CHITRAL: A suspension bridge built by the British rulers on Laspur River connecting two villages of Laspur valley at Shahdas will complete its 100 years in June this year as recorded on the plaque in its pillar.
The British forces had crossed the Shandur Top into Chitral from Gilgit side to annex it in 1895 and started building communication infrastructure in the area for the first time in the form of mule tracks and suspension bridges that facilitated them to mobilise the mountain infantry.
Mohammad Ashraf Khan, an elder of Laspur valley in his early 90s, told this scribe that the British Army transported cannons and other gadgets of light infantry through this route from Gilgit to Chitral to firmly establish their sway over here and extend it in the South where warlord Umara Khan of Jandool challenged them.
He said that regardless of the aim of the British the fact is that the people of Chitral were introduced for the first time to road infrastructures as well as telecommunication facilities in the form of telephone and telegraph which they brought here in 1904 and established telegraph and telephone office in Mastuj near Laspur.
He said that besides Shahdas village there was yet another suspension bridge at Harchin village at a distance of 25 kilometers on the route which was completed in 1919, while in the recent time both the British era bridges are bypassed due to the realignment of Shandur road in 1980s.
The two bridges connected the Lusht village of over 400 households with the rest of the valley and both the bridges gave an ample testimony to the high standard of construction maintained by the alien rulers characterised by their strength of material.
Quoting his elders in the valley, Mr Ashraf said that the British transported steel and cement from Nowshera via Lowari Pass and deodar wood from the forests of Chitral on mule back, and the construction work was carried out by the Bengal Sappers and Miners while for raw labour work they engaged the local people.
Altaf Hussain Shah, an engineer working with an NGO, said that both the bridges of the British era were in a comfortable state without undergoing any major repair, and predicted that they would remain intact for many decades to come.
Extolling the British engineers, he said that they had accomplished an excellent job in all the stages of the construction from the site selection to use of quality material and fixing of bridge parts, including suspension cables, which still withstood the load.
He said that initially the two bridges were built for mules and pedestrians, but they readily came to be used for motor vehicles in 1976 when the local people constructed the road from Mastuj town to Laspur on self-help basis as the strength and width of the two bridges supported the passage of motor vehicles though these were built to connect the mule tracks and the passage of beasts of burden.
Chitral was connected with Ghizar district of Gilgit Baltistan in early 1980s via Shandur Pass and all this was possible due to the two bridges built by the British who invaded Chitral using the route.
Mir Taoos Khan, a political worker of Laspur valley, said that the people of Laspur would have been waiting for more than five decades to see a motor vehicle in their valley if the British ruler had not constructed the mule track and bridges in the valley.
He said that the British had constructed the mule track in such a way that it easily accommodated the vehicular traffic.
Both the bridges are now maintained by the communication and works department whose officers intend to celebrate the first 100 years of Shahdas bridge in June this year.
C&W department’s executive engineer Maqbul Azam said that a programme was being chalked out for celebrations with the coordination of the district government in coming summer.
The British had also opened a post office in the Mastuj village in 1896 just one year after they had arrived here and it was the first ever facility of its kind in the district.
MPA Sardar Hussain Shah is of the view that the government should make efforts for inclusion of the bridges in the world heritage sites and take steps for their conservation.
He said that the British rulers had built suspension bridges at several sites which included the ones at Gahiret, Ayun, Chitral Chowni, Barenis and others.
He said that Shahdas bridge was the oldest of them completing its first 100 years.
Published in Dawn, May 28th, 2017