Nestled among the green shrubby mountains and an hour’s drive from Islamabad is the small sleepy and peaceful town of Attock. When a new District was carved out of Rawalpindi and Jehlum in 1904, the District was renamed Campbellpore only to be Islamized in 1978 back to the original name that was Attock. Sir Colin Campbell was Commander in Chief of British Army from 1857 to 1862 and the Scottish General was rewarded posthumously for his services to the empire through naming of the District after him. While there may be a reason for renaming Campbellpore as Attock, shying away from history by removing colonial statues and renaming old colonial roads is the best we do as a nation.
So back to Campbellpore of yesteryears, it was an important District for the British on eastern side of river Indus and served as the real natural boundary between British India and Afghanistan though areas beyond Indus remained under colonial rule from time to time. The District was served by English Deputy Commissioners till 1947 when gradually the administration was taken over by Pakistani civil servants. However the incumbency board of the Deputy Commissioner office show some interesting exceptions in Khan Bahadur Ch Sultan Ahmad in 1920 and Mr Amin-ud-Din in 1930. The District boasts a number of British era buildings which include Kala Chitta House (the residence of Deputy Commissioner) as well as a number of Railway stations including Basal, Attock Khurd and Attock railway station. The Kala Chitta House has still some historical relics including an antique safe box made by Hobbs Hart and Company of London. The Hobb Hart Company started making safes around 1852 and so the safe box in question may safely be estimated to be early twentieth century piece. Similarly a 1945 wooden plaque bars trespassing of Deputy Commissioner’s residence, bears signatures of the Deputy Commissioner Mr. A.A Williams.
Attock is divided literally into two succinct areas by Kala Chitta mountain ranges comprising of mainly shrub forests and still boasts a wide variety of game including partridges, deer, mountain goats and wild boars etc. The range is served by numerous small streams and is also home for Haro river which traverses the range to join Indus river. Like in other areas, the civilization of Attock over centuries has developed along the Haro river on one side and Indus river on the western end. Presently the Kala Chitta range is home to some of Pakistan’s strategic assets as we call them and it is a restricted area especially for foreigners. It is a treat to travel on narrow winding country roads crossing streams, bridges and corn fields meeting while enjoying the freshness in air. In anyother country, such a peaceful and beautiful landscape would have been home to tourists enjoying fishing, trekking and game in the mountains.
Beyond the Kala Chitta range is Jand, one of the remotest Tehsils of Punjab. Jand is located on the banks of river Indus and lies north of Mianwali and KalaBagh. Government of Punjab has recently inaugurated ‘Malala Yousafzai Daanish School’ in Jand which shall cater to thousands of local excluded children by providing them modern education in a state of the art environment. The school has separate campuses for boys and girls and has the promise of transforming the lives of the students thorough breaking the glass ceilings between the haves and have nots.
Jand is linked to Kohat in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa through the colonial era ‘Khushalgarh Bridge’ built in late nineteenth century. The bridge is one way and there is an old bell system to signal the other end when to start or stop sending in vehicles. It has an upper level for trains and a lower level for vehicle movements and interestingly all the materials were shipped from London along with supervisors and technology. Intriguingly, the upper level is gated at both ends and can be converted into a small fort at a short notice for security purposes as probably British knew the local tribal culture better than we do even now. The bridge spans the Indus gorge with turquoise blue waters of Indus passing underneath. A new bridge is under construction just next to Khushalgarh bridge and once it is complete, the old bridge shall only be used for trains and not vehicular traffic ending the centuries old romance of travelling on narrow angle iron bridges.
Situated a few kilometers north of Khushalgarh bridge is Attock Khurd bridge with almost a similar story. One of the marvels of Colonial engineering, Attock Khurd bridge was built in 1880 by Westwood Baillie and Company, Engineers and Contractors, London. Attock Khurd Bridge can be reached by a road turning left from GT Road just before new bridge over river Indus and towards the Mughal-era 1583 Attock Fort. The road by-passes the Attock Fort which is presently home to some military units and prior approvals are required by foreigners before moving in this area. From GT Road exit, it takes ten minutes to reach Attock Khurd Bridge which connects Attock Khurd with Khairabad in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The bridge is presently open only for pedestrian traffic on the lower level and train traffic on the upper level.
Interestingly most of the colonial era railway bridges have similar structures and some examples include Rohri, Khushab and Jinnah Barrage bridge. However rather than having two levels, some bridges have train treks in the middle of the bridge and were used alternately with vehicular traffic.
Attock Khurd railway just next to Attock Khurd Bridge is one of the best kept secret of Attock. While the Pakistan Railways should be commended for the perfect maintenance of this railway heritage, unfortunately few people know about it and the limited road access issues make it invisible on Pakistan’s tourist map. The 1884 building is immaculately maintained alongwith the traditional waiting room with its antique furniture and fixtures. The station masters room and table looks like a modern day aeroplane cock pit with traditional and modern gadgetery being used together to ensure safe passage of trains however unfortunately no train stops here anymore and the idea to run a tourist train appears alien here.
The station has a functioning Neale’s token ball system whereby every passing train driver is handed over a area specific token through a custom made ring and the driver has to throw the token at next station while picking up a new token and this acrobatic exercise signals each station master safety of the train and its location in case of any break down. The Neale’s token system has been replaced by advanced communication systems however the system is still used in Taxila Peshawar section of Pakistan Railway.
Attock seems like stuck in early twentieth century celebrating its history, like an antique clock whose winder has forgot to wind it. It is peaceful and without the hustle bustle and noise that is trade mark of all modern cities in Pakistan however it is a District with huge strategic and historic significance. Besides natural forests and rivers, it boosts Ghazi Barotha Dam, Kamra airbase, Sunjwal Ordinance Factory, Cadet College Hasan Abdal, Attock Fort and a number of tourist resorts along river Indus.
The potential for tourism in Attock is immense and can include fishing in Haro river, hunting and trekking in non-sensitive areas of Kala Chitta range, river safaris in Haro and Indus river, train safaris between Attock, Khushalgarh and Attock Khurd, heritage tours to Attock Fort, Gurdwara Punja Sahib and Mughal-era Wah and its Gardens. Government should devise a District wise tourism strategy with a domestic tourist focus and ensure its implementation as small steps like these can have long lasting impact on local economies.