The region contains a warm-summer humid continental climate during the middle of the year, while its winters are cold with heavy snowfall and deadly, crisp, mind-numbing cold spells.
Overview - Hassan Abdal Travel Guide
At first glance, the city of Hassan Abdal presents a picture of striking religious contrast. Mosque minarets juxtaposing with Hindu temples and Sikh gurdwaras. But upon further inspection, one realises that this landscape is proof of the cultural harmony that endured in the region for decades. This is a legacy that the city of Hassan Abdal is now returning to, after a landmark MoU between India and Pakistan that led to the establishment of the Kartarpur Corridor and enabled ease of passage for Sikh pilgrims from across the border.
History echoes through the ancient walls of Hassan Abdal, making it a treasure trove for history enthusiasts. At the heart of the town stands the historic Gurdwara Panja Sahib, a revered Sikh pilgrimage site. In 2022, 2,668 Sikh pilgrims travelled to Hassan Abdal from India to visit this historical landmark. They undertook a palanquin procession around the city while accompanied by a police escort. The pilgrims reported a memorable and positive experience that was made possible due to the efforts of the Government of Pakistan. After decades of separation from their holy sites, it allowed them to complete rites that would have been forever out of reach.
As you wander through the narrow alleys, you’ll eventually stumble across the Hassan Abdal Gardens. Nature lovers may lose themselves in the embrace of historical nostalgia while exploring the upper terraces of the Gardens that lay untouched along winding trails. Breathe in the crisp mountain air, and marvel at the panoramic vistas that stretch to the horizon. Immerse yourself in the warmth and hospitality of the locals, whose genuine smiles and open hearts will make you feel like family and leave an everlasting impression on your soul.
Whether you seek spirituality, adventure, or a moment of serenity, Hassan Abdal beckons you with open arms. Lose yourself in its ancient tales, find comfort in its natural beauty, and embrace the spirit of this hidden gem.
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Let’s start with the basics. Hassan Abdal is a part of rural Punjab; however, it is not too far from Islamabad. There are multiple options to reach the town, depending on whether you are a foreign or domestic tourist. Here, we will discuss the possible routes you may take to reach this historic town.
- From Islamabad:
Hassan Abdal is conveniently located just 48 kilometers from Islamabad, the capital city of Pakistan. The easiest way to reach Hassan Abdal from Islamabad is by road, along the N5. You can hire a taxi or take a public bus from various points in Islamabad, such as the Pir Wadhai Bus Terminal or the Melody Bus Stand. The journey takes approximately 1-2 hours, depending on traffic.
- From Lahore:
If you are coming from Lahore, another major city in Pakistan, you have multiple transportation options. The most convenient and comfortable way is to journey by road which takes about 4-5 hours along the M2 motorway. Otherwise, you can opt for a direct train from Lahore to Hassan Abdal.
Several trains, such as the Awam Express, offer regular services between the two cities. The train journey takes approximately 3-4 hours, allowing you to enjoy the scenic views along the way. Train tickets can be purchased from the railway station, railway booking offices or online booking from the Pakistan Railway official website (https://www.pakrail.gov.pk/) or the Pak Rail mobile app (Android app linked here and iOS app linked here).
- International travellers:
If you are traveling to Hassan Abdal from other international locations, your best option is to book a flight to Islamabad International Airport. Several major airlines operate flights to Islamabad from various countries. Upon arrival, you can follow the same transportation options mentioned above, such as hiring a taxi or taking a public bus, to reach Hassan Abdal.
It’s worth noting that Pakistan has a well-connected road network, and private car rentals are available for travelers who prefer the convenience of personal transport. These rentals are accompanied by a local driver familiar with the routes and road conditions, which is an excellent option since it can be difficult for visitors to navigate in Pakistan on their own. Relying solely on GPS navigation could easily lead an unfamiliar tourist astray as travel routes are not always up to date on mainstream apps such as Google or Apple Maps.
As with any travel expedition, remember to check visa requirements, travel advisories and weather conditions before planning your trip. You may also consider booking transportation tickets in advance, especially during peak travel seasons, to ensure a smooth and hassle-free journey.
When planning your stay in Hassan Abdal, consider factors such as location, proximity to attractions, amenities, and your personal preferences. Especially if you’re planning to visit during religious festivals, it is advisable to make advanced reservations that facilitate your stay and ease your pilgrimage.
