Abdalians, Raise Hands

Posted on July 9, 2008
Filed Under >S.A.J. Shirazi, History
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S.A.J Shirazi

Comfortably tucked in green hills north of Islamabad, Hasan Abdal is situated right on the Grand trunk Road. The town’s claims to fame are Cadet College and temple of Panja Sahib. This small and clean historic town neat is sacred for Sikhs.

Hassan Abdal is famous for its cadet college and also serves as the gateway to some most stunning sites in Pakistan. It is from here that Karakoram Highways turns towards Northern Areas. It is a convenient halting point of Grand Trunk Road (G T Road) from where one can go to places like Abbotabad and Northern Areas, Peshawar, Taxila, Wah, Rawalpindi. Coins of the Greco-Bectrians kings discovered from the adjoining tract suggest that the area was inhabited in first century B.C. Accounts of Xuan Zang, a seventh century Chinese Buddhist traveler tells us that the place was also sacred to Buddhists. However, presently the town is associated with Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikh religion and Baba Wali Qandhari, a revered Muslim saint.

It is not clear how the town got its name but a reference is usually made to the eighteenth century Afghan conqueror, Ahmed Shah Abdali. The town has been mentioned by Mughal Emperor Jehangir in his memoirs and was frequently visited by successive Mughal Kings, on their way to Kashmir.

One has to understand it; it was wonderful during Mughal period: Romantic, beautiful and quiet. One of the significant landmark of past in Hasan Abdal is a set of greatly spread red brick buildings immediately to the west of the Grand Trunk Road. These buildings belong to the Cadet College Hasan Abdal, Pakistan’s foremost premier boarding institution. Field Marshal Muhammad Ayub Khan inaugurated the school in 1954. The main academic block overlooks the college with a cricket ground in the centre, called the Oval. Six residential wings surround the Oval and it is always a pleasing sight to see smart young boys in uniforms walking towards their academic block. The college has always been famous for its academic results with its students bagging most of the top positions in board examinations. While Aitchison College has for a long time catered to the political leadership of the country, the establishment has come from colleges like Cadet College Hasan Abdal and Lawrence College.

One of the interesting facts regarding these colleges is the strong sense of comradeship and fraternity that prevails among the students. The boys of the Cadet College Hasan Abdal use word Abdalian with pride and pleasure. The Cadet College is surrounded by Loqat orchards, lush green fields and a gushing stream where a day with fishing rod can really be fruitful. Mr. Catchpole, the first principal of the College is also buried here.

The other claim of the town to international fame is Sikh Gurdwara (temple) known as Panja Sahib having a rock with the hand print of their religious leader Baba Guru Nanak. Twice a year, Sikh pilgrims visit this Gurdwara from all over the world. The legend has it that in 1521 AD, while passing through then deserted area on a very hot day, Guru Nanak’s companion Bhai Mardana got very thirsty. The Guru suggested that he go to the Saint Baba Wali Qandhari who lived in a hut atop a nearby hill and ask for water. The Saint refused to give water from his well. Desperate with thirst, Mardana repeated his plea three times. Finally the saint reprimanded Mardana who returned to his guru and collapsed at his feet.

The Guru asked him to pick up a stone. The disciple did as he was told, and water flowed from under the stone, while the Saint’s well dried up. The Saint then pushed a large boulder from hilltop and sent it rolling towards the Guru and Mardana. But when the boulder reached them, the Guru stretched out his hand and stopped it with his palm.

During Sikh rule, Hari Sing Nalva got the edifice of temple made at the place. Later, the temple was extended and a sarai (inn) was added for accommodation. The temple is typical of the rather florid Sikh style with gilded domes and cupolas and stands in the middle of a large water tank. Built with grey sandstone, its exterior is spotted with protruding domed bay windows. The central fluted dome is encircled by several symmetrically placed big and small domed kiosks. The cemented water tank derives its supply from a fresh water spring that emerges from underneath a huge rock. Now this huge rock has that famous hand print on it for which the site is known as ‘Panja Sahib’. On the nearby hill, at an altitude of 714 meters, lies a meditation chamber of Saint Baba Wali Qandhari, popularly known as Baba Hasan Abdal. The saint stayed in Hasan Abdal from 1406-1416 AD but died and is buried in village Baba Wali near Qandhar (Afghanistan). The devotees and visitors climb over the steps leading to the hill, for offerings and to have a panoramic view of Hasan Abdal. Two other historical buildings of Mughal era (Muqbara Hakeeman and so-called tomb of Lala Rukh) are located just opposite the temple. Hasan Abdal is an interesting small town.

