Pindi’s architectural heritage - II: The sacred banyan tree and the neglected Hindu temples

Published: July 28, 2012
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Mandir Kaanji Mal Ujagar Mal Ram Richpal is the only Hindu temple in Rawalpindi which is still in good condition. PHOTO: MUHAMMAD JAVAID/EXPRESS

Mandir Kaanji Mal Ujagar Mal Ram Richpal is the only Hindu temple in Rawalpindi which is still in good condition. PHOTO: MUHAMMAD JAVAID/EXPRESS

Mandir Kaanji Mal Ujagar Mal Ram Richpal is the only Hindu temple in Rawalpindi which is still in good condition. PHOTO: MUHAMMAD JAVAID/EXPRESS Mandir Kaanji Mal Ujagar Mal Ram Richpal is the only Hindu temple in Rawalpindi which is still in good condition. PHOTO: MUHAMMAD JAVAID/EXPRESS
ISLAMABAD: 

As the tour through Rawalpindi’s intricate architecture with Professor Aziz Khan continues, the fish market in Saddar, with its grand entrance and long slabs, catches the eye.

It is covered by a concrete and steel canopy. It consists of a steel and concrete structure which has no internal columns and allows for wide entrances on each side. It is one of the most important sites representing European architecture. Legends say the market was built during the reign of Queen Victoria. The vendors in the market are concerned over the indifference that the Rawalpindi Cantonment Board (RCB) has shown towards the state of the market, which is in desperate need of maintenance.

“On the Bank Road, Saddar, where National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) exists today once stood Kirpa Ram Store. Adjacent to it was Kirpa Ram Compound where now exist many restaurants and fruit juice stalls,” the professor explains.

More important than the NBP building, however, is the Banyan Tree — considered sacred in Hinduism — that sits right in front. The tree is a direct descendant of the tree that provided the shade for meditations and marks the exact spot where the original tree stood, according to Aziz Khan.

Next to it is Ahata Fiiday Sahib. In fact, Pindi is full of Ahatas (compound): Ahata Mithu Khan, Nobat Roy, Khazan Chand, Sethan, Shamsabad, Boota Mal, Friday Sahib, and Karam Elahi, among others. “These buildings were set apart and adapted for keeping horses,” Khan says.

Next up on the tour is Ahata Khan Bahadur Ismail, which now accommodates auto workshops where a species of swallows called swifts have built their nests in the porch.

“Swifts build their nests at places where both sides are open to facilitate their flight. That’s why other ahatas have no swifts’ nests as they are now closed from all sides,” Aziz Khan says.

One building of Khan Bahadur Ismail on the Bank Road in Saddar is representative of Parthian (Iranian) architecture. According to Aziz, Lala Thakur Das Dharamshalas (rest houses/transit camps) near Railway Station on Dharampura Road, Koila Bazaar, were built to house the Hindu pilgrims arriving in Pindi from far-off cities like Karachi, who wanted to visit Badri Naath shrine in Kashmir. Hindu pilgrims hired tongas and reached Kashmir in just six days. Later on, Nanda Bus service, which started just after the First World War, ultimately replaced tongas.

A small pyramid-shaped Hindu mandir was in Sara-e-Baghat Ram. The structure still appears grand from afar, while the craftsmanship and tile work still intact gives a sense of its glorious past. The walls of the mandir have beautiful carvings, but its fine-looking architecture and appearance is in decay due to complete lack of care.

In Kanak Mandi, we go see the Ram Laila Mandir. There is still a remnant of the platform where on the occasion of Diwali and Dasehra Hindu devotees used to organise a Ramayan Natik (drama). The mandir now serves as residence for Kashmiri refugees. Climatic conditions have eaten into the structure and the rich carvings on the walls of the temple have slowly eroded.

“Unfortunately, some of these places are struggling for existence amid utter negligence of authority,” Aziz Khan laments.

