If you haven’t heard the name ‘Potohar’ before, fret not – it’s not a place of any particular international repute. It just happens to accurately capture the boundaries – with one big exception – of the region of northeastern Pakistan that is the subject of this story. Surrounded by foothills of the Himalayas and the Hindukush and two of the five rivers that flow through the Punjab province – ‘Punj-Aab’ is Persian for ‘five rivers’ – the Potohar plateau is significant for various reasons, the most obvious one being that it is home to Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad:
Contrary to media depictions that often try to portray a dusty, barren backwater, Islamabad is a planned, modern city that also happens to be lush green and woodsy.
The Potohar region has a rich history that is traced all the way back to the Soanian people who inhabited parts of the area 50,000 years ago. More recently – that is you can call 2000-4000 years ‘recent’ – it was on the peripheries of the Buddhist Gandhara empire. In fact, if you consider the geographical entity we call ‘Pakistan’ today, to be historically a frontier between various civilizations, then this area is the frontier within the frontier, marking the boundary between South Asia and Central Asia. Consider Attock Khurd, straddling the foothills of the Hindukush mountains at the point where River Kabul meets River Indus:
Not far from the fort, there is a beautifully situated old Victorian railway station, one of the many relics in the region of British Colonial rule:
We can’t talk about Pakistan without mentioning mosques and shrines. Potohar has its share of both. Here’s a look at the shrine of Sufi ascetic Bari Imam, the patron saint of Islamabad:
People from all over the country visit the shrine to pay their respects, pray and make offerings of food to those in need.
As for mosques, I had heard some chatter about the Jamia Masjid (mosque) in Rawalpindi – a bustling city situated so close to Islamabad that they are considered twin cities – being interesting for photography. I arrived just at sunset after a thrilling Qingqi ride through the Old City’s narrow, frenzied streets and was not disappointed:
In the beginning of the article, I had mentioned ‘one big exception’ with regards to the boundaries of my travels. That exception happens to be Lahore, which is indisputably located outside the bounds of Potohar and smack in the middle of the Punjabi heartland. Lahore is one of Pakistan’s major cities and arguably its cultural capital. It is featured in some of my earlier work on Photography Life. I happened to be there briefly and would like to deviate a little from our Potohari theme here and share a few images from around the absolutely stunning Wazir Khan Mosque, hidden deep inside Lahore’s ancient Walled City:
Pakistan is a land with a rich culture and diverse geography offering tremendous untapped potential for photographers of all stripes – landscape, travel, street, and portrait. This photo essay is a very small snapshot of that potential. I hope to share a lot more as I continue to travel, explore and capture the country of my birth.
Note: The title of this essay ‘Pakistan You Never See’ is borrowed from a hashtag by the same name (#PakistanYouNeverSee) popularized by Twitter user Saad Gul to showcase unique images from Pakistan that challenge conventional media depictions. Follow the hashtag or better yet, Saad himself (@nc_cyberlaw), for more on this theme.