Southern Punjab of Punjab province of Pakistan has many a historical places that narrate the history of Pakistan, much before it emerged as an independent country in 1947. Of these besides the historical city of Multan that is considered to be the oldest living city of the world, Bahawalpur is a major city in the southern Punjab, that existed as an independent state for some 200 years (since 1748). The state was founded by Nawab Muhammad Bahawal Khan Abbasi I. The state was spread over an area of 45,911 square kilometres (17,494 sq mi) and divided into three districts: Bahawalpur, Rahimyar Khan and Bahawalnagar. The state acceded to Pakistan on 7th October 1947 and was merged into the province of West Pakistan on 14th October 1955 by Nawab Sir Sadiq Muhammad Khan Abbasi V. There are a number of royal palaces reminding the glory of the rulers of the sate, the main palace “Noor Mehal” (above right) has now been converted into an officers’ mess for the Bahawalpur garrison.
Being an independent state, the Nawabs of Bahawalpur maintained their own army and an efficient economy with a firm grip on the affairs of the state. The army consisted of two battalions; 1st Bahwalpur Infantry (raised 1827), 2nd Bahwalpur Light Infantry (raised 1827). The state ruler was known as the “Farman rawai mumlukat khudadad Bahawalpur” (Ruler of the God-Gifted Kingdom of Bahawalpur”. Pelican is the state mascot, which appears on its State arms seal and on all palaces. Bahawalpur used the postage stamps of British India until 1945. On 1st January 1945, it issued its own stamps. On 1st December 1947 the state issued its first regular stamp, a commemorative stamp for the 200th anniversary of the ruling family, depicting Mohammad Bahawal Khan I, and inscribed “BAHAWALPUR”. A series of 14 values appeared 1st April 1948, depicting various Nawabs and buildings. A handful of additional commemoratives ended with an October 1949 issue commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Universal Postal Union. After this the state adopted Pakistani stamps.
The city lies just south of the Sutlej River, and is the site of the Adam Wahan (Empress) Bridge, the only railway bridge over the Sutlej River in Pakistan. Today, Bahawalpur city is a thriving city of southern Punjab, famous for its white silver jewelry, embroidered shoes and the pottery. The surrounding area is mostly agricultural, and the city is a market town for mangoes, dates, wheat, sugarcane, and cotton. The city is connected to the rest of the country through rail, road and air link. Bahawalpur district covers an area of 24,830 square kilometres and comprises six tehsils (sub-districts) – Ahmadpur East, Bahawalpur, Hasilpur, Khairpur Tamewali and Yazman with a total population of about 2.5 million. Approximately two-thirds of the district is covered by the Cholistan desert, which extends into the Thar desert of India. The Bahawalpur was once also known as Baghdad-ul-Jadid (New Baghdad). Saraiki is the local language of the area, while Urdu, Punjabi and English are also spoken and understood by most of the people.
Bahawalpur Museum is yet another place of interest for the visitors. This small museum has a collection of old coins, medals, postage stamps of former state of Bahawalpur, manuscripts, documents, inscriptions, wood carvings, camel skin paintings, historical models and stone carvings etc. of Islamic and pre-Islamic period. There is a complete set of medals of all classes issued by the ex state to its military officers civilians and to other important citizens of the ex state.
Lal Sohanra National Park: About 40 km to the east of Bahawalpur, Lal Sohanra National Park is basically a British timber forest spread over an area of over an area of 77,500 acres on both sides of the Bahawal Canal. The forest is so planned that each plantation matures in 40 years and is then cut. There are a number of tourist huts, rest-houses, camping grounds and treks for the visitors.
The best attraction is the lion safari to see the lions in their natural habitat from close quarters. One lion with four lionesses roam freely and one can go as
close as the photograph above. But one is not advisable to get out of the vehicle since these lions are wild and can devour on anything live and close.
Black Buck and Nilgai are being bred in this Park. There are around 400 black bucks in the park. If one is lucky to be there at the time of their lunch, one can find these beautiful antelopes running in from all directions on the voice of the grass distributor (above right). Besides jackals, hares, porcupines, fox, mongoose, larks, owls and hawks are also found. Recently a pair of rhinos has been added.
The second attraction is Cholistan Desert – a sandy wasteland dotted with nomadic communities and wind-swept forts. Spread over an area of 15,000 acres, east of Bahawalpur, the desert extends into the Thar Desert of India. Cholistan was also called the land of forts because of approximately 400 forts in the area, some dating back to 1000 BC. The region was once watered by the Hakra River, known as the Saravati in Vedic times. Today the remains of Drawar Fort still remind the glory of old times. The chain of forts was built at 29 km intervals in three rows. The first line of forts began from Phulra and ended in Lera, the second from Rukhanpur to Islamgarh, and the third from Bilcaner to Kapoo. Ruins of some of these can still be found today. The local pastoral and nomadic populace is somewhat similar to those in Indian Rajasthan.