“Starting in the eighth Century, Sufis and mystics from Persia, Afghanistan, and Central Asia came to the subcontinent to spread their Islamic faith. Yes, they brought along them love for the delicate Persian architecture that defined their exquisite shrines, mosques, and madrassas (Islamic schools). But they also added new dimensions to the practice of their religion to appeal to the followers of a very different faith”.
The people that the Sufis encountered in the subcontinent were predominantly Hindus and accustomed to a religion that incorporated music and dance into their rituals. To appeal to these people, the Sufis developed the musical form called the “qawali”. Poetic songs that portray a deep emotional bond between the lover and the beloved. For the Sufi, the beloved was always the Creator. The Sufi dervishes (Dur-vaish, who as a “malang”, must spend years of extreme devotion before he achieves durvaishood) also added the mystic dance of ecstasy called the “dhamal”.
To this day, the performance of the Sufi set against the backdrop of a colourful shrine is and experience to remember. Dervishes in flowing robes, colorful beads, bracelets, and green turbans hum versus against the slow beat of drums and horns. As the tempo increases, the dervishes whirl faster and faster, working themselves into a hypnotic trance reinforced by the thunderous din of the music. The performance ends with their ecstatic shouts of the name “Ya Ali”, the son-in-law of Prophet Mohammad, who gives courage to every Muslim.
This history of Islam in Pakistan explains why the religion here is so festive, especially during an “Urs” or death anniversary of an important saint. During this occasion, the devout walk, come by camel, horse, bus, truck, train – whatever means available to them – to attend an annual Urs of an important Sufi to re-affirm their faith and adoration. A death anniversary is, indeed, a celebration – a joyous time that marks the sought after union of the departed Sufi with his adored and beloved Creator.
Day 01: ARRIVAL LAHORE
Reception with garlands on arrival. Transfer to hotel for overnight.
Day 02: LAHORE.
We begin our tour of Lahore by offering the garlands of fresh flowers as homage at the shrine of Data Ganj Bakhsh, the patron saint of Lahore (Lahore is known as Data ki Nagri, the place of Data). Take your share of Langar (free distribution of Food). Next we see the enormous 16th and 17th century Lahore Fort, a stunning interplay of sandstone and marble created by four Moghal Emperors, the 17the century Badshahi Mosque (Royal Mosque) – the world’s one of the largest, the Persian-style Wazir Khan Mosque with the fresco and glazed tile-work exterior, and the old city Bazaars. Evening visit the shrine of Baba Shah Jamal, the patron saint of fold musicians. Enjoy the “Dhole”, drum performance. Dinner in a typical Punjabi restaurant. Overnight at hotel.
Day 03: LAHORE
We start the day from the shrine of Hazrat Mian Mir, famous Sufi from Emperor Akbar’s period, who laid the foundation stone of the Sikh’s Golden Temple at Amritsar. While in Lahore, we also visit the three – tiered Shalimar Gardens spread across 42 acres with its network of water channels and over 400 fountains – one of the loveliest examples of Persian gardens in the world. We visit the shrine of the mystic Sufi Madho Lal Hussain nearby. Every year at the end of March this shrine is the venue for “Mela Chiraghan”, the festival of lights, when devotees lit thousands of oil lamps. Overnight at hotel.
Day 04: LAHORE – QASUR – PAKISTAN (228 km. 7/8 hrs.)
Drive to Qasur to visit the shrine of Sufi poet, Baba Bullhey Shah. Later drive to Pak Pattan (Ferry of the pure), the home of the 13th century famous mystic, Baba Farid Shakkar Gunj, who belonged to Chishtia order of dervishes and was a great scholar and an accomplished poet. Next to the shrine is “Bahishti Derwaza” (Heaven’s Gate). Those who walk through it are assured they will go to heaven. It is opened only for the first 10 days of Muharram (1st month of Islamic calendar). We will offer “Chaddar” (fancy cloth decorated with Quranic verses, offered as symbol of respect to the shrine) in the company of Dhole (local drum) beaters. We will also listen to Qawali, mystic song in praise of the departed saint. Overnight rest house.
Day 05: PAKISTAN – MULTAN (208 kms. 5/6 hrs)
Drive to Multan, the city of mystic saints. Transfer to hotel. In Multan, near the Cholistan Desert, we tour the mystic city in a traditional tonga. From the time of Alexander the Great, who once conquered Multan, a succession of invaders waged their own battles over this forlorn city. Today Multan is serene – a sacred city where pilgrims flock to exquisite shrines, embellished in blue glazed tile-work, that are dedicated to famous Sufi Saints, who spread the Word of Allah. Pay homage at the blue glazed tile shrine of Shah Rukn-e-Alam. Here we will light the “diya” (oil lamp) and rub our heads against a holy spot in the northern wall of the shrine, which is believed to give wisdom and long hair. Overnight hotel.
