Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Challenges in travel research

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I know that some so-called 'real scholars' will deny sharing their knowledge with others - I have personal experience on this. But my teachers, Dr Saifur Rahman Dar, Khaled Ahmed and Kamil Khan Mumtaz have always been very forthcoming.
The kind of research I needed to do was virtually unknown in Pakistan. For example I do not know of a single library in the country that holds copies of the Geography of Ptolemy, or Periplus of the Erythrean Sea (the title means Circumnavigation of the Eastern Sea), Megasthenes' Indika. Nor too have they been reprinted in Pakistan. These are original sources on the ancient geography of our part of the world. Consequently, when I needed these books, my first access to them was in the library of the Royal Geographical Society and Institute of Classical Studies, London. Later I discovered they had been reprinted in India and I got my own copies. Thank heavens for the Jain Publishers of Delhi! Sadly, Pakistan is a researcher’s wilderness.

The Department of Archeology maintains some excellent libraries. Their central library which used to be in Karachi (near Baloch Colony crossing) is said to have been shifted to Islamabad, but I am not certain about this move. It could still well enough be in Karachi. But their library in Lahore Museum and the one in the Fort are excellent repositories of knowledge.

As for the Punjab Archives, the less said the better. Though the resource is unbelievable, it is managed by morons who think that documents more than a century and a half are ‘SECRET’. One such idiot who retired some years ago did actually tell me that some lithographs from the 1850s were secret and not for public consumption. While they will deny access to a local researcher, they crawl to lick the feet of any white skin they see before offering up whatever is available.

The process of travel research is very simple: endless reading. I simply read everything I can lay my hands on that was written by Raj explorers, civil servants, map makers etc. That is generally the introduction which is followed by more detailed reading on whatever catches my fancy. Having Herodotus, Megasthenes, Strabo or Ptolemy in my collection is a very great help.

In the field, the challenge is different. Forty years ago, people’s thinking was very much secular. Ancient stories were still preserved as they had been passed on through countless generations. But then we mutated with the stress on Islamisation. Simple tales were altered and given quasi-religious overtones. Pakistan Television played a highly invidious role in this. I have seen that wherever PTV has not reached, liked deep in the Khirthar Mountains or in parts of the Suleman Mountains, story-telling is still with tradition. This change in thinking is actually an interesting anthropological study.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 17:05,


At 27 March 2013 at 17:22, Blogger Sajini Chandrasekera said...

A very interesting post.

At 27 March 2013 at 21:27, Blogger Nayyar Julian said...

If travel is such hard work then where is the joy of traveling?

At 27 March 2013 at 21:27, Blogger Nayyar Julian said...

If travel is such hard work then where is the joy of traveling?

At 31 July 2017 at 14:01, Blogger AHMED BAJWA said...

Very interesting and very real analysis based on the self experience of the bluntest and most truthful explorer.


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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

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