The capital city of Islamabad is ideally located in the heart of Pakistan with easy access from within Pakistan and from around the world. Likewise, the city is surrounded by attractive destinations providing magnificent opportunities as “Day excursions from Islamabad”.
DAY EXCURSION TO TAXILA
The ancient metropolis of Taxila is a town located in Punjab, about 45km north of Islamabad (the capital city), Pakistan. The name Taxila was derived from the Sanskrit term Taksasila, literally, means “city of cut stones”. It is an important archaeological site founded in the late 1800s by a renowned archaeologist Sir Alexander Cunningham. It has a rich museum and more than 50 sites stretched over some 30 sq km. Taxila was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Pakistan in 1980.
DAY EXCURSION TO TAKHT-E-BAHI
The relics of the imposing Takht-i-Bahi Monastery are an important Buddhist site in Gandhara region and can be reached in 2.5 hours from Islamabad. It made up to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Pakistan in 1980. Takht-i-Bahi monastery has a guarding view of the Mardan city and is situated on the crest of a small hill about 16 kilometres northwest of Mardan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan.
DAY EXCURSION TO ROHTAS FORT
Rohtas Fort (also called Qila Rohtas) is one of the six World Heritage Sites in Pakistan, designated in 1997. The gigantic Rohtas fort is an exceptional example of early Muslim military architecture surviving today. It was built by Farid Khan – the “Lion King” of the subcontinent. He was well known as Sher Shah Suri in the 16th century. The fort was strategically built in a gorge on a small hill 300ft above its surroundings, some 16km northwest of Jhelum city of Punjab in Pakistan. It is so strategically positioned that it commands the old route from the north to the plans of Punjab across the Potohar Plateau. Rohtas Fort is located some 98 km from Islamabad and takes about 2 hours to reach. The major reason behind the erection of this rampart was to subdue the pro-Mughal Ghakkar tribe and to thwart the possible return of Mughal Emperor Humayun who had fled to Iran after his defeat in the battle of Kanauj at Chaunsa.
DAY EXCURSION TO KHEWRA SALT MINES
The Khewra Salt Mine (also known as Mayo Salt Mine) is the second largest salt deposit in the world and largest in Pakistan located in Khewra, an administrative subdivision of Jehlum District in Punjab Province of Pakistan. It is one of the largest sources of salt and major tourist attractions in the country with an estimated total of 220 million tons of rock salt deposits. Khewra is about 160 km from Rawalpindi/Islamabad and can be reached in 3 hours.
DAY EXCURSION TO MURREE HILLS
Murree is a popular hill station and a famous tourist attraction located about 30 km northeast of Islamabad City. It has a number of attractions for tourists including hiking trails, resorts, flora and fauna, a unique climate, and picturesque valleys. It was founded in 1851 as a summer headquarters of the Punjab Government until 1876 when it was moved to Shimla.
DAY EXCURSION TO PESHAWAR
Peshawar, the capital of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (formerly NWFP) is known as the oldest living city in South Asia and the meeting place of the subcontinent and Central Asia. The city is about 180 km from Islamabad and can be reached in less than 3 hrs. Peshawar is further divided into four major sections. The old walled city is the most exciting part of Peshawar with the history dating from Buddhist, Mughal and Sikh era and was actually surrounded by a wall until the 20th century. The British Cantonment makes up the site founded in 1849 which included the boulevard city and the entire array of elegant buildings standing even today associated with the English men. University Town at 7 km from the city centre has the oldest yet lively building of Islamia College founded in 1913 to educate the sons of Pathan chiefs. Hayatabad is the modern residential area annexed with Karkhano Bazaar where anything can be found at a reasonable price.
Pakistan is a country strategically located on the crossroads of South Asia abundantly rich in history, archaeological remains, natural beauty, cultural diversity, manmade landmarks, and in architectural heritage. It is a cradle of ancient civilization hosting the most significant centers of the Indus Valley Civilization (IVC), Gandhara Civilization, and Mughal Heritage. Six of these sites of cultural or natural significance make up to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Sites of Pakistan.
The UNESCO World Heritage Sites are the natural and cultural properties that are considered to be of outstanding universal importance and deserve conservation. These sites are unique for their respective historic value and well-planned construction. Some of the World Heritage Sites in Pakistan inherit about 5000 years of history and boasting of their legacy today.
