Thursday, May 11, 2017

Sacred Beasts of Manghopir - Throwback Thursday

By: Hamza Shafique

Thanks to Steve Irwin, Crocodile/Alligator became one of my favorite animal, I grew up watching his documentaries and it was always fascinating to see him around them. So, whenever I get the opportunity to witness one, whether its canoeing through Rapti river in Nepal or watching 24 feet King crocodile in Dubai Mall’s underwater zoo, I never let it go. Manghopir is famous for its Mugger crocodiles (species native to Indian subcontinent), So when I was in Karachi in 2011, the visit to this mysterious place was must for me.

I don’t exactly remember the details of the whole trip but as far as my memory serves me, Manghopir was not very far from Karachi. Same day, all together we covered Thatha-Makli , Khanjer Lake, Shahjahan Mosque and ManghoPir. Road network was not good at that time and place was also very crowded, I hope things are better now as I do want to visit again. Manghopir is basically one of the oldest area of Karachi, named after Sufi saint Pir Mangho whose shrine is also there. The Crocodiles live in the vast pond inside the shrine and are fed by followers of the Sufi Saint. Shrine/Mosque was a big green dome structure which we did not visit instead we simply walked through the small crowded street market, straight to the pond.  Pond was enclosed with in walls, with one point of entry where we met the care taker.

I asked him what do people usually do here to which he replied that they have meat here which people buy and offer to the crocodiles as a token of respect to the Sufi saint Pir Mangho. Unfortunately, meat was already finished as we arrived close to sunset, so as per care taker’s advice we bought some red rose petals. To my surprise, he took the petals from me and walked right in to the crocodile’s area and showered the petals on the two crocodiles resting nearby. He then asked us to pray if we have any wish, as this crocodile (the one he put petals on) was head of all the crocodiles and a saint as well. This was a very unique experience for me, firstly Idea of crocodiles being sacred (or taken as a manifestation of the saint) is never heard off and on top of that crocodiles of ManghoPir were very docile. They lacked the usual ferociousness expected from this king reptile. The care taker was calmly walking through them and they did not even budge. To be in closed proximity to dozens of huge crocodiles without any fence or cage has its own feel. I was so impressed by tamed nature of these crocodiles that I even searched on google for any crocodile attacks but was surprised to find that no incident has ever been reported here.
There are many myths and stories associated with these crocodiles. It is believed that an ancient flood brought them here and since then they are thriving in this area. Another story is that they were the head-lice of Pir Mangho and his miracle turned them into crocodiles. There are British records that also document their presence here. Some Scientists have found fossilized remains of crocodiles in the area and claimed that these crocodiles have been here for thousands of years now. In short, their presence in Manghopir is a mystery and thanks to their holy status their existence has no threat.
Overall a one-of-a-kind experience but the condition of the place really saddened me. The pond water and area around was not clean and full of trash, even crocodiles had some blue layer on upper part of body. Pakistan has so much to offer but our government never invests in such areas and our people are also not educated enough to take care of these areas themselves. One of the project that I am eagerly waiting for is Dubai crocodile park, which will be finished by end of 2017 and like any big project will require millions of dirhams. On the other hand, In Pakistan, we have a natural sanctuary where we simply need to clean, repair and connect the area through better road network and with very little investment we can have the same benefits. Believe me, the experience that Manghopir offers, no sanctuary can offer anywhere in the world, which is their unique calm behavior resulting from hundreds of years of human interaction

If you wish to know more about Manghopir click here.

Photography by Hamza Shafique also