A protip is to remember that due to the proximity of Hassan Abdal to the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi, travellers can cast a wide net to find the ideal accommodation option for their stay and simply drive to Hassan Abdal when needed. Below are some viable accommodation options for your stay in Hassan Abdal:
- Hotels and Resorts:
Hassan Abdal has a few hotels and guesthouses that provide comfortable accommodation for travellers. These establishments offer amenities such as clean rooms, private bathrooms, Wi-Fi, and room service. Some hotels may also have on-site restaurants and parking facilities. If you prefer a serene and scenic setting, there are resorts and retreats located in the surrounding areas near Hassan Abdal that provide a peaceful ambiance against a green and nature-filled backdrop.
- Pilgrim Accommodation:
Given the spiritual significance of Hassan Abdal, there are accommodations available specifically catering to pilgrims visiting Gurdwara Panja Sahib sponsored by the Government of Pakistan. These accommodations are usually more affordable and provide basic facilities like shared rooms, common bathrooms, and simple dining options. Pilgrim accommodations are often located within walking distance of the gurdwara, making them convenient for devotees. Past pilgrims who opted for pilgrim accommodation reported positive experiences stating that the security is very well managed, all travel is facilitated by coaches and accommodations were made in air-conditioned marquees.
- Guesthouses and Homestays:
For a more authentic and personal experience, consider staying at guesthouses or homestays in Hassan Abdal. Some locals offer rooms or small guesthouses within their homes, providing visitors with an opportunity to immerse themselves in the local culture and hospitality. These accommodations may offer home-cooked meals and a chance to interact with the hosts, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere. If this is the experience you would like to opt for however, you would need a local contact (like a travel agency or tour company) to direct you to safe and comfortable options. In addition to these websites, you can also book hotels and homestays in Pakistan through local travel agencies. Local travel agencies can often offer better deals and more dependable options than online booking websites, but they may not have as wide a selection of properties.
No visit to Hassan Abdal is complete without savoring the local culinary delights. The cuisine in Hassan Abdal reflects the rich culinary traditions of Pakistan. As a destination with diverse cultural influences, you can look forward to a delightful array of flavors and dishes during your visit. You can indulge your taste buds in a symphony of flavors while sampling piping hot kebabs infused with aromatic spices, with freshly baked naan straight from a tandoor. Drown yourself in a glass of ice-cold and creamy sweet lassi to beat the summer heat. The local cuisine will leave an unforgettable mark on your palate, creating memories that you will crave long after you’ve departed.
Here are some highlights of the cuisine you can experience as a foreign traveler:
Hassan Abdal offers a taste of authentic Pakistani cuisine. Indulge in aromatic rice dishes like biryani or pulao, paired with flavorful curries such as karahi (spicy stir-fried meat), nihari (slow-cooked meat stew), or butter chicken. Don’t miss the opportunity to savor freshly baked naan bread straight from the tandoor (clay oven), a staple accompaniment to many meals.
Like many other Pakistani towns, Hassan Abdal has its share of street food delights. Explore the local bazaars and roadside stalls to sample popular snacks such as samosas (deep-fried pastries filled with spiced potatoes or meat), pakoras (deep-fried vegetarian fritters), and chaat (a savory mix of fried dough, chutneys, yogurt, and spices). These street food treats offer a burst of flavors and are an integral part of the Pakistani food culture.
Pakistan is renowned for its barbecue culture, and Hassan Abdal is no exception. Look forward to succulent kebabs, including seekh kebabs (spiced minced meat skewers) and tikka (marinated grilled meat), which are often served with naan bread and a variety of chutneys. The smoky aroma of the spiced, chargrilled meats will leave your mouth watering in anticipation.
Complete your culinary journey in Hassan Abdal with a taste of the local sweets. Pakistani desserts are known for their richness and indulgence. Treat yourself to delights like gulab jamun (fried dough balls soaked in sugar syrup), barfi (sweet milk-based confection), or jalebi (deep-fried pretzel-shaped sweets soaked in syrup, similar to funnel cake). These sweet treats are often enjoyed with a cup of hot tea or served as a sweet ending to a meal.
