The Apricot Road to Yarkand
Thursday, July 31, 2014
More images and story of Muztagh Pass Expedition in The Apricot Road to Yarkand - available at Sang e Meel (042-3722-0100), Lahore
Island of the Sun
Wednesday, July 30, 2014
If it hadn't been for Nearchus, Alexander's general and admiral of the fleet that set sail from Patala (Hyderabad) for the delta of the Euphrates River, we would never have known about Astola Island. At least not that it was sacred to the sun and, according to the people of Makran, enchanted as well. That was back in the autumn of the year 325 BC.
Nearchus tells us of his arrival in Kalama and a rousing welcome by the natives. Kalama, by the way, is modern Kalamat on the Balochistan seaboard with its bay of crystal waters which makes it an undiscovered scuba divers' paradise. The natives also reported an island called Karbine. Later, having sailed on, Nearchus heard of the same island but referred to by another name. Now it was Nosala. He was also told that the island was dedicated to the sun god and being enchanted, no one could land on it.Read more »
Baloch way of life
Tuesday, July 29, 2014
As Baloch herdsmen lead their sheep and goats across the wild and desolate gorges in search of forage forever scarce, they sing the vars (ballads) of their heroes. One that resounds across the Suleman crags is the story of Kaura Khan of the tribe Qaisrani. Not only is it sung in verse, it is narrated in prose as well all of its several versions that vary but slightly.
Kaura Khan, so the story goes, was the brave Baloch of great physical strength and towering stature who inherited this land from a line of illustrious forefathers. Misfortune brought upon his soaring spirit the overlordship of the Sikhs and the British in turn. But he resisted them, each in their own time, with all his might. But where the Sikhs failed the British forced their writ.Read more »
Internally Displaced Persons in Kohat
Monday, July 28, 2014
Church World Service-Pakistan/Afghanistan is a humanitarian organisation that I have been working with for more than a decade and a half. I have written extensively on their relief and rehabilitation project in places like Swat and Thar. Recently I was called to do a short report on their work with Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Kohat.
|Boys who attend the Health Education sessions at a Mobile Health Unit|
I spent two days in Kohat talking to men and women from places as diverse as Orakzai, Tirah and Parachinar and in a word: it was a heart-wrenching experience. These people, whose exact number is unknown, were displaced from their homes over the past ten years or so. Since they left home in small numbers (unlike the deluge following the North Waziristan operation), there were no camps waiting to rehabilitate them.
Wish I was in Budapest
Sunday, July 27, 2014
In December 1984, I climbed, for the first time ever, the spiral stairs of Minar e Masumi in the old town of Sukkur to look out across a fascinating vista of crowded multi-storeyed houses and the Sindhu River rolling magnificently through them. On one bank sat Sukkur the newer city and on the other Rohri, steeped in early medieval history, oozing that hoariness.
Of a sudden, I thought of Budapest, the Hungarian capital. Now the towns of Buda and Pest are two distinct towns separated by the Danube River and yet connected with a number of bridges. Similarly our Sukkur and Rohri are discrete but still joined by the spans across the Sindhu. I thought this was an analogy and as much as I scoured my mind I could not think of any other twin cities like this that were divided by a river.
Three years later, in the summer of 1987, I met a Hungarian tourist in Gilgit. He said he had a document at home that told him that his family came from one of the several Magyar tribes. I knew from my childhood stamp collecting that Hungary was Magyar in its own language.Read more »
About fifteen or more years ago there appeared in a prestigious Pakistani news magazine the interview of an Italian woman pretending to be an archaeologist. Her theory was that Makran was a very fertile land of rich crops, fertile valleys and forest-covered hills. Then came that scourge of god Mahmud, the raider king of Ghazni, to destroy the ingenious underground irrigation system called karez. The subterranean rivulets ceased to flow, the farmland and orchards died out, the forests shrivelled away and Makran turned into the desert that we today know it to be.
For those who have not travelled through Makran, it is a harsh land of eroded hills here; stark rocky walls; stretches of sand dunes that are sometimes so finely shaped like the crescent as though by the hand of the master sculptor; glittering white salt pans that stretch as far as the eye can see and flat plains strewn with rocks. The few rivers that run here weave a thin ribbon of green through this vast landscape. And that is how Makran has been for the past several millenniums, no matter what some self-styled Italian archaeologist might have to tell us. And of that we have sufficient historical proof.Read more »