Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Hunza Musical Instruments

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Every year when the flow in the Hunza River rises with the summer thaw, Qudratullah Baig prowls its banks below his native village of Nasirabad in Hunza. He seeks timber washed down from orchards and forests higher up the valley. In his mid fifties, he can tell the difference between mulberry, the preferred timber, and apricot or almond – all hardwoods good for the stringed musical instruments he crafts in his living room.


A naturally gifted singer and musician, Qudratullah taught himself to play the chharda (local version of the rubab) at an early age. Unable to afford the purchase of his own, he played borrowed instruments until the day at a family function where he was asked to perform. Thinking the chharda was being gifted him, he was devastated when, at the end of his performance, it was taken away. He resolved never again to play another man’s musical instrument.
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Toil of the Loom

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‘There are many qualities of wool in Sind [sic], black, brown and white. A good deal of it, especially of the black, is worked locally into blankets and saddle-bags.’ Thus notes a British civil servant in the year 1906. He goes on to observe that in Tharparkar this wool is put to good use producing ‘blankets’, locally termed khatha. Similar to the kambli of the Deccan, this white-coloured product is, we are told, ‘finer in texture, the wool of which it is made being superior.’

Produced on narrow width handlooms and used more as cold weather attire than as bedding, these are, properly, shawls. Woven in two feet width, two panels in length measuring nine feet each are sewn together to create a single piece. Intricately woven in brightly coloured patterns along the border, the shawls are masterpieces of craftsmanship of the finest order. Unlike some shawls woven with cotton warp, the khatha is still, weft and warp, entirely sheep wool.

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Turn of the Wheel

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Lockwood Kipling knew of Dera Ismail Khan’s famous lac turnery in the 1880s. He was amazed by the ‘microscopic fineness’ of the ‘maze of fernlike scrolls’ and praised the choice of colours that went into the work. ‘The work may be considered the most tasteful and refined of all lac turnery in the Punjab, as there is an entire absence of crude and glaring colours, with a definite system of ornamentation,’ he wrote.


In Kipling’s time, the timber used was mainly shisham. Among the several households practicing the art at the time, the scroll work was done mainly by women. Men only worked the hand lathe or jundri, which gives its name to the craft, to machine the timber into shape and apply successive coats of colour. But for the past several decades the craft is handled entirely by men. At that time, a good deal of this work ended up being exported to Britain. Even today, its greatest patrons are foreigners based in Islamabad with a small number of local supporters. And shisham has been replaced by tamarisk as the main timber.
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Stewards of the Ring

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The art of crafting rings from the horns of wild goat became popular because it was soon seen that such a ring worn on leprosy-stricken fingers cured the dreaded disease. There may be no scientific confirmation of this but many believe in the therapeutic quality of these unique rings. Others wear them for their striking and vibrant colours.


Islamuddin of Chitral town claims his father was the creator of the first-ever such ring. Except the claim is contestable on the grounds that the art of fashioning rings from horns is known to have been practiced in Chitral from a time much before that time. What is true, though, is that these delightfully colourful rings are made only in Chitral. Nowhere else across the district or swathe of Gilgit-Baltistan are they to be found.Read more »

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 10:02, ,

Carved in Stone

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Archaeological research shows that soapstone cookware was in use around 3000 BCE. In fact, it may well be traced back much farther, leading us to contend that the first meal ever cooked by our primitive ancestors came off a soapstone crock. Easy to work, the soft stone comprising nearly 80 percent magnesium takes a long time to heat. Once done, it conserves the heat keeping its contents warm for a considerable duration. Those who use it believe it lends a subtle but distinct flavour to the food.


Discoveries in Indus Valley cities of Pakistan show baked soapstone beads in use 5,000 years ago. Though we find no crockery from the same material at the time, there is every likelihood it was in use. What we do know for certain is that from Chitral in the west to Baltistan in the east, communities in the mountain country were using soapstone pottery when the first European explorers ventured into our northern mountains. As little as 40 years ago, soapstone cooking utensils were still to be found in many homes. Today, these pieces, long disused, sit dust-laden in museums.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 14:00, ,

That Riot of Colour

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There was a time colourful rugs adorned the homes of nobility in Sindh and Bahawalpur. Known as farasi in the south and falasi in Bahawalpur, they were produced by a very busy cottage industry for a market that was ready and wanting. Whatever the artisan, traditionally always women, could bring off the handloom, was quickly lapped up. Turnover was swift; recompense for the long hours over the loom good. Inevitably, every village had several households practicing the craft. Today, these masterpieces of weaving are getting harder to come by.


The word farasi, sometimes pronounced farashi, is clearly a corruption of farsh, Persian cognate for floor covering. Baloch families of Badin claim they brought farasi weaving to Sindh some four to five hundred years ago. At home on the vast, wind-scoured desert plateau of western Balochistan, the dirt floor of their dark goats hair tents was adorned with these hardy, virtually wear-resistant rugs. In that khaki landscape of flying sand and dust, this was one flamboyant riot of colour.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 09:27, ,

Silence in Kosh Kalat

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According to legend, the ancient town of Kech, known variously as Turbat, boasted some 2,000 leather embroiderers and cobblers. Today, Qazi Lal Buksh is the last remaining practitioner of chakankari or leather needlework, at least in Balochistan. By his account, it was because of the large population of these artisans that the town’s precinct of Kosh Kalat – literally Shoe Fortress – took its name.

While he continues to craft women’s slippers, male footwear has gone out of fashion. The latter was a shoe with an upturned toe, equipped with a sewn anklet that sometimes reached up to the knee like greaves used by horse riders. The design for the shoe came down through nearly two millenniums of equestrian history. As well as that, there was the elaborate bandolier.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:16, ,

Pir Chhatal’s Mystical Fish

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The Moola River of Balochistan is the only one in the 400 kilometre-long Kirthar Mountains that cuts clear across the range from the west to the east. Rising in the Central Brahui hills just southeast of Kalat, it flows in a southerly direction, irrigating the wide valley known after it as Moola. Halfway down its course, the river swings north and widens until it shears the rocky Kirthar barrier to reach Gandava.

The point where it enters the lowlands is evocatively known as Naulung — Nine Fords. Interestingly, among the highland Baloch, it is also known as Punjmunh — Five Mouths. Both titles signify the width of the river as it debouches from the rocky confines of the hills. For several thousand years, this was the most convenient passage between the Indus Valley and the Kalat uplands, the only one that could take ox-drawn wheeled transport with ease.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 11:25, ,

Mithi - Whispers in the Sand

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In 2017, the district administration of Tharparkar at Mithi invited me to this work. Through that year, I made five trips to Mithi at different times of year. Though I was under the mistaken notion that my research was complete, when I got down to writing, I found so much was missing. Spent the whole of 2018 reading and writing. Last year, 2019, was spent in editing. Very slow process that was. Over the past two months young Aamir Ali designed this work with great love and attention.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 21:00, ,




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