Do you know Mirpur is also known as 'Little England'
Do you know Mirpur is also known as 'Little England'

Mirpur, one of the largest cities of Azad Kashmir is situated only a few miles away from the main Peshawar to Lahore Grand Trunk road via Dina, district Jhelum. The building of the new city in late 1960s paved the way for New Mirpur, on the bank of Mangla Lake. In fact, the remains of the old city (Old Mirpur) are under the waters of the Mangla Lake.
 
During the winter months, sometime the water level recedes to such an extent that one can travel on motorcycle on the old Mirpur road which still exists. The holy shrines of Syed Abdul Karim and Meeran Shah Ghazi then become visible and so do the remnants of a Sikh gurdwara as well as a Hindu Mandir, possibly dedicated to the Mangla Mata (Mangla mother goddess). The remains of old houses, water wells and graveyards re-appear as well.
 
People from surrounding areas visit old Mirpur to pay homage to their ancient land on which they lived and pray on the graveyards of their loved ones. Urs Mubarak of Meeran Shah and Syed Abdul Kareem are also arranged in Mirpur.
The New Mirpur is also known as 'Little England' due to it's large British Pakistani community. It's connection with Britain has made it a place quite unlike anywhere else in the region. It is well planned and is known for its number of good hotels, restaurants, shopping malls, large bungalows, roads serving each part of the city and other urban facilities, primarily funded through its expatriate community, which comes mainly from Europe (especially the United Kingdom), Hong Kong, the Middle East, and North America.
 

History

The area that is now Mirpur has always been a crossroad for major invasions of the South Asia and has formed part of various empires over time including the role of an outlying region of the conquests of Alexander the Great, the Kingdom of Gandhara, the Mauryan empire, the Kushan empire, the Sultanate of Ghazni, the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal empire amongst others.

The Mirpur city itself was founded in around 1640 AD or 1050 AH by the Ghakhar chief Miran Shah Ghazi. The Imperial Gazetteer of India Provincial Series Kashmir and Jammu (1909) provides this information about Mirpur history as it is said to have been founded by Miran Shah Ghazi and Sultan Fateh Khan. An alternate view is that the city was founded by Miran Shah Gazi and Gosain Bodhpuri, both regarded as saints. The word 'Mir' was taken from the name of the former while 'Pur’ from the latter.

In 997 CE, Sultan Mahmud Ghaznavi, took over the Ghaznavid dynasty empire established by his father, Sultan Sebuktegin. In 1005, he conquered the Shahis in Kabul. The Delhi Sultanate and later Mughal Empire ruled the region. The Punjab region became predominantly Muslim due to missionary Sufi saints whose dargahs dot its landscape.

The area that is now Mirpur has been historically associated with Pothohar. Though modern demarcation of Pothohar devised by British excludes Mirpur by using Jhelum River as the eastern boundary. By the end of the 18th century, Gakhar power in Pothohar had declined. Mirpur had become part of Chibb, who ruled the state of Khari Khariyali with capital at Mangla Fort. With the rise of Sikh power in Punjab, Maharaja Ranjit Singh established his supremacy and set his eyes on the Chibh states of Bhimber and Khari Khariyali.

In 1810, a force was sent against Raja Sultan Khan of Bhimber and was met with fierce resistance. However, in 1812 another Sikh army under Prince Kharak Singh defeated Sultan Khan and the Bhimber state was annexed as Jagir of Kharak Singh. Around the same time, Ranjit Singh acquired Gujrat and invaded Khari Khariyali ruled by Raja Umar Khan. Raja Umar Khan made peace with Ranjit Singh. But before a settlement could be made, he died and the state and Mirpur became part of Ranjit Singh's territories.

