Artist and curator Laila Odho Premjee recently embraced her adventurous side and decided to embark on a local railroad trip for the first time in her life. Travelling to Bahawalpur from Karachi, she was pleasantly surprised by the journey and the magnificent sights that awaited her at her destination. Here, she shares the how and why of her weekend trip with DESTINATIONS.
Why did you decide to travel to Bahawalpur?
One of my childhood friends belonged to Nawab Abbasi of Bahawalpur’s family and I grew up hearing tales of her rich family heritage, their royal palaces etc. Since then, I had always wanted to visit the princely state.
Who organized the trip?
Our trip was planned by Cube, a company run by Karachi-based architect Zain Mustafa. Zain works on restoring old historical sites and buildings and plans architectural/historical sightseeing tours within Sindh and Bahawalpur.
How did the idea of a train journey come about?
There were a total of 20 people in the Cube edu-tour group and most of them flew to Bahawalpur from Karachi. My friend and I decided to make our trip more adventurous by travelling via train, as we had never experienced train travel within Pakistan. I had heard that the railways had recently undergone vast improvements so 6 of us ladies (my friend and I, along with her two daughters and their two friends) decided to take the Green Line business class train from Karachi to Bahawalpur.
What was the experience like?
The train journey from Karachi to Bahawalpur is 11 hours and to our surprise, it was a very pleasant experience. The Green Line train is fairly new and has very good service. It is clean and comfortable. Each bogie has six compartments, all air conditioned with six bunks and a TV each. There are two toilets at the end of each bogie, which were clean and functional. There were families and groups of friends travelling on the train.
The train left on time at 10pm, and as it was an overnight journey we were provided pillows and blankets. They offered us dinner on user pay, which consisted of chicken curry and naan. There were water and cold drinks on sale, while tea and breakfast were complimentary.
The train stopped at three stations on the way, two stops in interior Sindh during the night and one stop in the morning in Punjab. Each stop was short – exactly 2 minutes so you had to be ready to get off quickly.
Our waiter woke us in the morning with toothbrush kits and breakfast which consisted of omelettes, bread and butter with tea.
How did the scenery change as you rode along from Sindh to Punjab?
We slept most of the night so we weren’t able to see much. As we approached Bahawalpur, we saw fields and fields of sugarcane with women working in them. The scenery is picturesque once you enter Punjab with all the greenery and the farming fields.
Where did you stay?
I was staying with some friends who live in the city but the rest of the group stayed at a cute boutique hotel called Hotel One by PC. It was cosy, clean and comfortable, more like a bed and breakfast.
What is the best time to vsit?
Early spring is a good time to visit as it is too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer. We went towards the end of February and were there over a weekend from Friday till Sunday. In our short time, we managed to see a lot thanks to our tour organizer who had gotten special permissions from the army and the Abbasi family to visit the palaces.
How would you sum up the trip?
There was a magical and strong spiritual feeling in the air in Bahawalpur. Everything is a short drive away, surrounded by lush fields. There is a lot to see; we had to rush through certain sites due to our hectic schedule but each monument, each palace, each shrine has so much history you leave feeling mesmerized. I would highly recommend visiting Bahawalpur as one returns in such awe of these beautiful structures and sites in Pakistan.
Bahawalpur is a small city with quaint little bazaars which are situated behind the famous city gates of yore. We were able to pack a lot of sightseeing into our weekend trip. Our itinerary was as follows:
Day 1 Friday
We arrived by train at Bahawalpur at 9am. After some rest and lunch, we visited the Central Library in the afternoon and then went to Darbar Mahal for a sound and light show at night organized by the army.
Day 2 Saturday
We started our sightseeing at 9.30am with a trip to Derawar Fort in the Cholistan Desert, a drive of two and a half hours from the city. The fort is currently under renovation and still under the care of the Nawab of Bahawalpur’s family. Across the fort is the most exquisite mosque, constructed fully of marble with three domes. It is similar to the Moti Mosque in Delhi with a touch of the Taj Mahal.
We had lunch in a small village in Cholistan and then headed off to Sadiq Ghar Palace. There, we were given a private tour by a member of the Abbasi family.
We then drove to Uch Sharif, a pleasant drive on the highway with sugarcane fields on either side. There we saw the famous shrine of Bibi Jawindi. Even though it has been severely damaged over time, it stands out beautifully with its ethereal design. Located on a hill with two smaller dilapidated shrines, there is a strong energy that you feel from the moment you see it. The shrine was built in 1493 for the great granddaughter of a sufi saint.
Day 3 Sunday
At 10am we visited Noor Mahal, which is open to the public. They have a museum inside and beautiful gardens surrounding the palace. Then on to Gulzar Mahal, which is not open to public but we had been granted permission by the army to visit.
After that, we drove to Multan where we ended our trip with a visit to Shah Rukhne Alam’s shrine. It was a two-hour drive from Bahawalpur to Multan. The shrine is up on a high hill as if overlooking the city and guarding it, and is very active as hundreds come to pay their respects to the sufi saint.