were the reasons that people of Punjab attacked Peshwar and Khyber and defeated the People there. In my View History of Punjab is actually not related to Muslims but to everyone who lived here. My Hero is a Infact a Ranjit Singh a real son of Punjab who gave us our lands back from plunderers.


  • Qamar Abbas Khokhar
    Jul 21, 2012 - 12:44AM

    Right you are, Sir. We do treat Pakistan as “a foreign land to plunder and destroy”.


  • Indian
    Jul 21, 2012 - 2:39AM

    Great article .. hopefully it reaches deaf ears of the administration. How pathetic it is that the country is disowning its own cultural heritage.. Distorted history –> distorted future


  • Dasmir
    Jul 21, 2012 - 2:56AM

    What can you say about a nation that is ashamed of its five thousand years of past.Instead of sharing that past it looked west who call them “Miskeen”!


  • Anonymous
    Jul 21, 2012 - 3:50AM

    What is this Kanphatta jogis? Since you have mentioned about Gorakhnath, I think it is about *Nath Sampraday*. I would like to add few words about *Nath sect* that I read somewhere long ago.
    This sect is now probably very small and seems like some secretive sect and mysterious because of beliefs that they have supernatural powers gained through practice of Yoga, and they live as monks away from common people.
    But actually Nath Sampraday was a major sect with influence all over subcontinent, right from Afghanistan and Baluchistan to Southern India. They reject caste system. Naths are yogis i.e. they practice yoga for spiritual progress.
    Most importantly, they wrote books on Yoga and are responsible for spread of yoga. I think Gorakhnath (or Machindranath?) can be considered father of Hatha-yoga.
    I am not exactly sure but the time of decrease in influence of Nath Sampradaya co-insides the time of invasions and spread of Islam in subcontinent. So it is only natural that destruction of last remnats of Nath sect in Pakistan as described by author co-insides with complete Islamization of Pakistan.Recommend

  • saadat tahir
    Jul 21, 2012 - 3:51AM

    with the particular ilk and their henchmen we have suffered over decades…what else do you expect.
    A sad commentary…
    But very enlightening and researched article…loved reading it…kudos


  • Rajendra Kalkhande
    Jul 21, 2012 - 4:43AM

    @Awans: “My Hero is a Infact a Ranjit Singh a real son of Punjab who gave us our lands back from plunderers.”

    He was truly the son of soil. He even attacked Iran and brought back the Koh-e-Noor diamond. Wish more people think like you. Pakistani people have to re-discover their own sons of soil. Harping on borrowed Arab and Afghan heroes won’t help.


  • Haroon Rashid
    Jul 21, 2012 - 5:45AM

    What Timur failed to achieve. What Ghengis Khan dreamed of. What Mahmud of Ghazni never could do. That is what happened in 1947. A five thousand year old way of life. A civilization as old as the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt was extinguished. All by the stroke of pen. We the people of Pakistan are now paying dearly for this crime.Recommend

  • Haroon Rashid
    Jul 21, 2012 - 5:47AM

    I could not have said it better. Salman is indeed the conscience of the nation.


  • Haq Nawaz
    Jul 21, 2012 - 7:29AM

    Mr. Rashid has been visiting the historic place since 1974, witnessing the plunder, and seemed have done nothing about it. Ours is poor, underdeveloped, and disorganized country. In a more developed and resourceful country, such places would have been under the care of department of archeology and heritage etc. In our county, state organs cannot even provide protection to average citizens why you expect they would take care of such places. How about the local community, weren’t there even a handful people who were aware of its importance and evidently did nothing to protect it. We are a society where everyone loves to complain and but not many want to contribute to improve the situation. Not until local communities and civil society organize themselves, we would see improvement in the county. Mr. Rashid should have met or written to the local civil administration, MPA, the MNA of the area. He should have organized the people of common interest through social media. Mr. Rashid, just complaining and blaming are not enough, you should also take some steps, no matter how minor, to try to improve the situation. Identifying the problem is important but so is the need to present actionable and practical solutions to solve it.


  • Jul 21, 2012 - 8:01AM

    Pakistan has turned out to be rejection of all cultures except the Wahhabi culture.


  • Raw is War
    Jul 21, 2012 - 9:30AM

    Dear Salman sir

    when a old and rejected Masjid (Babri Masjid) was demolished by Hindus, it became cause for violence. I am unable to understand how this kind of callous pillage of Hindu temples is going on in Pakistan. Pity nobody even cares.


  • wonderer
    Jul 21, 2012 - 10:50AM

    Probably the desire to get the next missile arriving from China, named after themselves, propels this vandalism by these Ahmad Shah Abdali clones. It is certainly no surprise in a land where the plunderers of the then Indian cities are honored.

