Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

To the Shrine of the Invisible Saint

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The hills – as gold-brown as sun-dried chaff, or dark grey like fire-scoured lead, rise sharply on either side of the narrow gorge. Rarely is their burnished starkness broken by vegetation; rarely, save during a downpour, does one see a trickle of water on these slopes. Desiccated, harsh and barren, the slopes run down to the pebbly bed of the Bolan River where the water flows in a narrow channel. Rarely does the entire riverbed know the feel of water sluicing over it – and that again only during a downpour.
Long, long before Alexander the Macedonian was born; long before the Aryan hordes swept into the plains of the Sindhu-Ganga river system to give rise to a new religion and a new culture; even before the great tragic hero Gilgamesh, the king of Uruk (lower Mesopotamia), disturbed by the demise of his dearest friend, undertook his epic quest for immortality; the Bolan Gorge had resounded to the tramp of marching feet, to the clink of armoury and the jangle of camels’ bells. For this was the highroad leading west from the plains of Sindh where one of the great civilisations of prehistory flourished. The discovery of the ruins at Mehrgarh near Sibi at the lower end of the Pass and the verification that this ancient city had flourished as far back as the eighth millennium BCE testifies that the Bolan route has certainly been used as long as that.
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Fools that Rule

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Every day one reads something in the papers and cannot but wonder what sort of fools and retards rule the various government agencies that mismanage this blighted land. Today (21 May 2016) I am told, ‘The Lahore Ring Road Authority [LRRA] has made a plan to fix iron fencing at various sections of the road to stop pedestrians from crossing the road and causing accidents.’ (Dawn, Metro section).

A small bit of steel fence removed from right in front of a narrow street to give free passage
We are further informed by the blockheads of LRRA that this effort will ‘force’ pedestrians to use overhead bridges meant for them to cross the road. What country do these idiot shitheads live in?
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Wide Road Do Not Mean Better Traffic

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This started on Twitter this morning, 20 May 2016. I tweeted something about courtesy and discipline on roads making for better traffic. And that wide roads make no difference at all.

Tweeple discuss this here

But let me add sense of responsibility to courtesy and discipline on the roads. My friends Moazzam (@MoazzamSalim) and Rizwan (@rizwarned) took exception to my assertion. Both of them seriously believe wide roads will make for better traffic. The argument went illogical when, in responding to my tweet about narrow streets in central London being happily unclogged – or largely so, Moazzam said something about population and vehicular density. As well as that, he said, there were not so many different types of vehicles in the West.
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Agamkot of Sindh

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Read in Urdu about the ruins of Agamkot near Tando Allahyar Sindh. This article appeared in newspaper Roznama Pakistan [double click the image below to enlarge].
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Kolpur Railway Station

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Kolpur Railway Station, the highest point in the Bolan Pass

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A secret revealed

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If the Soon Valley of Punjab had been in, say, India or Nepal, it would have been overrun by tourists. But in Pakistan, it is like that beautiful but poor woman and the full moon of a winter’s night that Manto said no one appreciates. The valley goes unsung. It remains Punjab’s best kept secret.


When I first ventured into this beautiful, picture perfect place, there were only a couple of roads through the valley. The one leading in from Kallar Kahar split to go either through Sodhi Jaiwali or by way of Jaba; both being incredibly picturesque. The former meandered through a largely uninhabited and forested valley with trees shading the road. The latter from Jaba passed by the lovely sheet of Khabeki Lake.
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Map to mountains

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My first high adventure travel book Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan was inspired by the geographical exploratory work of Victorian and early 20th century explorers. It all began in 1983 quite by a fluke of luck when I chanced upon a copy of Eric Shipton's masterpiece of exploration in the Karakoram and, just north of them, the Aghil Mountains. It is arguably the most readable and exciting account of three months of surveying work in the world's remotest region without any outside help or replenishment carried out in the summer of 1937. In this account (as indeed in all his other five mountain travel books) Shipton comes across as a most likeable travel companion. He along with his climbing partner and lifelong friend, William Tilman, became my hero. I just wanted to be where these two great men had been.

The Aghil Mountains, in 1937 were part of India and were inherited by Pakistan until they were gifted to China by our government in 1963. They went out of my reach, but I resolved to see some of the regions where Shipton and Tilman had been. And so the notion of Burrs was born. The journey was undertaken in the summer of 1990 and it took three months to complete.
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The north face of Chhogho Ri

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On the left, Chhogho Ri (K-2) the Great Mountain of the Baltis (that is what the name means), Chogar of the Uighur and Kirghiz people of Xinjiang and Chogoli of Chinese. At a little before eleven when I became the first Pakistani to see its north face, the mountain was blue clad. This image was only for the record.

From The Apricot Road to Yarkand - Book is available at Sang e Meel (042-3722-0100), Lahore

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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