A little over 100km away from Lahore is the city of Sialkot, another of the ancient living cities of the country. It has been recorded to have been in existence already as early as around the 300BCE. This gives it special prominence amongst the cities of the Punjab, although it also played a significant role in the very establishment of the country later on. Not only was the national poet, Muhammad Iqbal, born here, but Sialkot also hosted the convention that would later see the Muslim League gaining more recognition among the rest of the political parties that would spearhead the creation of Pakistan. The city has featured prominently in the country’s wars as well: the most important battles of the Shakargarh bulge took place near it, including the Battle of Barapind (Basantar), which would be considered a major turning point in the India-Pakistan War of the 1970’s.
Sialkot is a dream if you happen to be in search of authentic Punjab culture. Not only are the people and tradesmen wonderfully representative of the region on the whole, but the monuments all around are fascinating pieces of a jigsaw that many people fail to really put together when coming here. Here you get a holy well straight out of folklore, the ruins of a centuries-old fort that some claim to be sitting on even more ancient foundations, and the house of the man whose vision gave birth to Pakistan the country.
You can start by visiting Iqbal Manzil, the birthplace of the national poet, now a shrine to the man’s life and works. If you want to continue along the theme of shrines, you might as well visit Imam Sahib’s shrine next: Imam Sahib’s full name is Imam Ali ul Haq, and he was popularly referred to as the saint of Sialkot even in the past. A trip to the saint’s shrine is fascinating, for it shall take you through a torturous and almost labyrinthine route of streets wending their way through and around the old parts of the city.
There is also Sialkot Fort, which has been reliably dated to the 12th century CE but which has also been alleged to contain ruins of walls and buildings much, much older than it is-perhaps well over a millennium in age, in fact. Aside from that, the traveller may go to Puran’s Well, which is just outside of the city proper. The well is known to many Pakistanis and Punjabis for it plays a vital part in a local tale: this is supposedly the old haunt and resting place of the unjustly-slandered son of Raja Salban, the Prince Puran, who was perfidiously accused by his father’s wife of attempting rape on her. The innocent prince was arrested, had both hands sliced off at the wrists, and was thrown into the well. A guru living nearby and resting at the well rescued him, however, and the prince lived out the rest of his days beside the well, becoming a spiritual advisor to the populace.
This is just a short list of sites of interest here: there is truly no end of places to visit in Sialkot. From seeing the cricket matches in Jinnah Stadium (formerly Connelley Park) to going shopping in the city’s thriving bazaars, one cannot go wrong with a vacation to this fascinating centre of Punjabi culture and Pakistani consciousness.