The Pothohar Plateau (also spelled Potwar or Potohar) is a plateau in Punjab, Pakistan. The area was the home of the Soan Culture, which is evidenced by the discovery of fossils, tools, coins, and remains of ancient archaeological sites. The local people speak a distinctive dialect of Punjabi.
Existence of the Soan culture finds its home on the Pothohar plateau. The Indus Valley civilization is known to have flourished in the same region between the 23rd and 18th centuries BC. Some of the earliest Stone Age artifacts in the world have been found on the plateau, dating from 500,000 to 100,000 years. The crude stone recovered from the terraces of the Soan carry the account of human grind and endeavors in this part of the world from the inter-glacial period.
The Stone Age people produced their equipment in a sufficiently homogenous way to justify their grouping. Around 3000 BC, small village communities developed in the Pothohar area, which led to the early roots of civilization.
Bounded on the east by the Jhelum River, on the west by the Indus, on the north by the Kala Chitta Range and the Margalla Hills, and on the south by the Salt Range, Potohar Plateau is really undulating, multi-colored, picturesque and geographically ill-defined area. The diverse wildlife like urial, chinkara, chukor, hare, porcupine, mongoose, wild boar, and Yellow-throated Martin add color to the beauty of the area. Sadly, due to low rain fall, extensive deforestation, coal mining and oil and gas exploration, the Valley is becoming devoid of vegetation. The under water areas of lakes (Uchali, Khabeki and Jhallar - internationally recognized Ramsar site, and scenic Kallar Kahar) have reduced to much smaller areas than in the past. Experts say that the lake has been here for at least 400 years. Locals tell about a strange phenomenon that was observed over Ucchali Lake in 1982. A very broad and distinct rainbow appeared over the horizon of Ucchali and was seen continuously for 15 days. No scientific explanation of this has been given so far, but the locals think that the rainbow appeared because of a volcano hidden under the lakes. They also tell that because of the hidden volcano the water of the lake keeps changing color.
Pothohar in northern Pakistan is the country of the war-like Gakhar clan, later confirmed by the first Mughal Emperor Babur; "Sultan Sarang was now of age, and finding that he could not oust his cousin (Hati Khan) by force of arms, he procured his death by poison and assumed the chiefship in 1525. He and his brother made their submission to Babur, and Adam Khan, with a Gakhar force, attended him to Delhi, and for this the Potwar country was confirmed to them by the Emperor. " Rawalpindi Gazetteer 1894 (see also Baburnama).
The Potohar Plateau lies between the Indus river on the west and the Jhelum river on the east. Its northern boundary is formed by the Margalla Hills and the Kala Chitta Range. The Kala Chitta Range rises to an average height of 450 - 900 m and extends for about 72 km. The southern boundary is the Salt Ranges . The Swaan River starts from nearby Murree and ends nearby Kalabagh in the Indus river.
The ruins of the Shahi destroyed by Mahmud of Ghazni in 11th Century and of ancient Gandhara destroyed in the 6th Century by the Hunas (Indo-Hephthalites) litter the countyside.
Taxila is an ancient UNESCO World Heritage Site located on the plateau. Taxila (then called taksh-shila) was Hindu and Buddhist seat of learning, connected across the Khunjerab pass to the Silk Road, attracting students from all over the world. Ancient Takshashila was renowned all over the world as home to a great university. It came under the control of the Persian Achaemenid Empire and then Alexander the Great and the Sassanians (see Indo-Sassanian). As a city in Gandhara it flourished during the first-fifth centuries AD. It was finally destroyed in c.450-c.565 by the Hunas (Indo-Hephthalites)
The modern day cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi sit on the plateau. The material remains found on the site of the city of Rawalpindi prove the existence of a Gandhara Buddhist establishment contemporary to Taxila but less celebrated than its neighbor. It appears that the ancient city also went into oblivion as a result of the same Hunas (Indo-Hephthalites) devastation. Jhanda Khan, Gakhar Chief, restored it and gave the name of Rawalpindi after the village Rawal in 1493 AD. Today it is the twin city of the capital of Pakistan, Islamabad which was built next to it.
Rohtas Fort located in the Potwar is another UNESCO World Heritage site, built by Sher Shah Suri in 1541 to control the Gakhars who remained loyal to the deposed Mughal Emperor Humayun .
Rawat Fort is located 17 km east of Rawalpindi, on the Grand Trunk (G.T) Road leading to Lahore. The grave of a Gakhar Chief, Sultan Sarang Khan is located inside the fort. He died in 1546 AD fighting against the forces of Sher Shah Suri. If one dares to climb the broken steps inside the tomb, one may get a panoramic view of the plateau and the Mankiala Stupa. The remains of this Buddhist Stupa lie about 32 km south east of Rawalpindi in Mankiala village. Apparently, this Gandhara stupa was built in the reign of Kanishka (128-151 AD). According to legend, Buddha had sacrificed parts of his body here, to feed seven hungry tiger-cubs. In 1930, several gold, silver and copper coins (660 - 730 AD) and a bronze casket having Kharosthi inscriptions, were discovered from this stupa
Pharwala Fort is about 40 km from Rawalpindi beyond Lehtrar road. The Gakhar ruler, Sultan Kai Gohar built it in 15th century on the ruins of a 10th century Hindu Shahi Fort. Emperor Babur attacked the fort in 1519 AD before Hati Khan had acknowledged him.
The Salt Range is dotted with Hindu temples, of which the most notable is the Katas Raj. Located 25 kilometers from Chakwal, Katas Raj is notable in many ways.
The temple was not abandoned by local Hindus when they migrated to East Punjab in 1947. Many legends sacred to the Hindus are associated with it, some of them involving Shiva himself. It has always been the site of holy pilgrimage. Even nowadays, through an agreement between India and Pakistan, Hindu worshippers perform a pilgrimage to the temple every year and bathe in the sacred pool around which Katas Raj is built.
While Katas Raj has not received much publicity, the two semi-ruined temples of the Hindu shahi period (650-950 AD) have been frequently photographed by newspapers and history journals.
Katas Raj is also held sacred by Hindus for another reason. Legend says that the five Pandava brothers, heroes of the Sanskrit epic Mahabharata, stayed here for four out of the 14 years that they spent in exile.
A joint project with Professors Abdur Rehman, past Chairman of the Department of Archaeology, University of Peshawar, and Farid Khan, founder of the Pakistan Heritage Society, has begun to analyse and document these important monuments in the history of South Asian temple architecture with funding from the University of Pennsylvania. Two seasons of excavation have been carried out at the site of North Kafirkot.
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