Modern day Pakistan is a land enormously blessed with a rich history like no other country in the world. A journey through the history of Pakistan outlines the significance and richness of this land. It is a land hosting ancient civilizations of the world and housing most significant archaeological sites recognized worldwide. These sites and cities, dating back to thousands of years, are simply a testimony to the existence of ancient civilization in human history on this land. The legacy has passed through different empires and each empire has left a mark that made the history of this country alluring. A brief account of historic events this land has hosted is highlighted below.
Ancient History of Pakistan – A journey through the ages
Soanian Culture: From the lower Paleolithic era
The edged pebble tools discovered during an excavation on the bend of the Soan River near the twin cities (Rawalpindi/Islamabad) is perhaps the oldest sign of life in the heart of Pakistan. Thus, long before the emergence of the great Indus Valley Civilization (IVC) on the banks of River Indus, about some 5,000 years ago, the earliest known humans to make present-day Pakistan their abode were a hunter-gatherer society who lived some 50,000 years ago called the Soanians. They are called Soanians because of the site called the Soan Valley where Stone Age relics are found in the form of tools and pottery. The Soan valley is a rich archaeological and natural heritage site along the Soan Riverbank. Today, the river has been reduced to nothing more than a sewer and a dump site, unfortunately.
Mehrgarh: the world’s oldest village culture
Mehrgarh is one of the most significant Neolithic (7000 B.C.E. to 3200 B.C.E.) sites located in Balochistan province of Pakistan, on the Kachhi plain near the Bolan Pass, between the cities of Quetta (Kalat) and Sibi. The 9000 years old settlement encompassing an area of about 200 hectares was discovered in 1974 by an archaeological team directed by French archaeologist Jean-François Jarrige.
The earliest settlement unearthed was a small farming village dated between 7000 B.C.E.–5500 B.C.E. from early food-producing era called Pre-Harappan phase. Evidence founded from the excavation at Mehrgarh unfolded an exceptional insight to life before and during the first stages of the Indus Valley civilization, one of the earliest sites of human civilization existed in today’s Sindh province of Pakistan.
Archaeologists divide the occupation at the site into several periods. The first period (7000 B.C.E.–5500 B.C.E.) called the Neolithic and aceramic (without the use of pottery). Early Mehrgarh inhabitants lived in mud brick houses, used to store their grain in granaries, created tools fashioned with local copper ore, and lined their large container with bitumen. The progress continued through several hundred years until 2600 BCE when the region largely became arid and was abandoned in favour of Indus Valley Civilization.
Indus Valley civilization (3300 BC to 1800 AD): An advanced society of the ancient time
The Indus valley civilization (also known as the Harappan Civilization) was a Bronze Age riverine civilization that flourished along the Indus River Valley around 3300-1800 BCE. The IVC is known to have consisted of two major cities called Harappa in Punjab and Moenjodaro in Sindh excavated in 1921 and 1922 respectively.
The more than 5000 old Indus Valley Civilization is divided into three major phases and eras: the Early Harappans from 3300 to 2600 BCE (Regionalization era), the Mature Harappans from 2600 to 1900 BCE (Integration era), and the Late Harappans from 1900 to 1300 BCE (Localization era).
The people of Indus Valley Civilization were said to be very advanced in the use of technology. Their tools and system for measurement, their uniform size moisture-resistant fire-backed bricks, their buildings and sewage system all suggest the features of a highly advanced society at a time when America was the land of Red Indians and people in Europe dressed in animal hide. By around 1800 BCE, about five million inhabitants of Indus Valley Civilization cities had been abandoned and the reason was the climate change which disrupted the rivers system and they could not produce food anymore.
Gandhara (1st Century BC to 11th century AD): the cradle of Buddhism
The ancient kingdom of Gandhara comprised of the major cities in Northwest Pakistan, the Potohar plateau, and Jalalabad in Kabul. Its main cities were Pushpapura (current day Peshawar), Pushkalavati (Current day Charsada), Mardan, Swat, Dir, Malakand, Bajaur agencies, Takshashila (modern Taxila ) in Punjab and Varmayana (Bamiyan in Jalalabad) in Afghanistan. The kingdom was the cradle of Gandhara civilization and spread to rest of the Buddhist world as far away as Japan and Korea.
