Bahawalpur is the 11th largest city in Pakistan, as per the population census of 2017. It is located in South Punjab and has a population of about 762, 111 people. Until 1955, Bahawalpur was the capital city of the former princely state of Bahawalpur. It was ruled by the Abbassi family of Nawabs. Bahawalpur serves as the gateway to the famous Lal Suhanra National Park and is situated at the corner of the Cholistan Desert. It was among the 585 princely states before the partition of the subcontinent.
Early History of Bahawalpur, The Princely State
Bahawalpur has cultivated the rise of many earlier civilizations that laid the foundations of the subcontinent. This includes the ruins from the Indus Valley Civilization and ancient Buddhist sites such as Patan Minara. Famous British archeologist Sir Cunningham called Bahawalpur the cornerstone for the Yaudheya kingdoms of the Hindu epic Mahabharata. The region’s major city before the establishment of Bahawalpur was the saintly city of uch sharif.
The city was founded by Nawab Bahawal Khan 1 in 1748. He migrated from Shikarpur, Sindh to Uch Sharif. Previously, Derawar was the capital city of the region. Bahawalpur carved a reputation as the trading post between Afghanistan and central India. In about 1785, Durrani chief Sirdar Khan attacked Bahawalpur and the ruling family had to take refuge in Derawar Fort along with other nobles. When the fort was occupied, Bahawal Khan and his family were given refuge by the Rajput states. After a while, Bahawal Khan was able to re-conquer the fort as he defeated the Afghan Durranis. This gave way to the birth of the princely state of Bahawalpur, which was founded in 1802 by Nawab Mohammad Bahawal Khan II after the collapse of the Durrani empire.
The Sikh Attacks and the British Rule
In 1807, Ranjit Singh of the great Sikh Empire began conquering Multan. The refugees made Bahawalpur their safe haven as the Sikh army tore through the city, destroying everything in its wake. Ranjit Singh eventually withdrew the siege and gave gifts to the Nawab of Bahawalpur. The city was also the site of refuge for people who escaped the consolidation of Sikh power and offered a beacon of hope in face of the crumbling Mughal Empire. Nawab Mohammad Bahawal Khan III signed a treaty with the British on 22 February 1833, fearing a Sikh invasion of his lands. This gave the city its much-needed autonomy as a princely state. In return, the British found a friend in the south during the invasion of Sikh empire.
Bahawalpur and Independence
At the time of partition, the princely states were given a choice to join either India or Pakistan as the British withdrew from the subcontinent in August 1947. Nawab Sadiq Muhammad Khan Abbasi V Bahadur chose to be a part of Pakistan on 7th October 1947. The Hindu and Sikh minority migrated from Bahawalpur and the Muslims from adjoining regions came here.
Bahawalpur in a Glance Today
- 6 tehsils
- 109 union councils
- 714 villages
- 5 municipal committees
In District Bahawalpur.
Climate, Flora, and Fauna
Bahawalpur is 117m above sea level. The climate of the city is dry with little to no rainfall per year. The average temperature is 25.7 °C | 78.3 °F. The flora found in Bahawalpur is as:
The wildlife found in Bahawalpur is as:
The Economy of Bahawalpur
The primary crops for which Bahawalpur is famous all over Pakistan are:
- sunflower seeds
- rape/mustard seed
- and rice
Bahawalpur is also well known for its mangoes, guavas, dates, and citrus fruits. The vegetable produce includes carrots, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, and cauliflowers. Bahawalpur is a nascent industrial city. The regional government has made efforts to lay foundations for the following industries to flourish in Bahawalpur.
- caustic soda
- cotton ginning and pressing
- flour mills
- fruit juices
- general engineering
- iron and steel re-rolling mills
- oil mills
- poultry feed
- textile spinning
- textile weaving
- vegetable ghee and cooking oil industries
In addition to that, sheep and cattle are raised for export of wool and hides.
Handicrafts of Bahawalpur
Bahawalpur is home to intricate carpets, pottery, and embroidery. The government of Punjab has set up various craft development centers in Bahawalpur where the talent for making this craft is taught. One can also purchase the crafts from these centers. The crafts are mostly produced in the region of Cholistan. Here’s the list of unique handicrafts made exclusively in Bahawalpur.
- Flassi: It is made up of camel hair and can be used as a carpet or wall hanging
- Gindi: A colorful combination of cotton cloth with delicate needlework. It can be used as blankets, carpets, or bed covers.
