Journey from Mangla to Mirpur

Posted on October 17, 2006
Filed Under >S.A.J. Shirazi, Environment, Travel
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Guest Post by S A J Shirazi

There must be a point at which the sky meets the earth.

Wandering in an expanse of the Punjab bordering Azad Kashmir, one can see ahead up to horizon through a blanket of dull light covering the green fields and occasional villages that are spread along the Dina – Mangla – Mirpur Road. Under the sun’s watchful gaze, the valley between Mangla and Mirpur is normally quilted in a hundred different hues of green.

The Mangla Dam reservoir, one of the baggiest earth filled reservoir in the world, which has a perimeter of 400 Kilometers, has turned into a place of interest and recreation, very restful and clean. A building situated on the lakeside serves as a historical backdrop.

My journey to Mirpur started from Mangla Water Sports Club where earlier the speedboat had been ferrying me (and a group of young students from Lahore) across the blue sheet of the artificial lake to its northern extremity. Here somewhere, before the construction of the Dam, the Poonch River coming down from the northeast met with the bigger Jhelum River coming straight down from the north.

The road to Mirpur had recently been resurfaced and even at forty miles per hour, the gravel seemed to take on liquidity under an old vintage and topless jeep we were riding, me on the driving seat. The opposite side of the road was free of chippings but was carpeted with potholes. The lesser of the two evils was to cross over and avoid these littered craters and the occasional oncoming vehicle. Whichever side of the road I choose, there was no refuge from the hail of gravel that rained down on me as the bloated local buses growled on.

With limbs protruding from windows and an eclectic assortment of possessions and sacks of commodities strapped loosely to the roof, these old vintage monsters took on a manic life of their own. Between two dangerously positioned potholes, I shifted down from fourth to third gear with my left heel to accelerate back to my cruising speed. As I twisted with my right hand, I hunched down my head and shoulders in a primitive attempt at streamlining myself against the rushing air. I focused ahead, trying not to contemplate the fatal potential of unavoidable potholes.

What was more, I saw it was about to rain. Rain is no fun to drive in on an open jeep at our country roads, but it did not worry me as much as the dark. Night falls by six o’clock at the time of year I was traveling in this part of the countryside, but that day’s lack of light meant an even earlier dusk. The pothole’s menace was to increase manifolds after the sun set behind the hills.

Now I was in Azad Kashmir and one can not only see but also feel and smell Kashmir everywhere. The locals are amazing people. Resilient! There are many secrets hidden behind those silent smiles – secrets and strengths. In my experience, the Kashmiri people go to extremes to ensure their hospitality is perfect. I slowed down as I pass a picturesque village – carefully constructed modest and some modern abodes with various kaleidoscopic colors of rustic life.

When the village was almost behind me, we stopped to take photos of the scene. The compass needle of my mind swung and I realized that the track must lead to the river. I share with many others the overpowering urge to take the perfect picture, that one image to sum it up, to capture it all. No need to try to reach for the words, only to lose grip and land on mediocrity. We all decide to leave the road and head down the enigmatic track. The looming threat of the gray sky forgotten, replaced by fantasies of taking photos as evocative and timeless. As we turned left, the road was immediately replaced by a rutted and dusty track. I shifted down to second gear, knowing that balance and acceleration will be of far more use than speed. As I passed the three children from the village on their bicycles, I sounded the horn. Despite six legs pedaling furiously to keep up with me, even at my slowest, I lost them quickly. The track slopes downward on gentle gradient, bends and there it is – the road abruptly ends as it is intersected by dark blue running water – the River Jhelum.

Back on Mangla-Mirpur Road, one passes the occasional house and makeshift tea stalls but other than that, all one sees are fields. The low mountains that run some time parallel to the road some time seem straight ahead. I started to feel the odd drops of rain. The drops were becoming more frequent and in a short time, I was under a torrential downpour. As I sat with the jeep in neutral, the options were: head for Mirpur in the rain or remain there and get soaked whilst hoping it stopped. And if it does not stop, riding to Mirpur in the dark and rain and that is the time I wished to sit in a covered vehicle, dry, with wheels planted firmly on the ground and maybe a hot cup of tea in my hands. I quickly purged such thoughts. There was no choice but to keep on. I concentrated so intently on this task that I could not weigh up the situation till without warning the rain ended as abruptly as it had started.