In 1808, Ranjit Singh annexed Jammu state, which was already a tributary since 1780, and in 1820 awarded Jammu to his commander Gulab Singh who hailed from Jammu and was under the service of Ranjit Singh for the past eight years. Between 1831 and 1839, Ranjit Singh bestowed on Gulab Singh the royalty of the salt mines in northern Punjab, and the northern Punjab towns including Bhera, Jhelum, Rohtas, Mirpur and Gujrat. Gulab Singh kept on expanding his kingdom and in 1840 Baltistan was made subject to Jammu and Gilgit fell to a Sikh force from Kashmir in 1842. The state of Kashmir was annexed by Ranjit Singh in 1819.

However, the rebellion in Hazara in the beginning of 1846, compelled the country to be transferred to Raja Gulab Singh of Jammu as well. As an aftermath of the First Anglo-Sikh War and the Treaty of Lahore, The Treaty of Amritsar was signed between the British East India Company and Raja Gulab Singh of Jammu on March 16, 1846. The British Government sold Kashmir to the Raja of Jammu for 75 lakhs Nanak Shahi Rupees. This treaty transferred him all the hill states between Ravi and Indus. The transfer included Kashmir, Hazara and the southern hill states (including former Khari Khariyali Thus sealing the fate of Mirpur with the new state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Early Mirpur

Mirpur was historically a part of the Punjab region. However it became a part of the Jammu division of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir in a deal between the rulers of that state and the British. Since Mirpur lies at the point where the Jhelum River breaks out of the heavily forested foothills of the Pir Panjal Mountains into the plains of the largely treeless Punjab. It was an ideal spot for the construction of the boats used to carry goods down the five rivers of the Punjab to the Indus River and onto the seaports in the Indus delta. Traders have been operating from there across the Indian Ocean for over three thousand years. Most of the crew on the boats trading up and down the Punjab and Indus River system were drawn from Mirpur, because training as a boat-builder was a necessary pre-requisite for becoming a boatman.

Dogra rule

During the time of Dogra Raja Gulab Singh of Jammu, the thriving river trade was decimated due to the construction of railway lines from Bombay and Karachi into the interior of the Punjab. Moving goods by rail was both cheaper and quicker, and hundreds of Mirpuri boatmen founded themselves out of a job.

At the same time long-distance ocean trade was shifting from sail to steam. There was a huge demand for men who were prepared to work in the hot, dirty and dangerous stokeholds of the new coal-fired steamers. British seamen avoided such jobs whenever they possibly could. They preferred to work on deck. But in the 1870s Mirpuri ex-river boatmen were desperately searching for a new source of income. Although unfamiliar with stoking coal-fired boilers, they were prepared to learn and quickly gained jobs as engine-room stokers on new steamships sailing out of Karachi and Bombay, a position they retained until coal-fired ships were finally phased out of service at the end of the Second World War. Many Mirpuris fought in Burma during the Second World War.

Indo-Pakistan War of 1947

In the wake of the Indo-Pakistani War of 1947, a number of militant campaigns were organised all around the Western mountains of Kashmir and Jummu, including Poonch, Muzaffarabad and Mirpur to forcibly usurp Kashmir from Dogra ruler Maharaja Hari Singh.

On the Mirpur front, Captain Khan of Mong played a leading role in the campaign with the strategic aim to cut off the India's supply line into the rest of Kashmir. In October 1947, Captain Khan ambushed two Dogra despatch-riders at Puranian Hattian on their motorcycle armed with one stain gun. This gun was used to raid Gobindpur Police Station a few nights later. This raid provided further supplies and consolidated their position. A number of further attacks ensued leading up to the Battle of Mirpur where five attacks were organised. On 25 November, finding the situation beyond control, Wazir Wazarat, Rao Rattan Singh and Brig Karki from Nepal decided to abandon town at 1400 hours.

Post war

After World War II, a new set of opportunities opened up. Britain's economy was just starting what proved to be a long post war boom, and there was an acute short of labour in the foundries of the English Midlands and in the textile mills of Yorkshire and Lancashire. Now it was the turn of ex-seamen to become industrial workers in Britain. In 1960, when the Mangla Dam was about to be constructed, those who were going to be deprived of their agricultural land were afforded the opportunity to migrate to the United Kingdom and to join their relatives, who long established themselves in Britain.

