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Fresh off the train from Lahore we struck it lucky with a room for 3 at the Park Hotel, and though Matt wasnt up to it, Alex and I headed back out the way we'd come to check out the local museum. For such an out of the way place and not discernibly cultured, there was an excellent collection of many buddhist carvings and statues, buddhas sat in the lotus "reassurance" position with 1 hand raised, in others hands clasped in "preaching" pose, others still the "meditation" pose. They were all from the 2nd or 3rd century AD and not what I had expected from this part of the world at all, but the Gandhara civilisation used to be big here. There were very old tablets with vague Kharoshti and Sarada inscriptions, one of which quips "fame alone makes you immortal". Such a pity the scribe didnt leave their name then! There were many buddha heads and animal figurines, models of stupas, carved "toilet trays" of unknown use to me, discs about 12 centimetres in diameter. You might have used them to wipe your arse with as far as I knew. Different interpretations of the buddha showed surprisingly Greek, Roman and Persian influences, globalisation had already begun way back then it would seem, indeed I later learned that Gandhara had been an outpost and former colony of Big Eck. In one of his many incarnations Buddha was also depicted as Maithriya, the future buddha. There were a few depictions of other gods such as Garuda, Vajrapani, Hariti (goddess of fertility) and Panchika (god of wealth). Garuda was a bird with a half human body. Atlant, a winged, bearded male figure also interestingly showed Greek features and made one think of the legend of Atlantis, who knows?


There were regional costumes, scary and impressive wooden effigies from the Kalash valley (Chitral region), they looked like totems and would have topped most museums list. The regional dresses were very colourful, accompanied by some very heavy metal jewellry including spiraled spring like "torques" (neck bangles) along with pistols, daggers, bows and arrows and unusual "sickle" type daggers resembling ice axes, all of 19th century era. Also rifles, one looking very old with a very long barrel and curved butt had Herani Country written on it. It had 2 curved retractable spikes like deer horns to serve as a foremount. Then more impressive wooden effigies from Chitral, 3 on horseback, if they were designed to intimidate an enemy then they worked. The ubiquitous yawny coin collection for once had a surprise, square ones, and I could not recall having seen a square coin before. The way out was bordered with more tablets of exotic origin, this time of Kufic and Mongolian script. All in all a very fine collection considering the location, most unexpected.

The fatigue now separated the men from the boys as Alex wimped out on a further foray. I took a walk out to and around the impressive and pristine fortress adjacent to the old city, tempered by horrendous dust and pollution along very grubby, busy streets. Still in use as an army base, HQ of the Frontier Regiment and so off limits with no photos possible. Several modern howitzers poked over the ramparts alongside older cannon. The police had some of the old city cordoned of for the Ashura procession, with barbed wire no less, and it was later that night I learned that there was a suicide bombing right here where I had been only a few hours earlier, it killed the Chief of Police and 14 others, no doubt some of the guys I had seen. The local impression was that it was because he had been conscientious and so never accepted bribes. Their grisly photos were displayed in the following days press so that the bad guys could see their handiwork and you might have struggled to recognise some of the victims. There had also been an earlier bombing at the Marriot Hotel in Islamabad where the soul casualty was some poor cleaner.

Posted by andyhay 00:00 Archived in Pakistan

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