The roads were washed clean and drying following the rainstorm when I entered the town situated at 459 meters above sea level and linked with the Grand Trunk Road at Dina. The town, not so much of a market, is well planned and the buildings are mostly of modern design. Mirpur is developing into an industrial city very rapidly. Textile, vegetable ghee, logging and sawmills, soap, cosmetics, marble, ready-made garments, matches, rosin, turpentine and motorbikes manufacturing industrial units have already been established in the area.

Mirpur comprises partly plain and partly hilly areas. Its hot climate and other geographical conditions closely resemble those of Jhelum and Gujrat, the adjoining districts. The people of this area are farmers. Since the 1960s, a large number of people from this district have gone abroad, especially to the United Kingdom and the Middle East, for economic reasons. As such they are today the major foreign exchange earning source for Azad Kashmir and Pakistan. Around 50,000 people were moved from the area in the mid-sixties to make way for the construction of Mangla Dam. Most of these people settled in new Mirpur whilst some moved elsewhere as far as ‘Walayat’ as United Kingdom is called in this area.

This is the hinterland one would like to get lost in, exploring slopes, hiking along ridges and riding down the bowls in natural, alpine and pollution free environments. No hurrying up. Maybe any cultural anthropologist can just watch people’s behavior going about little chores of life. Whether it is viewing a family working in fields or watching a young one selling fruit on roadside, “There is much to be learned from non-active participation,” as an anthropologist would say. Or to switch roles and it is actually the traveler that is the one being watched intently by hundreds of curious eyes with so many questions?

S A J Shirazi is a Lahore (Pakistan) based writer. He has authored two books (Izhar, Ret Pe Tehreer) and translated Din Mein Charagh by Abbas Khan into English. His blog is here.

41 Comments on “Journey from Mangla to Mirpur”

  1. Arsalan Ali says:
    October 17th, 2006 1:41 am

    Great experience, thanks for sharing it with us!

  2. ayesha says:
    October 17th, 2006 4:54 am

    Delightful read! Reminds me of my own trip from Mangla to Mirpur last year.

  3. Samdani says:
    October 17th, 2006 12:08 pm

    Nice piece. Thanks. A great article idea woudl be to look at the economic impact of Mirpur’s migrants on the region and its socio-economic development

  4. alvipervaiz says:
    October 18th, 2006 10:54 am

    Nice article. The pictures are really good. Too bad the roads are not.

  5. Owais Mughal says:
    October 31st, 2006 3:54 pm

    Shirazi sahib

    kiya yaad dila diya :) I’ve had one of my best life moments at Mangla lake. I’ve visited Mangla lake many times in 1979 and then in 1992-95 period. Boating on Mangla lake was one of the recreation activities I did with my cousins. It was a wierd feeling when at one point on the lake, our boatman announced that water there was 300 ft deep. I could not fathom at that time a man-made lake could be so deep.

    There is a mini abandoned castle on an island in the Mangla lake. Its architecture is very similar to Rohtas fort nearby (30 km from Mangla). We used to take our boat to this small island and pick berries from wild shrubs as well as play hide-and-seek in that small castle.

  6. shirazi says:
    November 1st, 2006 12:14 am

    My dear Owais Mughal: It is you who has brought back the memories of the days when I was one Allaher sa chotta sa larka! We use to take cooked meal from home and have it there in and or around Mangla Lake. You know I come from Village Mong (battle ground of Alexander and King Pours) only 32 KM downstream. Thanks for bringing the memories back.

