Kids Corner

Image below, first from bottom: The author as a young man.


Tales of Haripur:
Part One - The Town That Hari Singh Nalwa Built




Maharaja Ranjit Singh desired that a town be named after his beloved General and Commander-in-Chief, Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa, to honor the latter for his accomplishments.

As a result, an area around the Fort of Hari Singh was selected and the Maharaja gave it the name of 'Haripur' in 1822.

Since then, Haripur developed into a bustling town that played a unique role in Sikh, Punjab and the sub-continent's history. It is for this reason, and because of my personal association with it, that I wish to pen down my memories of it.

I was born and grew up in this very enchanting town of Haripur, situated in the lap of the Himalaya mountains. For a number of reasons, my memories of this town are vivid.

Its stunning location was in close proximity to the historic shrine of Punja Sahib at Hasan Abdal - associated with Guru Nanak's famous encounter with the arrogant Wali Qandhari. Thus, it is ensconced in a region rich with Sikh culture and history. Add the wealth of stories, anecdotes and myths that emanate from the area, to the loving and friendly people who inhabited the area, and one can see why the town remains fascinatingly memorable for me.

The town of Haripur is located 65 kilometer north of present-day Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, and only 20 km from Punja Sahib. One of the town's main attractions is that it is perched 1650 feet above sea level. It is in the shadow of the highest peak in the immediate region - Malika Parbat - which is 17356 feet above sea level. Nesting in the foothills of the Himalayas makes the town and its surroundings pleasantly verdant and delightfully green.

Though 64 years have gone by since I left Haripur, my memories remain fresh and deep and fresh in my heart. Though home had been the U.S. for much of the intervening years,  I still longed for the town where I was born and where I grew up.

So, upon my retirement, I set off on a journey to Haripur and, delight of delights, I have been able to manage not one but two visits to the town in  recent years.

Haripur is 35 km far from Abbottabad, which once also had a significant Sikh population, mostly scattered along the road that eventually led to Kashmir in the North. There were other important centers in the vicinity which I remember vividly: Mansehra, Swabi, Srikot, Talokar, Khalabat, Mardan, Attock, Tarbela, Khanpur, Buner, Campbellpur, Taxila, and Kot Najeeb Ullah. Most of these townships were dotted with our family friends and acquaintances - Sikh, Hindu and Muslim.

The Sikhs were flourishing in these towns as traders, shop-keepers and land-owners, and enjoyed a dynamic presence through their gurdwaras and an active social and civic life.

Haripur Hazara, the district in which the town is situated,  falls within the North Western Frontier Province ("NWFP"); a name given by the British rulers. I am told that recently its name was changed to Pakhutnakhawa Khyber.

This entire area is renowned as the hub of the ancient Gandhara civilization.

Medieval history records a town called Pakhli Sarkar in this area in 1472 A.D.

Shortly after it was renamed Harpur by Ranjit Singh, its namesake Hari Singh Nalwa, then Governor of Kashmir, became its governor as well. The town was spread around the Fort of Hari Singh and was irrigated through a well-planned water storage and distribution system nicknamed 'Rangila'.

Rangila was in fact the name of a civil engineer who established this unique water supply system for the town. The reservoir collected water from a perennial river called Dor and then supplied it to the residents of Haripur for irrigation and drinking. As many as nine supply lines originated from Rangilla and spread through the entire town. There were roads and shops along the water streams.

The water-fed fruit orchards and grain fields included those owned by our family.

Originally a Tehsil, Haripur became a district in 1992 after its separation from Abbottabad district.

Hari Singh Nalwa lived in accordance with the highest ideals of Sikhi and was renowned, like his Emperor, for being a fair and just administrator and for treating all the citizens -  Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Sikhs - as equals. He respected all faiths and as such there was no restriction on building a mosque or mandir emple), and no preferences were given to gurdwaras.

More than that, he asked that all of them be built by his administration.

Islam was and still is the predominant religion in the area, although there was significant presence of Sikhs and Hindus.

Additionally, there was a non-Muslim tribe known as Kalasha, believed to be descendants of the ancient armies of Alexander the Great (see One More Step, by M.S. Kohli, Penguin, 2005).

Urdu is now the major language that is both written and spoken. The languages mostly spoken there before Partition were dialects of Hindko, Punjabi, Pashto and Pahari.

