Greek Connections – The Salt Range, Pakistan

Greek Connections
The Salt Range, Pakistan

The Salt Range derives its name from extensive deposits of rock salt. It
stands as significant remnant of forts with bastions and temples.
Exceptionally, this region maintains an almost continuous record of history
that can define the evolution of society in this part of the world. The
forts and temples surviving along the range are a reminder of how untouched
many of the ancient remnants are. Alexander from Macedon came to this range
twice: one from Taxila and later once his forces refused to go any further
from the banks of the River Beas. From here he marched towards the Arabian Sea on his
way to Babylon. And, now an NGO is constructing the monument of Alexander
near Jalalpur town in the foot of the salt range in district Jhelum.

For those who take their first chance to the area, the landscape all along
the Salt Range is rock-strewn, lacking in softness and loveliness. In many
parts, it becomes barren and uninviting. But, in truth the range is dotted
with historical wonders, romantic legends, archaeological remains, and
varying geological formations. Surroundings are very quiet. Urial is also
found in the range though facing extinction. A journey along the range is
exiting as well as informative.

After crossing river Jhelum from Rasul Barrage, one passes through ‘Rasul Barrage Wildlife Sanctuary’. After monsoon, environs are green and this
wetland is full lotus. Flocks of Siberians Cranes and Strokes and local
black winged Stilts are the common winter sights in the area. Though
at the dawn of a hot August day, I was able to see only few Tobas perching
over their morning catch or a few flocks of Murghabis (wild ducks).

Turn west along the range from Mishri Mor bus stop in the beautiful ‘bela’
of River Jhelum and the road will take you to the town of Jalalpur. One could
come on this road from Jhelum side but these days the Jhelum-Pind Dadan Khan
Road is closed due to want of bridges on the torrents coming down the range
to join River Jhelum so you can only come through Rasul Barrage. The River
Jhelum used to flow full to the capacity but now it remains mostly dry.
Water of the River Jhelum is transferred from Rasul Barrage to the River
Chenab for strategic water management in the country.

Jalalpur Sharif, as the town is called, is opposite village Mong where the
conflict between Alexander and Porus took place. Mong used to be the
garrison of King Porus who had assembled 30,000 men, 2000 cavalry, and 200
elephant to fight against the Macedonians.

Right on the Jhelum-Pind Dadan Khan Road, tucked inside the Salt Range, is ancient Jalalpur that was built by Alexander in the memory of his general who
was killed in the battle with Porus. Coins found among the ruins date back
to the period of Graeco-Bactrian kings. Remains of the ancient walls are
still there at the summit of the hill, which rise 1000 feet above the
present-day Jalalpur.

It is at Jalalpur that in the absence of any route marking or sign posting,
we started asking for the monument that is being made in the memory of the
great conqueror. Few people did not know any thing about the monument; few
others did not understand what we were looking for. Ultimately once we were about to give up, an old driver came to help and
gave us some directions to go onto a road leading to village Wagh inside the
range where we were to find the unfinished monument structure.

The structure of the monument stands on the bank of a torrent, which flows
during rainy seasons. The huge pedestal is graceful and on the platform
stands a room. On the roof of the wide room, and flanked by Grecian style
arches, is painted a map of Alexander’s empire from Greece to South Asia
showing the route he took in this part of the world with arrows (Hund –
Taxila – Jalalpur – Beas – back to Jalalpur and to the Arabian sea along River
Jhelum). Under the map is a commemorative plaque unveiled by eminent
scientist Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan. There is another commemorative plaque that
was unveiled by His Excellency Mr. Dimitri Loundras, the Ambassador of
Greece, on October 18, 1998.

Next to the unfinished structure of the monument in another peaceful gorge
is standing a huge model of Ghouri missile. That seems to be that for the
present. But there is no doubt that this scenic place could be turned into a
lucrative and busy tourist attraction and may be a research facility.

The construction work has stopped and thorny bushes are placed on the stairs to stop any one going up on the roof to see the map. The colours of the map are already peeling. The pits all around the monument suggest that some trees were also planted but only a couple of them have survived. On the wall facing road, names of the donors have been written in
different colours (along with the legend for the colour code). There was no
one, not even a janitor, who could tell us about the current state of
affairs or why the construction work has been stopped. Why? Lack of funds,
lack of interest, or both!?

Alexander was undoubtedly a man of great substance: “He was an illustrious
soldier who always followed the rules of war. He brought disciplines of
medicine (Tibb-e-Yunani) and philosophy to what is now Pakistan. More than
two thousand yeas ago he recognized the enormous potential in terms of
commerce and trade of the immediate hinterland of Karachi. He called this
place the bridge between east and west,” reads a current report of Wildlife
and Environment Quarterly. Not always. Travel writer and researcher Salman
Rashid says Alexander did not only get away with murdering 7,000 soldiers
from the central subcontinent who had joined the Pakhtoons in an attempt to
defend the Masaga fort, he gives him a lenient title of a daghabaaz (at its
most mundane a fraud, at worst a cheat). And, “We all by now know that it
takes a general more than this to conquer the world,” adds Ashaar Rahman.
Also Itzaz Ahsan writes, “Alexander has been presented as an illustrious
soldier and a hero by western historians because he was European.”

Another monument in the suburbs of Karachi where the young General stayed
for 27 days is also planned to commemorate his stay but where one wishes
more success to CHAPS – the builders of the monument to Alexander near
Jalalpur – these jobs of international importance can not be left to the
NGOs alone. The construction of the monument fitting to the personality of
such a man in history is a valid field of activity for any government. He is
very much part of world history.

People with time and will to explore are constantly looking for quiet and
new destinations. Locally, if nothing else, this monument could give a boast
to rural tourism and economy.