As a result, Mirpur became one of the principal sources of migration from the State of Azad Kashmir to Europe, especially to Britain, so out of the million migrants from Azad Kashmir and Pakistan, 82% came from Mirpur. Although one major reason for the outflow was the construction of the Mangla Dam, but long before the construction of dam, a sizable Mirpuri community already existed in the UK.

Language

The people of the Mirpur speak a language called Mirpuri or Pahari, which is a blend of Punjabi, Dogri, Pothowari, Lahndi, and Gojri. Mirpuri itself is not officially recognized as an independent language. It is generally called Mirpuri Pahari, Mirpuri Pothowari or Mirpuri Punjabi. There are words like kuthay for where, kiyaan for why, miki for I, mara for my, julayan for going etc.

Other languages spoken include Urdu and English. Although due to the vast immigration to England, English is also becoming popular. Many institutions have started spoken English courses. Mirpur is a part of Kashmir but very little population of it knows Kashmiri language.

Religion and Belief

The religion of majority in Mirpur city is Islam. They follow mostly the practices of the Punjabi Potohari culture due to the closeness with the Potohar plateau. Islamyat is compulsory subject till graduation level. Mirpur has a very famous darbaar in Khari Shareef they visit occasionally, that is the shrine of Baba Peer Shah Ghazi and Mian Mohammad Baksh who were famous sufi saints. People of Mirpur have a firm believe that if one wants some prayer or wish to be accepted, he or she must promise to give some money, give a daaig or put a chadar on the shrine of Peer Shah Ghazi once the wish is granted. Not only people of Mirpur but people form Punjab also believe this and visit this place whole heartedly.

Food

Mirpuris have the same taste as that of Punjabis. They like the same spicy dishes like biryanai, pulao, korma etc. But the most famous and favourite dish of Mirpur is laal lobia with white rice.  There are many restaurants, food stalls and stands on road selling this dish by the name “pothi chaaval” or “lobia chaaval” and people from all social classes be it a lower class person or an elite class chaudry likes being here and eating this dish. Even expats from UK love this dish and try it every time they visit Mirpur.

Apart from the above, Mirpur has many food centres and restaurants selling fish specialties. In terms of restaurants, there is a variety of food areas from takeaways to high-class restaurants. There is also a Thai restaurant. Some restaurants specialise in local Pothwari/Punjabi dishes.

Dresses

Shalwar and Kameez is the basic dress of Mirpur city but due to the huge immigration to England, now jeans have added to the culture of Mirpur too. Many of the girls are now seen wearing jeans with long shirts or kurtas. Some of the elder members of the family wear a turban too and consider it as a part of their culture.

Events and festivals

Eid Milad-un-Nabi: This event is celebrated on 12th Rabi ul Awal according to lunar calendar. It is the date of birth of Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W). In Mirpur this religious festival is celebrated with high enthusiasm. People all over the city decorate their houses with lights and other decoration. Every person from an old man to a school boy participates in it. Young boys decorate their cars with lights. Streets are decorated with garlands, sprig, festoons and colourful shinning papers. Masajid are decorated with lights and there are Naa’ts and Hamds played throughout the city on radios and decks. There are also some peaceful processions in evening.

Urs celebration of Baba Peer Shah Ghazi: This is another celebration of the people in Mirpur. It is a three day celebration which starts at 20-22nd Zil Hajj according to Islamic calendar. People from all over Mirpur and other small villages near it combine and a procession with dhol and dancing reaches the shrine at 20th, and then this festival continues till the 22nd. There are Naa’ts, poems and kalaams for the saint during these days and food is served in huge amount to the people who take part in this urs.

Elections: This is hard to believe but elections are one of the most exciting events in Mirpur. As it is a small city, almost everyone knows each other. So at the time of election, there are groups of girls and ladies going house to house at time of election and persuading people to vote for their party. They have flag of their party on their arms and they enjoy it very much. Especially the girls have fun in this event as this is the only event when they have full permission to roam around the whole city. One of them also has a load speaker in their hand and raises slogans for their parties. And then when the counting is done and result is announced, there is a lot of celebrations by the winning party, they send sweets and gifts to all the people all over and celebrate their winning enthusiastically.