Tentative sites in Pakistan
There are 26 additional important heritage and natural sites lined up in the inventory of tentative sites list. Eight of the total sites have recently been approved to be added up to the list of already existing six sites that include: the Derawar Fort in the Cholistan, Hingol Cultural Landscape in Balochistan, Nagarparkar Cultural Landscape in Sindh, Central Karakoram National Park and Deosai National Park in Gilgit-Baltistan, Ziarat Juniper Forest and Karez System Cultural Landscape in Balochistan, and the Khewra Salt Mines in Punjab.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Pakistan
The 5000 years old city of Mohenjo-Daro (also spelled Mohenjodaro or Moenjodaro) was only unearthed in 1922. The city of Mohenjo-Daro is a metropolis of the Indus Valley Civilization (IVC) dating back to around 3rd millennium B.C. The magnificent site is located on the right bank of River Indus in Larkana District of Sindh in Pakistan. The whole city, from what the construction system indicates, was laid out following strict rules which also shows evidence of an early system of town planning.
Excavation at the site was carried out between 1930 and 1965. Only one-third of the city has yet been said to have discovered. The entire city was built of unbaked brick and gradually deteriorating due to material decay, moisture infiltration, poor drainage, and salt action. The government of Pakistan, in collaboration with UNESCO, is working to better conserve the site. Moenjodaro was included in the list of World Heritage Sites of Pakistan in 1980.
Takht-i-Bahi literally means spring throne in Persian. Sahr-i-Bahlol is a small fortified city located about 5 km from Takht-i-Bahi. Stretched on a crest of hilltops with altitude ranging between 36 meters and 152 meters, the early 1st century Buddhist monastic complex of Takht-i-Bahi and the neighboring city remains at Sahr-i-Bahlol are the imposing relics of Buddhism in the Gandhara region of Pakistan. Takht-i-Bahi and Sahr-i-Bahlol are in fact two different sites inscribed in the world heritage sites of Pakistan in 1980.
The ruins of Takht-tBahi and Sahr-i-Bahlol are located some 16 km from Mardan city, 78 km from Peshawar, and about 170 km from the capital city of Islamabad. Owing to its location and altitude the complex of Takht-i-Bahi escaped successive invasions and is still very well preserved. Sahr-i-Bahlol, however, is exposed to damage from local visitors digging for relics and antiquates.
The main Takht-e-Bahi site consists of four major sections including the Court of Stupas, a monastic complex, a temple complex, and a tantric monastic complex. The dates of these vary and add to the area’s cultural depth. The site is a perfect day excursion from Islamabad and Peshawar.
The Lahore Fort and Shalimar Gardens are two outstanding gifts from Mughal era dating back to 17th century. The two sites are located in Lahore about 7kms apart from each other. Both sites are exquisitely designed and constructed displaying the height of artistic skills at the time Emperor Shah Jahan’s rule.
The fort is located in the northwest corner of the walled city consists of marble palaces and mosques ornamented with mosaics. It was said to have been destroyed and rebuilt several times between the 13th and 15th centuries. The Shalimar Gardens, however, were constructed by Emperor Shah Jahan in 1642 are a reflection of Persian and Islamic traditions. The gardens cover 16 hectares of land area.
Dating back to the 14th century the vast necropolis of Thatta city in Sindh province of Pakistan is home to around half a million tombs. The monuments are spread over an area of 9 km square considered to be the largest Muslim Necropolises in the world. The monuments and mausoleums are built from a high-quality material including stone, bricks, and enameled tiles reflecting the then Sindhi civilization.
The remnants at the site display a shining era of Sindh tradition during its golden time. Icons of the time including kings and queens, saints, scholars, and philosophers all are buried here. Some of the tombs of famous rulers and saints are still preserved representing Hindu, Mughal, and Islamic architecture. It was included in the world heritage sites in 1981.
Rohtas Fort or Qila Rohtas is an outstanding example of early Muslim architecture located 16km northwest of Jhelum city of Punjab in Pakistan. The fort is built strategically on a hilltop in a gorge with guarding view of surroundings. Its history dates back to 1541 when Sher Shah Suri (Lion King) of Suri dynasty ousted Emperor Humayun. The fortified complex was built to thwart the possible return of Humayun and the surrounding Ghakkhar tribe.
The main fortification of this massive fort extends to the 4km circumference of the robust wall with 68 bastions at an irregular distance for vigilance. It also has 12 main gates with specific purpose and name given to each gate. Inside the fortification are three deep wells (baolis) for self-sufficiency during wartime. There are other subsequent constructions including Haveli Maan Singh, the mosque, and Rani Mahal.