- Changaries: Made up of palm leaves. They can be used as a decorative wall hanging or can be used to store chapatis/ wheat bread
- Khalti: A kind of purse with multi-coloured thread work
- Artwork: Special traditional embroidery done on kurta, chadar/shawl etc
Languages of Bahawalpur
More than ninety percent of the population in the city speaks Punjabi as their mother tongue. Urdu is also understood widely, while English is used as a secondary language in formal settings. There are many Punjabi dialects spoken in the city, Saraiki being one of the top most dialects spoken and understood by a majority. The minority languages include Majhi, Haryanvi, Bagri, and Riyasati. Balochi is also spoken by a handful of people.
Nawabs of Bahawalpur
Nawab Muhammad Bahawal Khan Abbassi (I)
He was the founder of the state of Bahawalpur. He was born in 1715, and took to the throne in 1746. And ruled Bahawalpur for 4 years. Bahawal Khan Abbassi was the one who coined the name of the state ‘Bahawalpur’ in 1748. He built strong walls around the city to make it secure. He died in 1749 and is buried in Malik Shah Bahawalpur graveyard.
Nawab Muhammad Abbass Khan Abbassi
He was the first emir of the city. He was born on 22nd March, 1924. During the government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, he was the governor of Punjab in 1974. During the autocratic reign of the dictator Zia Ul Haq, he became the federal minister of religious affairs. He died on 14th April, 1988. His death marked the decline of the Abbassi clan.
Nawab Muhammad Mubarik Khan Abbassi
He was the third ruler of the state of bahawalpur. He was given the reins of the state in 1749. Mubarik Khan Abbassi laid the foundations of the magnificent cities of Mubarikpur in 1757, and of Ahmedpur East in 1858. He raided the city of Gerhi Ikhtiyar Khan and conquered it in 1762. Mubarik Khan Abbassi built strong canals for the city, The condition for inauguration of the canal was that only the person who never missed Tahajjud could do it. He went on to inaugurate the canal himself as no such person was found.
Nawab Muhammad Bahawal Khan Abbassi
He was the fourth ruler of the state of bahawalpur. And was born in 1752. He acceded to the throne in 1772. Bahawal Khan Abbassi ruled the state for a whopping 37 years, during which he introduced commendable reforms. The time of his governance was the toughest, since Baahwalpur feared sikh attacks. In addition to sikhs, the city had a threat from king taimour in 1779. The nawab fought everyone off and stood his grounds.
Nawab Sadiq Muhammad Khan Abbassi
He was the fifth ruler of the state of Bahawalpur, born in 1780. He became the nawab of Bahawalpur in 1805. Sadiq Muhammad Khan Abbassi ruled the state for 17 years. A website says about him that, “In 1816 Shah Shujah was extricated by his brothers from Kabul and King Ranjeet Singh tried to fallacy. But Shah Shujah arrived at Bahawalpur and desired help from His Highness. Nawab sent a tiny army squad with him and with the help of Bahawalpur Shujah-Ul-Mulk again conquered Dera Ghazi Khan.”
He died in 1825.
Nawab Muhammad Bahawal Khan Abbassi
He was the sixth ruler of the state of Bahawalpur. And was born in 1797. He took to throne in 1825 and ruled the state for 28 years. The valiant sikh emperor Maharaja Ranjit Singh was on a spree to conquer all the adjoining states of his khalsa. He urged General Mentora to attack the state of Bahawalpur and capture sahiwal, multan, dera ghazi khan, and muzaffargarh. His present mindedness not only helped avert the attack, but he found a new-found friendship with the British as well. He died in 1852, and he is buried at the Derawar Fort.
Food and Drinks of Bahawalpur
Bahawalpur is also known as the city of Nawabs not only for its architecture but also for its food and drinks. Bahawalpuri cuisine draws heavily from Mughal and European food traditions. The royal courts of the nawabs served hundreds of dishes every day. They were prepared in desi ghee with the most exotic and aromatic of spices and herbs including zafran, ajwain, zeera, and cardamoms. Here is the list of present-day famous go-to dishes for anyone who visits Bahawalpur.
Mushtarka Balochistan Roosh
Bahawalpur is home to authentic Pashtun food. If you are a fan of Peshawari and Balochi cuisine, you should head to mushtarka Balochistan roosh. They have a mouthwatering menu that includes Peshawari karahi, mutton tikka, mutton rosh, and mughlai chicken. They have an open-air hall, which is ideal for dine-outs in COVID times. It is owned by Pashtun brothers, so everything on the menu is authentic.
Khairpuri Famous Daal Bahawalpur
This is a Bahawalpur special dish. This is delicious daal that is made by mixing several kinds of pulses together. These pulses are soaked and cooked in mutton broth due to which they get a rich taste and aroma. In addition, the dal uses various aromatic spices to give it a nawab aroma. This dal is economic, as it costs just Rs. 110 per person. You can get this dal from Khairpur Food Point near the general bus adda.