  7. Mr Iftikhar Ahmed says:
    December 13th, 2006 11:39 am

    An Excellent article and a really interesting book too. My father arrived from Mangla to the U.K. in the 60’s with the making of the dam. My father and his fore-fathers lived on the site between where the old bridge was (destroyed in the flood) and the dam wall. Brilliant photography, thanks. My Grandparents still live in Mangla a Beautiful place.

  8. kas romeo says:
    December 23rd, 2006 9:56 pm

    yo backayrd is the best ov the best only if u are in mirpur

  9. Akram H. says:
    December 24th, 2006 3:03 am

    I guess, then, that ‘Lahore, Lahore hai’ and ‘Mirpur, Mirpur hai’ !!!

  10. s_tanya says:
    December 23rd, 2006 10:01 pm

    i love my city mirpur, hi to all mirpuries, get back to me if any one frm my yard, (k_don) marked 2007

  11. meengla says:
    December 24th, 2006 1:09 pm

    Thanks for sharing! It would be great if you post this into another great Pakistani site: ?

  12. Ghalib says:
    December 24th, 2006 6:05 pm

    made me remember fond memories of old time school trips to mangala dam!we even made our way to the spill way an were caught by army ppl fer takin pics:) offcourse we took some of their pics and tey let us go;)the boating and Mangla Cantt ahhh nice peaceful place! my village is in Gujarkhan and we often used to go to mangla and Mirpur as we have loads of friends there thru family ties in UK as many Mirpurias are in UK coz of 60′s dam makin!theres a shrine in Mirpur i forgot the name n i remember my trip there along the banks of the canal beautiful natural beauty!
    another spot worth visiting is Tarbella Dam! an if u can google earth it in north u can even see the “Quranic Verse” written of the wall that holds the dam
    over all great pics an great post

  13. Dermacia says:
    January 12th, 2007 3:33 am

    Hey guys, this message board software this website runs on, is it something i can buy for my own website or is it propriatary?

  14. shakeel ahmed says:
    January 27th, 2007 10:07 am

    hi how r u every body

  15. February 11th, 2007 5:10 pm

    I am looking for my friends from Thill High school Mangla. I was in the school from 1963 till 1968, this was the time when Mangla dame was being built, any body from the same school , does not matter he is my classfellow or not plz cont,I got the remembrance book which school gave us before it was closed,anybody plz cont, rajanazirahmad@yahoo. com

  16. khizar says:
    May 8th, 2007 8:08 am

    hi to all!i m also 4m is a misconception that people from mirpur migrated during the dam construction.people from mirpur went to u.k in 1900 and even before is true that people went to u.k during dam construction but mirpuries r there in u.k since 1900.mery khyyal sy lahore lahore hy or mirpur mirpur hy,kehny ki zarorat nhi hy.ham to pakistani hain sab mil k kaho pakistan pakistan hy.allah hafiz

  17. m.m.sakhi says:
    May 17th, 2007 5:32 pm

    there is no city like it.

  18. rumiraaz says:
    June 1st, 2007 11:19 pm

    I happen to stumble on this article and how romantic it all is … there is no other place quite like Miprur/ Perhaps I wasn’t paying attention but could you please clarify that picture of the temple in the water? Is it the one in mangla dam?

  19. Owais Mughal says:
    June 1st, 2007 11:51 pm

    Rumiraaz, you are right. the photo is of a ‘mazar’ that comes out of Mangla dam during low water level

  20. m.m.sakhi says:
    August 11th, 2007 6:18 pm

    What a bueatiful Mirpur is. There is no city in Pakistan like it. And Mangla Dam is something eles. you have to visit it to feel it.

