In Pakistan’s north, ancient ‘Shaq Khang’ homes on the brink of extinction

The still image taken from a video recorded on May 23, 2023 shows children climbing down the roof of a Shaq Khang, a centuries-old architectural style house in Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan. (AN Photo)
Short Url
Updated 27 May 2023

In Pakistan’s north, ancient ‘Shaq Khang’ homes on the brink of extinction

  • Centuries-old building technique uses poplar and willow twigs and plaster made of natural ingredients
  • Traditional houses are weather, earthquake resistant, which is important in seismically active region

KHAPLU, Gilgit-Baltistan: In northern Pakistan, ancient homes that have withstood earthquakes, inclement weather and the ravages of time may not be able to withstand the appeal of modern architecture.

Centuries-old houses known as Shaq Khang, woven with the twigs of poplar and willow trees, are increasingly giving way to modern construction and architectural styles in the picturesque Gilgit-Baltistan region, especially in Bara Valley, where the unique houses are most prevalent.

“Shaq is a name derived from the twigs of poplars and willows in the local Balti language,” Muhammad Ali, a 65-year-old resident of Bara Valley, said. “Shaq is made, knitted from [twigs of] poplar and willows trees. Beams, pillars, and walls are also made from the same trees.”

The still image taken from a video recorded on May 23, 2023 shows a Shaq Khang, a centuries-old architectural style house in Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan. (AN Photo)

The natural construction materials, Ali said, offered more insulation, keeping the interiors of homes warm during winter and cool during summer.

Ali is from the village of Tatos, which roughly translates to ‘now see’. Due to its height, it offers a panoramic view of Khaplu, the administrative capital of Ghanche District.

“Everyone comes here to see [the view]. But due to the dilapidated condition of the road, only a few tourists visit here,” Ali said.

Many tourists come to see the ancient homes, he said, “made before the partition of the subcontinent.”

Ghulam Muhammad, a 75-year-old resident of the town, concurred that many of the area’s Shaq Khang homes had lasted several generations.

Two historians Arab News spoke to said there was no recorded history of how old the technique of making Shaq Khang was.

“Shaq never falls apart,” Muhammad said. “The life of cement is 100 years after which it deteriorates. Metals catch rust and break. But wood never gets spoiled even after 500 years. This is the beauty of Shaq.”

Muhammad added that the traditional houses were “quake-resistant,” which was important in the seismically active region.

Dr. Muhammad Arif, a historian and former director-general at the Department of Archaeology and Museums in Islamabad, emphasized the significance of Shaq for GB’s ancient culture. The houses were low-cost and easy to build also, he added, requiring minimal upkee, and suited to the mountainous environment and extreme weather conditions.

“The twigs of poplars and willows are intricately woven together to form the walls of Shaq, creating a strong and interconnected structure,” he told Arab News. “To enhance its strength, we apply a plaster of mud mixed with various substances. For example, we add husk to make the mud more compact, and we even incorporate apricot juice to strengthen it like cement.”

“[They are] earthquake-resistant and very flexible. That’s why, whenever an earthquake comes, the whole unit will shake [but] not fall,” Arif added. “If the home is made of stone and other things, there is a chance of falling.”

But with increasing wealth, people were opting for cement houses as a “fashion statement,” Arif lamented, though the modern structures lacked weather-friendliness and failed to protect the inhabitants from extreme temperatures.

The decline in the number of traditional houses had also raised concerns about the loss of the region’s cultural heritage.

“This architecture is our asset, these Shaq Khang homes are our recognition,” Arif said. “And it is a fact that this architecture is disappearing from the region as people are making modern houses.”

“This is an important part of our culture and to revive these houses is the need of the time. Tourists can also be attracted to this region through these ancient buildings. If we don’t play our role to revive these, our history will also be disappeared.”

Wazir Ejaz, CEO of the Baltistan Cultural Development Foundation (BCDF), told Arab News the group was trying to conserve the homes.

“We have trained many locals in Skardu and Ghanche districts of Ghanche to make Shaqs,” he said. “And [with the help] of Baltistan University, we will train more locals to build them.”

