Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

From Nania to Nani

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Part 1

Back on the road beyond the mud volcano, the blacktop shortly gave way to a shingle road-bed. But even this had been prepared well and we carried on without reducing speed. Presently we were on the banks of the Hingol River. Rising in the hills near Nal, west of Khuzdar, and known as Nal in its upper reaches, the Hingol cuts a most dramatic gorge. Here, a few kilometres above its mouth, it is languid and green with silt. Together with the image of the mud volcano, etched from my earlier trip was one of the Hingol with its Tamarisk-shaded banks. But I was disappointed. The thick growth on its sides had given way to saplings. As the building of the Karakorum Highway had deprived the Indus gorge of its thickets of holly oaks, so too the Coastal Highway has eaten up the Tamarisk of the Hingol valley – all gone up in smoke.

The temple sacred to Nania or Ishtar, to Durga Ma and to Bibi Nani
We had been talking of the crocodiles of Hingol and suddenly Marvin pointed to the far bank and said, ‘There’s one now.’ I looked hard and to me it seemed to be a log. We stopped, got out of the jeep and stared. The log remained static. Then two huge dump trucks came thundering down the road and their noise animated the log. It slithered into the green water; half submerged and became immobile again. Shortly after I spotted another swimming languidly in mid-stream. And then another. The Hingol lives. Strangely enough, we also saw a man bathing and washing about two hundred metres upstream with complete disregard for the crocs. And then we saw another man wading unhurriedly across the river. The croc on the bank was no less than two metres long and could badly maul a grown man, yet these fatalists were going about their business evidently without a worry. Perhaps they knew a satiated crocodile from a hungry one. Either that, or they were privy to feeding schedules.
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The last post

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On The Apricot Road to Yarkand - Book is available at Sang e Meel (042-3722-0100), Lahore

Odysseus Lahori two years ago: Sense and Sensibility, Islamia College, Peshawar

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Khanki Headworks, From Primeval Forest to Breadbasket

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Nestling between the Ravi and Chenab rivers, the Rachna doab, meaning two waters in Persian, takes its name from the first syllable of the former and two of the latter. Despite the poetic reference, this thickly forested land was once notorious country infested with brigands and wild beasts.


Travellers braving its deep, leafy recesses, where the peelu (Salvadora persica), acacia and mango grew profusely, were routinely set upon and deprived of all they had. The pious 7th century Chinese Buddhist pilgrim Xuanzang, himself a victim, leaves behind a doleful account of losing all, including much of the clothing he wore.
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Rannikot Documentary

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Doc24 -- Rannikot Documentary 13th February 2015 [Click to watch the Documentary]

Related: Rannikot - enigmatic, inscrutable, inviting

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Unto us a saint is given

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Some eight or nine kilometres from Kharian city en route to Jhelum by the Grand Trunk Road, if you are careful, you will notice as you enter the Pabbi Hills a shrine on a low knoll just off the road to your right. The green dome is unremarkable, but the dozen or so fading green flags fluttering around it catch the eye. In fact, there are two sets of green flags. The one around the domed building and the other on a slightly higher hummock twenty metres or so to its northwest. Just below them runs the main railway line. By the southbound track of the highway a tent is pitched and next to it sits a steel collection box minded by a man who, it is claimed, is an employee of the Auqaf Department.

Pir Bren Gun Shah (foreground), Pir Howitzer Shah (background) and the railway line

I do not recollect ever noticing this shrine in passing – and I have passed up and down this highroad innumerable times. Indeed the six years I spent at Kharian in the early 1970s and the several walks I took in these hills also throw up no memory of this establishment. But that may not necessarily mean it was not there. It only means that I am not particularly drawn to shrines, real or imaginary, or that it may then just have been an insignificant set up.
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The illiterate Engineer

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On the highroad between Kambar and Shahdadkot (Larkana district), even the observant traveller might be hard put not to miss the large under construction domed building with its tall minaret. This is the shrine of Hakim Shah, an obscure holy man. The building itself is hardly remarkable, what is remarkable though is the fact that it has been designed and is currently being built by Din Mohammed Lashari, a man who has had but two years of schooling.

Seventy years old, he is a brick layer by profession, trained in the craft by his father who, he says, was an ustad - a master mason and teacher of the art. Apprenticeship began when he was still very young and it was a couple of years before Independence that Din Mohammed worked on his first construction site independently. But there was something that must have set the young man apart from his peers, and that surely was an insatiable curiosity - something that would have been lost on a society that cares little for such things. “In those days there was more traffic on the branch line from Larkana to Jacobabad and the wheezing black locomotives drew me like magic,” he says. Consequently, whenever there were a few minutes to spare Din Mohammed would go to the railway station to watch the dark behemoths shunting back and forth.
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A bridge almost too far

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P. S. A. Berridge, a Bridge Superintendent with whom my father worked as a young Assistant Engineer on the North Western Railway in pre-partition India, wrote a very readable account of this railway network. The book, titled Couplings to the Khyber, has long been my bible. Unfortunately, out of print in Britain there are only a few copies of this book to be found in Pakistan; one in the Railway Headquarters of Lahore and the other in the library of the Department of Archaeology at Karachi.

The destroyed bridge at Tanduri

Berridge notes that the story of the construction of the line to Quetta has ‘no parallel in the whole of the history of the railways in India.’ Among other things, he tells us, it was the exemplary courage and fortitude of the engineers and ordinary labourers against not just the elements but recalcitrant and depredatory Marri tribesmen, that was most admirable and which made the laying of line possible.
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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