*   *   *   *   *

My father, Dr. Beli Ram, was a doctor in Haripur. There were both big and small landowners living in and around Haripur most of whom used to visit my father’s clinic in case of sickness. He attended his patients with kindness and was quite popular. It is because of both his kindness and medical expertise that our family was accorded great esteem and liking.

Only a few miles from Haripar began the “No-Man’s Land” with inhabitants known then as Kabailies (tribal) who, historically, did not accept any government’s writ. Even though they were generally known as lawless people, we found them very loving. They would frequently invite us on weekends and we were served with marvelous tribal hospitality and dishes.

Many of my father’s Kabaili patients were very poor, yet they would pay the medical treatment fee to him with gratitude. However, in deserving cases, my father treated them free of charge. They would in turn bring for us such gifts as home grown fruits, vegetables, corn and pulses. Sometimes they would bring ghee (fat made from cow- or buffalo-milk) and butter, both being popular and much sought-after commodities in the Potohar food culture.

After my father passed away, they continued to take care of us by bringing those gifts and by providing security in the absence of an adult man in our family. No one could dare touch us, since it had  become open knowledge that we were friends with those tribal Pathans and Afridis.

Despite affinity and closeness with Muslim families and friends, I would, somehow, still be fearful and paranoid whenever I would pass by a mosque while traversing between my home and my primary school. However, I never experienced any harassment or harm from any Muslim, young or old. Perhaps I had developed that fear due to what I would hear from the rumor mills in town.

There were rumors, for example, that Hindu youth were being waylaid near the mosque, taken in and sexually abused; while others were forcibly converted to Islam. The conversion, according to the rumours, would entail compulsive reading of the Holy Quran and a painful circumcision. I must admit that I never experienced anything negative from any of my  Muslim friends, classmates or acquaintances.

With the benefit of hindsight, I now know that the rumours were unfounded and my fear irrational, but I knew several others to harbored the same paranoia. Perhaps the fear originated from the belief that in Islam it was considered a religious obligation to convert others, even by using lethal means and weapons.


Continued tomorrow ... Part II

August 9, 2011

Conversation about this article

1: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), August 09, 2011, 1:28 PM.

Bhai Harbans Lal ji: although we have met a couple of times, I never knew of your relationship with Haripur. What a delightful pastoral picture of Haripur. I now avidly look forward to the rest. Maharaja Ranjit Singh had a remarkable gift of selecting the right men and inspiring them with devotion. Despite his implicit faith in his general, Maharaja Ranjit Singh used to take a strict muster of his troops personally to make sure that his fief holders were carrying out their duties impartially. Despite naming Haripur after his general, I remember reading that he was once fined 200,000 rupees for failing to produce the number of men he had undertaken to maintain. Harbans Lal ji: you are a part of that glorious history. I also remember the particular style of turban from that area. My childhood friend Jugraj, whose ancestors had agricultural land there, always talked nostalgically about Haripur. Your account has now produced a special kinship with it.

2: Jodh Singh Arora (Jericho, New York, U.S.A.), August 09, 2011, 4:34 PM.

Writing about Haripur, you have ignited my emotions about it and my birth-place, Kaya, only 16 miles from Haripur. I had visited Haripur many times and once Dr. Beliram's office. My last visit to Haripur was on March 3, 1947 when we bade good-bye and reached Sirhind. My naanka (maternal grandparents') village, Bir, was first to undergo the murderous attacks in February and, soon thereafter, it was in Chhajian that all adults and children were burnt alive in a gurdwara. Now the Ilaqa-E-Ghair that you mentioned as Kabaili, was only across River Indus in the foothills of te White mountains. Today, due to the Tarbela Dam, my birth village is under water. In 1947, there were six districts in NWFP, Haripur was one of them, besides Mardan, Pishaur, Banu, Kohat and Malpur. Haripur had three tehsils - Haripur, Mansehra and Abbottabad. The great Baba Jiwan Singh ji, under whose preaching many of our families converted to Sikhism - his dehra was three miles from Tarbela, across a rivulet, on the hill-top. More later.

3: Bibek Singh (Jersey City, New Jersey, U.S.A.), August 09, 2011, 4:58 PM.

