Gandhara Heritage Festival 2004
The Gandhara Heritage Fest is one of a series of Heritage Fests by KaravanPakistan in conjunction with schools of Rawalpindi, Islamabad and Taxila, Risalpur and Wah Cantt. This particular Heritage Fest involved the painting of murals by the participating school children at the heritage site of Jaulian where there is a Buddhist monastery. It was a fun-filled educational programme as it included a train journey from the Golra railway station to the Taxila Museum on the Gandhara Steam Safari. The children then had to scale a hill to the Jaulian Archeological Site. Once having reached the site the children were given a briefing by Dr. Ashraf Khan, Deputy Director, Federal dept. of Archaeology on the Gandhara Heritage and one by Karavan Committee members. The painting kits were then distributed at 10:15 am and painting continued till 1:15 pm. After a lunch and prayer break the program commenced at Taxila Museum in which school bands participated, there was recitation from the Holy Quran, National songs and folk dances by schools. The addresses included a welcome speech by the Federal Department of Archeology, an Introduction to KaravanPakistan by Ms. Yasmeen Lari, Chairperson Karavan Initiatives, A talk on Corporate Social Responsibility by Mr. Tariq Kirmani, M.D. PSO and addresses by Mr. Syed Jalil Abbas, Sec. Ministry of Culture,; Mr. Jorge Sequiera, Dir. UNESCO and by Governor of Sinkiang and Chairman of Senate, Malaysia. These addresses were followed by the distribution of Certificates by the Chief Guest Mr. Mohammedmian Soomro and an address by him. This part of the program concluded with a vote of thanks by Ms. Shanaz Ramzi, Chair, Karavan Events Committee and Refreshments. After a lovely day devoted to celebrating the heritage site of Jaulian and the culture it represents the children and their teachers bade adieu and took the return journey on the Gandhara Steam Safari which took them back to the Golra Railway Station which also houses the Historic Golra Railway Museum. A true taste of our varied and colourful heritage was imparted to all the participants making it a real Heritage Fest.
For a true glimpse of the Festival read on…………
Karavan Gandhara Heritage Festival
by Shanaz Ramzi
Heritage sites and historical attractions have been developed practically the world over to entice tourists, and no wonder, considering tourism ranks among the fastest growing industries in the world today. Pakistan, however, seems to have been blissfully unaware of the importance of promoting any of its numerous heritage sites, so much so that a large number of the country’s historical treasures have been allowed to fall into a state of ruin. Mercifully, though, of late there seems to be some kind of awakening, at least in certain government departments, with the result that some of our priceless pieces of heritage are being salvaged and indeed restored to their former glory. The Golra Museum and the Gandhara Safari Steam Engine bear testimony to this great change in attitude.
For, wonderful though the transformation of Golra Station is, what is more heartening is that the effort to safeguard such vital links to our past is totally indigenous. Apparently, the railway division at Pindi had been told to sell all the vintage paraphernalia lying around at Golra Sharif Station, as scrap. Realizing what a great loss that would be, executive director, Ashfaq Khattak and his team decided to use the items for display rather than dump them. Toward this end, they began to hunt around for railway coaches and saloons that had become obsolete in the early nineties. Before they knew it, they had discovered both narrow and broad gauge steam engines and railway saloons which could be used as major exhibits. They also found a lot of antique pieces such as table and ceiling fans, switches, electrical appliances, crockery and lamps.
Says Khattak “Initially we were only collecting things from Rawalpindi, but later we started looking for artifacts elsewhere too. We then restored the building that has been part of the Golra Station since 1882 to its former glory, complete with sandblasting of its walls. And all this was done at no cost to the government – it was entirely our own effort.”
The result is that a project embarked upon last year at the initiative of a few far-thinking individuals bore fruit within barely to three months of its initiation. Instead of losing out on some invaluable pieces of our history to ‘kabarias’ we now have a beautiful and well-stocked museum at Golra Station, a town whose main claim to fame so far was that it is the eternal abode of Pir Mehr Ali Shah, a renowned sufi saint.
Some of the striking vintage artifacts in the museum include Morse and field telephones from old railway saloons, gate signal lamps, radios, alarm clocks and antique guns. Certain items of formal crockery with the initials NWR (for North West Railways) have also been salvaged and displayed. Photographs tracing the history of Pakistan Railways are another item that makes for interesting viewing.
But perhaps, even more fascinating are the two royal saloons that have been restored to mint condition and are displayed as if they are awaiting gentry. One is told that one is part of a Vice Regal Saloon (used by the Viceroy) and the other belonged to the daughter of the Maharaja of Joudhpur (he had presented it to his daughter on her marriage). By a stroke of luck, the saloons had been sent to Golra in June 1947 for repairs and were left behind after Partition. Both have been preserved with their original decor, complete with luxurious bedrooms, baths, kitchens, cupboards, living rooms, writing rooms and even servants quarters. Even the fans and lights are still in working order.
Another fascinating sight is the first class waiting room, the decor of which transports you back into time, what with antique furniture including a pram adorning it. But delightful as it is to see these vintage items, one feels that it is the revival of the steam engine, built in 1912, that is the icing on the cake. Called the Gandhara Steam Safari, the train does weekly trips between Rawalpindi and Golra and is available for chartered booking up to Taxila. While the corporate world is availing the facility to the maximum – they are even hosting their dinners at the beautiful Golra station -- school children are not too far behind and a large number of them have been having the time of their lives going on field trips on the Steam Safari.
Recently, for instance, a number of Pindi schools participated in Karavan Pakistan’s Heritage Mural Painting programme held at the historical site of Taxila. As an added treat, the organizers arranged for special rates with Pakistan Railways so that the students arriving from Pindi to Taxila could be transported to and fro by train. Their pleasure knew no bounds as they sat in this romantic mode of transportation, the engine chugging away as clouds of smoke filled the air, making patterns in the breeze. The fact that on the way back, the train stopped at Golra so that the children could browse in the museum further served to enhance their excitement.
The Golra Sharif Railway Station with its museum shaded by old Banyan trees and the sparkling Gandhara Safari Steam Engine are proud testaments to what can be achieved given the will and initiative. Today, the chairman Railways has become part of the Pakistan Railways Heritage Community, so the effort has had a ripple effect and more and more people who matter are getting involved in the conservation programme. Let’s hope that other government departments also have individuals who can make a difference before it is too late.