Buddhism was adopted as state culture and lasted here for over 1000 years. The famed archaeological sites spread over Taxila, Swat and other cities of KP, as well as rock carvings and petroglyphs along the Karakoram Highway (ancient Silk Route), are a great reminder of the Gandhara Civilization. The Kingdome of Gandhara lasted from 6th century BC to 11th century AD. It attained its height under Kushan Kings from 1st to 5th century AD and was disappeared when it was conquered by Mahmud of Ghazni in 1021 AD.
Alexander (326 BC): The Great Conqueror
Alexander the great (famous as Sikandar-e-Azam in Urdu) of Macedonia, a wise philosopher and a fearless conqueror, entered Punjab in Pakistan from the northern route at Swat in 326 BC. He received a glorious welcome from Ombhi, the then ruler of Taxila, and was offered an alliance against the King Porus who was a source of agitation for Taxila and annexing regions. Alexander stayed at Taxila for some time and held the discussion with the learned people of the time. He left for south via the Indus River and crossed over to the region what is called Balochistan today.
Alexander wandered major parts of today’s Pakistan and left a sizeable population of his armies in every region he conquered including Gandhara. When he died in June 323 AD, most of his armies returned home but he left his mark in the form of the Greek centre and people. The Kalash tribe in the north are said to be descendants of Alexander’s men. There are relics of Alexander and his armies all over Pakistan, such as old coins commemorating his battles and victories and the Jandial Temple in Taxila.
The Maurya Empire (322 BCE – 185 BCE): an iron grip of Kings
The departure of Alexander the Great created a void which was filled by Chandragupta Maurya. He recruited an army and killed the king of tyrannical Magadha kingdom and ascended the throne and founded the Mauryan dynasty. Chandragupta used different techniques to expand his kingdom and expanded from eastern Iran to Burmese hills including the subcontinent. After 25 years of rule, he passed on the throne to his son, Bindusara, and became a Jain monk while he was Hindu. Bindusara further expanded the realm. After the death of Bindusara, Ashoka (son of Bindusara and grandson of Chandragupta), whom the world has ever known the greatest ruler, became the king of Mauryan dynasty. The empire Ashoka inherited was even larger than what his predecessors seized. He gave up violence and actively patronized Buddhism.
Ashoka (273 BC-232 BC), like his grandfather, started his career from Taxila as a governor. He himself collected the ashes of Buddha and distributed among major cities of his empires and he constructed grand stupas and renovated older ones. Dharmarajika stupa in Taxila and the Butkara stupa in Swat are two of them. Mauryan control over northern areas is confirmed from the Rock Edicts left by Ashoka, such as at Shahbaz Garhi, Mardan.
Chandragupta, the founder of Mauryan Empire was Hindu but converted to Jain and became a monk in his later life, while Ashoka promoted Buddhism but it was not clear whether he formally converted or not. The stronghold of Mauryan Empire shrank 50 years after the death of Ashoka when the king was assassinated by his own general.
The Mughal Empire (1526-1707): Where the splendid art and architecture boomed
Babar was the first Mughal ruler and founder of the Mughal Empire in the subcontinent. The dominance of the six Great Mughal Emperors lasted from 1526 to 1707 (Babur (1526-1530) Humayun (1530-1540, 1555-1556), Akbar (1556-1605), Jahangir (1605-1627), Shah Jahan (1627-1658), and Aurangzeb (1658-1707). During this period, the Mughals experienced ups and downs yet founded and built remarkable buildings with unique architecture, even boasting today, such as the Badshahi Mosque, the Shalimar Gardens, the Lahore Fort, Wazir Khan Mosque, Hiran Minar, and many more monuments in Punjab.
