A forgotten tale

May 3, 2020

Bagh Jogian, which once told tales of victory and defeat, speaks today only of neglect, disinterest and threats from urbanisation

Mai Qamro Mosque.

Some graves are without epitaphs, some are uncovered, and some have been levelled to the ground. These are the common sights you come across as you enter Bagh Jogian, within a few miles of Islamabad on the left bank of Soan river, opposite the historic Pharwala fort. The place has many tales to tell. It once told the tales of victory and defeat, of allegiance and revolt, of valour and cowardice. Today it speaks only of neglect and threats resulting from urbanisation.

Bagh Jogian means The Garden of Jogis (or Yogis). It was once an attraction for British Army officers who frequented the place for hunting and camping. The remnants of British era architecture are still visible at the site. Earlier, it was the seat of Gakhar rule until its destruction at the hands of Sikhs. Today a small population of the Awan tribe lives here. The Awans settled here during the Raj as helpers to British officers’ hunters.

Facing north in the foothills of lower Himalaya, there stands the whitewashed hexagonal tomb of Sultan Muqarrab Khan – now used by the locals to store husk. Khan was the last Gakhar chieftain of the area between Attock and Jhelum.

The reign of Sultan Muqarrab Khan started in 1739 after the death of Sultan Muazzam Khan. The title of Sultan was conferred upon Gakhar chiefs starting with Hathi Khan Gakhar when the Pharwala fort was besieged by Babur. The campaign is is vividly documented in Tuzak-e-Baburi.

When Babur marched towards Gakhars’ capital at Pharwala, which is across Bagh Jogian on the left bank of Soan river, he writes in Tuzuk:

“Parhala (Pharwala) stands amongst ravines. It has two roads. The one by which we came leads to it from the south-east, goes along the top of ravines and on either hand has hollows worn out by the torrents. A mile from Parhala (Pharwala) this road, in four or five places before it reaches the Gate, becomes a one-man road with a ravine falling from its either side, there for more than an arrow’s flight men must ride in single file. The other road comes from north-west, it gets up to Parhala (Pharwala) by the trough of a valley and it also is a one-man road. There is no other road on any side.”

It is clear that Babur did not cross Bagh Jogian on his expedition to Pharwala fort. He writes that there are only two routes to approach Pharwala and till today there are only two roads that lead to Pharwala fort. The condition of the road doesn’t seem to be much different from the way it must have been when a victorious Babur left the fort.

Muqarab Khan Tomb.

The side of the fort facing Bagh Jogian is called Bagh wala Gate.

The tomb attributed to Sultan Muqarrab Khan has no signs of a grave inside the compound. Sultan Muqarrab Khan was the last powerful Gakhar chieftain of Pothohar. He defeated Yusufzai Afghans and Jang Quli Khan of the Khattak tribe and captured Gujarat. He also accompanied Ahmed Shah Abdali on several Indian expeditions, notably in the battle of Karnal.

In 1765, Sardar Gujjar Singh Bhangi, the powerful Sikh chief marched from Lahore with a large force against him. Gujjar Singh Bhangi who ruled Lahore for nearly 30 years before Ranjit Singh, had introduced new war skills to Bhangi Misls. In 1765 he had captured the Lahore Fort. From there he moved to the west capturing the formidable Gujarat fort that had then been under Sultan Muqarrab Khan.

In December of the same year, Muqarrab Khan fought a battle outside the walls of Gujarat but was defeated and retreated to Jhelum giving up a major part of his possession. The rival chiefs of his own tribe soon declared war on him. Himmat Khan of Domeli and Nawazish Ali Khan of Khanpur allied with Raja Yousuf Khan Pakhral who had a long rivalry with Muqarrab Khan. Muqarrab Khan was finally killed in the battle of Gujarat and the Gakhar rule came to an end. Hari Ram Gupta writes in History of the Sikhs that Muqarrab Khan was last seen riding on an elephant after the defeat in the Battle of Gujarat. There is no clue as to where he went from there.

There is not a single direction board on the way to the site, not even one put up on behalf of the Archaeology Department to tell the history. All that is left is oral history narrated by locals and some stories constructed by academics and lacking in research.

The two elder sons of Muqarrab Khan took Pharwala, and the two younger ones, Dhangali but they quarrelled among themselves. Sardar Gujjar Singh Bhangi seized everything from them with the exception of Pharwala fort.

