A Place Even Lost to Locals
There was this interesting dialogue in Multan with Javed:
“Hope you are free this afternoon. Got to accompany me to a place.
Where is it?
You tell me, you are a local, aren’t you!”
As we hit the road to explore, an identically discouraging exchange of words continued with a variety of people, the vendors, passers by, even the police folk deputed on those haphazardly confusing barriers.
“Excuse me, we are looking for Khatti Chore.
What’s Khatti Chore?
It’s a village somewhere on Sardarpur Road.
Sorry; never heard of it!”
Our luck took the fruitful turns only when we were incidentally found within a radius of 5 kms of the place. There was relief of a lifetime on our beings as we met the first person who responded with a familiarity on his face as we disclosed that we were looking for a place named Khatti Chore. “Yeah, it’s just ahead of Nawan Shehr, take the same road ……”
Our location that afternoon was Bosan Road as we left Multan desperately looking for a place named Khatti Chore which if literally translated would mean “Thieves of the Farmland”. It was a village somewhere in the suburbs of Kabirwala that was explored by Dr Saifur Rehman Dar during an archaeological survey, who had discovered this place to be a Caravanserai on the old route to Mooltan; the old route that went by the name of Kakkhan Wali Sarak. Sequentially placed on the route, this was a Caravanserai around 10 kos (25-30 kms) from Serai Siddhu. If we go back to the finds of Dr Dar, the survey unearthed two different sites at this remote village. One was referred to as Rabat (Arabic word meaning a fortress habitat) and another one as a Mughal era caravanserai. Little did the notes reveal the location of the place. An internet search brought me to a mention of a famous tomb of Hazrat Khalid Walid and the best lead I could manage pointed to “somewhere in the vicinity of the intersection of Bosan and Sardarpur Roads”. That afternoon we took on the Bosan Road aiming for the said intersection but got frustrated right from the start as no one happened to know of the place. No one knew that Khatti Chore existed, not even my local contact at Multan, Javed Idreesi.
With the driving directions based on pure hunch, as we bumped into the first person familiar with the place, we were already within the radius of 5 kms of our destination, but those apparently short 5 kms proved to be one testing drive. Initially along the banks of a rajvahya (small water channel paved for irrigation), thence onto some zig-zag narrow roads putting us on to brick paved streets and then onto pure kacha tracks that ran treacherously close to and in between the fishing ponds that studded the place every here and there. Upon reaching Khatti Chore, in the light of the inquired directions from the locals we set our bearing for the graveyard that was on the outer periphery of the village. Having parked our car, as we came out, we were immediately greeted by a trio of dogs that were not at all stray, but very much appointed to safeguard the few hutments in the area. Before the situation could’ve been appreciated, we were craftily encircled by these watch-dogs who by all means were ready to initiate the hostilities that were very much imminent. Here I must confess to my readers that I am scared of dogs, all makes and types; and in doing so I seek refuge in those priceless words of Yusufi;
Standing motionless pretending not to be bothered, yet shivering from the inside, we three stood there almost helpless until in response to my loud cautions for help, out came a woman and convinced (through a magical spell) the dogs that we were in fact harmless. With her face partly covered in a veil, I could not help but notice that devious smile in her eyes as she announced the ‘right of passage’ to three bravados through the Khatti Chore graveyard.
Free of the distraction that had almost caught us by its teeth, as we focused to our front, the sights got laid on to the remains of a magnificent fortress that stood dominating with it’s (painted) white dome shining under the afternoon sun. There in the midst of an ordinary graveyard dotted with insignificant grave-mounds made of mud, there was this impending edifice of grand proportions. Other than its enormity as compared to surroundings, it was the use of fired bricks that made it stand out, there in the outskirts of Khatti Chore. We were humbled and at the same time excited, as it was not an ordinary landmark, but a defining one in the history of subcontinent.
Local lore tells us that this is the tomb of Khalid Walid, a saintly person who accompanied the Mahmood of Ghazni during his infamous raids onto Indian plains. Our saint is believed to have lived here for the rest of his life and later got buried in a befitting shrine on the outskirts of Multan. The structure has ruins of an almost grand entrance where we encountered an equally elevated flight of stairs to eventually reach the burial chamber that housed the naugazi (nine yards) grave. A pana-flex announcement informs the visitor of the name of the person interred in a traditional sufi touch that is peculiar to our rural and urban shrines. The actual facts on ground, dear reader, would point to something different. The non-symmetrical and almost obstructive location of grave in the burial chamber and surrounding compartments as well as the architecture of the structure as a whole will tell you that it was not intended to be or built as a shrine. And as we had read Dr Saif ur Rehman Dar before visiting the place, we knew that Dr Sahab has described this structure to be unique, being a Rabat, a border outpost, partly to resemble the ones found on Persian frontiers.
My readers who are a fan of architecture and have read ‘Architecture in Pakistan’ by Kamil Khan Mumtaz, would find that Kamil Sahab has surveyed the structure in detail. Although it’s described as ‘the earliest known Muslim funerary memorial in the subcontinent’, still the architectural details covered by Kamil sahab point to an imposing fortified structure with rounded inward-sloping buttresses on the corners and middle of outer walls. It’s less likely for a structure of such grand proportions to be built as a shrine. Sporting the keynotes of Ghaznavid architecture, this fortress or Rabat has a peculiar circular yet pointed dome that most likely was the precursor to domed mausoleum architecture in ancient Mooltan.
Even in its present dilapidated condition the structure provides a sufficiently clear illustration of the basic features of Ghaznavid architecture. it is also an important landmark in the evolution of the domed mausoleum represented at Multan.