The Mughal way of architecture features decorating with stone carvings, glazed tile decorations, and beautiful decorative designs in precious stones set in marble. A vivid testimony is an exquisite work done inside the buildings in Lahore Fort, Badshahi Mosque, and Makli Tombs in Thatta (the largest necropolis in the world and home to the resting place of Sindh’s people, between the 14th and 18th centuries, with many belonging to kings, Queens, and saints).
The British Raj (1858 to 1947): A dominant realm in the subcontinent
The British came in the guise of East India Company, ruled the Subcontinent from 1858 to 1947 and divided the subcontinent into Pakistan and India after almost 90 years presence in the region. However, much was done by the British for the administration of the country, infrastructure, and institutions. The glorious monuments like Aitchison College Lahore, Clock Tower in Peshawar, the clock tower in Faisalabad, Frere Hall Tower in Karachi are some of the remarkable pieces of architecture left by the British.
Pakistan is a unique and blessed state made up of Asia’s most remarkable landscapes. It has diverse geography blended with rich cultures and a long tradition of hospitality mirrored by the people of its country. There is no other country in the world presenting more prospects to trace roots of modern-day humans than Pakistan.
The territory that constitutes today’s Pakistan has for centuries been a cradle of ancient civilizations and home to ancient cultures and dynasties. Tracing its history back from the 9000 years old Neolithic Mehergarh civilization followed by the 5000 years old bronze age Indus Valley Civilization, the 3000 years old Buddhist Gandhara Civilization, the 16th century Mughal Era, the brief Sikh rule, and the 200 years British occupation, until independence in 1947, Pakistan has seen unprecedented events that no other independent sovereign state might have gone through.
Officially the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is the world’s 6th most populous country in South Asia housing more than 212,742,631 people (as per 2017 census). It is the 33rd-largest country encompassing 881,913 square kilometres (340,509 square miles). The country has four provinces – Sindh, Baluchistan, Punjab, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – and three territories – FATA, Kashmir, and Gilgit-Baltistan – surrounding a well-planned modern capital city, Islamabad, located in the heart of the state.
Pakistan is strategically placed on the crossroads of Asia and divided into three major geographic areas – the northern highlands, the Indus River plains, and the Balochistan Plateau. The country is bordered by the 1046 km coastline of the Arabian Sea in the south, India to the east, China to the northeast, Afghanistan to the northwest, and Iran to the southeast. From the mighty glaciated mountain ranges in the north (Gilgit-Baltistan) to the coastal areas of the south the diverse landscape of Pakistan is rich in alluvial fertile planes, vast deserts, dense forests, plateaus, jungles, flora and fauna, rivers, and lakes.
Pakistan is abundant in tourist attractions.
The northern mountainous part of the country constitutes some parts of KPK (Chitral, Swat, and the Kaghan Valley), Azad Jammu & Kashmir, and the entire Gilgit-Baltistan (formerly northern areas) – making up the westernmost edge of the great Himalayas – a unique playground for adventure lovers. The region is ideal for adventure sports and is known as a haven for nature and adventure lovers.
Gilgit-Baltistan has the honour of hosting world’s highest mountains and longest glaciers located outside the polar region famous for trekking, mountaineering, climbing, white water rafting, mountain & desert jeep safaris, and paragliding. The junction point of three mighty mountain ranges – the Karakoram, the Hindukush, and the Himalaya – and the Pamir mountain range exist in Gilgit-Baltistan. The region has been the melting pot of Buddhism and remained one of the several trade routes of ancient Silk Route – currently the Karakoram Highway connecting Pakistan and China Pakistan and China at Khunjerab Pass as a trade and tourism artery embellished by more than 100,000 petroglyphs and rock carvings testifying the Buddhist rule, towering mountains with tiny valleys and terraced fields in the backdrop, ancient forts featuring architectural dexterity, and hundreds of years old rich history of the natives.
