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Nagarpaker - Farthest City in South of Pakistan
“You have itchy feet” shouted Rao when I suggested Nagarparker. When he didn’t agree to go there, I had to set sail all by myself. The recent rains had turned desert into green. There was no better time. For decades, Islamkot and Nagarparker were fascinating places I dreamed about, only this time ‘the dream came true’.
Early in the morning, I boarded a bus for Mithi, a small town in the midst of the desert. The bus went straight to Hyderabad, Sindh and then turned east. It passed through cultivated fields of rice, maize, sugarcane, cotton and fruit-farms producing the sweet-smelling and tasty mangoes.
The area was well-populated with many bustling towns like Tano-Allahyar and Mirpurkas. Their old buildings were still topped by ‘ducts’ to catch the cool breeze. Buffaloes still roam the streets; giving it medieval look. Tea-stalls were in abundance clogging the roads. It seems gossiping with friends was the favorite pass-time of the people living around.
Gateway to Thar
About midday, Naukot was in sight. It was a gateway to desert. The topography changed miraculously, cultivated fields turned into barren tracts of sand dunes, crops into thorny bushes. The costumes changed to ‘ghaghara, choli & odhni’ for female and ‘doti, kurta and turban’ for males’. A common sight was women laden with bangles upto their shoulders.
The desert is known as Tharparkar. It is harsh and wild but not entirely empty. In between the sand hills, there are some valleys with rich growth of trees, plants and shrubs. Wild grass grows after every rain and it results in a migratory culture as many tribes chase the greenery. Perhaps, it was the only fertile desert in the world.
There was not much wildlife but lot of domesticated animals like cows, buffaloes, goats, sheep, camels, horses and donkeys. Further, some birds were spotted like peacocks, pigeons, sparrows and crows.
The bus briefly stopped before a road-side café. There was a wedding party nearby; some men were dancing with a small stick in one hand and silk handkerchief in the other. Dhol and dafli, kamacha and shahnai were elevating the tempo and mood.
The bus reached Mithi at 2 p.m. I stayed for the night at Hotel Dawn. Though the room was rather small, it had all amenities such as TV, telephone, air-conditioner and attached-bath. Not a bad deal for only 5 dollars. (May in summer, the room-rent goes up due to use of air-conditioner).
Early in the morning, I took a bus for Nagarparkar, my final destination. The bus continued on black-topped ‘pucca’ road constructed when a politician hailing from the area became Chief Minister of Sindh. There was a visible change from the old days of camels and junk trucks known as ‘kakharas” or crabs.
Soon the usual sign of modernity were visible: boosters of mobile companies, satellite dishes, electric poles and signboards for bottled water. The bus had reached the farthermost point in the south of the country.
The moment I stepped out of the bus, I looked for a motel but found none except one still incomplete. It took me some time to locate the owner. Finally, I succeeded to secure a room with smell from freshly painted walls and veranda. The owner had jeeps for hire and suggested two to three spots in the evening and a trip to coalmines in the morning for about 50 dollars plus 5 dollar for the night stay. I had to accept it as I had no choice.
Nagarparkar is a small town, nestled between low hills. It has a Hindu majority and rich historical background, an embodiment of Jainism and Hindu Mythologies. It is dotted with temples.
First, I went to the Karoonjhar range, a cluster of egg-shaped hills, reddish in color. It looked like a piece from Red Rock Canyon of Nevada, USA. Zigzagging with the contour of the terrain, the jeep went for about 4 km and stopped when the track was abruptly cut by a steep ravine. I asked the jeep driver, Ghulab Chandio, to go back and braced myself for a long walk back to the town.
A stroll on a sand track was a wonderful experience. I passed by a variety of rock structure. The stones had unique colors - rare combinations of red, black, brown and green. I felt like moving in an open-air museum, reminiscent of Cappadocia in Turkey.
It was a pleasant experience, indeed. I recalled a story which says ‘the mountain looks wonderful and the songs of peacocks echoing in the vales add tremendous charm to its adorning beauty.’
In the previous rain, the pouring water had made many streams. Though these were dry, their marks were clear. Perhaps the rain streamlets could be converted into dams which would be bringing lot of comfort to the people and cattle in the area. Also, there was a sparse presence of gum-tree. But these trees are being ruthlessly destructed by making a cut on their trunks to draw entire gum which withers the tree in no more than six months.
On return from the hills, I visited ‘Nagar Bazaar Temple’. Perhaps because of its location behind the main market, it got such an unusual name. It was remarkable for its grace and elegance; richly decorated with sculptures and paintings. Magnificent carving was done on the pillars and on entrance of the temple. But unfortunately, it was desecrated and chipped at many places.
The Government has now declared it as a national heritage but I did not see any guard or caretaker.
I returned to the motel after the walk. The jeep driver was waiting for me and took me to another place known as Bodhesar.
About 5 km away, Bodhesar has many attractions, a beautiful mosque, a dam and a cluster of three temples.
Naturally, first I went to the mosque. It was built in 1505 by Sultan Mahmood Begra, the Ruler of Gujarat. It was a white and shining mosque though small in size. Legend says that the Sultan constructed it at the site where his queen was saved from dacoits by the local people.
The mosque is located by the side a dam which itself is in the foothill of Karoonjhar. The tank, locally called ‘talao’ adds to scenic and historical value of the area.
On the opposite side is a cluster of three temples, not far away as one can see their images glistering in the water. These temples were reportedly built between 1375 AD to 1449 AD. Raised on a high platform, these temples can be reached by a series of large steps. These were built with red stone but were in poor condition – their back walls fallen down, their idols vanished and a part their stones removed.
More Jain Temples
In the evening, I went on second leg of the tour and covered some magnificent Jain temples. There are no Jains now and no one is looking after these historic temples: no candles, no fragrance, no pujaris, no devdasi, and no songs.
First, I went about 12 km away to Ramapir Mander, an old Hindu temple. Ramapir was a revolutionary. He fought for the rights of low-caste Hindus called ‘untouchable’. He believed in equality of human beings. History goes that five pious men from Mecca came to test his miraculous powers and after being convinced, paid their homage to him. Consequently, he is loved both by Hindus and Muslims.
He was cremated in Rajasthan but during his life time, he came off and on to Thar area. His devotees had constructed many temples in his memory at places where he had worshipped centuries ago.
Gori temple was far away, about 55 km from Nagarparkar. The jeep went off the road to reach the temple. It is a stunning piece of architecture, constructed entirely from marbles some 300 years ago. Whipped by desert sand for centuries, it stood alone and abandoned, a relic of a time and a culture forgotten long ago.
My visit to Nagarparkar was over when we resumed the journey on the main road. This was a pleasant trip. I observed a complete harmony between Hindus and Muslims. They are living together for centuries and respect each other. But most of rich Hindus have left for India. Those living now are poor and cannot afford to maintain these temples which stand isolated, their bells rusted, wall crumbled and paint fainted.
Only in the rainy season, there is some life when the desert blooms and attracts tourists who also visit these temples. Once rainy season passes away, the temples of Tharparkar resume their silent vigil, waiting for a spring that may never come.
I continued my jeep safari and went to see coalmine. I have written about it in a hub entitled, "Thar Coal - a hope or despair".
When finished with, the driver dropped me at the bus-terminal and in about an hour, I was riding a bus bound for Karachi.