News Desk |
Born from under the sea, Nagarparkar is a small town situated at the foot of the dramatic and mineral-rich Karunjhar hills, and neighbours the Indian border in Sindh. Surrounded by rocky belts and sand dunes, the desert is home to centuries-old Jain and Hindu temples, a white marble mosque, a magical well, thousands of resident snakes, memorial stones, granite deposits and rare flora and fauna. It is said that the Karunjhar hills provide 1.25 kg of gold every day in the form of red granite stone, china clay, and honey.
Nagarparkar is home to almost 200,000 inhabitants, who mostly belong to modest backgrounds. The town is majorly inhabited by Hindus, who have historically lived in harmony with the Muslim minority. In fact, the famous temples of the area make it mostly a town of the Hindus and Muslim pilgrims who visit each year to perform religious rituals or attend meals at the local shrines.
The city was largely populated by non-violent Yogis and Jain Munis, the followers of Lord Mahavira and Parsanatha, some hundreds of years ago. These Jains and Shaivites were known to practice austerities in the hills of Karunjhar.
Local stories say that wealthy Hindu merchants built temples in the area and dedicated them to Lord Parshwanath, the 23rd Jain prophet. But with hardly any Jains left, these major archaeological monuments lie abandoned, neglected and shrouded in mystery.
An embodiment of remarkable architecture, there are over twelve Jain temples found in the area. These dates back to as far as the 14th century – the era when the Jain architectural expression was at its ultimate – and are now one of the oldest heritage sites of Pakistan. Some of the notable shrines include; Karoonjar Jain, Virvah Jain, Gori and a cluster of three temples at Bodhesar etc. These are richly decorated with sculptures and paintings.
The carvings on the pillars and entrances of these temples are magnificent for their intricacy. One of these sanctuaries is believed to have been built by a Jain woman and is locally called, Poni Daharo. The walls of these abandoned buildings are geometric steps of marble — a particular style that shows up everywhere from the temple’s steps to the frames carved inside some of its walls and are widely seen among Jain constructions.
The canopies at the entrance of these temples are decorated with paintings that represent Jain mythology. It is believed that the frescoes at Gori temple are some of the oldest Jain frescoes in existence. Unfortunately, not much has been done to conserve these heritage sites and some are merely ruins of what were once considered architectural wonders.
Alongside the pond at the foothill of the Karunjhar lies a beautiful, shining white mosque. This remarkable structure, built entirely with cold and welcoming marble, is said to have been built by Sultan Mehmood Begra, the ruler of Gujarat. An inscription on the mosque lists the year 880/1505, which is also a reminder of the Jain-inspired architecture at the mosque.
Durga Mata Temple
Found on the Churrio Jabal hill, this historic Hindu sanctuary hosts up to 200,000 pilgrims annually on Shivratri. Visitors bring cremated ashes of their departed beloveds to immerse in the holy water. The valuable and multi-coloured hill supporting the temple is mined for its rare and expensive granite, which is posing a serious threat to the foundation of the house of the Hindu goddess, Durga.
Located in the Bhalwa village, this well is considered as one of the primary cultural standpoints of the Thar Desert and has now been extended into a cultural center. This complex is a historical reminder of the story of Umar and Marvi. Umar Soomro, a local ruler of the area in the 13th century, fell in love with the beautiful Marvi while she was drawing water from this well.
The story, however, takes a bleak turn where after continuous rejection, King Umar kidnapped the girl and kept her hostage for a year in hopes for her to settle one day. But after realizing that no number of jewels could waive Marvi’s love for her fiancé back in her town, alas, he had to let her go. Marvi was immortalized because of her strong-will, determined character and her pure love for her homeland. She is remembered today as one of the bravest women in Sindhi history.
Lodging and logistics
What was once a remote taluka, attended only by Hindu pilgrims, was connected to the rest of the world with a road in 2008, and since then, increasing numbers of visitors are responsible for the lack of upkeep of the prevalent temples. The area is almost two hours away from Mithi, which can be reached by road from Karachi via Mirpurkhas.
Lodging facilities have been almost non-existent in the area, except for a few rest houses that are only open to government employees and their families. However, in 2017, the Sindh culture and tourism ministry opened the ‘Rooplo Kolhi Resort’ at Nagarparkar, in hopes of promoting tourism in the area. On the other hand, ones with wandering souls can rent a charpai, a traditional woven bed used in the Indian subcontinent, from any local restaurant or dhaba to spend the night under the starry skies of Thar.