Majestic Witness


In the interior of the Islamabad town is a seven-story house that has remained a mute witness to more than 100 years of its life, reports Saqib Mir

Islamabad’s oldest house. KL Image: Saqib Mir

In Islamabad’s Nazuk Mohallah near Cheeni Chowk stands a century old 7-storied house that is made distinct by its surroundings, mostly modern structures. From a distance, it looks an aged witness to modernity but gets in and it is a marvellous piece of architecture.

Off late, it has emerged as a spot where people take selfies with the house in the background. The only reason why the house is the centre of attraction for the passers-by, especially for the new generation, is that this is the only remaining seven-storied house with such a marvellous architecture left in the town.

The house once belonged to Kashmiri Pandit brothers Haldaraju Cheeru and Vashnath Cheeru. Cheerus’, according to elderly residents were among the rich families of the town and had a good relation with the Muslims. They were the most known people of the town and everyone would respect them, the residents say.

Cheerus’ gave modern education to their children and most of them settled in America. In 1972, the family sold this house to a local Muslim family and left the valley. It became the prized possession of two brothers Gulam Ahmad Shah and Ali Mohammad Shah. Now their children and grandchildren are living in this house as three separate families.

What is more interesting is that this majestic house is land scarce. It stands on a few marlas of land with a small compound in front of it. The outer walls of the ground and the first floor of this house are made of finished rocks. The remaining five floors have been raised in burnt bricks, mud mortar and wood. Of the seven levels, the ground floor is almost underground which is used as a storehouse for domestic items. The house has 27 rooms with balconies attached to a few of them.

Khursheed Ahmad Shah, 50, who is the grandson of Ghulam Ahmad says that his grandfather has told him that the balconies were used as change rooms of the present times. In those days it was a tradition to build balconies particularly on the upper floor of the houses. The balconies of this house are made of wood and are models of the wonderful Kashmiri architecture.

Many rooms have Khatamband ceiling, which had added to the beauty and magnificence of this unique house. The ceilings of the rooms are of different designs. “Interestingly the adhesive used to fix the ceiling has been the mixture of lime and eggs,” Khursheed said. “Eggs were used in such a large number that they were carried in large wicker baskets from the market.”

The house in last one century has withstood many natural disasters, the earthquakes and floods being the most destructive ones. Although, with the passage of time the house has developed some cracks in its walls but the overall strength of the house is such, that still three families are residing in it. “Whenever we realised that the house needs urgent repairing here and there we lost no time to get it repaired,” Khursheed said.

Very close to this house is the shrine of Hazrat Khajaa Razak Sahib. Ghulam Hassan Wani, 58, who lives in the area and knew the Pandits, said they were taking care of this shrine. They kept its compound neat and clean. Hassan remembers that before the mass migration of Pandits from Kashmir to other parts of India this area was a small Panditlocality. “After Cheerus’ left, they (Pandits) would take care of this shrine,” he said.

Since this is the only house that is so old and so magnificent that the residents in town insist it needs to be preserved. “How it should be preserved is the job of the government,” one resident said. “But we would like this house should live as a witness to the times that Islamabad has seen.”


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