NigarKhana, just opposite the mausoleum of saint Shah-Rukn-i-Alam, is known as a house of handicrafts which has been selling antiquities and cultural and artistic items for over 45 years.

Climbing down the stairs of this enchanting locus, one finds oneself surrounded by world of colours spread around through mosaics, carvings, wood and glass works, pottery, jewellery made of camel bones, table lamps, flasks, decoration pieces and many more.

Abdul Waheed, who took over the business from his father, Abdul Hameed, has been running NigarKhana for the last 30 years. He cherishes memories of his father who was a carpenter by profession but had extraordinary command on manufacturing flower pots.

Now, many artisans were producing artworks for the shop, he says, and each one of them is a master of his art.

Their distinctive style is a source of attraction and inspiration for a large number of daily visitors. About camel skin handicrafts, Waheed claims that Multan is the only city in the world where this unprecedented art has survived.

Former prime ministers Syed Yusuf RazaGilani and BalakhSherMazari, General ZiaulHaq and ex-envoys of US, Australia, China, Japan, Argentina and many other countries besides writers Ahmad NadeemQasmi, Amjad Islam Amjad and AtaulHaqQasmi have visited NigarKhana.

In his trekking guide, Pakistan Handbook, Isobel Shaw writes: `The old gun emplacement on the southern end of the fort mound is a platform with a good view over Shah Rukn-iAlam`s tomb, in one direction, and the old city of Multan in the other. Nearby is the armoury, now a souvenir and pottery shop called NigarKhana. Steep steps lead into a tomb like interior where you can see a selection of blue pottery and painted camel skin lampshades and vases. If you climb up to the roof, you can watch the artisans paint the camel skin.

Punjab Finance Minister Dr Aisha Ghaus Pasha wrote in visitors` book: `I have been delighted to see, the rich cultural of Punjab and very keen to see it well perceived and widely publicised. Thank you for preserving it for us.

Waheed says a large number of visitors keep pouring in the art house from morning till evening as it is open from 8:30am to 9pm in summers and from 9:30pm to 6:30pm in winters.

`In November 1989, Yusuf RazaGilani, the then Federal Minister for Tourism, had urged the government to allocate a piece of land where all artisans could work under one roof,` he adds. About the interest of tourists in items, Waheed says that women prefer to buy jewellery made of camel bone and ivory, wooden handicrafts and other decor ation pieces while people coming from other cities buy blue pottery and camel skin articles.

The oldest artisan of traditional blue pottery is UstadAlam, a friend of Abdul Waheed`s father, who still works at NigarKhana.

The structure which houses NigharKhana was stated to be the BaroodKhana of Qasim Fort, used as storehouse of gunpowder and weapons. It was badly damaged during siege of Multan by British in 1848.



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