Traditions and Customs

Inter family marriages: It is a custom of people in Mirpur to marry their children in their family and if there is no one suitable in family, marriage is to be done in baradari or same cast. It is a very strict custom and people follow it. Even sometimes they do not consider the choice and will of their children and get them engaged at a very small age. It is forbidden strictly to marry their daughters with someone outside their family. Although sometimes the male members marry girls outside family but it is also something they avoid mostly.

Female education: Females in Mirpur are considered to work at home mostly so there are very less institutions for their education. There are schools, colleges and universities having co-education and some families do not like it so avoid educating their daughters. They also have a perspective that females do not require education but should be taught household chores. Although this point of view has been changing over time but still there is a large population who still has this type of mind set.

Nepotism: Jobs are mostly given on the basis of family relation rather than abilities, skills and education. An intermediate (FA) pass boy can have a good job in a bank if he has an uncle at high post. This is not only practice in the government sector but also in private and multinational companies operating there.

Family comes first: People in Mirpur believe that family is the most important asset of their life. They always give first priority to family no matter what. Even if there family is at wrong, still they will be standing with them. They have very strong affiliations with their family be it the ones living in Mirpur or the ones in England.

Attributes of the Inhabitants

Mirpur has people who are very loving and kind by nature. They are helpful at time of needs even for their enemies. They consider their guests as 'rahmat and barkat' (good omen). They welcome their guests warmly and treat them with whole heart. Most of the people in Mirpur are lazy and do not want to work hard, so they make malls, shops, bungalows, buy cars and give them on rent which is their source of income. In this way they don’t have to work hard and by sitting at home and doing nothing they earn.

Agriculture

Most of the area's bushy landscapes are barren, leaving only a small stretch of fertile land but there is highly-productive land near water. One crop cultivated during the spring/summer season is millet. Also, a few farms grow vegetables and wheat, especially when the dam water subsides during the winter season.

Industry

The government of Azad Jammu and Kashmir has successfully developed Mirpur industrially and promoted private investment in a diverse economy: foam, polypropylene, synthetic yarn, motorbikes and scooter, textile, vegetable oil (ghee), wood and sawmills, soap, cosmetics, marble, ready-made garments, matches and rosin, turpentine. The economy of Mirpur generated economy of Azad Kashmir. However, much of the infrastructure still needs improvement so that high-quality products can be obtained.

As part of the relief/compensation package in the wake of Mangla Dam raising, a new city is being developed along the south-eastern outskirts of Mirpur, with the main city of Mirpur being doubled. Much construction occurred around the whole district by Pakistani and Chinese contractors, raising the dam. Four towns in the district have been planned near the new city to resettle the population affected by the project.

Education

Previously, the University of Azad Jammu & Kashmir was the only institution for higher studies but in the last couple decades, there have been significant changes in the educational infrastructure. The Mirpur University of Science and Technology (MUST), the Akson College of Health Science (College of Pharmacy) and the Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Shaheed Medical College have been formed.

The AJK Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education, Mirpur is responsible for the studies at lower levels. In addition to the state-run schools and colleges, Mirpur has a well-developed private sector providing the education to all sects of the society such as the following:

7Cs Professional Institute, Mohi ud Din Islamic Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Mohi-ud-Din Islamic Medical College, Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Shaheed Medical College, Mirpur Azad Kashmir, Mirpur University of Science and Technology (MUST), Punjab College, Mirpur, Kashmir Model College Mirpur (KMC), The Nimble School Mirpur, Roots School System and The City School.

According to the Alif Ailaan Pakistan District Education Rankings 2015, Mirpur is ranked 13 out of 148 districts in terms of education. For facilities and infrastructure, the district is ranked 87 out of 148.