Pakistan’s Khan gets bail on new charge of abetting violence — lawyer

Updated 8 sec ago

Pakistan’s Khan gets bail on new charge of abetting violence — lawyer

  • Ex-PM Khan’s May 9 arrest sparked violent protests, which saw military facilities ransacked
  • Khan has appealed for talks to end Pakistan’s political crisis, a demand rejected by the government

LAHORE, Pakistan, May 30 : Pakistani former prime minister Imran Khan was on Tuesday granted bail on a new charge of abetting violence against the military by his protesting supporters after he was arrested and detained on May 9 in a corruption case, his lawyer said.

The embattled Khan, who says the corruption charges have been concocted, is embroiled in a confrontation with the powerful military, which has ruled Pakistan directly or overseen civilian governments throughout its history.

His May 9 arrest sparked widespread protests by his supporters who ransacked various military facilities, raising new worries about the stability of the nuclear-armed country as it struggles with its worst economic crisis in decades.

Khan, 70, was later freed on the orders of a court.

His lawyer, Intezar Hussain Punjotha, said an anti-terrorism court confirmed the bail on the new charge after the former premier appeared before it and submitted surety bonds.

Khan has denied the charge saying he was in detention when the violence took place.

The bail until June 2 on the new charge means he will not be detained on that charge.

The former international cricket star became prime minister in 2018 with the tacit support of the military, though both sides denied it at the time.

He later fell out with generals and was ousted as prime minister after losing a confidence vote in 2022.

Khan has since then been campaigning for a snap election, with rallies with his supporters across the country, but the prime minister who replaced him, Shahbaz Sharif, has rejected the call for an election before it is due late this year.

The turmoil has exacerbated Pakistan’s economic crisis with inflation at record highs, growth is anaemic amid fears of a sovereign default on external debts unless the International Monetary Fund (IMF) unlocks delayed disbursements.

Dozens of Khan’s supporters have been handed over to army authorities for trial in military courts.

A team of investigators looking into the May 9 violence summoned Khan on Tuesday for questioning but Punjotha said a member of his legal team would go instead.

Khan has appealed for talks to end the crisis. The government has rejected his call.

‘Arsonists’ don’t qualify for dialogue, Pakistani PM says on Imran Khan talks’ offer

Updated 4 min 42 sec ago

‘Arsonists’ don’t qualify for dialogue, Pakistani PM says on Imran Khan talks’ offer

  • Sharif’s rejection of talks dashed hopes of lowering of political tensions amid stalled talks with IMF as Pakistan on brink of default
  • Embattled ex-PM Khan has dialed down his anti-government rhetoric since last week and called for talks in a rare overture

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Tuesday turned down an offer of talks by former premier Imran Khan, saying “anarchists and arsonists” who attacked symbols of the state did not qualify for dialogue.

In a rare overture last week, Khan said he was forming a committee for talks with the government to end the country’s lingering political turmoil, worsened this month by violent protests following the opposition politician’s arrest in a land fraud case.

Authorities began a crackdown on close associates and supporters of Khan after his followers attacked security forces and torched government and military properties, including the home of the Corps Commander in Lahore, following Khan’s detention on corruption charges on May 9.

Troops were deployed to contain the violence, which subsided only after Khan was released on bail on May 12. Thousands of supporters of the popular opposition politician have since been arrested, including the most senior leaders of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. The government and army have said those found to be behind the violence would be tried under relevant Pakistani laws, including the Army Act. Many top Khan aides have also since announced leaving the party.

Against this background, the embattled Khan dialed down his anti-government rhetoric and called for talks.

“Dialogue is deeply embedded in the political process, which helps democracy mature & evolve. Many political & constitutional breakthroughs occurred when political leaders sat across the table to craft a consensus,” Sharif said on Twitter.

“However, there is a major difference here, the anarchists & arsonists who wear the garb of politicians and attack the symbols of the State do not qualify for a dialogue. They should rather be held to account for their militant actions.”

