Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience


Chaklala woods

Published Jul 16, 2012 04:36pm


Your Name:

Recipient Email:

For whom the bell tolls

The 16th day of April 1853 is special in the Indian history. The day was a public holiday. At 3:30 pm, as the 21 guns roared together, the first train carrying Lady Falkland, wife of Governor of Bombay, along with 400 special invitees, steamed off from Bombay to Thane.

Ever since the engine rolled off the tracks, there have been new dimensions to the distances, relations and emotions. Abaseen Express, Khyber Mail and Calcutta Mail were not just the names of the trains but the experiences of hearts and souls. Now that we live in the days of burnt and non functional trains, I still have few pleasant memories associated with train travels. These memoirs are the dialogues I had with myself while sitting by the windows or standing on the doors as the train moved on. In the era of Cloud and Wi-fi communications, I hope you will like them.


-Illustration by Mahjabeen Mankani/

While the train whistles away from the jungle of Chaklala … before the place gained fame as an elite residential area, Chaklala was a dense forest and the woodcutters made their living by cutting and selling the logs. These woods, in turn, fed the Murree Brewery of Bhandaras, Palace of Surjan Singh, Fire places of Officers Club, temples at Boharr Bazar and lastly the Shamshan Ghats by the Nullah Layee.

The train, then swiftly passes by Mankiala, a historical town that refuses to be bypassed in such a cursory manner. The fading board, guarding the railway crossing, is too feeble in its warning to the violators. This century old railway station, like the Land of pure, awaits the change. On a side wall, the timetable is chalked out with separate columns for up and down trains. Nothing has been inscribed in the empty columns since long. The wire-gauzed wooden doors, meet each other diagonally. The ticket counter remains, however, the waiting room has withered away brick by brick. These bricks now provide shelters to the homeless at Mankiala. There was a time when the station buzzed with activity. Students, land owners, tenants, farmers and government servants would take the train to Rawalpindi. Now that trains only exist in textbooks and parks, the crowd has also vanished.

Mankiala is registered as a historical place because of its Stupa. In local slang, the word has degenerated to the pronunciation of Tope, so Mankiala is referred to as Mankiala Tope. The stupa has traded its muddy appearance with green. According to the local mythology, Raja Risaloo, a folk hero was passing by Mankiala when the reigns of his horse were pulled by a wailing woman. The woman narrated the plight of Mankiala. A man-eater feasted on the young of Mankiala and her son was next. Raja Risaloo fought the monster and locked him inside the dome. Another legend narrates how Buddha fed young hungry tiger cubs with his own flesh and later on the Stupa was built to commemorate the sacrifice.

Originally, this is a Kanishka Age Stupa which dates back to the 2nd century. The classical Buddhist symbol of the Lotus is engraved on the foundation pillars. To reach atop, visitors take the flight of stairs and trek a bit. On the top, it looks like a well with staircase descending to the base. These stairs are wider at the top but gradually lose their width on descent. In the first instance, the view from the top is like a big black hole. Another folk lore describes the tunnel which connects the base of Stupa to the royal palace located few kilometers away.

The Governor of Bombay, Lord Mountstuart Elphinstone, (The famous Elphinston street (Islamicised as Zaibunnisa Street) was named after him since Sindh was part of Bombay), was mesmerised by the beauty of this Stupa as he stopped on his way to Kabul. He wrote a comprehensive note about the Stupa. Subsequently, General Ventura, the baron of Fauj-e-Khaas, (Special Cavalry) of Ranjit Singh ordered excavation. In 1830, he found a golden ring with the inscription of Zun God and the coins dating back from 153 AD to 685 AD, the gold ornaments and crockery. These coins were from different kingdoms of India and her trading partners. The palace of General Ventura (the civil secretariat of Lahore), still holds the man-eater and mint coins albeit in a changed form. In 1891, a British regiment restored the Stupa and constructed the staircase. It is now prohibited to climb the Stupa due to the repeated complains of local populace about the invasion of privacy – an example of our mindset to blame others rather than correcting ourselves.

On the other side, the village of Sagreela beams with a story of Asma. The brave heart who, for 12 years, followed the rigorous routine of crossing the river on a boat, entering Kashmir, climbing back to Pakistan and attending her school. Her determination was the sole reason when she decided that being the first high-schooled woman, she could change the world around her. She now undertakes this daily adventure again and teaches the girls in the same school. A few miles away from the capital, the Pakistani future awaits Pakistan.

The historical village of Mohra Bhattan is located at a distance of two kilometers from the railway station. The village was famous for the old school, which existed before partition and was a major educational institute in the area. A historical old temple also added to the antiquity of Mankiala. The area was lush green and rich in produce owing to the six ponds in the surroundings. The centuries old banyan trees on the sides of the ponds provided shelter regardless of religion, caste and creed. The recent boom in property has transformed the ponds into multi-storey buildings, rent-a-motorcycle shops and private schools. About the trees, the ruins remain for the non-archived moments of non-descriptive emotions. Probably, their roots were too stubborn to give in. The new mosque raises its head besides the old temple. The money for the mosque was flown in by rich expatriates. The lavish interior of the mosque indicates that there is no dearth of money.

