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Nawab Nusrat Khan’s Tomb: Another hidden gem

Most readers will be unaware of this little architectural gem in Lahore known as Nusrat Khan’s Tomb. The reason that this tomb is so elusive and has left the public unaware of its existence is that this little wonder is hidden, or rather closed, for the public.

The Tomb of Nawab Nusrat Khan, also known as Khawaja Sabir, is located at a distance of approximately ½ mile northwest of Zafar Jang Kokaltash’s tomb in the grounds of carriage and wagon shops of Pakistan Railways. Beautiful even in the state of shambles it is in, Nawab Nusrat Khan’s tomb can be reached by traveling north on Mughalpura Road until it ends on Workshop Road. Ask any local about the Railway workshops and they will guide you. Traveling some distance east on Workshop Road, you will reach the Pakistan Railways carriage and wagon shops gate on your right. The tomb there is hidden in the grounds of the carriage and wagon shops.

It is because of this remoteness of location that the tomb remains out of the public eye and continues to falter and deteriorate without the necessary attention. The place where this monument is located is closed for the public because the land is owned by the Pakistan Railways and the carriage and wagon shops are located there. Due to security reasons, the general public is not given .

Interesting part is that the monument is partially converted into a mosque by the staff of Pakistan Railways and the staff uses the monument as a resting place as well. If you ask anyone there on site about the existence of this structure they will negate it and it is completely unknown to the public because of this reason. Actually the ownership of the monument is with the Archaeology Department of Punjab. Few people who tried visiting the location told me that the Railway management deputed there negated the existence of this monument but the Railway union leader after some incentives does let one inside the monument but photography is not allowed at all and so they ask the visitors to leave the cameras outside the monument.

I wonder what the point in hiding a monument is, when it can generate income for the concerned department if it is opened, restored and ticketed for the people. Well many other monuments also face the same issues here in Lahore and I wonder when the approach towards heritage will change!

As it stands, the tomb is deteriorating. There is wild plantation around the monument and watering the land is constantly causing water ingress into the structure which can damage its foundations. I think if it is not well kept or restored in near future we will lose it.

As per historic accounts the tomb is a massive structure, built entirely of small Lahori bricks without the use of stone or Kashi Kari. The octagonal mausoleum stands in the centre of a platform of octagonal shape which is now covered with grass and one can hardly make out the existence of the platform. The building has an ornamental niche decoration on its façade and pigeon-holes in a schematic way on its dome. The double shell dome is raised over a circular drum. There is a clear evidence of tendency towards the evolution of a bulbous dome. The monotony of the circular drum is broken by rectangular panels set back slightly. On the eastern side, the drum has been pierced with a small window giving an entry to the cavity between the two shells.

As per history references it is said that at the top of the dome there was a lotus base for a pinnacle but only its remains can be seen now as a reference to the original construction.  The building is surmounted by turrets of much elegance and beauty. Many of them survive to this day, however; the domes have fallen off of a few of them.

Historic records tell us that the interior was decorated with paintings of different colors but unfortunately now has been paint-washed in the traditional colors of the Pakistan Railways, green and yellow and this has damaged the original paint work inside the monument. I wonder how could this be done to a monument when it is a protected one! Most of the arched entrances have been closed up and metal posts have been used to support a tin roof over a portion of the first storey.

It is said by the historians that the tomb suffered extensive damage during the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh when the marble embellishments were removed from the monuments. The same was done with many other monuments in Lahore during the Sikh rule. The tomb was also used as a private residence by General Court, a member of Ranjit Singh’s army. General Court added many rooms to the building but they had all been destroyed by the early 1890s except three arches in the upper storey to the west.

When the British era came here the monument was further damaged and it was turned into a hall room for military officers. Same was done with many other Mughal era monuments in Lahore during the British Raj. The structure came to be called Gumbad Bijjar wala on the account of people from the Bijjar tribe having lived in it after the collapse of the Sikh government.

What we talk of the Sikh and British when we ourselves did the worst to this monument. We should have restored the monument and turned into a gallery, museum or some sort of library looking at its structure and built, but we closed it for the public and thus it vanished away from the minds and eyes of the people. Today the monument is in a derelict condition and I can see it ruining more in near future. Still there is a chance to preserve and protect it and opening it for the public so that people start getting to know about it.

Tania Qureshi

The writer is a media professional and can be reached at taniaq29@gmail.com

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