Sharif’s rejection of the talks’ offer dashed hopes of the lowering of political tensions amid stalled talks between the International Monetary Fund and cash-strapped Pakistan, which is currently trying to avoid a default.

Khan was ousted from the office of the PM by an alliance of opposition parties headed by Sharif in a no-confidence vote last year, and has since been calling for new elections. He alleged, without providing evidence, that Sharif, the US and the Pakistani military conspired to remove him from office — allegations they deny. Khan later backtracked saying only the military and Sharif were behind his ouster.

Under the constitution, the next vote is due in October when the parliament completes its term.

First group of 773 Pakistani Hajj pilgrims reaches Makkah from Madinah

Updated 30 May 2023

First group of 773 Pakistani Hajj pilgrims reaches Makkah from Madinah

  • Hajj flights from Pakistan commenced on May 21, final flight will depart for Saudi Arabia on June 21
  • Religious affairs ministry says all Hajj pilgrims who landed in Madinah would reach Makkah in eight days

ISLAMABAD: The first group of 773 Pakistani pilgrims had reached Makkah from Madinah ahead of the annual Hajj pilgrimage, the Pakistani religious affairs ministry said on Tuesday.

This year, Saudi Arabia has restored Pakistan’s pre-pandemic Hajj quota of 179,210 pilgrims and waved off the upper age limit of 65. Around 80,000 Pakistani pilgrims are performing the pilgrimage this year under the government scheme, while over 91,000 will use private tour operators.

As per the Pakistani religious affairs ministry, Hajj flights from the country commenced on May 21, with the final flight departing for Saudi Arabia on June 21.

“DG Hajj Mission in Makkah Abdul Wahab Soomro welcomed the pilgrims who were served dates, coffee and juice in the traditional manner on their arrival at Makkah,” the ministry said.

Accommodation arrangements for the pilgrims had been made in the Azizia and Bitha Quraish areas of Makkah.

Director of Hajj Makkah Faheem Afridi said that a special bus service would be available to take pilgrims from Azizia to Haram.

“All the Pakistani Hajj pilgrims are well catered for, will be provided three meals including breakfast in Makkah,” the statement said. “The health of pilgrims will be taken care of. To meet the complete nutritional needs of the pilgrims, fruits are being served in the afternoon and sweets in the night.”

The ministry said all Hajj pilgrims who landed in Madinah would reach Makkah after eight days.

For the Hajj pilgrimage, pilgrims perform the welcome tawaf after entering Makkah, circling the Kaaba seven times in a counterclockwise direction, starting at the Black Stone. They then head to the hills of Safa and Marwa, where they perform saee, which is the act of going back and forth between the two hills seven times. 

Pilgrims then travel to Mina, an area of 20 square kilometers nearly five kilometers away from the Grand Mosque in Makkah, on the eighth day of Dhul Hijjah, also known as Yom Al-Tarwiyah, where they will stay and fill their day and evening with prayers and supplications, resting and consuming water ahead of their long, perilous journey. 

On the second day of Hajj, pilgrims travel to Mt. Arafat, 20 kilometers away. The day is devoted to prayer and supplications as they observe duhr (noon) combined with asr (afternoon) prayers until sunset. 

The Day of Arafat is considered the most critical day for pilgrims and the millions not performing. It is the day that, “atones for the sins of the preceding and coming (Muslim) year” and is the best day for worship and supplication in the entire year. 

After sunset, pilgrims descend from Mount Arafat and make their way to Muzdalifah for isha (night) prayers, collect pebbles no larger than the size of a fingertip ahead of the stoning ritual on the next day, and rest until midnight or dawn, when they will make the long journey back to Mina for the final steps of Hajj, the stoning ritual at Jamarat Al-Aqabah. 

On the third day of Hajj, Eid Al-Adha, pilgrims stone the Jamarat Al-Aqabah, or the big pillar, a place where the Prophet Ibrahim threw seven pebbles at the devil. After doing so, pilgrims change from their Ihram; sacrificial animals are slaughtered, and men cut or shave their heads while women cut a fingertip’s length of hair to commemorate the end of the Hajj pilgrimage. 

