New York group funds Uch conservation
By Rina Saeed Khan
LAHORE: The World Monuments Fund is funding the conservation of monuments in Uch Sharif through the Lahore-based Conservation and Rehabilitation Centre.
This is a singular honour for the non-governmental organisation (NGO) and for Pakistan itself, since this is the same international fund that has given money to high profile conservation projects like the city of Petersburg and the ruins of Pompeii.
Last week, the CRC received Rs 2.2 million ($38,000) from the New York-based organisation to conserve the historical “city of saints”. A similar amount was raised from private donors in Pakistan including industrialist Syed Babar Ali.
Earlier, the CRC, which is run by architects Yasmin Cheema and Masood Ahmed Khan, also received a grant of $50,000 from the World Monuments Watch, affiliated with the World Monuments Fund. Based on the NGO’s progress reports (to be filed every three months), the CRC will be given an additional $50,000 by American Express.
The monument complex that the CRC is trying to conserve in Uch Sharif is located in the old settlement of Uch Bukhari, which dates back almost 1000 years. The three large tombs of Bibi Jiwandi, Hazrat Bahaul Halim and Ustaad Nurya were all once complete mausoleums covered with exquisite tile work. Now they are in ruins (Bibi Jiwandi is actually sliced in half), yet with their intricate sapphire, blue and gleaming white tiles still apparent, it is not difficult to imagine them in the prime of their glory.
The CRC plans to consolidate the tombs so that there is no further deterioration. The NGO has already painstakingly documented the tombs and the entire city of Uch using satellite imagery and state of the art graphics software. They started the documentation in 1998 and have now begun actual work on the monuments themselves.
The money from the World Monuments Fund was given three years ago, but then Ms Cheema’s son was involved in a bad car accident and she put the project on hold. “Luckily for us, the World Monuments Fund held the money for three years… it really is remarkable. Then last January they called up and said, please do something about this money, so we picked up the whole project again,” she recalls.
The British consulting firm Halcro also came forward to help the project and they are now providing site management services at cost price. The federal archaeology department has assigned two people to the project in Uch and the Punjab Culture Ministry has also committed to sending two of their officials to supervise the work.
The conservation project is turning into a unique joint government-private sector venture. What they need now is for more money to be raised by the private sector in Pakistan so that additional matching grants can be given by the World Monuments Fund-Robert Wilson Challenge (the total grant award is $180,000).
The project is currently working on making more retaining walls around the complex and tackling the water seepage that is damaging the monuments. Sanitation pipes have already been laid in front of Bibi Jiwandi’s tomb and the CRC is hoping for concrete street paving and street lights from the government via the Uch Union Council to perk up the run down area.
“We actually need to control accessibility to the site in the long run,” says Ms Cheema. If the complex is conserved in the manner envisioned by Ms Cheema and Mr Khan (who used to teach at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US and is now a consultant working with the Aga Khan Trust for Culture), the monument complex at Uch could become a model for the future conservation of historical sites in Pakistan.