The central territories of the country feature mostly, dense forests, vast deserts, and fertile lands so abundant in history and culture housing unique landmarks. Its archaeological heritage making up ancient sites such as Moenjo-Daro & Harappa of Indus Valley Civilization as well as Taxila & Takht-i-Bahi of Gandhara Civilization are the spotlights drawing domestic and international visitors in volumes. In addition to these sites, Pakistan boasts a wealth of architecturally significant landmarks, many dating from the Islamic era, Moghul Empire, Sikh rule, and from the British era, located in Lahore, Multan, Bahawalpur, Karachi & Peshawar.
Its southern region constituting Sindh and Baluchistan make up archaeological sites, religious landmarks, architectural heritage, lakes, and some of the world’s best golden beaches stretching along the coastal line. The Makran Coastal Highway from Karachi to Gwadar and Jiwani is a unique highway in the world crowned with exclusive tourist attractions. Pakistan hosts six of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites and several dozens of sites still lined up to be declared the World Heritage.
The country’s major cities reflect historic and modern influences. The people of different colors and creeds having diverse cultural backgrounds living in different parts of these cities belonging to diverse ethnic groups, practicing their own faiths, wearing colorful costumes speaking some of the world’s distinct languages, consuming rich diet, maintaining and harmonious society are known as the most hospitable people present a true image of the country.
Pakistan is accessible by road from China via Khunjerab border, from Afghanistan via Khyber Pass (currently closed), From Iran via Taftan border and from India via the Wahga border. By air, Pakistan is accessible from several countries directly and indirectly. A number of international flag carriers fly to the major airports of Pakistan including Islamabad, Lahore, Multan, Peshawar, Sialkot, and Karachi.
The region’s four distinct seasons, its countless landmarks including the highest mountain ranges and longest glaciers outside polar region, crystal blue lakes, gushing rivers, longest highways, trekking routes, terraced fields, monuments, cuisines, and cultural diversity are what make it a distinguished region and draw tourists in volumes.
Mohenjo-Daro (also spelled as Mohenjodaro or Moenjodaro), meaning “Mound of the Dead,” is an archaeological site in Sindh province of Pakistan. It was one of the largest and advanced settlements and probably the best known of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization (IVC) built around 2600 BC. Mohenjo-Daro, however, went to a sudden decline in 1700 BC for unknown reasons. The site was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site of Pakistan in 1080. The original name of the city is still unknown.
The melting waters from the mountains flowing southwards merged into the Indus River before meeting the Arabian Sea. About 5500 B.C. settled a nomadic tribe of people into the villages west of the Indus River. They learned to use tools, built small houses, cultivated crop, and domesticated animals. The gradual climate change helped grow jungles and wildlife.
With the passage of time, they grew in population and began to trade with people in the remote areas of Central Asia and in the nearby western regions. Gradually they also improved their skills in making and using sophisticated tools. By around 2600 BC, it turned out to be a civilization almost as modern as that in Mesopotamia and Egypt.
The Indus Valley Civilization
The Indus Valley Civilization (also called Indus Civilization or Harappan Civilization) is known to have consisted of two large cities called Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro besides more than 100 small towns and villages. It was the primitive metropolitan culture of the subcontinent.
The population lived prosperously on the flat alluvial plains along the Indus basin from 2600 B.C. to 1700 B.C. It was a literate civilization having their own script of 250-500 characters of the Dravidian language. It is also one of the world’s three great civilizations. It was initially identified at Harappa in 1921 and in Mohenjo-Daro in 1922.
Rediscovery and Excavations
Mohenjo-Daro was discovered in 1922 by R.D. Banerji of the Archaeological Survey of India. Following its discovery, large-scale excavations were carried out at the site under the supervision of famous archaeologists till 1930s. Excavations resumed for a short time in 1964-65 and then banned again due to problems related to conservation.
The ruins of the city of Mohenjo-Daro lie on the bank of Indus Valley. In a region as wide as 300 hectares (about 750 acres) with a peak population of about 40,000, Mohenjo-Daro was one of the largest and highly developed cities in the world during its time. It was all built with unbaked bricks set on high mounds, the ramparts, and the lower town. The whole construction illustrates an early system of town planning according to a strict rule.