For three days, known as Ayyam Al-Tashreeq, pilgrims stay in Mina and perform the stoning of the other two pillars, Al-Jamarah Al-Wusta and Al-Jamarah Al-Sughra.

Lightning kills six Hindu pilgrims, injures nine in southern Pakistan

Updated 30 May 2023

Lightning kills six Hindu pilgrims, injures nine in southern Pakistan

  • Pilgrims were on their way to Verhijhap village in Tharparkar’s Diplo district when they were struck by lightning
  • Hindu monastery Parbrahm Ashram attracts large number of Hindus from Sindh, Balochistan during annual festival

ISLAMABAD: A flash of lightning killed six Hindu pilgrims and injured nine others on Sunday evening in Tharparkar district in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province, a report by the district’s deputy commissioner said.

According to the deputy commissioner’s report, the pilgrims were struck by lightning at village Sathaar near Mithi, Tharparkar’s capital, while they were on their way to Verhijhap village in district Diplo. Verijhap is home to the famous Hindu monastery Parbrahm Ashram, where an annual festival attracts Hindus in large numbers from Pakistan’s Sindh and southwestern Balochistan provinces.

“Today on 29th May 2023, at about 9:40 PM, a group of pedestrian pilgrims proceeding to Faqir Parbirham Verijhap, 06 persons died along with 9 injured at the spot when lightening triggered by a cloudburst struck a caravan of pedestrian near village Sataar Taluka Mithi,” the report said.

The deputy commissioner said police brought the bodies and the injured to the Civil Hospital Mithi. He said the injured were provided first aid, adding that their condition was stable and would be discharged soon.

“It is requested to kindly move the Relief Department, Sindh, to compensate the bereaved families as the deceased belong to very poor Hindu families of Mithi district Tharparkar,” the deputy commissioner wrote.

As per the report, the deceased included males in the 16-35 age group and were residents of Mithi and Sathaar villages while the injured were also males in the age group of 12-40 who hailed from the villages of Sathaar, Dharar, and Harjani in Sindh.

Before 1947, India and Pakistan were under British colonial rule for over two centuries. The partition of 1947 created the newly independent states of Pakistan and India, with partition etching a deep fissure in the region as millions of Muslims migrated from India to Pakistan while Hindus and Sikhs in large numbers left for India with their families and belongings.

Around 4 million Hindus still live in Pakistan, or about 1.9 percent of the country’s population, and 1.4 million are in Sindh. Pakistan houses prominent Hindu temples that host annual festivals where devotees worship their deities, such as the centuries-old cave temple of Hinglaj Mata in southwestern Pakistan where thousands of Hindus flock each year in April to attend a four-day religious festival.

At Pakistan army facility, breeding Arabian horses is a passion and a science

Updated 30 May 2023

At Pakistan army facility, breeding Arabian horses is a passion and a science

  • Over 600 Arabians can be found at Remount Depot Mona in Mandi Bahauddin, trained for equestrian games and dressage events
  • It is one of the most ancient breeds, with archaeological evidence of horses in Middle East that resemble modern Arabians dating back 4,500 years

MONA/MANDI BAHAUDDIN: With its long, arched neck, a refined wedge-shaped head and high tail carriage, the Arabian is one of the most easily recognizable horse breeds in the world. It is also one of the most ancient, with archaeological evidence available of horses in the Middle East that resemble modern Arabians dating back over 4,500 years.

In Pakistan, over 600 Arabians can be found at the Remount Depot Mona military facility located in Mandi Bahauddin, with the animals especially trained for equestrian games and dressage events.

Founded in 1902, the Depot is spread over 10,000 hectares of land, complete with roads, buildings, a canal and a train line, and serving as a hub for breeding and nurturing horses, donkeys and mules. Pakistan started importing Arabian horses almost 70 years ago, often placing them in competitions as prized show animals and keeping a pool as gifts for foreign dignitaries.

