Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Place for the disorderly

I have to admit I am a rather disorderly person. To assert this quality, I have a little plaque hanging right by the computer monitor. It reads, ‘In an orderly world, there’s always a place for the disorderly.’ For a long time after I acquired this from my dear friend Hus Sain (as he writes his name) Mahmud of Jamaldinwali, Karachi, Islamabad and Lahore, I added a postscript to it: ‘And you’ve reached it.’


No surprise then that my desk is usually a cluttered place. (And you should see the little cabinet where I keep the tools!) I clear the desk once every few months. It then lasts in some state of order for several weeks before reverting to its usual condition. Years ago friend Mike Boardman, when he and Carole lived in Lahore, would marvel at what he thought was singular and unique: ‘A desk measuring three feet by six feet which you have to clear to create a space as small as six inches to work on!’
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Communities: With or Againts DNP?

Culture grows from the earth. The ancient societies of Bolor and Dardistan, cognisant of the dearth of natural resources and agricultural land, practiced polyandry – a single wife for all the brothers. That kept human population in check. The advent of Islam in this area in the 14th century altered everything. Polyandry became taboo. One husband to a woman became the rule and where the man could afford, he was permitted to take up to four wives. Population exploded multiplying the pressure on the good earth. Food requirements increased, forests were felled – both for fuel and to make way for agriculture, more and more land came under the primitive plough and farmed terraces went marching ever higher up the slopes from the villages. On the other hand, increasing livestock forced shepherds to seek summer pastures in areas too remote for their forefathers.


The Settlement Record of 1919 states, for instance, that the villagers of Dhappa and Katicho on the east fringe of Deosai pastured their livestock during the summer months in the valleys leading up to the plateau. The record is unequivocal about them remaining out of the bounds of the plateau itself. Between that time and today, as populations, both human and livestock, expanded, these communities are known to have encroached upon the plateau.
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The Fort of Rannikot

Tanvir Ahmad Khan, with whom I share this page, emailed to say that at a dinner with the French ambassador and his wife, the subject of a fort called Rani Khet came up. The fort, it was reported, lay somewhere near Dadu. Other than that no one knew anything about it. The fort of Rannikot (pronounced Runny Coat and not, repeat not, Ranikot or Rani Khet) lies thirty-two kilometres southwest of Sann (the ancestral village of the venerated late G M Syed), eighty kilometres north of Hyderabad in the Lakhi hills of the great Khirthar Range. Between Sann and the fort there stretches a sandy desert that I have seen transformed into farmland over the past thirty years. In the late 1970s, there being no road, one had to either walk (as a friend and I did) or ride a jeep. Today a blacktop road connects Rannikot with the Indus Highway outside Sann.


The walls of the fort become visible from a distance of about four kilometres, snaking over the golden-brown ridges and the first views strike one as being starkly similar to the Great Wall of China. Entry into the fort, if one is on a jeep, is through the dry bed of the Ranni River (whence the name of the fort) or through Sann Gate if on foot. The gateway, on the right bank of the stream, is a classic example of defensive architecture with two staggered turrets that form a dogleg in order to break the gallop of an attacking horseman.
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Thousand Treasures

Some 20 kilometres south of Quetta, past Dasht-e-Bedaulat (‘Wretched Plain” — a misnomer now because electricity and tube wells have turned this once barren land fertile) there rises an imposing purple loom west of the road. Rising to 3,308 metres (10,850 feet) above the sea, this, in common parlance, is Chiltan. Ask any Brahui who lives in its shadow and he will call it Chehel Tan — Forty Souls. He will also tell you that the valleys below are called Hazarganji — Possessor of a Thousand Treasures.

Aside: Balochistan is a country rife with tales of hidden treasures left behind by passing hordes through the long and creative years of history. From the arid wastes of Makran through the juniper-scented valleys of Kalat to the sun-baked hills of the Marri-Bugti area, echo tales of hidden riches.
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It could have been worse!

The first weekend of April was a disaster.

I left Lahore on Saturday to overnight in Jhelum where, on the following morning, I was being joined by three young and very bright people (two girls and a young man) from Lahore. We shall withhold the names of the guilty party for reasons they and I know. Together we were to drive to the foot of Tilla Jogian to trek up to the two thousand year-old monastery on the top.

I am thankful to the Army Corps of Engineers for putting up a two-bit vagabond like me in first-class accommodation. All seemed well at about 9:00 pm when I last went outside to look up into a glorious starry sky and a crescent moon the colour of strong cheddar cheese. At 3:00 am, the sound of thunder roused me. I knew the accuweather.com prediction for rain in Jhelum was coming right.

As I shaved and showered, the rain pattered outside. At a little before 6:00, I called my friend and told him of the situation and that we would have to abort. They were just leaving Ring Road to get onto the Grand Trunk at Kala Shah Kaku and the dejection in AS’s voice was palpable.
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Baltistan Geography

Baltistan lies in the extreme northeast of Pakistan between the 35th and 36th parallel of latitude north of the equator and the 75th and 77th parallel of longitude. The Sindhu River enters it from Ladakh in the east via Kharmang sub-division and cuts across the country on a north-westerly bearing dividing Baltistan from, first, Kargil in India and then the Deosai Plateau to the south. The swathe cut by the Sindhu in its traversing of Baltistan varies in height from 2750 metres at its entry in the east to just about 1700 metres near Shengus as it exits into Gilgit district.


The two major tributaries of the Sindhu in Baltistan are the Shyok, only marginally less significant than the Sindhu, and the Shigar. While the former drains the elongated Nubra Valley (held by India) leading up to the Karakoram Pass, an ancient crossing place on the Asiatic Divide, the latter drains the Haramosh Range to the north and to the northeast the great mass of K-2 and its satellite mountains. Besides these, a few dozen minor streams also run into the Sindhu all draining the scores of peaks that tower well above the 6000-metre mark. The distinction of being home to the highest peak in Pakistan together with its complement of lesser mountains makes Baltistan foremost in the entire country in terms of average height above sea level.
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Souvenirs Collection

My collection of souvenirs is peculiar. No models of cars, trains or ships; or paintings or matchbooks from hotels around the world for me. I have a small collection of fossils picked up from the deserts and mountains of Sindh.


My first find was a pair of starfish fossils from just off Super Highway, about 70 km out of Karachi. The two were lying quite close to each other, undisturbed for a period of time that I could not comprehend at that time. Much later, I got a book on minerals, rocks and fossils and learned that every time I handled my fossils, I held in my hands a life form that lived in a very distant past: they, both Echinolampas, were from the Eocene period dating from 55.8 to 33.9 million years ago. These are no longer with me, having been gifted to my grand-niece and nephew in Canada.
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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