"Which building in Pakistan will you chose as your abode if money was no object?”, someone threw a random question out to the audience."
“Sheesh Mahal in Khairpur”, someone replied.
“Khairpur? Khairpur Mirs?”
I woke up from my slumber.
Indeed there is a Sheesh Mahal in Khairpur Mirs which was built by then ruler Mir Faiz Mohammad Talpur. When I had a chance to go to Sukkur for a family affair, I decided to take time out and see Sheesh Mahal up close.
We drove there on a hazy winter afternoon, stopping at Khairpur first to pick up our guide. Khairpur Mirs, just like all other urban centers in interior Sindh has undergone frenzied expansion which has deteriorated the authentic look of the city which was once the jewel of the Talpur Crown. It is one of the largest districts in Sindh and is immensely diverse in topography.
Mir Wah irrigates its fertile lands while a vast desert goes all the way to the border with India and beyond. A formation of limestone serves as a boundary between both areas. The last ruling dynasty of Talpurs were patrons of arts and crafts, and many splendid edifices are found scattered throughout the district as a testimony of that opulent era.
The decaying condition of these monuments is a grim reminder of the prevalent sad state of affairs in Sindh.
The main entrance to the city was blocked due to the construction of a flyover which was a relatively new phenomenon in the development kit of authorities. We had to take a detour near ‘Garhi Pul’ which was built over Mir Wah which moved slowly through the city. I could see a lot of sewerage pumps emptying into the murky waters of the canal.
The road curved and passed near Faiz Mahal which was the residence of Mirs of Khairpur. The once mighty walls of the residence have lost its height due to the raised ground level of the road which has been built over and over. A few old sumbul trees stood firmly fighting the mediocrity all around.
The city was full of posters of political leaders but there was not much pride to be fought for. We found our guide near Maryam cannon, a once important landmark, seemingly lost in the sea of vehicles and encroachment. A bypass has been built around Khairpur which went through the outskirts of the city but the city was still connected with Kot Diji via the old highway.
Our drive to Kot Diji was rather uneventful. The Kot Diji fort, built on top of a rock formation could be seen from far. A small road from Kot Diji fort led us through the fields ripe with rabi crops. I took a deep breath of relief in that quaint setting which was a welcome change after the city.
The road ended in front of a wooden gate which could barely keep intruders away. The red brick wall had eroded over time.
We walked past the gate. The track was covered with thick old trees. You would not find them in the city anymore. A curious child showed up out of nowhere and inquired what we were doing there. He belonged to the family which has been left as caretaker of the decaying edifice.
I told the kid that I wanted to see the building from inside and he quickly ran away towards the building. I followed him and entered the building from the side entrance.
The interior of the corridor was breathtaking with the walls and roof heavily adorned with colourful patterns. The wood work was rather basic but still had a royal feel to them. We stepped inside the main hall and were taken by surprise with the exquisite craft on the walls and the roof. The glass and tiny pieces of mirror have been used expertly with the hand crafted patterns which probably gave the building its current name.
We walked around the main hall. The building was built in symmetrical fashion with smaller rooms on each side. There were washrooms built on the corners and a sole bathtub was lying in one of those.
I could not find the staircase to go to the top but according to one of people there it had been broken. Later someone told me that the owners had been reluctant to allow visitors inside the building as a lot of media channels have found it an ideal setting to shoot music videos and local drama shows.
We stepped out and drove towards Mehrano which was a sanctuary built in 1790 by Mir Sohrab Khan Talpur, the founder of Talpur Kingdom.
It comprises a forest, agriculture land, lakes and desert habitat. The hunting free area is home to a diverse range of flora and fauna which have found survival outside the confinement of Mehrano. As we drove past vast wheat fields I noticed many sumbul trees budding with flowers of various shades of red and orange.
Our host took us to a fortified part where we found hundreds of hog deer and black bucks roaming freely. A priceless sight in the part of Sindh where both species were widely hunted!
The kind owners have taken the task of preserving these species which requires a lot of resources but indeed has resulted in burgeoning numbers of these animals in their confinement of Mehrano.
Afterwards we made a brief stop at a small guesthouse which was built at the top of a mound. From there we could get a view of the large span of acacia forest. They told me that a lake was nearby.
We immediately continued our journey there which was scenic and surreal. It looked as if we were stepping inside a jungle which would become alive any moment. Our host asked us to turn our mobiles silent as it could alert seasonal ducks which could be found in abundance around the lake.
There was a hide built near the lake which looked like the rabbit hole from Alice in wonderland. We stepped in and made our way using our hands as it was pitch dark inside.
There was a cloth hanging on the hide and we could catch glimpses of the lake only through small openings inside the cloth. The view from that tiny hole was worth a kingdom!
Hundreds of ducks were swimming through a rather small lake. I have never seen as many birds anywhere in my life. We stood there silently absorbing the surreal scene.
We made a brief stop at another hide from where we could see wild boars roaming freely. It was a huge area and a guide had to make a call in his peculiar voice to which wild boars seem well accustomed. Suddenly wild boars appeared out of the dream-like surroundings. They were not bothered with the presence of a human among them and munched happily on the wheat which the guide provided.
We were done in Kot Diji but knew well that Khairpur still had many other inspirations to offer. Unfortunately, these treasures have been pushed into obscurity due to lack of awareness and attention to the area.