Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

India the fertile

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Just to refresh the readers’ memory: In antiquity, the land of India was essentially the valley of the Sindhu River. That is, it was what is today Pakistan. The Aryans were overwhelmed by its great rivers and sang hymns to them. The Rig Veda, truly the most beautiful composition of poetry ever composed by humans and one which loses none of its magnificence even in translation, celebrates the rivers.

We read of the Sindhu to which its tributaries flow “Like mothers to their calves, like milch-kine with their milk, so, Sindhu, unto you the roaring rivers run/You lead as a warrior king your army’s wings what time you come in the van of these swift streams.” (Rig Veda, Hymn No. 75).
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Inana or Nani

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There is in south-east Balochistan, on the banks of the Hingol River, a shrine called Bibi Nani. Muslims resort here to celebrate and worship a saint of whom only the vaguest of stories are told. Hindus, on the other hand, believe that the spot marks one of the places where the goddess Durga’s body parts were flung to the earth when she died. They call it Sri Mata Hinglaj. At any given time, followers of either religion can be met with at Hinglaj; both sides wonderfully tolerant of the other’s practices and worship.


There is another Bibi Nani shrine 10 kilometres west of Sibi, at the foot of the Bolan Pass. Here, too, a vague story of her and a pious brother is told. Having come to this country, she and her brother invited the heathens to Islam. But the king took rather unkindly to them and sent out his soldiers to bring them to him in chains. The brother walked into a rock face and disappeared, leaving only a copious spring to mark the spot. We don’t know how the sister Nani met her death and was buried on the banks of the Nari River.
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Sarai Chhimba

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Modern roads all over the world follow alignments that go back thousands of years. Likewise, between Lahore and Multan, National Highway 5 (N-5), follows an ancient line along which humans travelled, certainly as far back as the time when Harappa flourished 6,000 years ago. On this road, so far as I know, there are no notable remains going back any more than 500 years. But surely, lying under the cultivated fields and the foundations of modern housing, there would be some remarkable finds waiting to be uncovered. On this road, one monument dating to the reign of Akbar the Great, is Sarai Chhimba.

Now, in the 16th century, Multan and Lahore were both capitals of important provinces of the Empire. In order to facilitate the frequent traffic of important officials passing between the two cities, the emperor ordered caravanserais at a distance of roughly every 35 km — the length of an easy day’s journey. Sarai Chhimba, lying about 25 km south of Thokar Niaz Beg in south Lahore, was one.
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Pakhtuns

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My article titled “Aornos” elicited an email from Canada. Its gist: that there were no Pakhtuns at the time of Alexander; that Yusufzais moved into Mardan and Swat in the 16th century (that is, they did not exist prior to that time!); that the people defeated by Alexander were not Pakhtuns but Buddhists. The mind boggles at the idiocy of a nation brought up on manufactured history.


First of all, the title Pathan. Pakhtun pseudo-historians claim that the word derives from bataan, which in Arabic denotes rudder and was given to the (fictitious) Qais Abdur Rashid when he converted to Islam. Be it known that the Pakhtuns never called themselves Pathans; that this was a Punjabi and central Indian mispronunciation of Pakhtana, the singular for Pakhtun. That having been decided, we can now reach back into history.
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The Apricot Road to Yarkand Title Image

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Extract: Journey’s End, Review by Maheen Pracha 

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

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The Lonely Line

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When they laid it back in 1916, British railway engineers called it ‘The Lonely Line.’ The reason was the immense distances between stations. Whereas elsewhere in India stations were sometimes as close as ten kilometres, here one could travel ten times as much before making a railway station. In between there stretched a desert of rock, wind-sculpted sand dunes and sere grass. However, the official title for this line was Nushki Extension Railway or NWR.

Salman Rashid
The abandoned station of Alam Reg. Forlorn and forgotten

From Quetta via Spezand, the line winds through the low, bleak hills of Nushki to descend into the desert beyond. Then there is one great wilderness interspersed with a few dusty little towns all the way to the border village of Koh e Taftan. Beyond, the line runs another hundred and fourteen kilometres across Iranian territory to its terminus at Zahedan.
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Mazar-e-Nikodar

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The case of Mazar-e-Nikodar is complicated. Some historians were fooled by the architectural style of the tombs and assigned them a date as early as the 2nd or 3rd century CE. Such a deduction would now be easily acceptable when the only dating element contained in the terracotta decorative tablets has been vandalised. But I am surprised at how all previous investigators missed the one tablet that now exists only as a picture in my custody. This tablet gave these mysterious tombs the unmistakable date of the late 16th century. But now with it gone, investigators can drum up whatever conclusions they want.

Like all other tablets showing animal and human forms, this crucial tablet was also rather crudely rendered. But even in that crudity, it depicted a scene that could not be mistaken for anything else: it showed a man with a long-barrelled jazail in pursuit of three fleeing ibex. Such a rifle as our man carried on this lost tablet was not known in this part of the world before the late 16th century. The other thing this tablet showed, was that those who built and embellished these tombs were not local people but came from a hill country: because the ibex lives in arid highlands, not in flat deserts.
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Naushervani tombs

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Way out in the backyard of Balochistan, smack by the Iranian frontier, not far from the little town of Gwalisthap (G Stop on paramilitary signposts), there sit seven mysterious domed monuments. In May 1987, my first visit, there were eight and according to the Gazetteer of Kharan (1906), there were nine.

In that great wide, treeless wilderness, they are visible from afar. Built of burnt bricks on square plans, most of them are double-storeyed. The largest among these buildings, no more than ten metres square, has three graves on the first floor. These are built like brick caskets and until November 1996, my last visit, they had not been disturbed.
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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