To get your own Telstar-18 FIFA football, you just have visit ‘Forward’ sports outlet in the city. It costs Rs 3000 for the real thing. While you are there, buy a CA cricket bat, a grey’s field hockey, ultra-fine leather gloves, and a leather bomber jacket. All this for Rs 20,000 tops! You can also get ultra-light, rust free, surgical tools in case you have the pathological need to carve someone up. The place is heaven for sports gears of Nike, Adidas, Puma etc. — because this city exports it to the world. This year Sialkot exported $ 2 Billion worth of goods that includes rice, leather, instruments, and sports stuff. If you are kicking around a Telstar football right now, know that it was probably prepared at Sialkot. Pakistan is at No. 201 in FIFA ranking but no one builds balls better than us — or bagpipes. All clothing brands including Levis, Eden Robe, Cotton & Cotton etc. have opened a shop there. It’s a shopper’s paradise.
Shah Wala Teja Singh Hindu Temple, at the center of the city, still has the Hindu deities carved on its pillars. The one I saw looked like Jagannath – hence, the name Jagannath temple. It is a majestic structure — probably built with a lot of religious devotion. This is the only temple in Pakistan that has a Greek look to its architecture — especially the Columns and arches. Could this Greek influence be because Macedonian Alexander leveled old Sialkot city in 326BC? There is another Hindu temple in the old city called the Ragunath Temple that houses a government school and is well preserved. Another Sikh Temple Babay Di Ber Sahib is still functional. This points to the multi-ethnic society of Sialkot. History says Greeks were followed by Buddhist, then Hindus, Mughals, Pathans’, Sikhs and then British in lording over the city. The odd thing is that there was a very limited non-Muslim population here in 1947 — the reason for this is still unexplained. Sialkot Fort has long been demolished but the higher fort ground overlooking the city remains.
Visit to Pooran Da Khoo, a 20 minutes’ drive from Sialkot, reminds me of the Story of Prince Pooran, whose limbs were amputated by his father, the Raja of Sil-kot, for allegedly assaulting his beloved first wife — several centuries ago. The hapless mutilated prince was thrown into the well at kror and left to die. A Hindu hermit pulled him out and let him preach there as a sadhu too. A Hindu temple was built there in honor of the sadhu prince and he was buried in its courtyard. There is no evidence of any tomb at the site, but prince Pooran still lives in Punjabi lore.
Sialkot Cantonment was built by the British between two rivulets – meant to act as natural defenses on two sides. The streams have long dried up. Now that the city has grown, it appears in-between Ravi and Chenab rivers. The only reason for the British to build such a well-equipped cantonment here was to keep an eye on the Strategic Jammu road — just in case, the Dogra Sarkar of Kashmir gets adventurous. Jammu is a stone throw away (44 Kms). Sialkot Cantt is a sight for sore eyes. Even the present day Sialkot city is clean, well maintained, green and beautiful. All the roads of the city, that includes Cantt, have been recarpeted by the exporter community there in a 50:50 deal with the government. Sialkot is probably the cleanest city of Pakistan after Lahore. Sialkot has remained as the winter capital of Kashmir as well for the Dogra and the British representative of Kashmir. The fertile lands and ample water all around has produced green gold for their owners for centuries. Sialkot’s rice is exported all over the world. The city of Sialkot has been awarded Hilal e Istiklal for their gallantry in 1965 war. Sialkot’s fortunes declined initially after independence when it was severed from Jammu and it’s trading cities that ended up with India.
Head Marala, irrigation headworks is situated at an hour’s drive from the city. It diverts Chenab river water to two irrigation channels. It also produced 20 MW electricity. It is a bird sanctuary and a picnic area. It is a lovely place to go to except for the occasional dead bodies of drowning victims from India that get snagged on these headworks.
The best thing about Sialkot is the loving and beautiful people. The combination of Mughal, Persian, Pathan, Kashmiri ancestry has built a society that is not only beautiful to see but very industrious. When the British wanted bats for their Connelly park stadium (Jinnah stadium), the Sialkot people complied. When the British wanted surgical instruments for their soldiers in WW-2, Sialkot complied. When Germans ask for kinky leather accessories and pants, Sialkot people deliver in time. These Sialkotis are the jolliest, happiest and the enterprising people I have ever met.
I love Sialkot because of my school and lovely class fellows… Seeing is believing. You must go there at least once!