Purana Qila - the old city’s commercial hub

Published May 1, 2016
An old house with its traditional wooden balcony stands tall on the hill of Purana Qila.
An old house with its traditional wooden balcony stands tall on the hill of Purana Qila.

Once a large, fortified defensive structure around the city, the famed Purana Qila is now lost among the high-rise buildings that make up Rawalpindi’s commercial hub. Other than a few old gates, few traces remain of the old fort.

Before the arrival of the British to the garrison city, the old city was located at Purana Qila and known as Qila Pind Rawal. After the British occupation, the city expanded towards Gawalmandi, Mohallah Workshopi, Raja Bazaar, Mohallah Shah Chan Chiragh, Mohallah Waris Khan, Banni, Mohallah Imambargah, Dhoke Ratta Amral and Dhoke Khabba.

Hamza and Naveed dye a dupatta using traditional methods, although where natural dyes were once used, dyers now prefer synthetic colours.
Hamza and Naveed dye a dupatta using traditional methods, although where natural dyes were once used, dyers now prefer synthetic colours.

The only trace of the old walled city remains in private homes, temples and gurdwaras. The fort was then constructed at the highest point in the area.

There was a gate in Purana Qila that was constructed in 1896. Then, the bazaar was known as Lakhshami Narayan Bazaar, and one could find a temple at the top of a hill.

Houses constructed more than 200 years ago still stand tall on the main road.

Now, all the narrow streets and roads in the area have become a centre of commercial activity. One can find embroidery shops, goldsmiths’ workshops, bookstores, blacksmiths, clothing and tailors’ shops, dyers and shops selling decorative items.

Workers make wedding outfits.
Workers make wedding outfits.

All the bazaars meet at the top of Purana Qila’s hill. Repair shops and knife, scissor and axe sharpeners stretch from Purana Qila towards Dingi Khoi, stationary is sold at Urdu Bazaar – starting from Purana Qila down towards Bohar Bazaar; Sarafa Bazaar and Purana Qila Bazaar are connected to Jamia Masjid Road and Murree Road.

In the upper stories of old houses are workshops where workers embroider, fashion gold into jewellery and stitch bridal outfits, day and night.

Decorative items fit for any occasion are readily available at Purana Qila, from birthdays to weddings. — Photos by Tanveer Shahzad
Decorative items fit for any occasion are readily available at Purana Qila, from birthdays to weddings. — Photos by Tanveer Shahzad

Former Rawalpindi district nazim Raja Tariq Mehboob Kayani said that the city area used to be limited to Purana Qila.

“I’ve heard stories from older residents of the area that the Ghakkar and Sikh rulers of the area constructed the walls of the fort,” he said.

He said these stories were validated by the location of the area, as it is on a hill, and forts were typically constructed on hills. He said he had visited the area several times, and found it to be the best part of the city because one can see the entire city from the roof of any of the buildings.

Urdu Bazaar is one of the main markets for books and stationary.
Urdu Bazaar is one of the main markets for books and stationary.

Abdul Hakeem, an 85-year-old resident of the area, said with the expansion of the city the area had become a commercial hub, and people had moved to newer colonies in the city.

A store that deals in iron-made machinery and equipment, most of which is used by butchers, tailors and barbers.
A store that deals in iron-made machinery and equipment, most of which is used by butchers, tailors and barbers.

He said one could still see the area’s drainage system, which was installed by the British, as well as the water supply system. “After Pakistan came into being the civic authorities didn’t do any additional work or repair the old sewerage and water supply lines,” he said.

Published in Dawn, May 1st, 2016

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