A few years back, an Indian origin doctor from England came to Mankiala. He first went to the railway station and then walked to Mohra Bhattan. He tried to discover what little was left of the ponds. With wilderness in his eyes, he roamed around the alleys and corners of the village. He visited the school, went to see the temple and then left. Later, it was known that his grandfather Balak Singh was the head master of the Mohra Bhattan School and he had spent his childhood there. The association that could not stop Balak Singh from leaving Mohra, did however bring back the doctor.

Unfathomable Sea! Whose waves are years, Ocean of Time, whose waters of deep woe Are brackish with the salt of human tears! Thou shoreless flood, which in thy ebb and flow Claspest the limits of mortality! (Percy Bysshe Shelley)

The author is a federal government employee.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


Your Name:

Recipient Email:

Author Image

Muhammad Hassan Miraj is a federal government employee.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (18) Closed

Ghafoor Jul 17, 2012 10:04am
I agree that it is a very good artical, but not when you say that you want to see India and Pakistan with out borders. Pakistan is a reality and the Indians should recognize this by now.
Shafiq Rao Jul 17, 2012 08:12pm
A very good article coming from a government employee is great news!
Ram Jul 16, 2012 11:14am
Everytime I read such an article, it makes me feel as if Pakistan is my second home after India. What a shame that this great country and its great people were divided...long live Pakistan and India and hope one day people meet eachother without any borders as one mankind!
Kamal M Jul 17, 2012 08:15pm
It takes courage to have such thoughts. As a Pakistani I second your emotions. There is no reason why our border should not be like the one between US & Canada.
wanderer Jul 16, 2012 02:41pm
The writer was stuck in Mankiala but he knows well that train don;t stop at mankiala but passes on and so is the time. The nostalgia remains with the man and especially gets worse whence one gets old, i have passed many a times but never knew about the history and now when i will pass, it will be a different look. As for the Ram, i will advise that first India should try to eradicate borders between Kashmir it may bring back many thousand nostalgic memories back.
Osama Iftikhar Jul 17, 2012 10:40am
I cant help wondering, does the start off point of this and the previous article allude to the progression of time? or the change in circumstances owing to the change in era?
Khalid Jul 17, 2012 10:58am
Great people great job, Excellent Hassan sb. I live in Tope Mankiala and witness of all thing you have written about it and Mohra Bhattan. many thanks. Please keep on writing.
BRR Jul 16, 2012 03:03pm
Good writing, exposes a little bit of forgotten history, reveals secrets about the recent past which most would gladly forget. Keep it up.
sanjay Jul 16, 2012 04:33pm
truly said, Ram. India and Pakistan are politically divided but a single entity if we consider the definition of people. As we know people is a group of mankind who have common history, culture, language, belongingness and heritage.
ybittu Jul 17, 2012 11:02am
Keep dreaming...
Binod Jul 17, 2012 04:17pm
I do not know what Ram meant by without any borders. We do not need to merge India & Pakistan for meeting each-other or visiting places in each others country. Only Normalcy is what is required. May we become humans!
Avtar Jul 17, 2012 01:12am
Many thanks for posting such nice tales. Writers should try to capture some of these tales who are not penning down the information.
U.E. Hayyat Jul 17, 2012 02:15pm
Friendly ties between India and Pakistan are very important. India, China and Russia are the big three in the region. Resolving all conflicts will bring ASIA to the top and the reliance on the West would be over for good. I wish there are more people with the same thinking like this on both sides of the border.
Sumaira Jul 17, 2012 05:20am
Pleasure to read..
ahmed saeed Jul 17, 2012 07:54am
Excellent article.
farhanshahidkhan Jul 17, 2012 10:28pm
Pleasure to read and well researched article. I think you should write a travelogue from Pindi to Lahore by Rail
Shahin Jul 18, 2012 04:01am
Sorry Sanjay and Ram we are not a single entity by any means or definition. We were and we are a different entity altogether. You may come across so many countries in the present world who have common history,culture and language yet they are leading lives of different nations. As far as having people to people contact, on that account I will agree with you.
Khalid Jul 18, 2012 09:55am
Mr. Wanderer, for kind information, Manakiala Railway station was a center of area and I know there were around 4 to 5 local trains stop for local people. I was one of daily train traveler from Mankiala to Chaklala & back 1976 to 1982. These trains were even stop every small station as well. I remember that sweet days when railway ticket checker started ticket checking many people were jumped from slow running train due to fear of fine. "Chaapa" at Sihala ,lohi Bhair or Mughal stations. I can give you more information about train travelling. Once again thanks to Mr. Hassan Mehraj.