By Vaqar Ahmed
The most popular time to visit the shrine of the sufi saint and poet Shah Abdul Lateef Bhitai (1689-1752) is during the annual Urs that takes place for three days in the Islamic month of Safar (that fell in December in 2014).
During the Urs, the shrine is bustling with devotees and there is hardly any space to move. I decided to visit the shrine on a regular day in January to get a feel of this very special place at a quieter time.
The shrine is located at about a three hours' drive from Karachi along the National Highway. A branch road about 30 minutes beyond Hyderabad takes you to the town of Bhit, where the shrine stands on a mound.
Bhit is the Sindhi word for 'mound' and thus the name Bhit Shah.
Mian Mustafa Khan Kalhoro, the ruler of Sindh, first built the shrine in 1772. The shrine has been extended and refurbished over the years following the original construction. The beautiful buildings contained in the compound feature exquisite tile and mirror work.
The first thing that surprised me was how well the shrine was maintained. It was very clean, with the buildings happily gleaming in the bright sunlight. The main and the side verandahs were spacious; a sense of peace and tranquility prevailing.
The shrine was not crowded, which gave an opportunity for admiring the beauty of its structures. One could sit just about anywhere and breathe in this peace forever. Some visitors were camped both inside and outside the buildings of the shrine. A group of musicians sat in a portion, ringing the air with verses of the Shah.
It was very pleasant not to find gun-toting security on the premises. The only unfortunate reality I was confronted with were child beggars, trained to be persistent and aggressive.
I came back from the shrine feeling more fulfilled and at peace.
The only souvenir I brought back was an Urdu translation of the Shah’s work by the eminent Sindhi poet Shaikh Ayaz, that I bought from a little stall just outside the shrine gate. It is a beautiful translation that communicates the essence of the great saint’s life giving poetry.
—Photos by author
Vaqar Ahmed is an engineer turned part-time journalist who likes to hang out at unfashionable places like shrines, railway stations and bus stops.