In a rugged and remote part of the Potohar Plateau, a lonely road winds through scenic barani villages, quaint railway stations and uncharted historical sites. Starting from Talagang, this narrow thoroughfare goes beyond Soan Valley into Attock District and ends at Makhad Sharif on the banks of River Indus – the last town in Punjab.
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The history of Islam in this region dates back to the battle between Mahmud Ghaznavi and Anand Pal in 1008 A.D. The battle ended in the total defeat of Rajput confederacy and India lay at the mercy of Muslim invaders.
The Mughal emperors traversed through this region on their way to their summer resort in Kashmir and considered the area not worth holding and administering.
In the twilight years of Mughal rule, the region served merely as a road by which the invading armies of Nadir Shah and other Afghan warriors advanced to Delhi.
The 18th century saw steady growth and advancement of Sikh power and by the time Maharaja Ranjit Singh was in power, the entire area came under Sikh dominion.
In 1904, the area gained prominence as the British declared Attock a full-fledged district. Post Independence, in 1985, Chakwal became a district when Talagang, Chakwal and three other tehsils were merged.
Agriculture in the area is dependent upon rain. Annual rainfall is very little, therefore the name 'barani' for this region and the principle crops are wheat, grains, mustard and peanuts.
Rich culture and traditions, with abundance of folklores are the hallmark of this land. Music at weddings, which lasts throughout the night, is in the form of 'dhol sharna' (sharna being a variant of shenai). The bridegroom party dances to the mesmerizing beats and return with the bride at early dawn.
While on the other hand, deaths are observed by a demonstration of solemn mourning by sitting on the floor for three consecutive days and a custom of 'vaen' (an emotional expression of loss and sadness) is carried out by the mourners.
Almost all graves in the area have a vertical slab at either end, while a woman's grave can be distinguished by an additional smaller slab in the centre.
In the past, Talagang and surrounding villages were known to produce an elegant gold embroidered shoe for the wealthy, as well as a humbler sandal for the poor.
Pachnand and Multan Khurd are known for producing a pleasing hand-woven saddle cloth known as 'khes' which has multiple uses.
Tamman being the seat of power is mostly inhabited by Awan Sardars who are descendants of Qutb Shah – a general in the army of Mahmud Ghaznavi. The word Tamman in its literal interpretation means 'tribal center'.
The wild and rugged area of Makhad is situated in the south-west corner.
When the Indus Valley Flotilla (a steamship company in British India) was operational, Makhad served as a terminus for ships. Karachi Port was connected to Jhirk, from where trade ships sailed right up to Mithankot and then to Makhad.
Indus at Makhad, as the myth goes, is so deep that seven lengths of charpoy's twine were once knotted to a stone and lowered in the waters and still, the river bed could not be fathomed.
The shrine at Makhad is to the memory of Syed Abdullah Shah Gilani, Noori Badshah – a historic figure that links with the line of the Naqib of Baghdad.
A local myth at Makhad is that Indus was once a roaring and troublesome river for the people and it is only after Pir Noori Badshah prayed with his hands placed in its waters that it calmed down and started flowing silently.
Taimoor Farouk is a freelance journalist.