May 5, 2006
Bahawalpur is the gate to the saint city of Uch Sharif, where some of the most holy men of Islam and Sufi were putting their roots here. Uch Sharif is said to had the second oldest university, after Rome. Where in Rome, the universities were already left their medieval time, replaced by cableless internet connection equipped classrooms, the religious schools in Uch Sharif were still looked wrapped by the time of their heydays.
Uch Sharrif is about 100 kms away from Bahawalpur. The bus had to change in a nearby city, Ahmedpur, which was 20 kms away from Uch. The bus conductors, as in other places in Pakistan, would admit everybody even when they were sure that the bus wouldnt take the passenger to the destination. I departed early to avoid the summer heat (reach almost 45 now), but still I spent too much time on road because the bus going to other direction insisted to take me anyway. And as result of this friendly and helpful ticket seller, I was lost in the middle of nowhere.
Uch Sharif bazaar was the gate to the little town. The town itself was located in the middle of sand plains, due to the proximity to the cholistan desert nearby. The bazaar was colourful, with more women wearing burqas with more innovative colour selection, with several different type of toppings: flat and curved, and of course, purdah. The people coming here usually did the pilgrimage (ziarat), as from the holy place, they expect to gat godly miracles.
The most important mausoleum here is that of Syed Jalaludin Surkh Bukhari, a Sufi from Uzbekistan. The mausoleum was big, with Uzbekistan style of mosque and mazar building, supported by wooden sticks. The men and boys could come into the room, while women only could pray, kiss, and cry on the door and doorstep. The concept of purdah disallow women to mix with the men inside the holy places. The atmosphere of Shiah is very strong here. Black clothes and blag flags everywhere, and some pilgrims yelled “Ya… Ali!!!”. Also some big bulbs with blinking lamps to form an Arabic writing “Ya Ali Madad” (O Ali Help).
I met a man from Muzaffarabad who claimed to see me before. He was talking with me on the top of a Shiah masjid in the city when I was attending the Chehlum of Hazrat Hussain. I couldnt recognize him initially, but was happy to meet him. I found a local guy who took me around the town. The Muzaffarabad man said to this local guy to take me around and give me explanation about Shiah, as he misunderstood me to be a Sunni (Ahl-i-Sunnat).
In the mausoleum of Jalaludin Surkh Bukhari, there was a man who kept asking for donation. As anywhere in Punjab, holy places also is money source for the locals. I refused him by saying no change. He said he would give me change of any amount.
Nearby, there was a complex of much more gigantic and splendid structure, that is Mausoleum of Bibi Jawindi. Bibi Jawindi was a wife of a holy man, should be from the Bukhari family also. The mausoleum was three buildings, of three different people, but the whole complex used the name of Bibi Jawindi. What made it splendid is that the mausoleum didnt stand completely, but only half. The first building was only half left, the second one was even less, the third one, was almost only the gate left. But it was impressive. The feeling of being swallowed by time was there. The atmosphere was quite, and despite the burning heat, I spent most of the time sitting and talking with the people there.
The local guy, Hussain, took me to a house, to rest from the unforgiving heat. In that small room, there were some of his relatives, all males, making and drinking bhang, the local alcohol. They called it as the green water and offered me for a sip. I refused. There was a guy who asked about my religion. This kind of question always annoyed me, as it always led to religious discussion. When I was younger in my first visit in Pakistan, I prefer to lie that I was Muslim. End of question. But now I would like to show that Indonesia was not a Muslim state and we had religious freedom there. So I told him I was not Muslim.
As what I expected before, he started with his flowing preaching, “Who created the universe? Khuda. Who created the man? Khuda (God). Khuda is the most powerful….”, he kept speaking for minutes and I just smiled to him without arguing.
Out of my expectation, the other old men in the room objected him. They said everybody had their own iman, and we should respect people with other faith.
That young bearded man involved in harsh discussion with those old man, and then he kept quiet when he was busy with his bhang.
The other important mausoleum is the one of the grandson of Jalaludin Surkh Bukhari. The holy man got a nick name as “Traveller of the World” as he travelled all places for his spiritual search. He even transported the mihrab which is now in his mausoleum, by himself (by his supernatural power) from New Delhi until Uch Sharif. The guy who was with me was also a caretaker here. There were some women weeping on the front gate, as they were not allowed to enter. Man pilgrims entered, touched the funeral box which was wrapped by green and red sheet, and delivered prayers there.
Nearby there was a smaller building, which was also pilgrimage place. Here women can enter little bit. But the caretaker there extorted money from them. The pilgrims were very poor that they couldnt even give 2 Rs. The caretaker refused them to be admitted. Hussain was iritated with this. And it became to a harsh shouting, and almost came into a fight when the young caretaker, 18 years old, took a woodstick and was ready to beat him. They were calmed down by the older caretaker, the one with big body of in his 40’s, whom these two guys respected.
People coming here for pilgrimage had their own backgrounds. Some with sick babies wanted a miracle upon their babies. A boy with a mobile phone missing, asked for a return of his stolen mobile (the old caretaker wrote on a paper “Innalilahi wa Inannlilahi Rojiun” (What comes from Him would return to Him), and asked him to read all the days so he would be calmed), and there was also a young female baby with bald head. She was sleeping under the tree without matrass, but now she was sitting outside the gate. She was sick. Her mother was sick also. The father worked as drink seller in bazaar. The mother and daughter got physilogical attack, both of them lost looked always worrying of anything. In fact the baby (I assumed 2 years old) had empty sights. The mother dedicated herself and her daughter to this mazar. The mother working as cleaner, sweeping the floor, and the daughter just spent her childhood there, sleeping on floor and sometimes crawling around. The caretaker said since their stay here the doctors told them that there was improvement in their disease.
Hussain never asked from me any money. In fact he invited me to go to his house for lunch. But I refused as I didnt want to give him more burden by entertaining guest. We visited another mausoleum (there are about 10 mausoleum of holy mens here), Syed Faizuddin. Different from others, this is a Sunni holy man. There was no “Ya Ali Madad” writing here, and no blag flags. There were a chain of empty baskets (called manat) outside the gate. The pilgrim put flowers here. These were pilgrims who wanted to get child after years of “failure” of marriage.
When I returned back to Bahawalpur, I got problem with the notorius buses again. There were passengers who kept coming and asked for my mobile phone number. And by this time, I lost my 900 Rs of money put in my pocket together with my mobile phone. Luckily it was only the money lost, the mobile was still with me. I guessed that it was my karma, not to give donation in one of the mazars I visited.