Pakistanis have a strong affinity for chai (tea), which is an integral part of the culinary experience. Don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy a cup of freshly brewed Pakistani chai, often infused with fragrant cardamom. Pair it with biscuits or savory snacks for a truly authentic experience.
While Pakistani palates lean very heavily towards meat, vegetarian options are often easily available in most establishments. For stricter dietary restrictions, carrying compliant snacks from home may be advisable.
POINTS OF INTEREST
Hassan Abdal is a serene and historically significant town where visitors can find peace in spiritual experiences, and opportunities to immerse themselves in the town’s unique atmosphere. While you won’t find bustling nightclubs or vibrant party scenes here, there are small restaurants (often called hotels in the local vernacular) or “dhabas” and tea stalls that remain open until late. They offer a chance to enjoy local delicacies and mingle with fellow travelers and friendly locals.
While gastronomical adventures can be enjoyed in most places in Pakistan, Hassan Abdal offers a mystical ambience that enables participation in some unique activities. At Gurdwara Panja Sahib, religious gatherings and ceremonies are an integral part of the nightlife in Hassan Abdal. Especially during festivals or important religious occasions, the gurdwara sees increased activity with devotional singing (kirtan) and special prayers that extend into the evening hours. Visitors can participate and witness the spiritual atmosphere.
To break away and enjoy the serene natural landscape, you can go for a peaceful stroll in the town, especially around the gurdwara and its surroundings. The illuminated streets and the calm atmosphere provide an opportunity for introspection and appreciation for the town’s quaint beauty.
Also known as the Garden of Hassan Abdal, Wah Garden holds a rich historical legacy. Its origin can be traced back to 1581 when Emperor Akbar laid the foundation of Attock Fort and appointed Raja Man Singh to protect the northwest frontier. Raja Man Singh established the garden with two terraces, featuring a large tank on the upper terrace connected by a water channel to a baradari on the lower terrace. Jahangir, Akbar’s son, further developed the garden by adding a bathhouse, central canal, fountains, and frescoes on the baradari. He described his pleasant stay at the garden, enjoying the scenic waterfall, fine wine, and fishing. In the mid-17th century, Ustad Ahmad Mimar made additional alterations, constructing two baradaris, raising the terrace and tank level, and creating a “zanana” garden for the ladies. Aurangzeb, another one of the Mughal emperors, made the garden his capital for over a year, praising its beauty along with European sojourners who referred to it as the rose garden of Iram.
Hassan Abdal’s Garden is a historical treasure reflecting the influence of Mughal emperors. With its multi-level terraces, a picturesque tank, and charming baradaris, visitors can experience the enchanting blend of architecture and nature. The garden’s relaxing air, coupled with the beautiful waterfall, offers a serene setting for relaxation and contemplation. Visitors can explore the fresco-adorned “baradari” and stroll along the central canal, imagining the grandeur of the Mughal era. The “zanana” garden adds a touch of elegance, allowing visitors to appreciate the Mughal penchant for beauty and aesthetics. This garden is a testament to the rich history and architectural brilliance of the region, making it a must-visit attraction for those seeking to immerse themselves in the fascinating heritage of Hassan Abdal.
Due to the location of Wah Gardens in the cantonment area of Rawalpindi, visitors may be required to provide identification at the entry check posts. It is common for security guards to question visitors’ motives in entering the area and ultimately, permission to enter can only be granted by them.
Hakim and Lalarukh’s Tomb
The shrine of Baba Wali Kandhari, also known as Hakim and Lalarukh’s tomb, is a significant monument in this historic city. Located opposite the eastern gate of Gurdwara Panja Sahib, the shrine is accessible via a pathway leading to a garden with a pond and two tombs.
One of the tombs in the garden is called Hakim’s tomb, believed to be the resting place of two royal doctors named Abdul Fateh Gilani and Hamam Gilani. They were buried here on the orders of Mughal Emperor Akbar. The pond and tombs were built by Khawaja Shamsuddin Khawafi, who served as Akbar’s minister. A paved path connects the pond to a small walled garden where two graves are located—one in the center and another in a corner.
The grave in the center of the garden is locally believed to belong to Mughal Princess Lalarukh. However, there is no historical evidence to confirm this claim. Different narratives suggest that she may be the daughter of either Humayun or Jehangir, who passed away during a journey to Kashmir. Despite the uncertainty surrounding Lalarukh’s identity, this serene place attracts numerous visitors seeking solace and tranquillity.
