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Chakwal — home to Pakistan’s traditional shoes

Chakwal — home to Pakistan’s traditional shoes

At the end of Hospital Road in Chakwal city, a narrow street branches out. This winding street is home to one of the oldest bazaars in the city, popularly known as ‘Mochi Bazaar’. The bazaar is so narrow that it is an uphill task for the passers-by to cross, but despite this, the hustle and bustle never dies out.

The shops that line up the street on both sides offer footwear. And these are no ordinary footwear; they are one of the finest traditional shoes indigenous only to Chakwal.

Kohati Chappal, Khussa and Zari Khairi are some of the most famous shoes which are handmade by craftsmen of Chakwal, using pure, soft leather.

Khussa and Zari Khairi

Khussa is perhaps the oldest footwear in the Indian subcontinent. These shoes trace their origins to the 5,000-year-old Harappa civilisation but it were the Moghul emperors who popularised the Khussa.

The Khussa and Zari Khairi are the hallmarks of Chakwal where these embroidered shoes are made in the remote villages of Karsal and Jhamra. Khussa is the only footwear which can be worn on either foot.

A Boski shirt with white shalwar or dhoti (a cloth tied around the waist) and a pair of Khussa or Zari Khairi (shoes embroidered with golden threads) is the most popular attire worn in the rural areas of Chakwal district.

Anyone wearing such an attire can easily be recognised as hailing from Chakwal region.

When late Raja Mohammad Ali, a childhood friend of former Indian prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh from Gah village, went to New Delhi in May 2008 to meet him, he took a pair of Zari Khussa with him as a gift. Besides, Zari Khussa and Zari Khairi are worn on special occasions like marriages.

Karsal village located some 26km away to the west of Chakwal and Jhamra village, located some 34km away to the south of Chakwal are famous for Khussa and Zari Khairi.

In Karsal village, 62-year-old Malik Saleem Raza and Ameer Hussain, 70, make Khussa while in Jhamra, Intizar Hussain is known for his expertise in making the Zari Khairi.

It takes two weeks to make a Khussa while a pair of Zari Khairi need two-and-a-half months. These embroidered shoes are also made for women.

A pair of Khussa is sold in the range of Rs10,000 to Rs15,000 while the price of a pair of Zari Khairi ranges from Rs20,000 to Rs40,000.

“Although the price is quite high, it takes a lot of time and energy to prepare one pair,” says Intizar Hussain.

Mohammad Naeem, who owns a shop of Zari shoes, says that the demand for traditional shoes is decreasing as the younger generation now prefers more trendy footwear.

“Zari Khussa and Zari Khairi are now only worn on special occasions, though the older generation still prefers them,” Mr Naeem said.

“We are drifting away from our culture and this is shameful, he added.

However, for Naeem, Gen. Musharraf’s regime was a golden period for the industry, as during that era Zari shoes were being exported to European countries.

“President Musharraf softened trade barriers which helped us to export Chakwal’s traditional shoes to Britain, France, Spain and other European countries. Our country earned a lot of foreign exchange,” he claims.

The present government, he adds, has increased the cargo fee which is unaffordable. “If the government supports us, this industry can grow and expand.

Making these shoes is a time consuming task.

“I make one pair of Khairi in a day working from dawn to dusk,” says Abdul Khaliq, a craftsman.

He explains that the cost of a tilla (golden thread), leather and other items used in making these shoes has witnessed a sudden increase.

“There is only one factory in Lahore which prepares tilla and sells it at a high price,” Mr Naeem said.

The shopkeepers and shoe makers boast that no other footwear can compete with Chakwal’s traditional shoes as they are more attractive and long-lasting.

However, Zari shoes for women are still in demand.

“Women are more interested in using such shoes compared to men,” says Abdullah, a shoe-maker.

Kohati Chappal

Though this footwear originated from Kohat district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, it was Chakwal’s artisans who popularised this footwear.

And the person who has had a major contribution to its popularity is Mohammad Saleem.

Popularly known as ‘Seema’, this craftsman has been making Kohati Chappal for the last four decades.

Seema sells his own brand of shoes known as ‘Seema Kohati Chappal’.

With 40 years behind him, Seema is a household name in Chakwal and his customers range from a layman to judges, bureaucrats and politicians. His shoes are not only popular in Pakistan; but are equally known abroad.

“When in the early seventies, my elder brother fell ill, I decided to help him in the work. In 1975, I opened my own shop,” Seema said.

“When I started making Kohati Chappal in 1975, its was available at a price tag of around Rs300, but now the same footwear is sold between Rs2,500 and Rs3,500,” he added.

“I have come from Hafizabad to get two pairs of Seema Kohati Chappal on order,” says Haq Nawaz, 65.

“One of my friends was a contractor in Chakwal. In 2007, I saw him wearing Kohati Chappal, and I instantly fell in love with them. When I inquired about is chappals, he told me that he got them from Seema’s shop. Since then, I have been a regular customer of Seema,” Mr Haq Nawaz added.

Giving details of the various types and colours of his brand, Seema said: “The most sought-after variety is ‘Naorozi’. This brand has is made of leather with a special rubber heel which prevents a person from slipping.”.

Another shoe maker, Sajawal Khan, who works at Hazro Chappal Store on Talagang Road is another popular name.

“The famous folk singer Mansoor Ali Malanagi was my regular customer,” he boasts.

Both Seema and Sajawal claim that Kohati Chappal is popular among the younger generation.

“I always feel happy to see the youth wearing traditional shoes instead of the modern footwear which are not durable,” said Seema.

Published in Dawn, June 14th, 2015

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