Bhera – an interchange and rest station when driving on Lahore Islamabad Motorway M-2. This is all most Pakistanis know about Bhera. But few know that just near this city, Alexander of Macedonia fought his famous battle with Hindu ruler Porus as far back as 326 BC and it was during this battle that Alexander’s famous horse Bucephalus was killed. Alexander had ridden Bucephalus into every one of his battles in Greece and Asia, so when it died, he was grief-stricken and founded a city in his horse’s name. Alexander stayed for four days at Bhera before crossing the river Jhelum for the fateful battle. Chinese Buddhist traveller Fahien who travelled through India from 399 AD to 414 AD, mentions Bhera in his book. He crossed the river Jhelum from Bhera which was great state at that time. Bhera also emerged as an important place during the Mughal rule. Mughal emperor , Zaheer Ud Din Babar mentioned about this town in his famous book “Tuzk – e – Babri”.
The name Bhera has many origins. The most commonly agreed upon “Bhera ” is a Sanskrit word which means a place where there is no fear. The ancient Bhera mounds were known as Barrian, which once flourished on the west bank of River Jhelum. Old Bhera was situated on the right bank of the River Jhelum, on the opposite side new Bhera is located. There are heaps of ruins. Its markets and streets can be seen on the other bank of the River Jhelum. The new Bhera is located on the left bank of river Jhelum near southern Salt Range. River is located about one kilometre from the town.
Bhera was almost destroyed in 1545 because of the disputes among the Pathans. Realizing its strategic importance and location being the left bank of the Jhelum, it was none other than Sher Shah Suri who rebuilt it. He camped at the left bank of river Jhelum, near Qaimnath’s hut, and constructed the first building there. He also constructed the onion-domed Shahi Jamia Mosque, which exists even today and rivals the Shahi Jamia mosques of Delhi, Agra and Lahore in beauty. During Sikh regime 1799, the mosque was used as a stable by Sikhs. The mosque consists of 3 large domes, one central and two on sides. Small bricks have been used in the construction.
1300 years ago, Bhera was a place of learning and people from other areas came here to learn about medicine and geography. Besides many Muslim saints passed by Bhera which became famous in the whole of Asia. Hazrat Meeran Sahib was one such saint, who worked for the transmission of Islam in the area. His shrine is located in the western part of the town near river Jhelum. People from different parts of the area visit his shrine to pay homage. Businessmen and scholars arrived first and then Gaznavi, Ghori, Aibak, Babur and Ahmed Shah Abdali passed by the city to attack the great Rajas and Marathas. During Mughal period, caravans from Central Asia, Kabul, Qandahar and Peshawar used to cross the river to go to Lahore, Delhi and other parts of India. Caravans from Kashmir used to reach Bhera along with the river. During the reign of Mughal emperor Akbar, Bhera had a royal mint for minting gold and silver coins. Bhera remained famous in handicrafts and cottage industry , daggers , sword , cutlery , walking sticks , wooden furniture , carved doors , cotton blankets , silk loin cloth, hand fans , earth pottery and edible delicacies. During English period , Bhera was so renowned for wood carving that carpenters from here were taken to England to carve some of the doors of Buckingham Palace. Today Bhera is known for its Mehndi (Lawsonia Alba) , Phainian and Pateesa.
Like all old cities, Bhera was also built as a fortified city with eight gates around the city namely Multani Gate, Lahori Gate, Kashmiri Gate, Kabuli Gate, Peeranwala Gate, Chinioti Gate, Loharanwala Gate and Hajji Gulab Gate. Only four gates have been able to survive to date, Peeranwala Gate, Hajji Gulab Gate, Loharanwala Gate and Qabli Gate are damaged now. During the excavation of the Greek city of Bhera by Dr M Salim of the Taxila Institute of Asian Civilizations, many a artifacts of iron age, Achaemenian, Greek and Maurayan period have been found. Painted pottery dating from 800-600 BC and a terracotta elephant have also been found. Soak wells, 10-feet high, were found in Bhir mound.
Today, this once thriving city lies in shambles and has been utterly neglected. The old buildings have been dilapidated, specially after the 1992 floods, when the whole city was submerged under many feet of water that eroded walls and roofs of havelis. It is a misfortune that there is no official or public awareness about the treasure of the past.