Hassan Abdal Train Station
After a span of 127 years, this British-era railway station has undergone a significant upgrades and reconstruction. The classic redbrick building aims to enhance the travel experience for Sikh pilgrims journeying to their sacred place of worship, Gurdwara Sri Panja Sahib. Notably, the upgraded railway station now features multiple tombs on its roof, which have a fascinating backstory.
It is said that in October 1922, a historic incident unfolded at the railway station of Hassan Abdal. A special train carrying Sikh prisoners from Amritsar to Peshawar was passing through the station. The Sikh community gathered and approached the station master with a humble request to stop the train, allowing them to serve food to the prisoners. However, the station master refused their plea.
Undeterred, and in a remarkable display of unity and compassion, the Sikh community decided to take matters into their own hands. They formed a human barrier by squatting on the tracks, attempting to halt the train’s progress. Despite their brave efforts, the train collided with the human blockade, resulting in casualties and injuries among the Sikh individuals. Nonetheless, the resilience of the community prevailed, and the Sikh prisoners were finally provided with food before the train resumed its journey towards Peshawar.
This poignant incident reflects the unwavering determination and compassion of the Sikh community and the railway station stands as a historical reminder of the strength found in solidarity.
Experiencing the vibrant Baisakhi festival at the illustrious Gurdwara Panja Sahib is an unforgettable experience. This revered shrine attracts pilgrims from all corners of the world for this auspicious occasion. The city comes alive with the spirit of Baisakhi, which commemorating the harvest season that holds deep religious significance for Sikhs. It marks the formation of the Khalsa Panth, the Sikh community, and signifies unity, gratitude, and renewal.
During the festivities at Gurdwara Panja Sahib, devotees gather to pay homage to Guru Nanak and participate in special prayers, hymn recitals, and processions. The gurdwara’s magnificent complex, protected by imposing walls, serves as a hub of spiritual devotion. At this time, Hasan Abdal radiates an atmosphere of joy and devotion. Sikhs, adorned in colorful attire, come together to partake in communal meals at the langar (community kitchen) and engage in acts of seva (selfless service) as an expression of their faith. It is important to note that access to the gurdwara during Baisakhi is reserved for only Sikh pilgrims and authorized representatives of the Pakistani state, ensuring an intimate and sacred environment for worshippers.
The Baisakhi festival at Gurdwara Panja Sahib offers a unique opportunity to experience rich Sikh traditions and the spirit of unity that defines this remarkable occasion.
Hassan Abdal stands as a remarkable destination, steeped in rich history, spirituality, and cultural heritage. From the revered Gurdwara Panja Sahib to the enchanting blend of ancient alleyways, historic landmarks, and modern developments, the city offers a unique and captivating experience for visitors.
Inextricable Links with Sikhism
Hassan Abdal holds great significance for Sikhs as it is home to Gurdwara Panja Sahib, one of the most revered Sikh pilgrimage sites due to its close association with Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the founder of Sikhism. It is believed that Guru Nanak Dev Ji visited this site during his travels, and spread his message of peace, equality, and divine unity. Within the gurdwara, there exists a sacred rock bearing the imprint of Guru Nanak’s hand, known as the “Panja Sahib”. This handprint is considered highly sacred by Sikhs, and pilgrims from all over the world come to pay homage to Guru Nanak Dev Ji.
Gurdwara Panja Sahib provides an opportunity for devotees to connect with their faith, engage in prayers, and experience a sense of tranquility and spiritual solace. The gurdwara complex includes the main shrine, langar (community kitchen where free meals are served), and accommodation facilities for pilgrims. Thousands of Sikhs undertake a pilgrimage to Gurdwara Panja Sahib in Hassan Abdal each year. Pilgrims come to offer their prayers, participate in religious ceremonies, and seek blessings. The atmosphere during the annual celebrations of Guru Nanak Gurpurab, the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, is particularly vibrant, with devotees from around the world joining in the festivities.
The significance of Hassan Abdal for Sikhs lies in its connection to their spiritual heritage, the presence of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, and the opportunity to deepen their faith and devotion. The gurdwara’s peaceful surroundings and the spiritual aura it exudes make it a cherished destination for Sikhs seeking spiritual growth and a profound connection with their religious roots.