SHARAQPUR is a small town located 30km downstream of River Ravi from Lahore. The town, although small, had a rich heritage and it has been an important local trade centre since the Mughal period.
The old city is located on a mound at a higher elevation than the surroundings and it was confined within walls and gates just like the walled city of Lahore. It was located on the bank of Ravi, but now the river flows around 4km away from the city due to changes in its course over time.
No one knows when the first human settlement was made here, but during excavations, the residents had often found the traces of the earlier settlements dating way beyond the recorded history of the town.
We do know that the Rigveda, which is believed to be written in Punjab, mentions people living on the banks of the Ravi during the time of Mahabharata.
The town is mentioned in the official documents of the Mughal period available with some of the inhabitants. A Mughal era haveli was in the city which was used as an official residence by the Mughal officials. The haveli was first encroached upon and then pulled down to make space for the market.
An old city gate stood to this day, but it was then cladded with tiles and cement and a plaque mentioning a local MPA was affixed. In fact, this is destruction in the name of ‘restoration’. The chemical reactions of cement with older structures damage it more than what it does in terms of restoration.
During the Sikh disturbances in Punjab, the Sikhs established local garrisons in the vicinity — Qila Ram Singh and Qila Lal Singh. Until the 1950s, some remains of these garrisons were visible, but they, too, crumbled and the locals utilised the old bricks for their personal use.
The streets were lined with the housing dating back to Mughal, Sikh and colonial periods, which were pulled down over time to make way for new houses.
After the annexation of Punjab by the British, the administrative structure was changed. Sharaqpur was made a municipality around 1875. There were public buildings that were built during this period, including a dispensary, a police station and a rest house which was a colonial structure that survived till the late 1990s.
This could have served as a library. Keeping it intact would have served as a connection to the town’s past. But all buildings were pulled down one by one and the standard layout of the Punjab Buildings Department was replicated.
It appears that no effort was made to save the older buildings to construct newer ones in the vicinity. It was easier to raze everything to the ground and start afresh instead of a deliberate effort to save the buildings, it appears. On the other side of Ravi are the housing schemes attached to the city of Lahore. The river is the only impediment that is restricting the urban sprawl of Lahore towards Sharaqpur.
However, urbanisation is increasing at a considerable pace. Every year a new layer of houses appears around the periphery of the town. Soon it will be merged with urban Lahore which will consume the local identity. Small towns had a micro heritage of their own. This heritage connects them with their past. It is important that communities should feel a collective responsibility to save the heritage of the cities so that it can be handed over to the coming generations.
Published in Dawn, June 30th, 2022