Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

THE CULT OF THE EARTH MOTHER

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Grasses, sere and brown in late September, sway and bend in the stiff cold breeze, their movement frenzied as if trying to escape the chill and only failing. The solitary green is a lone bush that looks like buckthorn but its leaves are all but gone and identification is impossible for a layman. Other than that, the wind-scoured whaleback peak, 2,710 metres above the sea, is strewn with nodules of limestone.


Stretching north-south, Khawaja Amran lies some 25 kilometres due south of Chaman town in Balochistan and has long been a site of pilgrimage. There, they say, a saint of old is buried who answers prayers of childless parents to bequeath upon them progeny to their heart’s desire. In Chaman, about two decades ago, I asked about the provenance of the saint, but the man who said he periodically went up the hill to offer gratitude, because his own children were the saint’s gift, had no idea.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 10:35, ,

Legend of a Traveller

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 11:14, ,

THE CHILD WITHOUT DREAMS

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L first met Shahdad Marri in March 2010. It was his third or fourth day in kindergarten school. He had still not received his uniform, but that was understandable. Stranger yet was that Shahdad of Kohlu town was then 11 years old.


The eldest of seven siblings whose father worked as a daily wage earning labourer, Shahdad had never been to school. In Kohlu, virtually a one-horse town then cut off from the rest of the country because of very poor, unpaved road connections, there were few opportunities for his father to employ himself gainfully. He daily went to the town square and waited to be hired to help either at a building site or on a farm. What he made at the end of a 12-hour day — if he was hired — was a pittance.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 10:16, ,

Symbols in Stone: The Rock Art of Sindh

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"The Kirthar Mountain Range, which separates Sindh from Balochistan, is rich in ancient petroglyphs.” Thus anthropologist Zulfiqar Ali Kalhoro opens his latest book Symbols in Stone: The Rock Art of Sindh. If anything, this is an understatement, because in Sindh, virtually thousands of examples of man’s artistic expression can be found. In two earlier works, Kalhoro discussed memorial stones and funerary architecture and its art in the province. In this book, as indeed in his earlier works, the author unravels aspects of anthropology and history that had always been right in front of our eyes and of which we knew nothing.

Until the book on memorial stones in Tharparkar, even the informed traveller coming upon them was utterly uninformed of their provenance and meaning. The Brahmi script on the oldest memorials, and Gujarati on later ones, was unknown to visitors and so these stelae — whose exact number was not known — sprinkled around the Thar Desert were just stones with nice carvings of horse riders. End of story.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 10:05, ,

THE MAGICALLY MYSTERIOUS GERH BUST

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Balochistan is a land of extraordinary geological and topographical surprises. For the time being we can leave its archaeology alone because, one day when they bring their brushes and scalpels for its myriad mounds dating from 7000 BCE and surely even older, archaeologists will spend the next 200 years just uncovering the secrets of ages gone by. In only the physical splendour of Balochistan — from the dramatic mud volcanoes of the coastal region and Awaran to the fairyland of Moola Pass in Kalat district, to the deserts of Nushki and the immense salt wildernesses of Kharan — there is enough to overwhelm the curious traveller.


My friend Aziz Jamali knew of another marvel: Gerh Bust. Now, in Balochi, Gerh (with a palatal r) means ‘boundary’, while ‘bust’ is the ‘act of making it fast’. That is, the Well-Established or Fast Boundary. He said east of Manguchar town in the wilderness of the Central Brahui Mountains was this remarkable rock formation cut by millions of years of flowing water.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:02, ,

THE MEMSAAB CHRONICLES

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Fakir Syed Aijazuddin is, without argument, Pakistan’s foremost teller of historical tales. Across 16 works, his pen — rather, his keyboard — spans several centuries past and easily glides into contemporary times. He has yet again outdone himself with Sketches from a Howdah: Charlotte, Lady Canning’s Tours, 1858-1861. Meticulously designed and printed on art paper in royal quarto size (10 by 12.5 inches), the volume is a collector’s item.


The title is apt, for it seems Charlotte Canning habitually sketched sitting atop an elephant in an elaborate howdah, complete with a dickey behind for her maid. The book’s front cover and frontispiece bear this colourful scene in oil, rendered by the well-known Raj artist George Landseer.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 10:33, ,

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, ,




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