Although the fort was built according to the wishes of Sher Shah Suri; the Lion King died before it was completed. Humayun returned after the death of Sher Shah but the fort was not used for the purpose it was built. The name Rohtas, though, is derived from Rohtasgarh, the site of Sher Shah’s victory in 1539 over a Hindu ruler in India. It was included in the world heritage site in 1997.
Taxila is a significant archaeological site located about 35km north of Rawalpindi/Islamabad. The city of Taxila has been an important center of learning, the core of Buddhism, an urban metropolis, and a melting pot of ancient civilization. It was discovered in the late 1800s.
The city is situated strategically on a branch of Silk Road that linked China to the West. The history of the city dates back to the Gandhara period containing ruins of Taksasila. It was a major Hindu and Buddhist center. Taxila illustrates the stages of development of a city alternately influenced by Persia, Greece, and Central Asia from 5th century BC to 2nd century A.D. The city reached its apex between the 1st and 5th centuries. It was destroyed by White Huns in the 5th century.
There are about 50 sites within a radius of 30 km. Most of the archaeological sites of the city are located around the rich Taxila museum. Major sites include Dharmarajika, Sirkap, Julian, and Mohra Muradu. These sites are well maintained and frequently visited by local and foreign tourists. In 1980, Taxila was declared UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Rohtas Fort (also called Qila Rohtas) is one of the six World Heritage Sites in Pakistan designated in 1997. The fort is located in a gorge, built purposefully on a small hill 300ft above its surroundings, some 16km northwest of Jhelum city of Punjab in Pakistan. It is so strategically positioned with a commanding view of the old route from the north to the plans of Punjab across the Potoar Plateau. Qila Rohtas is situated some 98 km from Islamabad and 210km from Lahore on the Grand Trunk (GT) Road.
The gigantic Rohtas Fort is an exceptional example of early Muslim military architecture surviving today. It was built by Farid Khan – the “Lion King” of the subcontinent well known as Sher Shah Suri – in the 16th century. The major reason behind the erection of this rampart was to subdue the pro-Mughal Ghakkar tribe and to thwart the possible return of Mughal Emperor Humayun who had fled to Iran after his defeat in the battle of Kanauj at Chaunsa.
Sher Shah Suri was said to have commissioned his architect, Shahu Sultani, to erect an unshakable castle within a span of 3 years. The fort constructed by the architect, however, was way smaller than what Sher Shah Suri had envisioned. Sher Shah Suri, therefore, ordered the architect to be beheaded. But before his orders were materialized, the architect was granted a chance of mercy with the proviso that he rebuilds the fort in two years according to the wishes of Sher Shah Suri. Unfortunately, the Lion King died in a battle in 1545 before he could see the fort completed. His reign lasted barely for six years only and his death quickly lead to fall of his empire.
Humayun returned ten years after the death of Sher Shah Suri and the fort could not serve the purpose it was built for. Tatar Khan Khasi, the then governor of Rohtas Fort, escaped without a battle. Gradually, Rohtas lost its prominence as Humayun’s son Akbar moved to the newly built great fort in Attock in the 1580s. Later, only on their way to Kashmir, Emperor Akbar and his son Jehangir were known to have stayed briefly at Rohtas.
The fort remained in continuous use until 1707 before it was reoccupied under the Durrani and Sikh rulers of the 18th and 19th centuries respectively. Few of the original buildings erected in the inner citadel survive today including the domed tower called Haveli Man Singh, Shahi Mosque, three Baolis, and the Rani Mahal. Some of those constructions may have been added much later than the fort itself was built.
Construction of Rohtas Fort:
The foundation of the fort was laid in 1541 by Sher Shah Suri. It has an irregular shape built on an uneven land following the shapes and forms of the hill it was constructed on. Most of the fort was built with fine ashlar stones collected from nearby villages and some parts were built with bricks. Blended with fine architectural and artistic traditions from Persian and Afghanistan, this imposing historic monument had a deep influence on the development of Mughal architectural style.
