Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

On the first train to the border

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As you read this, the first train originating in Karachi and passing through Hyderabad and Mirpur Khas will have already steamed across the frontier into Munabao station in Rajasthan. Indeed, the first return train will be just about now pounding across the sand dunes en route to Karachi. ‘Steaming’ here being a figure of speech, for the trains are no more worked by those grand old machines of yore, those coal-burning (later furnace oil), smoke-belching steam locomotives. Today a modern diesel juggernaut will haul the train.

Again, now the journey will not require the tedious change of trains at Mirpur Khas, where in the old days the broad gauge line ended. From here onward it was a metre gauge line and this section was known as the Jodhpur Railway (JR). Time was when many of those lovely old workhorses wore little badges above the pony wheels in front that said JBR – Jodhpur Bikaner Railway.
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Saruna Valley

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I first saw this magical place in 1987. The Saruna River (Lasbela district, Balochistan) breaks out of its narrow rocky gorge and, before going on to run into the Hub River, spreads out to form a tarn. Said to be very deep (so far as I know, no sounding has been done to determine its depth), the water is of a striking deep green shade. And the setting is so uncannily beautiful that it does cause a sharp intake of breath.


The lake teems with crocodiles. Local legend has it that one accused of theft or mendacity thrown into the water will either be taken or rejected: the guilty, so they say, will be eaten. The innocent can swim and gambol in the water even as the crocs look on unconcerned. In 1987, there was one grave said to be that of Ari Pir along with its ancillary burials of lesser saints and one little tea shop and eatery. Ari Pir, so I learned, was a staging post on the route from Sehwan to Lahut Valley that became active in the month of Ramazan when hundreds of bhang-quaffing malangs passed through from the former to the latter. But there was no story about Ari Pir.
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Deosai Life

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[Image from Deosai: Land of the Giant] - Book is available at Sang e Meel (042-3722-0100), Lahore

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Grandeur in the wilderness

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The Kalhora dynasty ruled over Sindh for a full century from 1680 to 1783. Whereas the decline of this house of religious and military leaders owed all to inept bumblers, there were in the early years of the rise and power of this dynasty men of remarkable acumen and administrative skill who guided its fortunes.

Drigh Bala necropolis
Many remember the Kalhoras as builders of the most elaborate irrigation system in Sindh prior to the British advent that turned vast desert regions into fertile farmland. The Kalhoras were noted also for raising the new city of Khudabad (Dadu district) and virtually rebuilding Hyderabad from scratch to give it that name after Ali (RA) the last of the rightly guided caliphs.
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Baghsar Fort

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Read in Urdu about history of Baghsar Fort situated right on the Indian frontier, near Bhimber. This article appeared in newspaper Roznama Pakistan [double click the image below to enlarge].

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The shade that scorches

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An ignorant military dictator and his equally misguided ministers first forced the Forest Department to increase forest cover in the advent of the 1960s. Since the survival rates of local saplings were as low as 15 per cent, the eucalyptus – imported from Australia and not fed upon by any subcontinental animal – was favoured; thus starting the practice of destroying forest cover with wholesale plantations of water-guzzling eucalyptuses. 

Trees being felled from Gulberg Main Boulevard to make way for the signal-free corridor project

Towns expanded, chewing up what was once forest and farmland. Large tracts of well-forested land were cleared of trees hundreds of years old, and were replaced by new roads and newly laid out parks. Hills that were once clad with pine trees, but had since been denuded due to erosion control post-Partition, were generously carpeted with eucalyptuses. When the old intercity road, once passing under tunnels of acacia, neem, pipal and shisham, was widened, the old trees were cut and replaced with eucalyptus trees. By the late 1970s, eucalyptus was seen from Sost, on the Chinese border, to Jiwani on the Balochistan seaboard, and from Nagarparkar in Sindh to the hills of Bajaur and Swat. Yet, no one connected the drying up of springs to the introduction of the ever-thirsty tree.
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Dodo Chanesar

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South of Badin (Sindh), in the heart of the Great Rann of Kutch, there is a place called Rupa Mari — Palace of Rupa. In that vast emptiness there sits a low conical mound of clay and an unpretentious grave under a timber canopy. The land around is strewn with pottery shards to remind us of a now forgotten town. They say the ruins are named after the queen of Bhongar, the second of the Soomra kings of Sindh who built the town. The grave is that of their grandson Dodo II.

Legend relates that the first Dodo had two wives: one a blacksmith’s daughter and the other a Rajput woman. The former bore the king a daughter and a son called Bhagi and Chanesar respectively. The other wife was pregnant when Dodo fell in battle, and when the child was born the aged Bhongar named him Dodo after the fallen king.
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The Transformation

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In 1980, I worked in Karachi for a German multi-national engineering firm. This was just when the Soviet Russians had foolishly walked into Afghanistan to destroy not just one country (Afghanistan) and unhinge USSR, but set the entire world on the path of perdition. I know minds much better than mine could see into the future and know where Pakistan would be headed in the changing scenario, but I confess I thought the Soviets’ Afghan adventure would soon be over leaving the rest of us none the worse for wear.

In those days in Karachi, we would from time to time have a couple of young German interns. Since I also managed the company’s guest house, I made friends with these chaps and we used to hang out. One of those interns one day said, ‘Why does the singing man begin so early in the morning?’
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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