Along the oblong western gallery, almost midway we come across this peculiar attachment to this fortress. This is a mehrab that most likely served as the integral mosque. The mehrab showcases some exquisite architectural finesse in the shape of calligraphic script and motifs achieved through moulded and cut brickwork. The mehrab is significant as on one side its trefoil arches, pilasters and capitals reflect the Kashmiri and Hindu Shahya elements of local architecture, whereas on the other side the calligraphic script solves the riddle on true identity of the person with whom to associate this structure, the one who gets erroneously mentioned as Khalid Walid.
This, dear reader, brings us to another book of substance ‘Of Brick an Myth’, result of extensive fieldwork done by Holly Edwards in Pakistan’s hinterland. Edwards discusses local lore, common beliefs and contrasts them with the architectural reality in their signature term architext (which in fact is an architectural quotation). At the tomb of Khalid Walid the architext comes to us straight from the the mehrab detail. The calligraphic script that is in Arabic tells us that this structure was patronized by one Ali Bin Karmakh, an ‘orthodox governor’ left by Ghaurid invaders to oversee Mooltan. The titles mentioned in this architectural script “imad al amir, al isfahsalar ala ajal, pahlawwan i jahan Ali bin Karmakh” portray him as a man of significance who was either a contemporary or a predecessor of Qutbuddin Aibak. This places a fairly accurate timestamp on our structure in question to be that of last quarter of 12th century CE, more specifically 1176 – 1186 CE what was Ali Bin Karmakh’s tenure in Mooltan. The calligraphic script on the mehrab consists of selected ayahs (17 – 20) from Surah Tauba in Quran. These Quranic verses relate to the pilgrimage taken away from home to strive for the cause of Allah and speak of the importance of tending to these pilgrims and establishing the places of worship maintained and safeguarded by the righteous. Based on to this architext, Holly Edwards tells us:
Ali Bin Karmakh was shouldering a dynastic charge, Jihad fi Sabil Allah, but he also built and equipped a structure which would suit the needs of frontier Muslims by providing water, respite, and a suitable place for prayer.
We still don’t know for sure who is interred in that tomb. It could indeed be a person of saintly virtue or a military fighter afforded a burial in naugazi grave out of religious respect for the military tradition, or it could be Ali Bin Karmakh himself. We also don’t know with certainty how this structure was built when it was built first. Whether it was a shrine that got later incorporated into the fortress or if the fort was built first and a tomb was installed later when a person of prominence was interred here. What we know for sure, based onto architectural footprint is that the structure was a fortified, self sufficient, defensible establishment. In that it was a Rabat, a term associated to a defensive building that is constructed as an outpost to safeguard a frontier. Holly Edwards relates this Rabat to the Ghaurid era practice of building a Qasr, a defensive outpost built to secure control over an area. In practice these Qasrs contributed to extending the Ghur dynasty from the mountainous terrain up north to plains of Punjab down south.
The graveyard surrounding the tomb was itself an ancient one where we could trace some old graves based on their style and tile work. There was another small tomb that was related by the locals to the grandfather of Syed Sher Shah, the famous saint from Multan. Having offered the Asr prayer in the local mosque inside the graveyard, we were out to explore the remains of the second attraction that was also reported at Khatti Chore.
Khatti Chore also gets mentioned as a caravanserai from the times of the Mughals on the route from Lahore to Multan a.k.a “Kakkhan Wali Sarak”. As we came out of the graveyard, we could notice at a distance the silhouette of a three domed mosque. To reach the place we had to negotiate some more fishing ponds and eventually parked our car on the spacious banks of one of these. With the wheat harvesting season in full swing, there was a thresher in operation nearby that had resulted into a mist of hay particles suspended in air. The sun at the setting angle reflected those particles in golden shades and the mosque in near distance presented itself as part of the scenery from the golden canvas of nature. It was a mesmerizing sight, until it was interrupted by the sneeze-fest one of us got into owing to the same golden particles that were suspended in air everywhere around us. It was a three domed mosque, a pattern that essentially relates it to the Akbari era. I had come across this type of mosques on the outskirts of Eminabad near Gujranwala and the Akbari Serai at Shahdara. The mosque was in very good shape owing to recent reconstruction and maintenance. A notice board from the Archaeology Department announced it to be a protected monument. The three domes basically divided the mosque into three chambers connected through arched gateways. The center dome beneath it housed the prayer chamber. The bricked staircase towards the left was functional and we climbed to the roof. The rooftop on places carried the mortar from the original plaster and the same was found on the domes. The fine geometry of the domes attained purely through brickwork was a marvel in itself and spoke of the craftsmanship of the masons from those times. At a place where the mosque was in fact part of a (reportedly) grand caravanserai, no other structure exists. The place was locally referred to as Teela (the Mound) and there were encroachments by the locals. We did discover the scattered shards of old pottery and bricks in the area. We also came across signs of a bricked arch that was buried in ground. There were parts of this caravanserai that were demolished as the locals inhabited the area and what was antique got eaten up by modern construction, yet there were other structures that lay unexplored waiting to be excavated.
The sun was setting in the background as we were winding up our trip. Having successfully negotiated the fishing ponds on the way back we came out of Khatti Chore. As we stopped for a cup of tea from a wayside chappar hotel, we did reflect on the day’s outing. Away from the busy life of Kabirwala and Multan, in the outbacks there lies an unexplored gem, Khatti Chore. We talked about it as we sipped our tea and found our hearts filled with joy. The joy of having accomplished something with a sense of purpose. My accomplices were happy as they had been to a place that was native yet hidden to them. I, dear reader, carried distinct tastes on me. That of companionship of some wonderful friends who opted to accompany me in the faraway lands, and that of the hospitality afforded to me by the folks who had embraced a stranger into their tribe.