Only one mandir in Kabaari Bazaar, Mandir Kaanji Mal Ujagar Mal Ram Richpal (named after three respected Hindu traders who funded the mandir in 1877), is in good condition. The president of Pakistan Hindu-Sikh Social Welfare Council, Jagmohan Kumar Arora, was also born in this mandir.

The mandir’s caretaker, Waqas, said all mandirs are under the control of the Auqaf Department and some of them have been given on lease to accommodate refugees, mostly from Kashmir. A little bit of official or non-official help will go a long way in preserving this heritage, he added.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 28th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (45)

  • B.Ally
    Jul 28, 2012 - 12:39PM

    I lived in Saddar as a child. All these places you mentioned are a dear part of my life. I saw them and roamed in those areas when they were in good shape. Now my heart bleeds seeing these grand sights suffering in neglect.

    The Nations who abandon their heritage surely faces uncertain and obscure future.

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  • Shazia Shadab
    Jul 28, 2012 - 3:36PM

    The Express Tribune endeavor for protection of heritage is a great move. The buildings like Fish Market, Khan Bahadur Ismail edifice on the Bank Road represent an outstanding and rare example of an historic urban architecture with influence from European, Zoroastrian, Sassanian, Persian cultures. Pindi authorities should reorient its conservation plans, moving away from the narrow Islamic-centric approach and looking at protection of relics that are part of our collective cultural heritage. A wider array of heritage elements both secular and religious must be safeguarded.

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  • Hegdefunder
    Jul 28, 2012 - 9:02PM

    It would be tragic if these buildings are not maintained, as they are part of Pakistan’s heritage.
    Let’s hope that they survive the wave of radicalisation in the Country.

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  • Yasir Hameed
    Jul 29, 2012 - 12:51AM

    The buildings mentioned in the article are significant parts of our collective heritage and are symbols of our city. Not everything should be preserved. Just because a building is old doesn’t mean it should be saved. To be considered for preservation, a building must represent and reflect elements of the city’s culture, social, economic, religious, political, architectural, educational or aesthetic heritage. These buildings have architectural value or relate to a significant person, an important event in the history of the city or a critical time in the development of one of its neighborhoods or represent a characteristic of the community, so they must be protected.

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  • Ahsen Khan
    Jul 29, 2012 - 1:22AM

    Properties attract our the attention in a number of ways. A comprehensive, accurate, and up-to-date inventory of heritage properties must be ensured. The fact of having been listed or designated as heritage properties shall save their features, interior or exterior, that are considered to be of special heritage interest. When interiors like elegant paintings inside Thapar Ashram are listed or designated, they must be made publicly accessible. These paintings were safe when I saw the building last time. Sara-e-Baghat Ram was still intact and Ram Laila Mandir still possessed its glory.

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  • Habib Ahmad
    Jul 29, 2012 - 10:19AM

    Despite our cultural illiteracy, we are absorbed in preserving, promoting, and disseminating what is touted as heritage. Under the banner of heritage preservation, government agencies, private organizations, and specialists constantly urge us to preserve heritage in the form of vast quantities of buildings. This is foisted by preservation advocates onto an unsuspecting public as matters of transcendental concern.

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  • Misbah Urooj
    Jul 29, 2012 - 10:31AM

    Unfortunately, what once housed the biggest and most important wholesale market in Pindi district has functioned as a makeshift parking lot for years and years, but now, thanks to the Rawalpindi Cantonment Board (RCB), the historic site has no chance to return to its origins. Your paper making the case for saving the Fish Market may serve as a reminder to the lethargic and indifferent RCB authorities.

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  • Imran Qayyum
    Jul 29, 2012 - 10:40AM

    Currently the historic Fish Market is victim of a kind of planned forgetfulness, lost in bureaucratic limbo that could lead to outright abandonment at best, eventual demolition at worst

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  • Zahida Tehmina
    Jul 30, 2012 - 6:45PM

    Our brother Habib has termed all people as culturally illiterate. It is no way to join the dialogue. Only the greedy group of land grabbers of evacuee property chats like this. I pity the ignorance about the cultural heritage of the city by official quarters, and the usual apathy of a common citizen like him.

