Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Fata in 1980s

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September 1985. I was freewheeling in what was then North-West Frontier Province. One evening I found myself in Bannu in a really ratty dosshouse — the only place to overnight in town. Having dined on mutton karahi (I had then not gone vegetarian), I was downing my second pot of qahwa when this large man plonked himself across me from my tin table.

Railway merits a revamp in the area

In thickly accented Pashtun Urdu he asked me where I was from, and if I had seen Miran Shah. I hadn’t, I said. And the man offered to take me there. With no real plans of going anywhere I agreed. The man got up, righted his black and grey turban and said, “Chalo!”
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:54, , links to this post

THE BARD’S PAKISTAN

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There are two aspects of a good travel book. One, that towards the end it makes me a bit sad that it is going to be over — I actually read slower and slower near the end. Second, that it makes me want to leave everything and go travelling where the author has been. The bonus is that it draws chuckles.

Isambard — ‘Bard’ to his friends — Wilkinson’s Travels in a Dervish Cloak succeeds on all counts.

It was in 1984 that Geoffrey Moorhouse wrote his beautifully witty To the Frontier, which was billed by Ayaz Amir as a “very sympathetic account” of Pakistan. Moorhouse’s journey through Pakistan took place in 1982 when the country was just beginning to break loose from its moorings under the cockeyed version of a dictator’s sham piety. Back then, society still maintained its original charm and beauty and it was easy for Moorhouse to show us an original Pakistan. There was more beauty, fewer warts.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:15, , links to this post

Rising from the Sand - The Story of Bahawalpur

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The river Jamuna was home to a fearsome dragon in an age long ago. For some reason the gods became displeased with it and ordered it to leave the river and seek a new home in the vast oceans. But because the dragon could only travel through water, the gods were benevolent enough to order the Jamuna to send a stream southward all the way to the sea.


The dragon left the river by this new stream that was for millennia known as the Hakra. But the long and creative passage of time leaves nothing, not even the work of gods, unaltered. The Hakra that was once the dragon’s passage and which slaked a huge country turning it green with farmland and orchard dried up. The land turned desert and today the only sign of the lost river is a meandering depression through the dunes of the Cholistan Desert.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 14:45, , links to this post

THE ENIGMA OF RANNIKOT

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In a word, Rannikot (pronounced ‘Runny Coat’ and not ‘Rani Kot’) is an enigma. And that is because medieval history makes no mention of such a magnificent undertaking. As for the name, that comes from the seasonal Ranni stream flowing through it and not from some rani.


Approaching it from the east via Sann village in Jamshoro district in Sindh, one cannot but remark on the resemblance of its fortification to the Great Wall of China. The ramparts, interspersed with stout turrets, dip and rise with the contours of the Lakki spur of the main Kirthar Mountains. If one were to circumambulate the fortification one would see how the builders incorporated the lay of the hills into the defensive scheme: where the hills are sheer and difficult to scale as in the northwest and northern corner, there are no ramparts. In this area of difficult access, there are only watch towers.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 10:55, , links to this post

What is the matter with us?

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Dawn today (06 April 2018) carries a news item on the back page about air quality inside courtroom number 1 of the Supreme Court in Islamabad being below acceptable level. This was in response to a petition filed by one Venu Advani of Karachi. This citizen is concerned about what we are breathing.

Going by his name, Mr Advani seems not to be a Muslim.

Nor too was Ardeshir Cowasjee. But as Venu Advani is now grieving over the air we are breathing, the venerable Mr Cowasjee fretted about everything wrong that the captains of Pakistan’s destiny were committing. Despite his years of lambasting the corrupt, the venal mafia of this country could not be leashed. In the end the grand old curmudgeon of Karachi said, ‘You cannot teach shame to the shameless’.

In Mithi (Tharparkar) I met Lajpat Sharma, a Brahmin and a practicing Hindu. As an official of the Wildlife Department, this man fearlessly confronted the rich and powerful in his drive against poaching. The last three years of his service before retirement about ten years ago he was posted at Mithi. It was his single-minded stubbornness and courage that today the once dwindling population of chinkara (ravine) deer has made a great comeback.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 15:01, , links to this post

GODDESS OF THE MOUNTAINS

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My Indian friends insist Sharda was a university in ancient times. I, however, find no reference to a school at the site. Sources only mention the temple. Nor, too, did I find any archaeological trace in the area around the temple compound.

The ruins of the Sharda Temple
Up in the valley of the Kishanganga (duly Islamised to Neelam) River, in the elbow where the Madhumati flows into it from the south-east, the ruined Sharda temple sits on a hill above the village named after the temple.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 11:40, , links to this post

CHILLAS AND PICNICS

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Gods, they say, live on mountaintops. They have Olympus for Greek deities and Kailas for our very own subcontinental ones. But when you roam this great and wonderful land of the subcontinent (even if you have to rely on maps because a border keeps you out of places) you find all sorts of lesser gods shivering in the snowy cold of high mountains.


On Takht-i-Suleman (3,447 metres) and Preghal (3,515 metres) in South Waziristan, I have seen altars where ancient believers of the Earth Goddess (Dharti Ma) would have sacrificed their black goats. So too on Sikaram (4,761 metres) in Parachinar and Musa ka Musalla (4,055 metres) in Kaghan. All have duly been converted to Islam and given proper names. On the Takht, the seven-metre square altar is said to be the grave of Kais Rashid, the supposed original Muslim Pakhtun — whatever ‘original’ might be in this case. Preghal is where Hazrat Ismail allegedly prayed for his progeny to grow. Sikaram is the burial of a fictitious Karam and the Musalla is where Gujjars bring their livestock for salaam so that the animals may bear many more offspring.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 10:03, , links to this post

Poisoning the earth

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Shabbir Ahmad Rana, the Central Zone chief conservator of forests, has got his facts all wrong. This is evident from a letter of October 2017 duly signed by him and sent to the Gymkhana Golf Club management committee in response to a letter written by the committee seeking his ‘expert’ advice on their proposed elimination of eucalyptus trees blighting the green.

Paragraph 2 of the letter reads: “I would also like to clarify that large sized trees do not eat up all water given to grassy lawns but they use only that which leaches down to the deep soil. Therefore, the hoax created by vested interests mafia or those with no scientific knowledge is baseless and highly detrimental to the environment. The reason for water level going down is not the trees but it is due to the shrinkage of water catchment areas in the uphills and foothills and resultantly depth of turbines in plans (sic) has to be increased throughout the province and removal of even all the trees from the province will not subside this problem. The recommendations of the Agriculture University are not, therefore, scientifically based.”
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 08:45, , links to this post

Once Upon a Line

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Time was that I went around the country riding steam trains. From the narrow-gauge toy train connecting Bannu with Mari Indus to the metre-gauge trains of Sindh and the magnificent broad-gauge workhorses of what was once the North Western Railway, I rode quite a few. The last one I ever rode was the steam-hauled passenger train R-474 from Malakwal to Gharibwal. That was August 1994.

Gharibwal Railway Station

On that trip I met Iqbal Ghauri, foreman at the steam shed at Malakwal. Speaking only sparingly, and then unhurriedly, he kept his voice low, but exuded the air of a man who knew his job and was proud of it. All his life he had worked on steam locomotives and even as Pakistan Railway was phasing out steam, he was hopeful of keeping his engines going. It was clear he was terribly in love with those dark beauties. His commitment and dedication was remarkable and one could not but like the man.
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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