I have known Hasan Abdal during my stay in Abbotabad. It is a neat little town, as pretty as a picture postcard. The town has a character of its own. Environment is tranquil, pollution free and quiet. One finds countless attractions spread around the town. And you can see (and have) lines of shops selling mutton karahi made in desi ghee side by side Peshawar fame chappal kabab along the G T Road near buss stop. Move away from the traffic hustle of the G T Road and what strikes you first is the emptiness. There is nothing much there, just air of a blue that is so attenuated that it is almost white. You stand anywhere and breathe in the dry air, feel the sun upon your neck. You are in Hasan Abdal suburbs; a countryside that is on the main road but still relatively only a few people visit.

Title Photo is courtesy of Bissmah

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15 responses to “Abdalians, Raise Hands”

  1. Hina says:

    I would like to share my very meager memories associated with Hasan Abdal.

    I am a Peshawar native and growing up in 80’s early 90’s made several family trips from Peshawar to Pindi-on account of visiting my uncle who was in Army and often stationed at Chaklala and later at EME.

    Those car trips were a source of tremendous excitement for us kids. We all had out favorite landmarks which will tell us how far away we were from our destination. Passing through Noshara and ogling at the big posters of Pushto films outside the Cinemas and passing the sign of Kund Rest House ( lovely memories of Picnic and boating there). At this point the sarak will start twisting like a snake and we kids would strain our necks to glimpse at any sight of the mighty Attock.

    The grand day of all landmark was of the Attock bridge. No matter how many journeys we made, how many times we crossed this bridge, two things will always happen: My father would reminisce about Gul Mohammad, a prominent Peshawari who committed suicide by jumping off this bridge in ’83 and if it was Summer time Ami of Daady jan will comment on the alarmingly low level of the river. Once we crossed the bridge we were in Punjab territory. Ami might loosen her grip on her chaddar and daay Jan, who was a true blue Bhati Gate Rajputan Lahori,would seem larger then life.I would graze dreamily at the Attock Forte .

    For us, Hasan Abdal was the half way point of our journey. It was where my father would finally rest the overheated engie of his ’76 Toyota Corolla.
    There were two three ‘Khokha’ there and we kids were treated to Coke and super crisps ( just curious…do they still sell these chips in Pakistan? I remember this brand kind of exploded on the scene back in 1985)
    These Khokas were also the stop for commercial coaches. We will see the tired and weary passengers relieving themselves ( in every meaning of the word) in the surrounding area.
    The glass Coke bottles returned, “Chota” the serving guy tipped we would resume our journey.

    Hasanabdal was the point in our journey when we would stop missing our friends in Peshawar and start dreaming about all the Khawans that uncle’s Batman was cooking in our honor.

  2. Dr. Rahim Gul says:

    May I suggest quite politely that the school students of the cadet school (misleadingly named as college) hardly deserve to be called Abdalians. It’s not just Wajahat Mateen but most of the students who have hardly been in the town itself and still they are called Abdalians. Ask any of them about the city and most of them would surely not know anything about it. Is that not ironical?

  3. Wajahat Mateen says:

    Not sure about the town itself, but this article brought back memories of Cadet College HasanAbdal (CCH). The name ‘Abdalian’ commonly refers to students of CCH.

    I am a proud Abdalian and probably spent one of best times of my life there. This picture reminds of all good days spent there!!

  4. Shazia R. Hussain says:

    Regarding the story of Panja Sahib, I am wondering, would a saint refuse water to someone? Would he really be a saint if he did that? And if he was one, he obviously couldn’t have done that.

  5. Dr. Rahim Gul says:

    The nostalgic picture that does not exist anymore:

    The Author might have visited the town back in the 1970s or very early 1980s if he calls the town “small and clean”. It has become rather one of the grungiest places over the past couple of decades. The loquat orchards that once surrounded the cadet college are all gone. The green and the clean part of the city is rapidly giving way to monsterous constructions everywhere. Though the college administration has tried to preserve the surroundings by acquiring some land but the the construction of the M1 has opened new venues for the builders.

    I wish the author should have visited the city and its suburbs before writing the fanciful things like: “Move away from the traffic hustle of the G T Road and what strikes you first is the emptiness. There is nothing much there, just air of a blue that is so attenuated that it is almost white. You stand anywhere and breathe in the dry air, feel the sun upon your neck.”

    I wish it were true. I have lived there till early 1980s and everything was alright. But the corruption and inefficeiency of the local government has make a hell of the idyllic place it used to be. It may still be cleaner than, I’d say Gujranwala or Faisalabad only due to the fact that it’s much smaller, but the picture drawn here does not reflect the reality. It is one of the most neglected towns of the area. All its crytal clear springs (except the one insie Punja Sahib) are part of the past.

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