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  • Shazia Shoab Khan
    Jul 30, 2012 - 6:50PM

    Pindi is mirrored in its exceedingly rich cultural and historical tradition. And this very wondrous aspect is ornately displayed in its heritage buildings. The assemblage and adornment in these antique buildings exhibits one of the world’s foremost artistic heritages.

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  • Sheikh Imran Kabir
    Jul 30, 2012 - 6:58PM

    We are not so gullible as Habib thinks. Preservation of the city’s unique character and heritage is a must. They must be made part of the city’s living history. Once designated for heritage preservation, a property should not be allowed to be be modified or removed.

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  • Khan Dilwala
    Aug 1, 2012 - 12:00AM

    In a real sense, one gets concerned when historic structures especially those that have retained their physical beauty are razed or seriously altered. We are all a little impoverished. But is it reasonable to ask a private property owner who hopes to make some real cash from the property like Fish Market to acknowledge our sense of communal ownership? Yes, for several reasons.

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  • Ayesha Hanif
    Aug 1, 2012 - 10:40AM

    Here is a thought experiment.  Suppose that you, as an enormously wealthy individual, purchase a classic work of art, beloved by the world as part of our common cultural heritage.  Are you entitled to destroy it?  Or maybe it is a business decision and you sell it at a nice profit to someone who has announced plans to destroy it.  This is, of course, one of those ethical dilemmas that people often pose.  Artwork that has achieved that status is usually too valuable to be destroyed deliberately, though it has happened.  Yet it is true that most people of any cultural sensitivity are horrified at the idea because we have a communal sense of ownership of such artwork. The same is true of heritage buildings like Khan Bahadur Ismail, Lala Thakur Das Dharamshalas, Sara-e-Baghat Ram and Ram Laila Mandirs, and Fish Market.

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  • Ubaid Jajja
    Aug 1, 2012 - 10:49AM

    The battle for these collective heritage buildings is worth fighting. Why should the city fathers be unwilling to take steps and always cultural heritage-shy)? It’s a question of competing values, partly of how we balance private property rights against community interest.

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  • Khansa Kashmiri
    Aug 1, 2012 - 11:05AM

    Lots of heritage structures like Kirpa Ram Store and Kirpa Ram Store Compound have been destroyed and heritage like Fish Market and Mandirs neglected but there is still much more that can be preserved, if we make an attempt. If we look at various aspects of heritage, it was once part of people’s lifestyle and must be made part of our living history. Several heritage buildings are somewhat intact. Pindi’s rich heritage and buildings talk of the influence of various communities in their architecture and material. Loss of a large swath of beautiful buildings will disfigure the historical city’s face amd make me miss my city of childhood days.

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  • Nazakat Ali Hussain
    Aug 1, 2012 - 6:17PM

    There remains confusion about the controls on heritage properties. There’s distrust and skepticism among the people over how the RCB and Auqaf Department handle heritage. Many people value heritage, but heritage controllers do not want them to be part of the discussion to find options and solutions for heritage preservation, rather than having options imposed by the authorities.

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  • Ahmad Jamal
    Aug 1, 2012 - 6:32PM

    Fish Market was last whitewashed and repaired in Benazir era. Since then no government has taken care of it. It’s very unfortunate.

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  • Muhammad Tahir
    Aug 2, 2012 - 2:36AM

    I support heritage preservation, and live in an older home thought as the heritage building. I believe the government has a role to play in heritage preservation, but believe there needs to be more clarity, transparency, and input from residents on that role. I’m open to looking at grants and other policies to encourage residents to voluntarily preserve heritage properties, which enhance our neighborhoods for all residents, while preserving important features from our early years as a city.

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  • Moeed Zubair
    Aug 3, 2012 - 11:56AM

    Pindi contains numerous buildings and structures of historic significance. A proper heritage management plan should be envisaged to provide a framework that will help further promote the preservation of city’s unique heritage.The government should work on ramping up Pindi’s stature as a place of many significant heritage buildings. The results would start to materialize, but the city needs public input and it could benefit some lucky homeowners in the long run.