A very popular 19th century British newspaper, Tit-Bits, made a comparative analysis of great generals of the world and arrived at the following conclusion: "Some people might think that Napoleon was a great General. Some might name Marshal Hindenburgh, Lord Kitchener, General Karobzey or Duke of Wellington, etc. And some going further might say Halaku Khan, Genghis Khan, Changez Khan, Richard or Allaudin, etc. But let me tell you that in the North of India, a General of the name of Hari Singh Nalwa of the Sikhs prevailed. Had he lived longer and had the resources and artillery of the British, he would have conquered most of Asia and Europe!"

4: Raj (Canada), August 09, 2011, 11:38 PM.

My aunt was born and raised in Haripur, her father was headmaster in the school. The story we hear most from her is of Ayub Khan (the Pakistani General who became President), about his reverence for Japji Sahib. He also went to the same school. After partition, he heard about the hardships his "ustad" - my aunt's father - was going through in India; he offered to help him and his family settle in his new "home" in India. But, the Indian government got hold of this letter and, instead of helping, started spying on this refugee family. Every time I visit my aunt in Ludhiana, she has fascinating stories for me.

5: Gurjender Singh (Maryland, U.S.A.), August 10, 2011, 9:25 AM.

Nice told. A beautiful part of Sikh history. I would like to request Dr. Harbans Lal ji and others who have written comments, to work hard to preserve our history through books for future generations. Otherwise, these precious memories will be lost for ever.

6: Paramjit Singh Grewal (Auckland, New Zealand), August 10, 2011, 11:26 PM.

Bhai Sahib: reading your beautiful article took my own mind back to 1984-85 when I spent a year in Dallas on an exchange program. It was such a pleasure to meet your Mata ji and the family at the Sunday diwans at the Dallas gurdwara. Keep writing.

7: Shahzada Khan (Haripur, Pakistan), October 09, 2011, 5:29 AM.

I'm a Homoeopathic Doctor from Haripur Hazara. Curious - where was your actual location, where you lived before Partition? My clinc is near the Sheranwala Gate.

8: Muhammad (Haripur, Pakistan), February 07, 2012, 5:08 AM.

It is really informative and interesting to know the history of my home town, and that there was a big population of Sikhs here until 1947. Is there a Sikh writer of that time who may have written a book on the different Muslim communities/ tribes of the area?

9: Muhammad Fayyaz (Haripur Tarbella, Punjab, Pakistan), June 11, 2012, 6:42 AM.

I have a lot of collection of pictures of Haripur. If you want them, please let me know.

10: Tariq Mehmood (Haripur, Hazara, Pakistan), November 28, 2013, 4:00 PM.

I have listened to stories about Dr. Beli Ram from my grandfather, that he was a good man. Very sad to say that Hari Singh's fort is now converted to a jail and an old city temple converted to a fruit market.

11: Gurpreet Singh Anand (New Delhi, India), April 11, 2014, 11:47 AM.

Indeed, indebted to Harbans Lal ji for these articles, bringing alive Haripur even while I was reading "A SIKH BOY" set in Haripur but fictionalised town referred to as Sripur while revealing its real name in many ways. My jigsaw is complete having read your "Tales of Haripur". Mohmmad Fazay Sahab, if you can post some pictures of Sikh architecture, gurdwaras and Sikh school, etc., I would be grateful.

12: Lalit (United Kingdom), August 10, 2014, 5:49 PM.

My grandfather Uttam Chand lived in Haripur Hazara. During Partition, he was killed and my father grew up without even remembering his father's face. Family migrated to India. I would be grateful if anyone knows anything about my grandfather. It would be great to connect.

13: Gurdeep Singh Batra (Patiala, Punjab), September 05, 2015, 7:37 AM.

My grand parents were from Khuan Wala Mohalla, Haripur, Hazara. If anybody has any more info on it ... ?

14: Amarveer Singh (Mandi, Himachal Pradesh, India), May 30, 2018, 10:02 AM.

My grandfather, Sardar Mehar Singh, lived in Haripur Hazara before 1947. He had a business of soda water. My great grandfather was Sardar Amir Singh. I would be very grateful to hear from anyone who knows about our family. In Haripur Hazara there was also our neighbors, the Bedi family. They also migrated to East Punjab with us.

Comment on "Tales of Haripur:
Part One - The Town That Hari Singh Nalwa Built"

To help us distinguish between comments submitted by individuals and those automatically entered by software robots, please complete the following.

Please note: your email address will not be shown on the site, this is for contact and follow-up purposes only. All information will be handled in accordance with our Privacy Policy. Sikhchic reserves the right to edit or remove content at any time.