The main garrison spreads over an area of 12.63 acres covered by 5.2 km circumference of a robust wall. The complex could house a force of up to 30,000 men at a time. The wall is between 10 to 18 m high and between 10 to 13 m wide supplemented with 68 bastions at irregular intervals for vigilance, and 12 main trap gates with interesting names and stories. There are some 1900 battlements throughout the rampart; muskets fired from those battlements and soldiers poured molten lead over the walls as well. The wall also has three terraces linked with staircases. A 533-meter-long wall divides the main citadel from other parts of the fort. However, there are some significant additions inside the fort some of which are still surviving till date.
Haveli Maan Singh:
Haveli Maan Singh is poised on a fair elevation with a guarding view of the fort and surroundings from its balconies. Although it seems to have originally comprised of four rooms of which only one is existing. The tower is named after one of Akbar’s greatest generals and is the only surviving example of Hindu architecture within the fort. This structure was believed to have built between 1550 and 1614. It is a two-story building constructed with bricks and neatly plastered bearing no resemblance to the Fort itself.
Shahi Mosque and Rani Mahal:
The Shahi Mosque is a small construction with only a prayer chamber and a small courtyard. Inside the fort also existed three Baolis (deep stepped wells) – Main Baoli, the Shahi Baoli, and the Sar Gate Baoli – for self-sufficiency in water and to withstand any major siege. Rani Mahal (Queen’s Palace) is a single-story structure located near Haveli Man Singh. It is also a Hindu architecture built around the same time as the Haveli itself.
Rohtasgarh to Rohtas:
Sher Shah Suri named Qila Rohtas after the famous Rohtasgarh fort in Bihar (now in India) that had been captured by him three years earlier in a battle. Rohtasgarh was named after Rohitasva, the son of Harish Chandra of Solar dynasty who built the fort. It cost a huge amount of money to build Rohtas fort more because of the opposition of local Gakkhars than for the material. Today, neither the successors of Sher Shah Suri nor the Mughal Empire resides in the fort but only an interesting story still survives in the form of this ramshackle structure.
The gates of Qila Rohtas
The Rohtas Fort has 12 gates, all built with dressed and fitted stone.
Sohail Gate provides the best example of masonry in use in the time of Sher Shah. It derived its name from a Saint named Sohail Bukhari, buried in the south-western bastion of the gate.
Shah Chandwali Gate
Named after a Saint Shah Chandwali who refused to get his wages for working on this gate, linking the citadel to the main fort. The saint died while working and had been buried near the gate.
It was named “Kabuli” because it faces Kabul, opens to the west. This is another double gate, its opening measures 3.15 meters (10 feet) wide.
The Shishi Gate derives its name from the beautiful glazed tiles used to decorate its outer arch. Those blue tiles represent the earliest examples of the technique, later refined in Lahore.
Langar Khani Gate
Langar Khani Gate, a double gate, with a central arched opening leading to a Langar Khana (Mess hall or Canteen).
The Gate derives its name from “Talaq” (divorce). Legend says Prince Sabir Suri entering the gate had a fatal attack of fever. It was regarded as a bad omen and therefore its name became “Talaqi.”
Mori or Kashmiri Gate
The Mori or Kashmiri Gate opens to the north, facing Kashmir, hence it’s called Kashmiri Gate.
Khwas Khani Gate
The Khwas Khani Gate had been named after Khwas Khan, one of Sher Shah Suri’s greatest generals.
The Gatali Gate faces toward the village Gatali. It was an important point to cross the River Jhelum for the Kashmir Valley.
Tulla Mori Gate
Tulla Mori Gate serves more like an entrance than a gate. On the eastern side of the fort, it measures two meters wide with a bastion next to the entrance.
Pipalwala Gate, a small entrance like the Tulla Mori Gate.
Sar Gate, called “Sar (water)” because it constitutes a small entrance with a bastion and a Baoli next to it.
Although there has been no harmony in the Persian and Afghan construction styles; Qila Rohtas is an exemplary amalgamation of the two with Afghan style more prominent. There has been a later addition in the form of Hindu Architecture on the Balconies on Sohail Gate, decorations on Shahi Mosque and on the Haveli Man Singh. Its decorative features in the form of stone carvings intricately grace different parts of the building. The calligraphic inscriptions on different parts of the fort, glazed tile work, and fine plasterwork are some of the features describing the dexterity still living today. The combination of artwork is unique and vivid.
Although the fort is surviving today but gradually decaying too. It needs extensive repair and timely maintenance in order to pass the legacy on to next generations. Rohtas Fort loudly speaks of a great history and the legends lived here. It simply doesn’t have to die out mere owing to the negligence. Rohtas Fort is an identity of this country.