  21. nreen says:
    December 29th, 2007 6:05 pm

    I stumbled across this article, it allures you’re imagination-and makes you feel as if you are really there! a very well structured piece of writing and amazing images…

  22. Raja Nazir Ahmad says:
    March 5th, 2008 6:57 pm

    looking friends from Thill High School Mangla(pakistan) Message List

    Reply | Forward | Delete Message #3 of 10

    I am looking for my friends we used to study together in Thill High
    School Mangla(Pakistan) from 1964 till 1967, at that time I was in
    5th grade but till now I did not forget my friends, teachers,
    classfellows, anybody from my class or from same school plz contect,
    my friends names are, Liaq ali, Jamshad, slaeem, hafeez,zahid,
    shahid, Ibrar, sajjid,qayyum,sharzaman,Nuzhut, mahertaj, Talat,
    fozia,sagira, Rehina,Nahid, nasreen,and many more anybody knows where
    about plz contect, I got the remembrance book which school gave us
    before it was closed in 1967,and with the help of ALL MIGHTY ALLAH i
    will find my friends soon InshaALLAH,anybody? e mail

  23. Khadim Hussain says:
    May 9th, 2008 3:49 pm

    I’m a writer and a poet, I had a book ‘Going For a Curry? A Social and Culinary History, of Pakistani and Indian people in Middlesbrough published in 2006. I was particuraly interested in the people of Mirpur.
    At the moment I’m research the effect of Mangla Dam on immigration to Great Britain and the community in Mirpur. I will be grateful for any help.
    I’ve tried to build a picture of the Mirpuri communties through poetry. (If anyone types in Khadim Hussain Middlesbrough on google they can see some of my work.) Below is a poem from Mangla Dam Anothology.
    Allah Ditta

    They come from near and far,
    Ministers, Generals, Cricketers and film stars,
    To gaze in wonder at Kohti,
    That Allah Ditta

  24. May 16th, 2008 7:01 am

    i am loking from jatalan please

  25. Kathleen Jackson says:
    May 24th, 2008 12:00 pm

    My husband and I lived and worked at Mangla Dam from 1962 to 1965. I brought my year old baby there from California and gave birth to my second son in 1964. I treasure memories of that time in my life.

  26. Jeffrey McNabb says:
    June 2nd, 2008 11:45 am

    My father worked for the contractor who built the Mangla Dam. I lived in Baral Colony for almost 6 yrs 1962 to 1968; many fond memories that changed my life as a young boy and teenager.
    I have the movie of the building of the dam that was produced by the contractor. I will be getting it into digitized format soon and will post for those who are interested.

    all the best

  27. Khadim Hussain says:
    July 8th, 2008 9:03 pm

    I’m doing MA Creative Writing at the University of Teesside and for my final assignment I’m trying to bulid up a picture of Mirpuri people in in the district of Mirpur and abroad in a long poem.
    I’d would be great for map of the district and most important peoples reaction to the dam, then and now. Anything in print, newspapers, posters, poetry etc.
    Below is one of my poems.
    Mangla Dam
    Sirkar built the dam,
    Drowning our ancestral land,
    Arid and worthless,
    Cultivated by our fathers, grandfathers
    Back to the beginning.

    Sirkar built the dam,
    Uprooted our community,
    Destroyed our culture and language,
    For water and power.

    Sirkar built the dam,
    And issued passports to the people of the Khet,
    The farmers, Maalis, Baparyees, Ajaragys,
    Who had never ventured far from Mirpur.

    Sirkar built the dam,
    Scattered the people like pollen
    To Pakistan, America, Canada, Walayat
    Every corner of the world.

    Ajaragy: Goat herder
    Baparyee: Trader, usually of livestock
    Khet: Field
    Maali: Gardener, a market gardener
    Sirkar: Government
    Walayat: Britain

  28. July 9th, 2008 3:40 pm

    I would like to ask Jeffrey McNabb that please it would be wonderful to see Mangla Dam being built. I am from Mirpur and it is wonderful city. Please post your film.

  29. Khadim Hussain says:
    July 10th, 2008 6:45 pm

    This is to Jefferey Mcnabb and Kathleen Jackson, do you have any photos of the Mangla Dam area before or ehen it was being flooded?
    I’m researching the effect of Mangla Dam on the community left in Mirpur and also the communties formed by Mirpuris in Britain.
    Khadim Hussain

  30. Muqeet says:
    September 25th, 2008 6:34 am

    I am living in mangla and it is a very beautiful place with all the greenrey and every thing.My school is in mirpur and its name is beconhouse school system.

