It is true that some of Pakistan’s most-preserved archaeological artefacts are situated in the most neglected of places. On the outskirts of Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi, lies the Chaukhandi tombs — a treasure trove for archaeologists and historians alike.
Buried south to north, these tombs are constructed out of huge sandstone slabs, which are delicately stacked into a finessed pyramid shape. The slabs were then carved with intricate patterns, drawings and relatable scenes.
Literally meaning four corners, the tombs were named after Malik Tota Khan, a Kalamati tribal elder who is also buried there. The site predominantly contains tombs that were built for the Jokhio and Baloch tribes between the 15th and the 18th century.
Located near the N-5 National Highway, just about 30 kms from the main Karachi city, the road leading to the tombs is dusty and crowded. However, the area surrounding the tombs has changed significantly with tea stalls and other local shops opening up in recent times.
The tombs themselves have been intricately carved into unique designs that can be found on the printed ajraks (traditional block-printed chadors) of Sindh. Each tomb is designed according to the gender of its occupant — men’s tombs have a tiny turban and swords on top of them whereas the women’s tombs have jewellery carved on to theirs.
“The Kalamtis were prosperous and powerful people. For the people of the Kalamti tribe, being buried here was an honour. Even though similar graves were found in other areas, Chaukhandi had a special significance to the people,” says Hameed Jamal, a local.
Every grave here has a unique design. There are different things carved on each grave — from a sword, turban, jewellery to ajrak patterns — nothing is repeated.
The locals living in the area have their own story to share when it comes to the tombs, with many believing that a lot of gold has been buried in the graves along with the occupants. “The graves belong to the rich and privileged. So miscreants believe that a lot of gold is also buried here,” says Bilawal Khan, a local tea seller. Chaukhandi is also supposed to be a haunted cemetery at night. The rumour has it that after sunset, the graves begin to burn up and turn scalding hot. This is accompanied by apparitions, strange voices and screams.
Words: Alia Begum