Nawabi Pizza (Almaida Fried Chicken)
Almaida Fried Chicken is famous for its local fast food. Their pizza is especially famous because of its distinct taste and aroma. This special pizza has a traditional desi taste. The ingredients used in making the pizza are premium. From cheeses to meat and other toppings, everything is fresh and natural. This pizza has a very similar taste to Mughlai pizza or chicken tikka pizza from Pizza Hut. But it is better than the international fast-food chain when it comes to the richness of flavors.
Baba Chawal Wala (Beef Pulao)
Baba Chawal is the most famous rice dish in Bahawalpur. There are three variants of this pulao, including chicken, mutton, and beef. The most loved and sought-after variant is the beef pulao. Beef is standardized and beef broth is extracted by using herbs and spices such as onions, garlic, ginger, black pepper, long, elaichi, and dar cheeni. The meat is then sauteed with yogurt and all spice and then the rice is added. The pukao is cooked until the rice is tender to eat.
Jan E Bannu Beef Pulao (Nali Payee)
Bannu beef pulao is famous all over Pakistan. It originated in Bahawalpur. This pulao is sold in more than three different locations in Bahawalpur, which include:
- One Unit Chowk Bahawalpur,
- Purani Sabzi Mandi Road,
- Lari Ada
If you are in Bahawalpur, this is a must-try dish. It resonates with the nawab era. In addition to the regular spices and herbs, the authentic recipe of this pulao includes dried fruits such as khubani, dates, cashew, and almonds.
Captain k Paye
Captain k Paye is another Bahawalpuri staple. This is a slow cooked mutton or beef dish which is cooked overnight to give it its authentic taste and aroma. Other spices and herbs that go in the making of this dish are onion, ginger, garlic, red chili, turmeric and salt. This dish is especially beneficial in winter months because the fats in it helps keep the body warm.
Palaces of Bahawalpur
Since Bahawalpur is a former princely state, it is home to numerous beautiful palaces which were built by the nawabs of the city. Bahawalpur has a rich architectural facade in which the legacy of these nawabs live on, even today. The urban city line of Bahawalpur is marked by grand palaces, palatial forts, and shrines of the sufi saints.
Exploring the nooks, corners, and streets of Bahawalpur, one can’t help but be smitten by the traditional Mughal architecture and the allure of Sufi saints. Here is a list of three most famous palaces of Bahawalpur. People from all over the world come to watch these magnificent structures, which helps with the economy of the city.
Noor Mahal is the oldest palace in Bahawalpur. It was constructed during the British Raj in 1872. The palace is built on the principles of the neoclassical movement of architecture. This palace was made for the wife of Nawab Adnan Abbasi. However, she was apprehensive at first to live in the palace, and then she outright refused to do so because of the adjoining graveyard that could be seen from her balcony. The exterior of the palace is made up of gilded red bricks, whereas the plush interior has velvety carpets from Iran and Afghanistan. The walls have rare and expensive art and the gardens have magnificent fountains that add to the charm of the palace.
The palace still has many artifacts from the time the Nawab constructed it, which makes it an excellent tourist attraction. The palace is currently under the possession of Pakistan Army, which uses it as a guest house and a place for conferences when foreign delegations arrive in the country.
Darbar mahal was built by Nawab Bahawal Khan in 1904. This is why the palace was formerly known as Bahawal Garh. It was completed in 1905, and was given as a gift to one of the Nawab’s wives. It is undoubtedly a significant piece of architecture from the era of nawabs. The palace is a fusion of both eastern and western styles of architecture. This makes Darbar Mahal a rich cultural legacy of Bahawalpur. This elegant palace doesn’t enjoy the public attention and access Noor Mahal does because it is in possession of the army, which uses it to house government officials and foreign delegates.
This palace was constructed during the time of Nawab Sadiq Muhammad Khan IV. Gulzar Mahal is similar to Noor Mahal in its construction because both palaces exhibit the qualities of European architecture. The palace is guarded by electrical wires which use diesel generators to work. It is a great tourist site because the architecture represents great traditional and Islamic motifs in a recurrent fashion. This helps the tourists expand their knowledge about the history and importance of the city of Bahawalpur.
Bahawalpur is city of many flavors and colors. Present-day Bahawalpur is beautiful with manicured landscapes and splendid fountains. This city still gives the vibes of the Nawab era that once was. Have you traveled to Bahawalpur? What were your favorite moments and sites there? Let us know in the comments section below.