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  • Shirin Achakzai
    Aug 4, 2012 - 3:19PM

    Pindi’s Fish Market, now has beef, mutton, and chicken but no fish at all. God knows why? It is a place my dad used to take me along with him while buying meat. Some sixty plus years ago it was a site worth-visiting because of its European style building, its beautiful exterior and interior and the market was open from all sides ( due to this fact it was quite airy), now closed permanently by encroaches in connivance with the authorities. It was always a joy to visit the market. So clean and neat it was long ago but it stinks at the moment. This is how our city gods treat our valuable relics.

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  • Shirin Achakzai
    Aug 5, 2012 - 8:45AM

    My family once used to live in one of the Dharampura Road dharamshalas after migration from east Punjab. Just after partition it’s condition was good but when recently I visited to get information about one of my friends from there, sadly I saw it in a very bad condition. My residence was once a beautiful place with lots of architectural attractions like wonderful paintings on its interior walls, beautiful carvings and wooden doors and windows with intricately designed motifs, which are no more to be found there. Termite damaged them ultimately making them disappear from the scene altogether.

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  • Shirin Achakzai
    Aug 5, 2012 - 8:56PM

    I hope one day The Express Tribune message trickles down to quarters where its true meaning is understood.Recommend

  • N H Khan
    Aug 7, 2012 - 1:53AM

    Ahatas (compounds) like Mithu Khan, Nobat Roy, Khazan Chand, Sethan, Shamsabad, Boota Mal, Friday Sahib, and Karam Elahi reflected the culture Pindi once had and have lost their grandeur due to the negligence of authorities. All ahatas are more than 200 years old. Once these ahatas had huge beautiful wooden gates, whose structure resembled the gates of a walled city, the corridors of ahatas opened into a courtyard around which houses were found in a circle. The walls of the corridor had recesses in which earthen-lamps were placed, as there was no electricity that time. The Archaeology Department hasn’t done anything for the betterment of these ahatas.

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  • Nosha
    Aug 8, 2012 - 12:34AM

    Pindi is under tremendous pressure of development, and it is killing city’s heritage. Old charms can’t be replaced with the new ones, thus the importance of heritage.

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  • Aijaz Baida
    Aug 8, 2012 - 1:00AM

    It is high time someone raised alarm on the condition of city’s heritage and your newspaper has done a handsome thing in this regard. The decay of heritage has to stop now but no one can do that alone. Planners, communities, as well as others must take part

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  • Khalid Hussain Nasir
    Aug 9, 2012 - 1:36AM

    The challenge of preserving heritage is a defining factor in every country’s management of its history and culture. For a nation to instill pride, inspire civic responsibility, and strengthen social cohesion it must celebrate and preserve its cultural heritage. Preserving the heritage means we respect our collective identity. If not done so, the society gets fragmented and reluctantly one group develops hatred towards the other as is being witnessed in the case of the Hindu community of Jacobabad who for having faced abduction for ransom intend to migrate to India. It’s just tragic. If the government preserves their secular and religious buildings it will naturally send a message countrywide that Hindu community or for that purpose any minority is part and parcel our society and they are as much Pakistanis as we are and they must be respected. Perhaps, this move on the part of government may save the society from radicalization and purge it of the criminal elements posing themselves as pious ones. .

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  • Syeda Batool
    Aug 10, 2012 - 1:51AM

    A brilliant comment by Khalid Hussain Nasir. I 100% agree with his viewpoint. No better solution for preventing radicalization of society than the suggestion given by him.

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  • Nomaan Ahmad
    Aug 10, 2012 - 5:13PM

    Addressing a reception at the Presidency held to mark National Minorities Day, President Asif Zardari said, “On this day we reaffirm that despite belonging to different faiths we are one nation and together we march for a prosperous Pakistan,” he said, adding that the government is committed to ensuring equal rights for all minority communities. It’s a wonderful statement from our President, which no PPP leader has ever had courage to make. President Asif Zardari is really a brave person with great foresight. I hope the government will also help preserve the heritage of “one nation with equal rights”.

