Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Ali Mardan Khan

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Hard by the railway workshops in Mughalpura Lahore, there sits a domed building. Kanhaya Lal, writing in the late 19th century, termed it the highest building in the city this side of the Badshahi Mosque. This is the tomb of Ali Mardan Khan, purportedly the great builder of Shalimar Gardens and a great canal-digger to boot.

Today, Ali Mardan’s tomb, like any other burial is a shrine where people come to pray for sons and wealth and where their prayers are answered too. The watchman posted by the Department of Archaeology quietly collects — and pockets — the donations of simpletons who believe in demigods. But Ali Mardan was neither. He was not an architect or an engineer; neither was he a man of lofty, unimpeachable character. He was a fraudster in the finest tradition of many a modern mandarin.
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The Salt Range and the Potohar Plateau

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The Salt Range and the Potohar Plateau  - Book is available at Sang e Meel (042-3722-0100), Lahore 

Odysseus Lahori one year ago: Oh no, not cricket again

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Mianwali monuments

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When folks cannot comprehend an ancient monument, they tell you it has always been there, since the time of their grandparents. That is a measure of a very long time for semi-literate people. And when my friend Kashif Noon called to tell me that he had found a pair of Sikh monuments not very far from Mianwali it did not take me long to get there.


We drove out of town on the highroad that connects Mianwali with Rawalpindi via Talagang, the scenic road that skirts the western edge of the blue spread of Nammal Lake and the dark loom of the Sakesar peak. En route we picked up an elderly local who claimed to be a great master of history. At the hamlet of Bun Hafiz Ji, we turned left (south-eastward) on the road that leads up to Sakesar. Just a few kilometres on Kashif pointed out the two domes atop the low stony ridge running alongside the road to the left. They stood starkly grey against a brilliant blue sky.
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Myth of the Silk Road

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After article (Silk Road Part 1) I received an email with two other mails attached. The attachments, one from a woman, the other from a man, were venomous and full of hatred for me. Until this email, I did not know of the existence of these two individuals and am at a loss to fathom the cause of their spite. The great poet Urfi, as quoted by a friend, said not to be concerned with the doings of detractors, for the barking of dogs diminishes not the earnings of the beggar.

That being settled, it has to be said that the point of the piece in question was lost on these persons. The point I was making was that no silk ever came from China to India by the road through Hunza and Gilgit. The fact is that when the Karakoram Highway was first opened back in the late 1970s, it was indeed billed as the Silk Road. No surprise then that we have a ‘Silk Road’ hotel in Gulmit (plus a couple more elsewhere along the road) and we have a bus service of the same name that does not cross the border into China.
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Silk Road

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Until the Karakoram Highway — connecting Abbottabad with Kashgar via Gilgit and Hunza — came near completion in the mid-1980s, no one knew that the Silk Road ran through Pakistan. With the great highroad ready and with lorries plying its nearly seven hundred kilometre-length, suddenly someone upped and told us that this was the fabled Silk Road. And we, the Great Unwashed of this land, gobbled it up hook, line and stinker (pun intended).

We, or our bureaucracy, have spent sixty-four very diligent years creating a huge body of lies, lies and lies that now passes for history. (No wonder with such industry occupying us, nothing else of any consequence ever got done in this sorry land.) The Karakoram Highway being known as the Silk Road is another one of those many nuggets of official mendacity.
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Khwas Khan

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Just inside the Khwas Khani or north gate of Rohtas, as one enters, there is a rather smallish grave with a green-domed roof. The sign on the wall says, ‘Hazrat Syed Sakhi Khwas Khan Shah’. Legend has it, this holy man, known never to have refused whatever was demanded of him (hence ‘sakhi’), struggled against the Sikhs. When finally overcome, he got into some silly wager with his antagonists. “Ask and you shall have your demand”, he is said to have challenged.


The Sikh was craftier. He said he wanted the sakhi’s head. And so the reputedly large-hearted saint chopped off his own head and handed it to the Sikh. Then his headless torso, so the story goes, went airborne and disappeared into the wild blue yonder. The version I heard did not have the Sikhs converting en masse to the ‘one and only true faith’, but we do have someone burying the head just inside the gateway which became a shrine for the superstitious. The northern entrance to Rohtas thence came to be known after this man of god.
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My Books

Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand


Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

Books at Sang-e-Meel

Books of Days