Construction and Planning
Mohenjo-Daro was laid out systematically. It’s planned layout is based on a street grid of rectilinear buildings. Most of the city was built by standardized fire and mortared brick while there is also evidence of unbaked sun-dried brick and wooden superstructures.
The city is divided into two major parts – the 12 meters high Citadel and the Lower City. The Citadel was constructed with mud bricks and had two large assembly halls and attached public baths. The Citadel was believed to a place for religious ceremonies. Its large public residential structure could accommodate about 5,000 people.
The lower town courtyard houses were built for middle class. These houses had brick stairs to the flat roves and had small bathrooms with drains and sanitation. The houses were originally mud plastered to reduce the harmful effect of salts and react to unstable heat and humidity.
The Great Baths
One of the most spectacular structures at Mohenjo is the ‘Great Bath’, which is astonishingly well preserved and measures 180 feet north to south and 108 feet east to west. The outer walls of the Great Bath measure between 7 and 8 feet in thickness and were lined with bitumen.
Other important constructions also included the swimming pool, a waterproof pool of bricks lined with pitchmen, is still in good shape and it may have been used for religious purification. It sizes 39 feet long, 23 feet wide and 8 feet deep.
Water Management system
Mohenjo-Daro had a complex water management system. The city had a central grand marketplace, with a large central well. For households, there were smaller wells to obtain water. There was a complete sophisticated and covered drainage system for wastewaters.
High-status residents had spacious houses with attached baths with the covered drainage system. Most houses had inner courtyards with doors open to side-lanes. Some of the buildings found were a double story.
The people of Mohenjo-Daro had an advanced system of weights and measures using arithmetic with decimals. They produced pottery with fine geometric designs as decoration. They also made figurines as a reflection of their attitudes. Major crops produced included wheat, rice, mustard, dates, and cotton. Likewise, they had dogs, cats, camels, sheep, pigs, goats, water buffaloes, elephants, and chickens.
The west part of the main settlement is fortified with guard towers and the south has defensive fortification. This type of layout indicates that Mohenjo-Daro might have been an administrative centre. Archaeologists believed that the city was successively destroyed and built almost seven times. The cause of destruction was either massive flooding by the Indus or encroaching. Each new construction was carried out on the old one.
Numerous antiquities found during excavation at Mohenjo-Daro include seated and standing sculptures, clay toys, pottery, stone axes, and flake knives, coins, and a number of copper and bronze objects. The famous “Dancing girl”, the 10.8 cm long bronze statue, found here in 1926 is believed to be 4500 years old. The circular space at the statue of the priest-king and the gold disc found from the same location perfectly matching the space on the forehead is suggestive of a third-eye or “Bindi” of Hindu myth.
A variety of copper and bronze objects discovered at Mohenjo-Daro suggest the city witnessed the transition period from stone-age to bronze-age. Some of these antique items are preserved in the Mohenjo-Daro museum. However, many important objects found earlier from Mohenjo-Daro are conserved at the National Museum of India in Delhi and the National Museum of Pakistan in Karachi. The artefacts found in 1939 as representative collection excavated at the site were transferred to the British Museum.
Extinction of Mohenjo-Daro
In around 1700 B.C. the whole Indus Valley Civilization, including Mohenjo-Daro, Vanished. The reason for their extinction is still unknown. Speculations behind the cause of extinction are either shift in the Indus River or ruinous flooding of dammed waters. Still, another suspected cause is a possible decline in rainfall which led to agriculture decline and people abandoned the place in search of food.
A dry core drilling conducted in 2015 revealed that the site is larger than the unearthed area.
Location and Access:
The archaeological ruins of Mohenjo-Daro are located about 510 km north-east from the metropolitan city of Karachi, 110 km to the southwest of Sukkur city, and about 28 km from Larkana. The city can be reached by road from Karachi, Bahawalpur, and Multan in one day.
The ruins of Mohenjo-Daro are just adjacent to the Mohenjo-Daro airport. One can fly from Karachi for an overnight stay and return the same way. There is another possibility of flying to Sukkur from Karachi, Islamabad, and Lahore and proceed by road to Moenjo-Daro.