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  • Adil Ahmad
    Aug 11, 2012 - 1:29PM

    I endorse the proposals of Khalid Hussain Nasir and Nomaan Ahmad, the sooner the implementation, the better.

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  • Qazi Arafaat
    Aug 11, 2012 - 1:54PM

    President Asif Ali Zardari while rightly “underscoring the need for removing distrust and misunderstanding among the followers of different religions” should also order to preserve their heritage as preserving the heritage would automatically help eliminate distrust and misunderstanding. Preserving heritage means respecting the group they belong to.

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  • Abdul Hayee
    Aug 11, 2012 - 3:24PM

    I have the same opinion as have Khalid, Nomaan, Adil and Qazi. We live in a global village, i.e. mufti-faceted like multi-ethnic, mult-icultural, multi-religious etc. Unfortunately, our nation has been divided into so many factions that we can, perhaps, never become part of the global village. Restoring the multicultural heritage may restore our prestige in the comity of nations.

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  • Abdul Jabbar
    Aug 11, 2012 - 4:53PM

    Banyan is not a mere tree in this part of the world, besides having the resilience to withstand disasters, both natural and man-made, this enormous tree, if untouched, lives for hundreds of years. Banyan is also firmly rooted in the soil it is planted in, and under its soothing shadow people rest, make parley and set up bazaars where new friendships grow, businesses develop, and the seed of prosperity is sown. In old times in villages, theater troops made rounds during the winter to set up makeshift stalls where people lit a fire, huddled together. If you need a tree to symbolize the resilience and diversity of the peoples of the sub-continent, banyan it has to be.

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  • Surryaa Hafeez Pasha
    Aug 12, 2012 - 11:57AM

    There are numerous ways to allow equal rights to minorities. Preserve their religious and secular heritage and bring them into the mainstream. How can Chairperson Human Rights Nafeesa Shah claim that minorities enjoy equal rights in Pakistan as long as there is separate electorate system and discrepancies in the constitution and the law? Her statement runs contrary to the President Asif Ali Zardari’s very thoughtful earlier statement on one nation concept.

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  • Muhammad Yousaf Salal
    Aug 12, 2012 - 6:18PM

    Preservation of heritage belonging to minority groups will be a natural consequence of grant of equal rights to them by abolishing discriminatory laws. At least someone from the political parties/politicians has been able to muster courage to speak for the oppressed minorities. I applaud Dr. Farooq Sattar’s brave stand to repeal laws that prevent minority groups’ members to reach highest echelon of power corridors like President, Prime Minister, Chief of Army Staff and Chief Justice of Pakistan. The other political parties/politicians should follow suit, if they want to remove the stains from the beautiful face of Pakistan as envisaged by Quaid-e-Azam.

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  • Azhar Kamal
    Aug 13, 2012 - 6:37PM

    Yes, I think preservation of heritage belonging to minority groups and giving equal rights to them are interlinked. In UAE we respect every group and their heritage and give them equal freedom. If we wish that we should be respected we should also give respect to others. President Zardari and Dr. Farooq Sattar need to be followed.

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  • Nosheen Rabi
    Aug 14, 2012 - 6:49PM

    I think the focus of discussion has been shifted from Pindi’s architectural heritage to minority rights. They are two separate subjects. Let’s treat them separately. Just talk about the beautiful heritage that can still be preserved.

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  • Ali Amjad
    Aug 15, 2012 - 5:52PM

    Pindi;s heritage has varied architectural style. Whether it is European style Fish Market, Hindu temples, Sikhs Gurdwaras or Christian churches all were once a beauty in themselves. Unluckily, due to lack of funds, civic bodies’ indifference, and political upheavals since the creation of Pakistan this heritage has not been given the attention it deserved. Thoughtless and uneven development of the city victimized these precious monuments. City planners lacked the vision or were too self-centered to make this heritage a living reality, which could have given added charm to the city and attracted foreign visitors. I am 100% in agreement with the comments that preservation of heritage is an issue inseparable from the issue of granting equal rights to minorities.