Media

Electronic and print media are rapidly increasing in number. A number of media companies are taking interest in Mirpur and launching their newspapers as Mirpur edition. Daily Mahasib started its journey in February 2006. Other newspapers also launched their Mirpur edition like Daily Ausaf, Daily Adalat, Daily Shaheen, Daily Kashmir express. They all provide daily Mirpur news, International news, national news, political news, sports, entertainment, showbiz, commerce and business news etc.

Sport

Football, cricket and volleyball are popular in Mirpur. Mirpur has a cricket stadium, Quaid-e-Azam Stadium. There are some registered sports clubs such as A-5 Cricket Club, Al-Siraj Cricket Club, South Asia Cricket Club, Pilot Football Club, Youth Football Club and Kashmir National FC. The district football team of Mirpur take part in the All Azad Jammu and Kashmir football championships.

Transport

CNG auto rickshaws are very popular mode of transport for short routes within the city. The city's transport system links it to a number of destinations in Azad Kashmir notably Bhimber, Jatlan, Chakswari, Dadyal, Kotli and Khoi Ratta and to major cities in Pakistan as well as including services to Gujrat, Jhelum, Kharian, Gujranwala, Lahore and Rawalpindi. There is no railway station in Mirpur. The closest station is in Dina. The promise of a rail extension to Mirpur has not been fulfilled.

Islamabad Airport which services the Mirpur region is 130 km away. Sialkot International Airport is 110 kilometres away. An international airport has been planned. The location of the airport has not been determined, but possible locations near Mirpur are Mangla, Jatlan and Bhalwhara. In August 2013, the National Assembly and the prime minister approved the airport. It was determined that the airport would be constructed in two years after funding.

Shopping

Mirpur is the shopping capital of Azad Kashmir. The shopping area is centred on Chowk Shaheed, Mian Mohammed Road, Puranian/Hattian, Nangi and Allama Iqbal Road.

Demographics

According to the 1998 census, Mirpur had a population of approximately 100,000. Mirpur's original population comprises different tribes similar to that of Punjab. However, since 1947, Pahari people emigrated from the neighbouring Rajouri and Poonch districts of the Indian administered Jammu and Kashmir. The bulk of the Mirpuri diaspora resides in England, United Kingdom.

Culture

The Saif Ul Malook Festival takes place annually in April, usually in the city centre. It is an event celebrating the anniversary of Baba Pir-e-Shah Ghazi Qalandar (Damrian Wali Sarkar), who was the spiritual guide/teacher of Mian Muhammad Bakhsh, the Sufi saint and Pothari poet famous for his poem Saif ul Malook.

Rathoa Mela

The Rathoa Maila takes place annually in summer in Rathoa Town near the dam front. It is an event celebrating culture value peace and tolerance.

Pahari Mushahira

Pahari Mushahira is a literary event in which poets from all over Azad Kashmir present their poems to the general public. It is celebrated regularly in Mirpur, as part of the campaign of Alami Pahari.

Adabi Sangat for the preservation and rehabilitation of the Pahari language and the culture of Jammu and Kashmir.

Tourism

The following places are of interest; Khari Sharif Darbar, Mangla Dam and Ramkot Fort

Climate

The average annual temperature is 27.4 °C and the average annual rainfall is 109 mm. Mirpur is the breadbasket of Azad Jammu and Kashmir and has a climate similar to that of the neighbouring Potohar and Punjab. Since it is in the extreme south of Jammu and Kashmir, Mirpur has a climate that is extremely hot and dry during summer, making it very similar to the Pakistani areas of Jehlum and Gujar Khan.

Notable people

Baba Shadi Shaheed, Chaudhry Abdul Majid, Sultan Mehmood Chaudhry, Lord Nazir Ahmed, Member of the British House of Lords, Mian Muhammad Bakhsh - Sufi saint and Poet, Afaq Raheem - A first-class Pakistani cricketer, Dr. Moeed Pirzada, a well-known journalist and anchor person, Major General Jamil Rahmat Vance - A serving General in Pakistan army, Moeen Ali – Cricketer in UK and Mohammad Sharif Chattar educationist, botanist, author and poet.

Twin cities

London, England - Birmingham, England - Bradford, England