Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Marot Fort

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Marot Fort lies between Fort Abbas and Yazman on the fringes of the Cholistan Desert. Back in 1985 when I visited it I was told of a shrine with the supposed footprint of some early Islamic personage. Having seen one footprint too many and knowing for sure that this was a hangover from our Buddhist-Jain-Hindu past, I cannot get myself to believe in them. Nonetheless, I did check out the rather misshapen mark on white marble that could possibly have been a yeti instead of a human footprint.

Two years ago, I was in Marot again. The shrine was there but the footprint was gone, reportedly having been removed by a Pukhtun captain of the Pakistan Army. The captain, it was said, did not approve of the idolatry and had the object removed and presumably destroyed. Good for this man and we could do with a few more of his ilk to bulldoze all these Zinda, Ghaib and Nine-Yards-Tall saints.

To begin with, the 1904 Gazetteer of Bahawalpur State mentions a mosque in Marot, not a shrine of the footprint. That is, this Islamic footprint was invented some time after the publication of that document. It is Dr Saifur Rahman Dar, the pre-eminent archaeologist, who lifts the veil off the shady tale of the mosque-shrine. In a paper published in the Journal of Central Asia (Vol IV, No 2), he presents a reading of a tablet with a Persian inscription that was preserved in the Bahawalpur Museum when he was in charge there.
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When the meek inherit the earth

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In Swat there is no dissent on one thing: the good governance provided by the wali of Swat. This is one thing the oldest resident of the district will vouch for from memory of the time under the benevolent dictator, and this is also what any youngster will tell you from the stories gleaned from elders.

The wali was as a father to the district, they say. He provided education to all regardless of gender and established two thousand schools in the district. He gave justice without bias and he gave it swiftly. In his age, the civil servant was just that: a servant of the citizen.

Misdemeanour on the part of an employee of the State of Swat could be reported and action brought down speedily against the miscreant. In his time, no one could so much as cut a twig, leave alone poach a whole tree. Best of all, there was peace and rule of law in the country under the wali’s rule.
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Back from the brink

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There is something about Mian Said Ali that makes you like him. It is the gentleness in his ready smile, the humility of his demeanour and the matter-of-fact way he talks of his predicament that makes you warm up to him. There is also something that tells you that Said Ali can weather any storm without giving up. A native of village Janu on the highroad from Khwazakhela (Swat) to Bisham and only a few kilometres outside the former, he suffered like so many others through the years of militant savagery. Yet he kept his smile.

Said Ali and his two brothers own 17 kanals (two and a bit acres) of agricultural land. Living together as a joint family, the brothers worked their holding together. Because it was spread over undulating ground, the land was terraced and unequally divided between fields for seasonal crops and orchards.
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Where Mehr Gul was routed

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As the luggar falcon flies, Kehror Pucca lies 35 km northeast of Bahawalpur. Once famous for its courtesans, the town is now not celebrated even for its fine block-print textiles. Ask the average townsperson and you will be told that Kehror is just another one of those many Punjabi villages with nothing to show for itself. But then we do not know our own history — especially when it goes back to the time we were still Hindus.

The second half of the 5th century saw the great incursion into the subcontinent by unwashed savages from Central Asia. Unremittingly ruthless, these fair-skinned, fair-haired men were led by their chief Tor Aman. To writers in India they were known as Huna or Turushka; we know them as the White Huns or Ephthalites. Crossing the Oxus River into Afghanistan the Huns devastated the land, their wake littered with virtually thousands of rotting human cadavers. It was rare for the Huns to pass through a habitation and leave any living soul.
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Deosai Colors

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Excerpt from Land of the GiantDeosai National Park, Review Deosai Romance

Book is available at Sang e Meel (042-3722-0100), Lahore

Odysseus Lahori one year ago: Cheers!

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The rise and fall of Isakhel Estate

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If it is anything, Isakhel Estate near Kot Samaba in Rahim Yar Khan district is a museum – a museum of industrial and agricultural machinery. Here are sheds crammed with lathe machines, steel fabrication presses, furnaces, shelf upon shelf of die-cutters and dies for the production mostly of farming implements and allied spare parts.


Outside in the open is scattered such a variety of farming machinery that even experienced farmers would not know existed. Here are curiously shaped ploughing machines to turn the soil up from a depth of a metre below the surface. Here are antiquated sowing machines; and reapers of the kind called cutter-binders that harvested wheat and bound it into sheaves. These are implements scarcely known to most other farmers in Pakistan.
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Channan Pir

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The festival of Channan Pir lasts a full six weeks through February to mid-March. The shrine is set amid rolling sand dunes, a few kilometres from Yazman (in Bahawalpur district) and is visited, among others, by mothers whose sons were born, so it is believed, after praying here. Cattle owners bring their prize animals to do obeisance so that they may be fruitful and the herds grow. The devotees are spread across the religious spectrum: Muslims, Hindus, Christians.

Legend has it that a Muslim saint came to the court of Raja Sandhila, who ruled over this part of Cholistan at some indeterminate time in the past, and asked if there were any Muslims in the country. There were none, he was told. In which case, said this man of god, the king’s pregnant wife was to deliver a son who would be a Muslim and who would eventually convert the whole country to the true faith.
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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