Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Peshawar: the First City

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Peshawar is not about the clatter of armoury, the tramp of soldiers’ feet and the raging din of battle; it is not of a city on fire and the cries of the dying. Peshawar is about murmured prayer, of the ringing of the temple bell and the call from the minaret, the clang of the jaras – the bell around the camel’s neck in the caravan – and the soft plop of the animals’ feet on unpaved streets, it is of the vendor crying his wares in streets where rows of shops run on either side and which are crowded with buyers and sellers. Peshawar is about long distance travellers, of caravanserais and story-tellers.


It was April 1977, and I was wandering about Namak Mandi in Under Sheher (Inner City) Peshawar. In a narrow street lined with stores and qehvakhanas, it leapt straight out of a story-teller’s repertoire: the caravanserai with its open-to-the-sky courtyard and spacious rooms on all four sides. A timber staircase led to the floor above where smaller rooms were equipped with fireplaces. But in 1977, the fireplaces were cold, the rooms empty and dusty, unused for perhaps a couple of decades and the downstairs rooms served as warehouse for packaged goods.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 15:38, ,

Rhetoric & reality

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Between April and October 2016, I was conducting a study on Chashma Right Bank Canal that runs through Dera Ismail Khan district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It was during the height of the frenzied and much-hyped ‘billion-tree tsunami’ by the ruling party of the province.


In May, I witnessed men planting hundreds of conocarpus and eucalyptus trees along the canal. I also saw thousands of eucalyptus trees in the stream bed of the Gambila river somewhere in the vicinity of Lakki Marwat.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:36, ,

OBITUARY: THE NAIPAUL I KNEW

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It was September 1995 when Nadira (then Alvi) phoned me and said V.S. Naipaul was in town and that I should see him. I refused. Why, he was an abrasive, disagreeable old man who had destroyed journalist Nusrat Nusrullah in his book Among the Believers. I didn’t want the same done to myself.


No, said Nadi. I had to be myself and since I always was, I would hit it off with him. It was after much coaxing that I agreed. In fact, I took a couple of days telling her I was busy with something or the other. And then I said I couldn’t because I was going away to Islamabad. Good, said Nadi because he was already there and since we were going to be in the same hotel it would be easy.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 10:56, ,

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, ,

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, ,

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, ,

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, ,

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, ,

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, ,




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