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  • Qanbar Rizvi
    Aug 15, 2012 - 6:43PM

    I remember Justice Sagheer Ahmad Qadri of Lahore High Court (LHC) Rawalpindi bench last year sought details of about 450 heritage sites of Rawalpindi on a petition seeking their preservation in the division. The court also served notices on the respondents – secretaries archives and culture (Punjab), director-general (DG) environment Punjab, commissioner Rawalpindi, district coordination officers of Rawalpindi, Attock, Jhelum and Chakwal, DG Archeology, Ministry of Culture, DG Environment Protection Council and Taxila Institute of Ancient Civilisation (TIAC). The petitioner has adopted before the court that these sites were facing threats of extinction due to expansions of cities. The sites included 150 Buddhist settlements, 140 caves, 100 ancient ponds and 30 rock shelters and Hindu temples each. Some of the sites were believed to belong to one of the oldest civilizations in the world. The sites documented included forts, tombs, step wells (baolis), ancient mounds, stupas, ashnan ghat (bathing tank), rock shelters, temples, Gurdwaras besides fossilised trees, stone mosques, graveyards and numerous ancient ponds. These heritage sites spread from Gujar Khan to Kallar Syedan. The mural paintings and engraved walls of the ancient sites offered a treasure for the visitors. Most of the mounds in the area have been converted into cultivated fields or graveyards and old sarais (inns) and forts replaced by modern habitations whereas temples and Gurdwaras are being used as cattle sheds or fodder stores by local residents. There has been no news so far whether the court had directed the respondents for cancellation of licenses of the construction companies working near the ancient sites and for declaring these sites as antiquities. I think the CJP should take suo motu notice of this injustice done to the glorious heritage of Pakistan.

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  • Abdul Jabbar
    Aug 16, 2012 - 10:46AM

    It would be great if SC could take notice of the issue. After all, it’s an issue directly affecting the image of the country and its people.

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  • Tahir Butt
    Aug 17, 2012 - 2:28AM

    Pindi is the city of my birth. I am prompted to comment not because this is the city that I call home, but because I believe that Pindi is unlike any other city. I do not say this out of parochial affiliations or jingoist biases, my claim is based on facts, facts of history. It’s a city that has been in continuous existence for more than a millennium. It is really painful to read Qambar Rizvi’s comments. Why the government often looks the other way when heritage sites are threatened. Urbanization has destroyed theoretically historical monuments.

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  • Saba Naz
    Aug 17, 2012 - 4:08PM

    Pindi’s unique heritage landscape evolved from the mingling of multiple streams of cultural impulses from the Islamic, European, Buddhist, Hindu, and Sikh worlds and the extension of its integrated culture was a result of cross fertilization in the process of continuous development as a major center of different powerful dynasties, culture and learning. The result is the hybrid architectural styles and the syncretism of the intangible heritage, which are closely identified with the city and define its outstanding value Thus, such valuable heritage must be preserved.

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  • Muhammad Faisal
    Aug 18, 2012 - 4:38PM

    A city with such a rich vocabulary of architectural motifs, such a diverse array of styles, materials, building techniques and fine detailing must be preserved.

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  • Anika Ali
    Aug 18, 2012 - 4:45PM

    If the government doesn’t have any funds, let the private sector join in to protect our cultural heritage.

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  • Naveed Hussain
    Aug 21, 2012 - 10:09AM

    Pindi’s cultural and historical heritage constitutes the city’s tourist infrastructure. Why don’t we preserve and publicize these monuments or make them easy for tourists to access.

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  • Ahmad Imran
    Aug 23, 2012 - 8:44AM

    On the last day of Eid I decided to walk through the streets housing the heritage mentioned in your newspaper. What I could see from only outside was exactly the way you have mentioned.rather it was worst than what you described. I can only pity the indifference of the authorities.

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