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RAWALPINDI: For several hours twice a month, young explorers and culture enthusiasts follow Hassan Tauseef as he takes them through the narrow alleys and forgotten streets of Rawalpindi to discover some of the most interesting and lesser known aspects of the fourth city Pakistan’s largest.

“I wanted to start offering tours to people because there are a lot of hidden things here,” Tauseef, a 20-year-old architecture student from the capital Islamabad, told Arab News.

He has been arranging Pindi Heritage Walk since January this year to discover and document Rawalpindi with other young people.

Neglected for decades despite its unique cultural and architectural heritage, Rawalpindi is back on the radio as young people seek to learn more about the centuries-old city and retell the stories that shaped the history of cities with what it is today.

Known as the twin city of Islamabads, the history of Rawalpindis is not widely celebrated, though it encompasses rich and varied traditions. It falls within the borders of the ancient kingdom of Gandhara, which stretched across parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Its earliest settlement dates back to when Mahmud of Ghazni, the first independent ruler of the Turkish Ghaznavid dynasty, overthrew Rawalpindi in the early 11th century.

During the Mughal era, Rawalpindi remained under the rule of the Ghakhar clan until it was captured in the 1760s by Sikh rulers, and finally by the British East India Company, which turned it into a trading center and garrison town.

Today, the history of Rawalpindis is reflected in the unique beauty, in the demolition of its buildings and streets, which bear the marks of all the hands that the city has passed.

Pindi Heritage Tours have quickly gained popularity as people come to find new treasures, but also to see some of the famous religious sites (mostly Hindu) of cities like Krishna Mandir, Kalyan Das Temple and the old temple in front of Narankari Bazaar, built in 1880 by Shirimati Devi in ​​memory of her husband.

On a walk last Saturday morning, Tauseef said he had encountered some extraordinary new offerings of a statue of a deity on top of a dwelling house, small Hindu and Sikh temples gathered through alleys and centuries-old mosques.

I hope that with the tours we can build a wider acceptance of Rawalpindi as a religious tourist destination in Pakistan and give up on erasing the religious importance of the country, Tauseef said.

His research into Rawalpindis architecture focuses on buildings left behind by religious communities living in the city before the partition of the Indian subcontinent, when Muslim Pakistan came into existence in 1947.

Prior to that, the city was dominated by the Hindu community, which largely migrated to India. The houses the Hindus left behind were inhabited by Muslims who, in similar circumstances, had fled India to settle in Pakistan.

Tauseef was inspired, he said, to see communities whose history has been lost over the years.

The city of Rawalpindi has a unique and diverse history that unfortunately is no longer known even to most of its inhabitants, write Mariam Saleem Farooqi and Rida Arif in an article in 2015 magazine entitled The Lost Art of Rawalpindi.

Even today, deep in the heart of Rawalpindi, families reside in original buildings dating back to the pre-partition era, many of which still retain carvings and ornaments left by the original occupants. These old buildings are now in poor condition and in need of proper maintenance and upkeep.

Destruction, demolition, vandalism, extremism have no shortage of problems for heritage sites, writes Farooqi and Arif.

But Tauseef said interest in preserving Rawalpindi was growing: People want to preserve something that is ours.

Shiraz Hassan, a journalist who often documents Rawalpindi and his story, said he believed that city heritage tourism could be increased with the right investments.

Narrow streets, beautiful doors and balconies, and the city’s architectural jewels give us a glimpse of its rich history and culture, he told Arab News. Even today, many people living in the twin cities are unaware of the historical monuments located in the old town.

Tauseef said he was working with a friend to gain access to documents, maps and details of historic sites to build a database.

If we, with government support, can access information, we can build a database so that others do not have to go through what we did, he said. We can preserve the history here and build on the already growing religious tourism in the country.

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