Never Never from Mooltan Outbacks
There was this interesting dialogue in Mooltan 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 notorious exchange of words continued with a variety of people, the vendors, random people passing 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 ……”
Dear reader, that fruitful afternoon we were out on the Bosan Road on the periphery of Mooltan, desperate to find the place the name of which has been conspicuously covered above. Khatti Chore, if literally translated would mean the “thieves of the farmland”, is a village in the suburbs of Kabirwala. Explored by Dr Saifur Rehman Dar during an archaeological survey, the place was discovered 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 while travelling towards Mooltan. 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 period Caravanserai. Little did the notes reveal the location of the place. An extended search mentioned of a famous tomb of Hazrat Khalid Walid as an icon of old architecture at Khatti Chore that was a village in Kabirwala suburbs and the best lead we could manage was to head 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 a place that carried the inquired name. No one knew that such a place existed, not even my local contact, Javed Idreesi.
With the driving directions based on pure hunch, as we bumped into the first person familiar with the place, we were well within the radius of 5 kms of our destination. Soon we were to discover the reasons of obscurity of the place as we took on those apparently short 5 kms that 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 to pure kacha tracks that ran treacherously close 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. Till the time we could sense the situation, 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;
مـرزا کہتے ہیں، جو کُتّـے سےنہیں ڈرتا مجـھے اس کی ولدیّت میں شُبہ ہے
(behold! the one who is not scared of dogs, there exists considerable doubt in his lineage). Apparently standing freezed but shivering from the inside, we three stood there almost helpless, till 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 the three bravados through the Khatti Chore graveyard.
Free of the distraction that had almost caught us by its teeth, as we focused our direction, our sights got laid on the remains of a magnificent fortress that stood dominating high with it’s (painted) white dome shining under the afternoon sun. This, was the tomb of Khalid Walid. Described as a ‘rabat’ by an American scholar, Holy Edwards, this tomb from the Ghaurid era is regarded as one exceptional find in Pakistan. “Rabat” is classically defined as a fortified frontier post associated with the Islamic period where these were characteristically built as a defensive measure to counter the hostilities. This tomb of Khalid Walid is thus taken as a military outpost on the frontiers of Mooltan that also accomodated travellers in small groups. The tomb in its design is built as a fortress. As we viewed the structure from a distance, the dome (painted white) appeared out of place and a close inspection revealed that it was rebuilt in modern times and was in aesthetic mismatch to the original charm of the building. The tomb (now taken as a sacred confine) is being repaired and it was refreshing to see the thin tiled bricks in use to reconstruct the damaged parts to match the original architecture. The design pattern of the tomb somewhat resembles to the style of the shrine of Hazrat Shah Rukn e Alam at Mooltan. At the center under the dome is this exceptionally lengthy grave, towards the headstone of which a printed banner announces that the tomb belonged to Hazrat Khalid Walid, a general from the army of Mahmood of Ghazni that visited Mooltan. The tomb is said to have been built by the Governor of Mooltan towards the end of 12th Century CE. The significant highlights from the tomb were a grand entrance, the arched gateways and the bastions. One thing that specifically caught our eyes were the calligraphic scriptures that were managed through some fine brick tile cut work. 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 Mooltan. Having offered the Asr prayers in the local mosque inside the graveyard, we were out to explore the remains of the second attraction that was reported at Khatti Chore.
Dear readers, Khatti Chore also gets mentioned as a caravanserai from the times of the Mughals on the route from Lahore to Mooltan, the 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, interrupted by the sneeze-fest one of us went 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 Suri Period. I had come across this type of mosques on the outskirts of Emanabad near Gujranwala and the Akbari Serai at Shahdara. The mosque was in very good shape with its parts reconstructed and maintained. 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 each other with arched gateways. The center dome beneath it housed the prayer chamber. The bricked staircase towards the left was functional as it was repaired and partly reconstructed. The rooftop on places carried the mortar from the original plaster and the same was observed 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 “The Mound” and there were encroachments by the locals. As we roamed around we did discover the scattered pottery pieces 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 places 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 Mooltan, in the outbacks there lies a scarcely explored 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 love and sense of purpose. My accomplices were happy as they had been to a place that was native yet oblivious to them. I, dear reader, carried distinct tastes on me, the taste of companionship of some wonderful friends who opted to accompany me in the faraway lands, and the taste of hospitality afforded to me by the folks who had embraced a stranger in their tribe …