The land of horse riders
Today, Koocha Chabuk Sawaran is among the few areas of the old walled city that has name plates on the houses where once the famous lived. While walking through the narrow but interesting streets of Koocha Chabuk Sawaran I realised that the need to conserve what is left is greater than ever before
Lahore is a city surrounded by gigantic gates, a thirty feet high wall and tangled streets. It is a strange city that cannot be explained in writings; probably it will cover millions of pages. To understand the soul and spirit of Walled City of Lahore you have to experience the nook and corners of this mystic city. This City was the original Lahore and still holds the spirit of old Lahore within itself, in its bricks and walls. This city has the credit of witnessing the golden and dark eras of history. The city’s foundation goes back to antiquity as pre –Mughal structures are still found there. The Mosques related to Lodhi Dynasty and Ghaznavid rule exist there. The times it passed through are reflected in the structures, built and streets. Until the colonial period the Walled City had well-defined domestic and community territories for ethnic and trade groups. The hierarchies of political power, social strata, caste, and calling were clearly represented in its physical structure, whose pattern of urban spaces and street systems was similar to those of other traditional cities in the Middle East and South Asia. The street system was structured according to progressively localised domains of privacy: a hierarchy of main spines (guzars), neighbourhoods (koochas), streets and culs-de-sac (galis). The hierarchical network of movement created by these levels of territoriality with densely packed houses was also typical of this traditional urban form. The buildings were mainly residential, commercial, service (tavelas, fiI-khanas, carriage houses), and social and religious (mosques, imambarghas, shrines, temples, gurdwaras, dharmasalas, marriage houses), punctuated by open squares and gardens.
If we talk about the streets, it is one way of getting familiar with the past of the Walled City. I am not talking about the way the streets are built; it is the names given to the streets of the walled city. There are almost twenty five hundred streets inside the walled city. You will find koochas, katras, mohallahs and streets in a maze like pattern but with extremely unique and captivating names. The vein like network becomes more interesting if you know the names of the streets. These names have been given to the streets after some personalities, incidents, stories, clans or occupants. As you pass by the streets, your little observation will take you into the past of that very street. A Koocha I am writing about today is Koocha Chabuk Sawaran.
First let me tell you what is Koocha Chabuk Sawaran. Koocha is a neighbourhood or a piece of land used as exhibition centre. The word Chabuk Sawaran means the horse riders. So this Koocha was the land of horse riders in the old times. The name ‘Chabuk Sawar’ became popular because of a family who were professional horse traders belonging to the Pakhtoon Kakezai tribe that originally migrated from Afghanistan. There must have been grounds or stables for horses in this Koocha long time ago similar to what Taxali and Delhi Gate once had. With the passage of time everything vanished and commercialization took over the charms of the historic streets and city. Koocha Chabuk Sawaran is located near Shah Almi Gate of Walled City Lahore. This is one of the thirteen gates of the Walled City. Most of the area in this gate is commercial and very little residential area is left.
Historic references tell us that the entire area around the Koocha was once part of Haveli Mian Khan – a huge Haveli of Nawab Mian Khan and now known as Rang Mehal School. This Haveli was built during the reign of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan by his Prime Minister Nawab Saadullah Khan. It was completed during the reign of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb by the Nawab’s son, Mian Khan, who was then the governor of Lahore. This grand edifice was spread over two square kilometers, and it was divided into three sections: the women’s quarter, the men’s quarter which was called Rang Mahal, and the Qalai Khana, whose walls touched those of Masjid Chinian Wali. During the British Raj the Haveli was converted into a school and it still is running as one of the main schools inside Walled City of Lahore.
Historic documents and references also tell us that some horse dealers from Kanpur in India moved to this Mohalla in 1855 and some of them were highly influential and well educated and could even write in English. Those horse dealers had bought portions of Mian Khan Haveli. The most fascinating parts of Abdulla Malik’s autobiography, which holds little back, are his early memories of the old city of Lahore. He writes, “I was born in the last years of the second decade of the 20th century, on 20 October 1920, in Lahore’s Koocha Chabuk Sawaran, which was located in the heart of the city. Relying on my earliest memories, I can say that all the streets around ours, and in fact our immediate neighbourhoods, the area bazars, the mosques, the takiyas, the public baths, were part of Haveli Mian Khan”.
There is much history packed in Koocha Chabuk Sawaran. Another interesting reality of this Koocha is that this is where Ghazi Ilam Din Shaheed was born. The famous Chiniyan Wali Masjid is also located here. This mosque was built by one of Aurangzeb’s nobles, Nawab Sarfraz Khan. In the recent past, its old structure was demolished in order to erect a new one in its place.
Today, Koocha Chabuk Sawaran is among the few areas of the old walled city that has name plates on the houses where once the famous lived. While walking through the narrow but interesting streets of Koocha Chabuk Sawaran I realised that the need to conserve what is left is greater than ever before and measures should be taken to immediately preserve this dying heritage. You will still find many old families living in this place. This can be turned into a tourist trail with history plaques and interesting maps fixed at particular points. This is our real living heritage and preservation now is essential.