At a distance of 26 kilometres southwest of Chakwal city lies the sleepy town of Kallar Kahar. Located beside the Lahore-Islamabad Motorway, Kallar Kahar is considered to be a crown of the Salt Range. Having a vast natural lake, centuries-old garden, Takht-i-Baburi, the shrine of a revered sufi saint and a habitat of peacocks, this hilly town has become a must-stop for commuters who travel on motorway and Chakwal-Sargodha Road. Besides being the sole tourist spot in the Chakwal district, it also attracts hundreds of local visitors during Eid days.
But Kallar Kahar has never got the proper attention of local politicians and rulers.
“Had this scenic spot been in any other country, it would have become one of the most sought-after destinations for tourists,” said a senior official of the Punjab government.
The history of Kallar Kahar is traced to the period of Arab invader Mohammad Bin Qasim who after defeating Raja Dahir defeated his son, Jay Singh. On the request of Jay Singh, the Raja of Kashmir not only granted him refuge but also handed him the area located on the southern border of Kashmir. Historian Zaffar Nadvi in his book ‘History of Sindh’ states that the capital of that area was Kallar Kahar.
According to famous travel writer and historian Salman Rashid, the fertile land of the district of Bhera located on the east bank of Jhelum River drew the attention of Zaheeruddin Babur, the founder of the Mughal Empire, who crossed the Indus for the first time on February 17, 1519. Two days later, he was warmly received by Langar Khan of the Salt Range. Janjuas brought him a message of peace from his uncle Malik Hast, the chief of the territory that Babur was camping in.
Salman Rashid further writes that at this very point a friendly bond between a Janjua of the Soan River valley and a Mughal of Farghana was forged.
“The next afternoon (February 20th), Babur tarried beside ‘densely growing corn’ in the vicinity of Kallar Kahar Lake and promptly fell in love with this ‘charming place with good air.’ The lake fed by runoff from the hills and a spring on its western side was ‘some six miles round.’ On its shores, he laid out the foundations of the first ever Mughal garden of the subcontinent: the Bagh-i-Safa. Promising to give out more details concerning this garden on in the memoirs, Babur somehow forgot to return to the subject. As no trace of any construction remains, it is not known what civil works, if any, were undertaken. The fruit trees along the southwestern shore of the lake still mark Babur’s Bagh-i-Safa, and a rough stone pedestal with a prepared surface even today goes by the name of ‘Takht-i-Babri’ - the throne of Babur,” writes Salman Rashid.
The Kallar Kahar Lake is as old as Kallar Kahar itself. The lake remains filled with the water which falls into it after getting oozed out of the natural springs. This lake looks stunning from a distance but when one gets closer to it, it presents a contrary picture. Its water is polluted and its banks are covered with thick plants of reeks which act as a safe haven for coots.
The unplanned construction beside the banks of the lakes has also marred its beauty and purity. Hotels constructed beside the lake continue to discharge sewage into it. The lake has never been cleansed for years.
“The major problem of Kallar Kahar Lake is that it is not owned by the government while the land located around the lake is also not owned by the government. All the land is Shamlaat (common) which is owned by the residents of Kallar Kahar,” says Assistant Commissioner Mohammad Naveed Alam.
Talking to Dawn, District Coordination Officer Mehmood Javed Bhatti said due to the private land the government was unable to launch any mega project to develop Kallar Kahar. “The spot could not be developed unless the land is acquired,” he added.
A few yards away from the lake, there lies Bagh-i-Safa, the first ever Mughal Garden in the subcontinent.
Due to his love for nature, Babar realised that a garden could be developed in Kallar Kahar as the water gushing out of the foothills was in abundance and the atmosphere and land were also in favour of trees. He materialised his desire by ordering his soldiers to build a garden there.
Babar’s soldiers also carved out a throne of the mountain on the left arm of the garden. The throne was carved out for king so that he could address his soldiers from a prominent place. That throne is known as “Takht-i-Babri and still attracts hundreds of visitors every year.
Today’s Bagh-i-Safa gives a contrary meaning of its Persian name as the garden does not look clean. There is not a single attendant seen in the garden. The garden is replete with weeds, shopping bags, peels of fruits and other filthy items. Interestingly, the district administration acts quickly when loquats are ripe as it auctions them to local contractors. But other fruits like grapes, pomegranates and apricots are wasted either by birds or by the visitors.
Published in Dawn, February 28th, 2016