Day 06: MULTAN
Today we visit more shrines in the outskirts of Multan. We also visit delightful open-air Hussain Agahi Bazaar, where traditional artisans sell glazed pottery, camel-skin products, textiles and embroidered shawls. Overnight hotel.
Day 07: MULTAN –UCH – BAHAWALPUR. (255 kms. 6/7 hrs.)
Drive to the old city of Uch, where time has left a sorrowful mark. Uch is one of the most important Sufi learning centres in the world. If possible, we will arrange a meeting with one of the descendants of a great Sufi leader. Also visit the two mile-long covered bazaar that pulses with life; a maze of lanes lined with tiny shops of cobblers, sweet-meat sellers, iron smiths, hakeems (herb doctors), footpath dentists, and fortune-tellers. From Uch drive to Bahawalpur for an overnight at PTDC (Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation) Motel.
Day 08: BAHAWALPUR – DERAWAR. (75 kms. 2/3 hrs.)
Today we drive to Derawar Fort, that emerges from the sand and fills the horizon. A nomad encampment around a “toba”, a rain-filled water hole. The “Street of Silence” was once the scene of hectic trading by Central Asia merchants. Nearby are the “onion” domes, with their white marble dusty from sand storms, and the mosque of the former Amir of Bahawalpur and his ancestral graveyard. Overnight Camp.
Day 09: DERAWAR – SUKKUR (425 kms. 9/10 hrs.)
Morning drive to Sukkur. Transfer to hotel for overnight.
Day 10: SUKKUR
Morning excursion on a decorated houseboat on the Indus River – our way to meet the Mohanas, a boat people who rarely put foot on land. As we proceed upstream on the Indus, we hope to see the endemic Blind Dolphin as they jump through the river. We briefly leave the boat at Rohri and walk through this once prosperous medieval town. We continue our boat journey and visit the shrines of seven sisters and an island with a Hindu temple. In the afternoon, we visit the minaret of the great Sufi Saint Masoom Shah and the bazaar of Sukkur. Overnight at hotel.
Day 11: SUKKUR – MOHENJODARO – SEHWAN. (210 kms. 5/6 hrs.)
Drive to Sehwan enroute visit Mohenjodaro, the most important excavation site of the Indus Valley Civilisation. Under the shadow ofan old Buddhist stupa, acres of desert ruins that date back to 3000 BC, reveal a mud-brick city that identifies a sophisticated early society. Lunch at camp. Then drive to Sehwan, the mystic capital of Sindh. Pay homage at the shrine of the Sufi saint, Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, a mystic, poet, scholar and missionary, who was called the Red Falcon and belonged to the Qalanderiyah order of Dervishes. Every day, devotees come to this shrine to enjoy a sunset performance of the mystic dhamal danced by the dervishes. Meals and overnight at Motel / Moghal Camp.
Day 12: EXCURSION MANCHAR LAKE.
Morning excursion to Manchar Lakr – the home of the Mohana boat people. Return to Sehwan for a walking tour of one of the oldest living towns of Pakistan. Watch a dhamal performance by dervishes at the shrine. Overnight motel / Mughal J Camp.
Afternoon at the shrine to see the mystic activities especially on Thursdays and to get share of Langar. Overnight at Motel/Moghal Camp.
Day 13: SEHWAN – BHIT SHAH – HYDERABAD. (210 kms. 5/6 hrs.)
Drive to Hyderabad enroute visit Halla, an old city with an oriented character, land walk through its covered bazaar that displays Sindhi Handicrafts, lacquer-work, tiles, pottery, block printed “ajrak” and embroidery. Then we head to the city of Bhit Shah and its shrine of shah Abdul Latif Bhitai, the patron saint of lovers. Early each evening young men, hoping to meet their beloved. Perform a mystic “Dhamal”. Proceed to Hyderabad. Overnight hotel.
Day 14: HYDERABAD THATTA –CHAUKUNDI – KARACHI. (195 kms. 5/6 hrs)
We drive to Thatta to see its mosque with 99 domes, was built by the Moghal Emperor Shah Jehan, the creator of the Taj Mahal. From here we drive to Makli Hills (“Little Mecca”) with its half million carved stone and glazed-tile tombs that date back to the eighth century, and then we visit Chaukundi, a small necropolis with sandstone-carved tombs.
Proceed to Karachi. Overnight at hotel.
Day 15: DEPARTURE.
Transfer to the airport for your homeward flight.