Uch Sharif

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The ancient town of Uch Sharif is steeped in history, some say pre-existing even before Alexander the Great’s travails in the Indian subcontinent. Located 75 kms from Bahawalpur in South Punjab, Pakistan, the town is positioned at the confluence of the River Sutlej and River Chenab, strategically once an important site, and is famous for its many beautiful shrines and tombs, attracting many tourists.

There is much debate amongst historians as to the origins of Uch Sharif. Some argue that it was founded even before the time of the great Jain and Buddhist empires of the Mauryas in 500 BCE. At the time of Alexander the Great, Uch was under Hindu rule and it is said that he arrived in Uch after conquering northern parts of India, stayed for a fortnight, and renamed the city Alexandria. Others have mentioned Uch by the name of Sikandara or Iskalanda, a reference to the Greek. The city was conquered in 712 AD by Mohammed bin Qasim and grew to become one of the predominant centres of Islamic studies in South Asia by the 13th century.

Several tombs of famous Islamic mystics or Sufis are to be found in Uch, notably the tombs of Syed Jalaluddin Bukhari, responsible for spreading Islam in Southern Punjab and said to have converted the legendary warrior Genghis Khan to Islam, and his family. His tomb is unusual, containing a wooden roof painted predominantly red and blue. Later, these tombs were added to by a series of domed tombs. The first is said to have been built for Baha’al-Halim by his pupil, the Suharwardiya Sufi saint Jahaniyan Jahangasht (1307–1383), the second for the latter’s great grant daughter, Bibi Jawindi, in 1494, and the third for the latter’s architect. The tomb of Bibi Jawindi is the most beautiful, octagonal in shape and decorated with blue and white tiles. Baha’al Halim’s tomb has horizontal stripes of blue and white faience tiles, although little of it remains. There are a number of preserved cemented graves in the town and, as a result of the artificial canals, the surrounding area is lush, adding to the surrealness of the visit.

Uch today is a small town, divided into three different quarters. Although it is on the UNESCO World Heritage Site tentative list, many of the edifices are in poor condition and need much restoration. It is advised to remember some socks when visiting Uch – you will be asked to take of footwear once inside the compound and the floor is likely to be extremely hot.

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