A special assignment was conducted with Laraib Group where photographs from the place were shot on 7th November 2010, covering the special old caves that have traces of being some 2,400 years old. A brochure was designed later featuring photographs from this shoot for a proposal for restoration of the place. Great help and a really good time with Waliullah Khan, Shehriyar Khan and Abdul Qadir Abbasi!
The remains of more than 2,400-year-old Buddhist era are nurturing silently under the lap of Margalla Hills as the murals of Buddha appeared on the walls of caves at Shah Allah Ditta. At the distance of 15 kilometres from the main Golra intersection, the site needs immediate attention of the Department of Archeology and Museums as it possesses not only the relics of Buddhist era but also 8th century AD Hindu period and the 300-year-old Aurangzeb period.
Shah Allah Ditta caves are located on the route leading towards Khanpur. These caves are next to the shrine and tomb of a Mughal period ‘dervish,’ Shah Allah Ditta. Once you start travelling on Golra Sharif Road, a sharp turn comes for a village named after the saint — Shah Allah Ditta. The narrow road leads towards Margalla Hills on the base of which these caves are located. Old Banyan trees at the roadside marks the entrance to the caves.
The caves are in the form of tufa (a rough, thick, rock-like calcium carbonate deposit that forms by precipitation from bodies of water with a high dissolved calcium content) caverns with a stream about 17 metres below. According to the research conducted by Taxila Institute of Asian Civilisations Director Dr. M Salim, tufa deposits are from the late Pleistocene Period and 17 metres is the maximum thickness of tufa deposits recorded in this area.
There are two caves in general, which further bifurcate into two more portions. They are arranged in a crescent form on tufa rocks at foothills of the Margallas. This cliff is located at the base of Margalla Hills and has ancient city of Taxila on its back. It is reported that the people of Taxila also used these caves in Buddhist times.
The caves have a spring water stream in the middle. The water of the stream is collected in a man-made pond. There is an arch opening into this pond and steps leading down into the water. The caves have underground warm mineral water springs, which the locals believe, have powers to heal their illnesses. These caves have some important religious significance as well for the local people as devotees visit the place often. We found signs of burning of ‘diyas’ on the cave walls that these people have been burning and many ‘taveez’ or amulets were tied to roots of old Banyan trees. Banyan trees are interlaced with the caves so tightly that they have become their part and facade.
On the outer wall of the caves there are paintings on the red toned mud plaster. The paintings are more like drawings with the black and terracotta red paint. Unfortunately, the people who visited the place have totally vandalised paintings on the wall. Now only an eye of a human face is left to give us clue that there were some paintings on the wall. The remains of red pottery and flaked artefacts of limestone have been discovered all around the caves.
Dr. M Salim and his team have found evidence that makes them believe that these caves were in the use from the middle stone-age period. The caves have platform like formations between them, indicating a raised area where ‘sadhus’ or priests performed their acts of spiritual meditations. There are many fossilised deposits found here. The Taxila Institute of Asian Studies, Quaid-i-Azam University, has dated these to the late Pleistocene Period.
Recently, a research team of the Comsats University, in a joint venture with Natural History Museum, visited the caves. The idea was to collect samples for dating the correct time period of these cavern like caves. And to create awareness about these caves, which are there for many thousands of years ignored by the people of Islamabad.
The initial conclusion of the team that was made on the site after looking at tufa fossils was that it was a very important discovery, as it gives clues about the botanical life of this area as well as also tells geologists about the cultural life that has been going on in these caves. Hence these caves have dual importance as they hide scientific as well as anthropological clues within them. The director general of Natural History Museum was certain that these fossils were thousands of years old and immediately need to be taken under the protection as national heritage sites. The team took many samples from the site for dating the caves.
These caves need our immediate attention or they will vanish without a trace. They are situated at such a place that they will most certainly become part of some housing scheme sooner or later. It is our heritage that we are ignoring. We need to take immediate steps to save these caves from their hopeless and doomed conditions and preserve them for our coming generations.
[ All research material has been gathered by my friends, Wali Ullah Khan and Abdul Qadir Abbasi, to share with you guys! ]