  31. William Plumley says:
    November 26th, 2008 1:29 pm

    My name is Willam Plumley (Bill) my father Elmer Plumley was an area superindendant on Mangla Dam while it was being constructed. We lived in Baral colony (1963-1967) I would love to hear from others that were there. Also would love to see pictures of baral colony. We lived at 527(A) Spine Rd. Would love to hear from all


  32. asim saeed says:
    November 29th, 2008 10:01 pm

    asalam o alikum ,
    i m very thank full to Mr.” S A J Shirazi ” for such a great introduction of my home land … we people live in azad kashmir but never ever watch our home land like that … :) thanks again Mr Shirazi . i m asim from mangla (district mirpur)

  33. asim says:
    November 29th, 2008 10:08 pm

    i want to inform one thing that .. our city Mirpur is underconstruction , i m hoping for the construction work to b complete in 2 to 3 years … and after that this city of mine will much more beautifull then before … please Mr. Shirazi i want u to write about the other things like Mizar-e-Miyan Muhammad Bakhsh (RA) , & his Teacher Hazrat Naik Alim Shah sahab (RA) , & his Murshad (RA) we almost all people of all the sects love them to extreme. & one person because of which the design of Mangla Dam was also changed .. Hazrat Aagha LAL Badshah (RA) . i want u to write few introductory line about them coz they r the part of our culture, thanks :) & that the end of comment :) :)

  34. asim says:
    November 29th, 2008 10:21 pm

    i want u people to view picture gallery of as well :) that will show u the beauty of mangla as well

  35. gina says:
    February 23rd, 2009 12:28 pm

    Thanks for this excellent neutral article. Personally, though I think the dam is beautiful, much more beautiful treasures lie underneath it – our heritage. Someone correctly said before, ‘Mirpur is Mirpur’ and we are Pakistani in blood, soil and soul!(Eventhough I love my England too!)

  36. March 3rd, 2009 1:18 am

    Mangla is a small beautiful modern town. It is situated at a distance of 110 kilometers from Islamabad and is 15 kilometers short of Mirpur City. The construction of Mangla reservoir having perimeter of 100 kilometers and presence of Mangla and Ramkot Forts of Mughal period have turned this place into an attractive tourist spot

    For more pics and further details about mangla hamlet and surroundings Check out

  37. Anwaar Fazil Awan says:
    March 17th, 2009 2:36 am

    thats nice please make it up todate.

  38. May 12th, 2009 4:59 am

    Official Website of Mangla City has been launched you guys check it out.
    All updated information and mangla pics are there. Daily updates mega site.

    Visit it here Mangla
    Official Site

  39. Betty Long says:
    August 14th, 2009 10:53 pm


    My dad was an excavation super. on Mangla Dam. We lived in Baral Colony from 1964-1967. I was 13 years old and in the eight grade when we arrived. A bit of trivia, while we were enroute from the U.S. to Pakistan war between Pakistan and India broke out. We could not land at Karachi, but had to go on to Beruit. I have fond memories of the Colony and Pakistan. I was forever changed by the cultural difference between people of different countries and how we were the same. At the time, I did not realize the impact that would have on me. Thank you for this website.

  40. Mohsin says:
    January 21st, 2010 11:22 am

    I lived in Baral during 1990-96 and now live in US. I still think it was the best experience of my life in terms of education and personal growth. I can never forget riding bike to the dam, Lehri park, and fishing near collapsed bridge across JCA building :) I visited Baral last year to see my sister and it hasn’t changed much.

  41. alli abbasi says:
    September 25th, 2010 2:46 pm

    aoa,i psd my bst priod in mngla n i nvr 4gt that in my life i msd a lot mngla n my alz frndz n my lfe,i inshallah wil go der vry

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