“Pakistan had 808 Arab horses which are registered with the World Arabian Horse Organisation (WAHO), out of which 627 animals are from Mona Depot while only 181 are from all over the country,” Brigadier Muhammad Naeem, the commandant of the Depot, told Arab News during a visit to the facility last week.

In this picture taken on May 27, 2023, a horse gallops at the Remount Depot Mona in Mandi Bahauddin, Punjab, which concentrates on the breeding of Arabian horses. (AN Photo)

WAHO, founded in 1970, is a UK-based charity with 82 affiliated countries that works to preserve pure Arabian bloodlines, promote breeding knowledge globally, coordinate member clubs, establish uniformity in breed terminology, and consult on other Arabian horse-related matters.

But what makes the Arab horses so special?

“In the known breeds of horses, the most ancient breed that is known is the Arabian horse which originated 2,500 BC from the Arab Peninsula,” Naeem said, adding that the animals were renowned for their “exceptional beauty,” particularly when they ran and raised their tails, showing off their “elegant form.”

Even though the precise origins of the Arabian are unknown, the breed is thought to have originated on the northern edge of the Syrian desert.

“They are widely recognized as one of the most famous horse breeds in the world."

In this picture taken on May 27, 2023, Arabian horses run at the Remount Depot Mona in Mandi Bahauddin, Punjab. (AN Photo)

Pakistan became a member of WAHO in 1997, with Mona Remount Depot its sole representative in the country. While horse breeding at the Depot began as a passion in 1956, the depot successfully turned to science in 2021 when it launched a test tube program.

“At our facility, we have successfully witnessed the birth of 15 test tube babies thus far, with an additional 12 pregnancies currently ongoing,” he said.

The first Arab horse at the Depot was imported in 1955 from the United States and 31 others after that from different countries.

“The price of an imported Arabian horse varies from $5,000 to $50,000, depending on the quality and pedigree of the animal,” Naeem said.

“The expenses for importing also vary depending on the country of origin and whether the animal is transported in a single cage or a group cage. From Gulf states, it costs around $10,000, while from Western countries and the United States, it can cost up to $20,000.”

At the Depot, the brigadier said, the cost of breeding, raising, and training an Arabian was "significantly lower due to locally produced fodder and other factors."

“The budget of the Depot is provided by the Ministry of Defense,” Naeem said.

In this picture taken on May 27, 2023, the trainer holds an Arabian horse at the Remount Depot Mona in Mandi Bahauddin, Punjab. (AN Photo)

A pool of Arab horses, the brigadier said, was also kept to be presented as gifts by the Pakistan government and army to visiting dignitaries.

“36 animals have been presented [gifted] to different heads of states including Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and some other countries,” Naeem said, while the King of Jordan, the ruler of Qatar, and the King of Saudi Arabia had gifted horses to Pakistani rulers also at different points in the last many decades.

“King Faisal gifted an Arabic horse to General Zia ul Haq and the Saudi King also gifted a horse to General Pervez Musharraf,” he said.

Gifts of horses to Pakistani rulers were always kept at Mona Depot, Naeem said.

According to experts, the Arabian is classified as a "hot-blooded" breed, with its sensitivity and intelligence enabling quick learning and greater communication with riders. This is why the breed is trained for equestrian games such as riding, dressage, polo, and tent pegging.

“We have horses specifically trained for show jumping and vaulting, which are used for various functions,” Naeem said.

One of Mona's Arabian horses has won the best polo pony prize in Pakistan six times, the brigadier added.

“These horses are highly responsive animals,” said Muhammad Rasaldar, a trainer at the facility who daily runs trainings with the animals that start at 6am and continue through the day. “The more love and attention they receive, the more attached and responsive they become.”

“We have a 39-week-long training course for them, during which we expose them to various environments to eliminate their fears ...They also receive training for different games throughout this course.”

Muhammad Akhtar, who trains the horses for polo, said the animals responded to every command.

“A horse is a very powerful animal,” he said, “and man can control it only by training it with a lot of love and compassion.”

In this picture taken on May 27, 2023, the trainer pulls an Arabian horse at the Remount Depot Mona in Mandi Bahauddin, Punjab. (AN Photo)