While traveling, off the National Highway, not only you travel in soot free and serene environment but you see more too. Lately, I got a chance to explore the lush green plains of Punjab, riding my trusted old motorbike on Band Patri of Lower Bari Doab Canal (LBDC) from Sahiwal to Balloki Headworks. Many new and interesting things came in the way, which normally remain hidden from commuters on the National Highway or travelers in the area. The journey embraces you with lovely colors, atmosphere, people and bits and pieces of history. And, there is no hassle anywhere in the way.
I took the side route and got onto the LBDC from Sahiwal, the city famous for greenery and best breed of mammals. The first thing along the LBDC that attracted my attention was Mandi Maweshian (animal market) near Gogera Sadar
- one of the largest in the country. It is a complete bazaar where a large number of fine quality animals changes hand every month. You can find makeshift hotels (with arrangements for night stay), veterinary doctors, milk and fodder shops and even provision stores. "It is a complete market that keeps moving from one place to another as per its permanent schedule," told me an astute manager, who establishes a hotel wherever the market goes. "We have buoparis (businessmen) from Karachi
to Peshawar, local farmers as well as people working in the market as our customers," he added. Another shopkeeper told, "Farmers sell their live stock here and buy provisions for their homes." The market has its own unique culture.
Next in the way comes one of the biggest fruit farms in Asia that was planted in 1933. Visiting the farm is a tranquil experience. Besides factories making large variety of products, a beautiful humming bird that appears on the logo of the farm's products dwells freely in the vast orchards attesting to its unpolluted environment. A rare flying ability of the bird enables it to hover, rise, move backwards and descends like helicopter. The bird usually feeds hovering suspended with air. Though not a keen bird watcher but I was surprised to know that "the small living avis can consume liquid up to eight times and solid about half of its body weight." Leaving the farm, you hit one of the first Hydroelectric Power Stations constructed in the Subcontinent. Sir Ganga Ram, an Engineer and famous Philanthropist had built this Power Station in 1925 in order to irrigate about 70,000 acres of agricultural land that is higher than the normal level in the area and could not be irrigated through the LBDC. Ganga Ram forked the canal, built the Power Station and installed five motors to generate electricity. The Governor Punjab, Sir William Malcolm Hailey laid down its foundation stone on March 22, 1925. Engineer in charge of the station Mr. Iqbal explained the working of the station and briefed about its excellent performance despite the old vintage. The Power Station is not linked with National Electric Grid and provides electricity for the five pumping stations for lifting the water from the LBDC.
The Power Station remained with Power and Works Department till 1958 when it was taken over by WAPDA. Why not more hydroelectric station in the country? The question keeps coming back to my mind.
First sight of the Power Station reminded me of Venice City. The building seems to be floating on water. The canal is covered with trees up and down stream. There is a small white mosque inside the canal in front of the station building. Green area adjoining the station is very restful.
Just about three Kilometers from Renala, you see a huge colonial ere mansion standing tall in the fields. This used to be headquarters of the Renala Estate _ the land leased by Major D. H. Venrenen in 1913 on the condition of horse breeding (ghori pall). The company had been producing very fine breed of horses in the past. Villa, a symbol of past glory _ is still owned by the family of landlady T. F. L. Taylor. That is the place from where my real 'hardship by choice' started.
I was traveling on a rural route, seeing the path but not knowing what was coming next. Not knowing what one is going to see ahead is sometime inspiring. But, about 11 Kilometers from Power Station, rear tyre of my bike went flat. There was no place in sight from where I could get it fixed. Advised by Chragh Din, a local, I waited for the 'help' to come and we talked.
Chragh Din, relaxed and amiable old man who was fishing asked about my destination, purpose of journey and why I was traveling on a bike. He did not seem convinced with my answers once I told him that I am traveling just to see the area. He was surprised instead. I enjoyed talking to him though. He was so candid and frank about every thing he said.
Mechanical and animal transport, plying on Pakistani highways and roads has almost equal right of the way. But, I was greatly pleased once a Tonga appeared on a track coming out of sugarcane and blooming mustard fields. I loaded my bike on the back and rode a sturdy Tonga to reach Akhtarabad _ the nearest place on National Highway with vulcanization facilities. It took me three hours to get on to my way to Balloki headworks.
As harvest approaches, the traveler, especially in the irrigated tracts, ride through endless expanses of waving crops of different shades of color, out of which the villages seem to rise like islets in an ocean of green. After the harvest all is changed: the dull brown of the fields is relieved by the trees, solitary or in groves and avenues, and by the hamlets and village ponds.
Near Balloki Headworks on River Ravi, one passes through a wide water reservoir that looks like a lake. In winters, this lack is full of native waterfowls. Flocks of Wild Ducks, Cranes, Strokes and black winged Stilts are the commonest sights in the area. Though at the dusk of the sunny winter day I could only see few Tobas hovering over their evening catch and few flocks of Murghabis (wild ducks). The fish kababs at Balloki Headworks are a specialty and culinary delight. I had a dinner break at Balloki, treated myself with fish kabab - fresh from the river - and moved to National Highway for onwards journey to Lahore via more familiar route.
Labels: Baloki, Okara, Rural Culture, Sahiwal, Travel
posted by S A J Shirazi @ Saturday, December 29, 2012,
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