Written By: Brig M. Asim Iqbal
“Pakistan Gallery” is named after our beloved motherland, being the first-ever dedicated resource hub of its kind in the country which showcases the scenic beauty, cultural diversity and rich history of Pakistan. It was commissioned on October 17, 2015, on the eve of the “1st Commandants Reunion” and formally inaugurated by Havildar Habib Ullah, 20 FF (the workforce behind the Gallery) on July 20, 2016.
The Gallery is housed in a Victorian Era building of Army School of Logistics, Kuldana (Murree), representative of the graceful architectural aesthetics of that period. Famously known as “British Infantry Lines”, some 150 years back, Kuldana was a hub of recreational activities of British Army owing to its pristine location. They carved some essence of England in Murree, making Kuldana their home away from home. There is a long scroll of British Regiments that camped here. Prominent amongst those were, Bedfordshire Regiment, Devonshire Regiment, West Yorkshire Regiment, Gordon Highlanders, Cameroon Highlanders and so on. There still hangs mist of nostalgia from a bygone era over Kuldana. Many 19th century buildings have been preserved in their original state and their graceful style is a living testimony to the historical architecture of that period. Constructed without bricks and cement, this building was also built in stone and bonded with lime mortar. This 125 years old building, which had dilapidated over the years; was painstakingly restored by a dedicated team of officers who circumvented numerous challenges through round-the-clock supervision in order to bring out the true elegance of its original structure. The team of my volunteer workers included; Lieutenant Colonel Sajjad Haider, Major Sufiyan Ali, Maj Tehseen and Havildar Habib Ullah.
"Pakistan Gallery" houses five sections. The first section embarks on a journey of Pakistan Movement, which encompasses our national heroes, founding fathers and the world's largest migration during partition of subcontinent. It leads to the Reading Room (second section) which not only has a nice collection of pictorial books on Pakistan but also an interactive touch screen with ample data bank available for research on Pakistan. Next hall takes you through Pakistan History (third section), setting out from inception of our country and a journey through the first 50 years, it finally brings you to "Amazing Pakistan”. Next is the Culture and Beauty of Pakistan (fourth section). The hall has been partitioned into cubicles, featuring the beauty and culture of provinces from north to south including AJK, FATA and Islamabad regions. It also offers a fascinating look at the adventure and conventional sports, wildlife and different facets of the Pakistan Defence Forces. Various handicrafts and souvenirs have also been displayed in their respective provincial cubicles. The last wall titled "Roshan Pakistan" has been placed facing the “Infant Pakistan” wall to enable the viewer to draw an "at-a-glance" comparison of the country’s journey over seven decades through resilience and determination. Visitors can view local history, Beauty and Wildlife of Kuldana on the last wall (fifth section) before exiting the Gallery. Absorbing details mentioned with handmade models of "Kuldana Leopard" and "Pakicetus" (extinct species of Whales’ Ancestral family) concludes the gallery tour.
I carried motivation of establishing Pakistan Gallery since long. Having seen length and breadth of Pakistan and few countries around the world, I claim with confidence that “there is no place on earth like Pakistan, that offers such diversity of terrain and culture within 804,000 sq km”. Let me now share with my readers the making of this Gallery. The project was conceived and took off in October 2014. Considering the architectural merit and significance of the building, “restoration” was preferred over a simple “renovation” and the project was taken up as a special challenge owing to its unique characteristics”. The dimensions and design of the building advocates that it might have been a “multipurpose hall”, which was built in 1889, when “1st Battalion The Bedfordshire Regiment” (present, 2nd Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment), camped here at Kuldana. Over the last century, layers of cement have been plastered on the original stone walls, and several coats of paint applied to the wood. A lot of planning and effort went into reversing some of these damaging interventions and alterations to the original edifice. After initial deliberations with experts, most of the work was undertaken by the team of Army School of Logistics, including unskilled and skilled craftsmen. Since the team did not have any project expert, there were times when we were guided by some dedicated consultants who offered specialised advice on structural design, lights and interior on need basis.
It is worth mentioning that the “Reading Room” (Section 2) was constructed in 2015 to connect 125 years old rooms on either side. The architecture and design of new construction was matched with centurion old structure, respecting the original building layout. Stones were retrieved from similar aged buildings to construct walls of Reading Room and today it is hard to make out that both the constructions are hundred years apart. Other worth mentioning features of restoration are that doors and windows have been preserved in their original shape, including handles and bolts. It’s only that windows were shifted on outer side of the bay to create more space for models and display objects. The entrance (Section 1) had original wooden floor and false ceiling which was restored with months of manual work. Later, a false ceiling was added to the sitting room and third room (Sections 2 and 3). Choice of material (PVC) was guided by its matching value with the structure and its light weight. Glass wool was placed between the CGI sheets and PVC panels to not only reduce the effects of condensation, but also to make it sound-proof and fire-resistant. The sitting room has double-glass for better temperature insulation.
Niches on the walls of Section 3 and 4 were carefully uncovered to bring out structural originality. The wooden flooring in this portion followed the same pattern used in the British period. A four inches space has been created between the wooden floor panelling and the cemented floor. The individual panels are screwed to the wooden mesh beneath. Moreover, all wood work has been chemically treated for water proofing. The stone walls had lost their attractiveness due to seasoning and plastering effects over the years. These had to be restored by chemical treatment. As minor functional modifications; partitions and walls were created in the middle of Section 3 and 4 to create more space and add to the display area. Choice of lighting for the gallery was a highly technical matter and was resolved after consulting scores of lighting experts. Finally, it has been kept barely minimal and simple for practical reasons. Images have been thematically arranged according to colours and motifs of respective provinces.
ASL gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Mr. Arshad, Mr. Farid Nasim and Mrs. Huma Ahmed for their structural designing; Mr. Bashir, for treating stone walls, Mr. Khuzaima for treating wood work and Mrs. Hina Mahboob for designing. In the absence of any dedicated budget for the project, contributions were sought from senior/old students of Army School of Logistics. Moreover, few field formations also contributed in the form of financial donations and unique images. Contributions for Pakistan Movement section came from Mr. Yousaf Salah Ud Din and Iqbal Salah Ud Din (grandsons of Allama Iqbal) through “Dabistan-e-Iqbal”. Text and captions of the entire gallery were contributed by Hira Binte Asim. The photographers who contributed to the Gallery include Mr. Gulraiz Ghauri, Mr. S.M. Bukhari, Mr. Yasir Nisar, Mr. Fahad Mahmood, Colonel Dr. Imran Rashid, Maj Irfan Barcha, Colonel Nadeem, Mr. Abrar Cheema, and Mr. Ali Jan. Another interesting fact is the cheapest display picture was costing Rs. 10,000 and the expensive ones Rs. 1,20,000; making it an expensive deal for the Gallery. Our panel of patriotic photographers donated their pictures free of cost, thus reducing the budget by millions of rupees.
Pakistan Gallery has been visited by notable dignitaries like present Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, Lt Gen Ishfaq Nadeem, Lt Gen Sadiq Ali, Lt Gen Ghayur Mehmood, Lt Gen Qazi Muhammad Ikram, and Mr. Mushahid Hussain Syed. Local and foreign delegations, students and tourists also continue to add to the number of visitors. Needless to say that this project would not have been possible without relentless efforts of our soldiers and civilians who made a truly dedicated team under Havildar Habib Ullah.