    For those who are not averse to the truth (like many commentators above) behind the history of Pakistan I can recommend a television series “Bilatakalluf” in Urdu being aired from Canada by Pakistanis there. Here are some links:




  • observer
    Jul 21, 2012 - 11:39AM

    This country is the same to us as it was to Ahmad Shah Abdali: a foreign land to plunder and destroy.

    And then blame the Hanood,the Yahood, and the Nasra for the consequences.


  • Ejaaz
    Jul 21, 2012 - 11:42AM

    Abdali is our hero. Why should we care about Goraknath and his erroneous ways?


  • Majid sheikh
    Jul 21, 2012 - 1:42PM

    In the end we want no culture, no trees, no heritage. Pakistan started off as a ‘claim land’ and the loot has since never stopped. Makes you think whether it was all worth the trouble.


  • Yasser N.
    Jul 21, 2012 - 3:01PM

    @ Anonymous “What is this Kanphatta jogis?
    I would refer you the book Gorakhnath and The Kanphata Yogis by George Weston Briggs.


  • let there be peace
    Jul 21, 2012 - 4:07PM

    I request the author, as many commentators have requested before, when you write articles about such places, if you have some photographs, even if just the ruins, and whatever the quality, kindly post them too. Apart from making the article more interesting and authentic, they are important because after some years even the ruins may not be there. These photographs will keep floating somewhere on internet and will be useful as reference in future if someone is curious or want to do some research.


  • Zalim Singh
    Jul 21, 2012 - 4:47PM

    This country is the same to us as it was to Ahmad Shah Abdali: a foreign land to plunder and destroy.

    exactly right. pakistan is an ancient Hindu land, now populated by Arabs- who want to convert it into an Arabian desert (both heart and land).


  • I am Sam
    Jul 21, 2012 - 6:21PM

    Very touching article by the author.

    Maybe the person selling those coins had a family to feed …

    I am sure that if Pakistan opens up its Hindu & Buddhist monuments just like Indonesia has done, there will be millions of tourists who will come to Pakistan and Pakistan will generate enough money to manage these monuments, upgrade infrastructure , generate jobs .. it will be an upward spiral…

    I look forward to the day when India and Pakistan can live together like USA & Canada do…


  • k. Salim Jahangir
    Jul 21, 2012 - 11:09PM

    @Mr.Salman Rashid & all others above…….There are scores of historical sites in Pakistan which needed attention of not only this government,but of all successive governments since inception of Pakistan & have been utterly neglected.Pakistan received funds several times from the UNICEF for the maintenance of these sites & where that money has gone no one knows.Mr.Salman,can you please do this country a favor by starting an organized collective campaign & many Pakistanis will join you to collect funds to take care of these sites of great historical value.Please let me know through e-mail how can i assist you,others will join later.


  • Adil
    Jul 21, 2012 - 11:44PM


    Despite your strong points,name of Maharaja Ranjit Singh can’t be included in our textbooks as a hero for atleast a decade due to likes of Zaid Hamid and religious extremists in Pakistani society. You might remember how ASWJ(Sipah-e-Sahaba) held demonstrations when plans were being discussed in order to have a separate curriculum for Shia students of Gilgit Baltistan.We have a whole mafia sitting in our offices that publish school textbooks and even the present government seems helpless infront of them despite calling themselves left wingers.

    Presently if someone even calls Ranjit Singh a hero,then apart from fundamentalists we can hear slogans on behalf of even Sindhi,Pashtun,Seraiki and Baloch nationalists.Ranjit Singh could be a hero for Punjabis but in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Afghanistan,he has got a negative perception,I am not defending Ghazni and Abdali or their actions though. Seraikis have even burned effigies of Singh in the past and even Altaf Hussain criticized interaction between Indian and Pakistani Punjabs in order to strengthen anti-Punjab or anti-Punjabi emotions among Muhajirs and others in the past.

    So,you can see how difficult the task has become.


  • Faizan
    Jul 22, 2012 - 12:41AM

    Not necessarily the historic figures have to be humiliated whenever a secular thought is given a chance!


  • annonymus
    Jul 22, 2012 - 8:38PM

    it was not hindu heritage it was of all people. whether later people converted and became muslim. no one disowns their father after changing religion.


  • annonymus
    Jul 22, 2012 - 8:46PM

    Thanks for calling Abdali a bandit the title he deserves. I also see,sea of change of mind in some Punjabi muslims who call ranjit singh as son of soil as he was. you can criticise his policies and behavior but when it comes to compare him with foreign invaders he should be declared hero by sons of soils….punjabies. same right should be given to other people in Pakistan Recommend

  • bmniac
    Jul 31, 2012 - 4:00PM

    How right you are sir? whatever the parentage, how long does one go on denying it
    without damaging one’s self and the society? The price paid is too heavy, especially for the common man, the permanent victim!
    You are one of the rare few. Do keep this up!


  • vns
    Aug 4, 2012 - 12:17PM

    here in India we have preseved Afghan and Mughal buildings,knowing fully well that some of them were built after destoying HINDU temples


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