Maps might tell you that Bhanbhore is roughly 60 kilometres away from Karachi — probably that’s how far it is — but what maps don't tell you is the condition of the National Highway, the foot deep potholes on the road and the withered condition of the track leading to the historical city.
The drive, meant to be an hour long, ends up being a two-hour journey which was very demanding, challenging and neck jerking through the ruins of Sindh to the ruins of Bhanbhore.
Unfortunately, the condition remains the same no matter where you go in Sindh – so much for the much touted development by the provincial government of the very province they term their ‘mother’.
Upon arriving at Bhanbhore, you come across the ruins which dot the landscape, with most of them dating back to an era before Jesus Christ, others are rightfully owned by the Sindh government’s cultural department.
The site of Bhanbhore rises at the mouth of the Indus Delta on the northern bank of the Gharo creek — 30km from the present shoreline.
It consists of a “citadel” encircled by bastions, and a vast area of extra moenia ruins – harbour structures, urban quarters, suburbs, slums, warehouses, workshops, and artificial barrages. Altogether, the citadel and the surrounding quarters cover a surface area of around 65 hectares.
Popular folklore attributes Bhanbhore to be the place where the Sassi-Punnu love story flourished, as it is believed Sassi belonged to Bhanbhore.
But certain historians and locals also refer to it as the ruins of Deybul, the city which was conquered by Muhammad Bin Qasim in 712 AD after Raja Daher was defeated.
When Prof Valeria Piacentini, head of the Italian mission, was asked to clarify this historical confusion. She tried to establish that “it can be both”.
“There is eight centuries of life between when Sassi lived and when Muhammad Bin Qasim attacked Sindh, so we can assume that this place can be both.”
Prof Valeria was of the view that there are not many historical sites near to it “so one can assume that this place can be Sassi’s Bhanbhore and Qasim’s Deybul both”.
“We believe that most of the city’s ruins are still buried under the Indus River Delta, as the river passes right next to the dunes,” she added.
“We haven’t been able to dig any hieroglyphs, as they are probably buried in the riverbed, so we are still not sure about this being the city of Deybul.”
Explaining the topography of the excavation site, Italian Archeological Excavator Dr Niccolò Manassero said the area is almost at sea level and situated next to the Indus Delta, we expect that most of the ancient remains are buried underneath the river bed making it extremely difficult to unearth the relics.
Manassero further informed that the Italian mission started excavations in the area in 2012 along with the French and Pakistani experts, “but for the past two years the work has stopped because our licence has not been renewed”.
When asked why the licence has not been renewed, Manassero said, “It was a joint mission, but the other party has not submitted their report which is causing hindrance in the renewal of licence.”
“We have done our part; we have also submitted the report of our excavation but they are lagging behind.”
We should be allowed to continue our work, added Manassero. “We are losing precious time, money and sponsors due to the delay.”