Salt Range: a hidden treasure
ISLAMABAD: All that school-children in Pakistan know about the hilly Salt Ranges, is that they are home to the oldest and largest rock-salt mines in the world. Every Sunday, groups of students visit the ranges and gaze in wonder at the fascinating spectacle of light filtering though solid walls of salt, with the gentle sound of River Jhelum in the background. However, the Salt Ranges have recently come to the fore as, they are also home to treasures of ancient culture and history.
The site of the imposing Rohtas Fort built by Sher Shah Suri in the 16th century, the Salt Ranges are now at the centre of new discoveries in archaeology and ancient architecture. Their importance spans thousands of years, judging from skeletal remains of prehistoric animals found in many of its out-of-the-way locations. Even though these archaeological remains have not yet been dated by experts, they probably go back three or four millennia, and, along with the prehistoric bones discovered at Mehrgarh in Balochistan, provide an insight into the ancient history of the region.
Apart from sculptures unearthed by the Department of Archaeology dating back to the 6th and 7th centuries, the Salt Ranges are dotted with Hindu temples, of which the most notable is the Katas Raj. Located 25 kilometers from Chakwal, Katas Raj is notable in many ways.
The temple was not abandoned by local Hindus when they migrated to East Punjab in 1947. Many legends sacred to the Hindus are associated with it, some of them involving Shiva himself. It has always been the site of holy pilgrimage. Even nowadays, through an agreement between India and Pakistan, Hindu worshippers perform a pilgrimage to the temple every year and bathe in the sacred pool around which Katas Raj is built.
While Katas Raj has not received the publicity that it deserves, the two semi-ruined temples of the Hindushahiya period (650-950 AD) have been frequently photographed by newspapers and history journals. The remains are very beautifully carved and conforms to the best in temple architecture.
Katas Raj is also held sacred by Hindus for another reason. Legend says that the five Pandava brothers, heroes of the Sanskrit epic Mahabharata, stayed here for four out of the 14 years that they spent in exile. While it takes a little effort to get there by road - one has to go off the Grand Trunk Road - Katas Raj is partially visible on the train route from Lahore to Rawalpindi. It is a picturesque sight.
The Salt Ranges have also been yielding prehistoric finds. While some local experts place the fossils discovered in the period between 6000 and 7000 BC, the fact remains that they have not yet been examined by trained paleontologists from the West. A large number of bones of the limbs and vertebrae of giant animals resembling the extinct mammoth and dinosaur, have been found at some sites. “An entire range of low mountains in the area appears to be fossilised, revealing to the naked eye layer upon layer of a variety of plants and soils,” says one writer.
Prehistoric tools and weapons such as axes and knives made of granite, and artifacts like terracotta bangles and pottery have also been unearthed. The latter have been found to be similar to those excavated in Harappa, but have not been dated for want of expert opinion from abroad. The fascinating Salt Ranges have a vast archaeological treasure still hidden underground. Exploratory work that could expose evidence of an ancient civilisation here needs to be undertaken. app