The village is scarcely and has a vast cultivated area. However, there are no signs of a Bagh. However, some signs of pre-Mughal era are visible. There is a grave on the rocky cliff top, similar to the Mughal period graves, larger than usual and higher than the rest of the graves. According to the locals, a saint is buried here. Every Thursday, the locals pay their respects by lightening oil lamps like any sacred grave in Northern India. Some local historians believe that this grave belongs to a soldier in Babur’s army.

The name Bagh Jogian makes it seem like the village is related to Tilla Jogian, which is far from here and located on the boundary of the erstwhile Gakhar state. This is not the case. Some Jogis might have lived here once. However, oral and documented sources do not talk about this fact. It must have been before the British invasion. It could be that some Yogis (Jogies) moved to this place when, in 1748, Ahmed Shah Abdali attacked Tilla Jogian and many Jogis (Yogis) were either killed or fled to places away from main Grand Trunk Road and the mighty Rohtas fort.

Like many Pothohari villages, Bagh Jogian likely has had Hindu and Sikh populations. However, there are no signs of any mandir or gurdwara. However, the nearby village is called Kirpa, which means blessing in the Sikh culture. Many of the Potohar villages’ names end with names of tribes and sub-clans like Jhanda Chichi, Rani Rathore.

The La sound in the villages’ names, like Sihala, Mastala, Darwala, Daultala, Kauntrila is for the villages dominated by Pakhrals (Bhakrals) – a sub-clan of Minhas Rajputs of the Suriyavanshi lineage. These villages have rich fertile, levelled lands and are situated on main routes.

Many of these villages later turned into towns and became major commercial centres as the population increased. In case of Islamabad, some names of the villages were forgotten forever as old villages got alphabets and numbers for names.

There is no documented history of Gakhars during the Sikh days. That was probably the time when Bagh Jogian witnessed its darkest time as Sikhs ruthlessly killed Gakhars. Mountstuart Elphinstone in his book Kingdom of Kabul gives an account of the ruins of Gakhar towns, destroyed by Sikhs in the latter half of the 18th century.

A view of Bagh Jogian.

During this time, thousands of Gakhars were killed by Sikhs. Many escaped to remote areas. Later, during Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s rule, Anand Singh Theporia, grandson of famous Milka Singh Theporia seized the whole area and reduced them to absolute poverty in 1826.

Gakhar lore claims that they came along with the forces of Mahmood of Ghazna and settled here in the early 11th century. It also states that they were of Persian origin and descendants of Sultan Kaid, son of Kai-Gohar, a native of Kian in Ispahan in Iran.

However, acclaimed travel writer and Royal Geographic Society fellow, Salman Rashid, writes in his book, The Salt Range and Pothohar Plateau, “The story of the Gakhar entry into Punjab with the Ghaznavids, therefore, is pure fiction.”

Mai Qamro Mosque at Bagh Jogian is claimed to be one of the oldest mosques in Pakis tan. However, the claim could be fabricated. It was built by Hathi Khan (Hamad Khan) in the honour of his wife Mai Qamro. It was built in the 16th century when Babur attacked Pharwala fort. It could just be the oldest existing mosque of Pothohar. Hathi Khan was so called because of his gigantic stature and immense strength.

Today the mosque is no more used to offer prayers. Three-domed mosques are a common type of Gakhar era mosques across Pothohar but its claim to being the oldest mosque in Pakistan has never been proved.

Rock shelters and engravings from Paleolithic age have been found in many villages of Pothohar.

Another debate is about Sultan Muqarrab Khan’s tomb. Although the Pothohar region was never a princely state; he ruled like a princely state chief. The architecture of Sultan Muqarrab’s tomb is similar to the 18th century Khalsa architecture. It resembles a samadhi of some Hindu or Sikh saint.

Many local Gakhars who are from the lineage of Admal Gakhars doubt the hexagonal dome.

On the way to the site, there is not a single direction board, not even one put up on behalf of the Archaeology Department to tell the history. All that is left is some oral history narrated by locals and some stories constructed by academics that are lacking in research.

The writer tweets @Ammad_Alee

A forgotten tale: Bagh Jogian speaks of neglect, disinterest, threats from urbanisation