At the confluence of history, beauty and fortune

By Omar Mukhtar Khan
GWADAR district, with its 600-kilometre long coastline and un-irrigated tracts of Kulanch and Dasht valleys, has always been an important chapter of Makran’s history.

The known history of Makran goes back to the time of Prophet Dawood when people entombed themselves to avoid famine. In 325BC Alexander the Great stumbled upon the sea in this area on his way from India to Macedonia. At that time, Nearchos, Alexander’s admiral, sailed along the coast and mentioned places named Kalmat, Gwadar, Pishukan and Chahbar. Afterwards, the area was ruled by Seleukos Nikator, one of Alexander’s generals, who lost it to Chandragupta in 303BC.

Thereafter, the next significant mention of the area comes in the beginning of the 16th century when the Portuguese found their way to India and captured several places along the Makran coast. In 1581 they burnt the rich and beautiful city of Pasni and Gwadar. Many invaders conquered the land, mostly the local rulers, including Hots, Rinds, Maliks, Buledais and Gichkis. They all exercised authority in the area. However, none of the conquerors had any intentions of staying here for long.

In the last quarter of the eighteenth century, Gwadar and the surrounding country fell into the hands of Muscat. Said Said succeeded to the Masnad of Muscat in 1783 and had a dispute with his brother Said Sultan. The latter appears to have fled to Makran and entered into communication with Nasir Khan who granted him the Kalat share of the revenues of Gwadar. Said Sultan lived in Gwadar for some time and eventually succeeded in usurping the Sultanate of Muscat in 1797. He died in 1804 and during his sons reign, the Buledai chief of Sarbaz, Mir Dosten, is said to have acquired temporary possession of Gwadar. But a force sent from Muscat regained it.

Although it is generally understood that the Khans of Kalat transferred the right of sovereignty in Gwadar to Muscat in perpetuity, the Khans and natives of Gwadar have always denounced this perception.

The first Afghan war (1838-39) directed attention of the British to the area. Major Goldsmith visited the area in 1861 and an Assistant Political Agent was appointed in Gwadar in 1863. Both, Pasni and Gwadar were ports of call for the steamers of the British India Steam Navigation Company. The first ever-telegraphic link to this area was made in 1863 when Gwadar was linked to Karachi. Telegraph offices were opened at Gwadar and Pasni. Later post offices were opened at Gwadar in 1894 and at Pasni in 1903. Ormara was linked telegraphically in 1904.

After the division of the Indian subcontinent into two sovereign states, areas, other than Gwadar and its surroundings, joined the Balochistan States Union, as part of the Makran state. In October 1955, Makran was given the status of a district of former West Pakistan province after its accession to Pakistan. In 1958, Gwadar and its surrounding area was reverted back from Muscat to Pakistan. On 1st July 1977, Makran was declared a division and was divided into three districts, named Panjgur, Turbat (renamed Kech) and Gwadar. Gwadar was notified as a district on July 1, 1977 with its headquarters at Gwadar town.

Gwadar is actually spread in the form of a hammer. The head of the hammer is actually a several kilometre-long strip of mountain known as ‘Koh-i-Batil’. This mountain is surrounded on all sides by ocean except for a small strip on the northern side, the hand of the hammer, that encompasses the Gwadar town. Thus, Gwadar town is blocked on the south by Koh-i-Batil, on the east and west by the ocean bays (Dimi Zarr and Padi Zarr respectively), while on the north Gwadar spreads into Makran division. The most scenic site in Gwadar is Koh-i-Batil where an elite housing society by the name of ‘Sanghaar’ has already been founded. A look into the names of the allotees may reveal many sacred cows of the country. Defence forces have acquired a big chunk of this mountain for strategic reasons as is common in all other parts of country.

A stone-built domed shrine of some saint at Gwadar is said to be centuries old. It may be the same one indicated in the Gazetteer of Balochistan. A square fort along with a tower is present amidst the Memon Muhallah of Gwadar. It is near the old bungalow of the Assistant Political Agent to the Governor General (therefore renowned as governor’s house). Moreover, the fort of Said Sultan is still in good condition and is being used as a police station. The African element is still very evident in this ex-Omani enclave. Within the old Arab-Indian-African bazaar, there is the ancient Ismailis (Khojas) community centre, as the Ismailis played a crucial role in the history of the town and still detain a determined power in the local society.

Today Gwadar is transforming from a small coastal town to a cosmopolitan port city. Sino-Trans, a Chinese firm is working day and night to develop the multi-million dollar deep-sea port. Agreements are being signed between Pakistan and foreign governments interested to use this strategically located port. The under-construction Makran Coastal Highway would soon connect this small coastal town of Gwadar with Karachi and Iran. There is a real estate boom in Gwadar and businessmen from all over the country, especially Karachi are seen surveying the area. Five star hotels and mega housing projects have already been planned. The locals are delighted, as they never dreamt of such returns on their barren lands.

The ocean of Gwadar is un-polluted and the beaches are green. There are a few good Government guest houses where one can stay comfortably. In the private sector, the tourism department owned Bakhshi Hotel with a sea front and Marjan Hotel on the hilltop are the only hotels that provide reasonable accommodation. One must go on day trips to the coastal towns of Pishukan and Jiwani. A few days trip to Gwadar is strongly recommended.

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