A few years ago while travelling on the Haripur-Islamabad highway, I had observed an old, seemingly abandoned building on the eastern side of the Khanpur Dam. I could not visit it at the time but the building stood out — amid the spell-binding landscapes of Khyber Pakthtunkhwa’s Khanpur, the structure was conspicuous by its deserted look.
Many years later, I returned to Khanpur with a friend who teaches at a local school and is familiar with the area. Taking a left turn from the road which leads to the Bhamala Stupa, we drove amid tall shrubs towards the eastern side of the lake for about 2km to reach the site. To my astonishment, the old building turned out to be a mosque.
The deserted mosque, locally known as the ‘Rajon ki Masjid,’ (the official name being Rajgan Mosque) is believed to be over 100 years old. It is now only used for Eid prayers, as people use the newly-constructed mosques in the nearby areas for everyday prayers. It has a large prayer hall and a time-worn brick courtyard in need of restoration and rehabilitation.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Khanpur Dam has much to offer beyond recreation on the lake
Beside the mosque is a towering water tank, about 35 feet high. A spiral stairway takes you to the top of the tank for a breath-taking view of the Khanpur Lake. Next to the water tank is a tomb of a saint. According to a myth, a leopard would appear and clean the tomb’s courtyard with its tail. In the morning people would find the courtyard all swept and clean.
April is, in fact, a great time to visit Khanpur. The lake adjoining the Khanpur Dam hosts the annual Khanpur spring festival at this time of the year, which attracts fans of various water sports in all shapes and sizes. Boat rides, angling, ski jet, parasailing, and canoeing are some of the main attractions at the festival. Boats can be hired on nominal rates to explore the lake’s emerald green vastness. The lake receives water from the Haro River, originating in the Galiat areas of district Abbottabad.
Prior to the construction of the dam in 1964, the area was known as the old Khanpur village, from where people moved to the western side of the lake to inhabit the new Khanpur village along the Haripur-Islamabad road. Azizpur, in the old Khanpur village which is now submerged, was known for its oranges.
But while the lake is undoubtedly the main attraction in Khanpur, there is a lot more to discover in and around Khanpur. Sirsukh, Julian, Pipplan, Sirkap are archaeological sites within a radius of just 10km of Khanpur.
Julian is situated within a short distance of about 4km on a bumpy road on the eastern side of the main Haripur-Islamabad road. The name “Ja-e-Walian” has evolved into Julian. Excavated in 1916-17, the site was on the World Heritage List in 1980. Well-maintained steps ascend to this heritage site offering a magnificent bird’s-eye-view of the surroundings where once stood a Buddhist university. The remains of the main hall, store, kitchen and worship places can also be seen. In the 5th century, with the invasion of the White Huns, the site was destroyed along with the Buddhist site in Taxila.
Some important statues and stupas are preserved at the Taxila museum along with the stones that were used in the earthquake-proof construction. Huge stones placed in the corners provide greater strength to the walls. The site has now been fenced to protect it from degradation due to climatic conditions.
On the eastern side of the lake there are ample opportunities for visitors to go picnicking or do some sight-seeing. Near the Bhamala historical remains which are now in shambles, there is a cave that no one has yet explored. Perhaps you could be the first one?
The writer is a deputy conservator associated with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Wildlife Department
Published in Dawn, EOS, April 2nd, 2017