Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Mountain of Forty Souls

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The purple loom of the Chiltan Mountain spikes the skyline 20 km southwest of Quetta. In its folds and deep ravines there live forty elfin children. Woe betide the unwary traveller who should cross paths with these elusive pixies for they entice and lead the person away from the path and into unknown depths of the forest whence none have ever returned. Indeed, Brahui shepherds will swear that they hear voices calling out to them as they lead their herds around the mountain.

Elderly Brahuis recount the tale as though it had unfolded but yesterday. Providence, they say, dealt a bizarre hand to an indigent Brahui couple: for long they had remained childless and then bestowed by nature with not one or two, but fully forty infants. Hard put to provide for themselves, the very thought of having to feed forty additional hungry mouths drove the parents to desperation. The only recourse, so they decided, was to keep just one of the babies and abandon the other thirty-nine in a nearby mountain in the hope that other travellers or wood-cutters would rescue them and take them for their own.

The plan was executed and the couple settled down with their one remaining child. Not long thereafter, travellers coming through the mountain reported spotting well-nourished babies gambolling in the thickets in the mountain. Word was that Mother Nature herself was nurturing the babies and that this little imps attempted to draw travellers from the wayside. Soon it came to be known that the children of the mountain were causing travellers to disappear.

Shamed of their own niggardliness against nature’s munificence, the couple resolved to retrieve the babies they had earlier abandoned. And so together with their one child, they went into the mysterious reaches of the mountain hoping to use their one child as a lure for its siblings. Deep inside the mountain, they espied the lot cavorting about the trees and rocks. The couple set their one child in a clearing and waited for the rest to come for him when they hoped to grab them all.

But the children were too quick for the parents. Even before the parents could begin to react, they had gathered up their brother and made off into the mountain. The sorry couple tried every which way they could to call them back, but to no avail. Brahui story-tellers assert that it is these children, miraculously brought up by Nature herself, that haunt the mountain to this day. And so they call the Chehel Tan – Mountain of Forty Souls. Usage has corrupted the name to Chiltan, but the legend remains unchanged.

The massif, covering some 300 square kilometres and rising at Chehel Tan peak to 3308 metres (10,850 feet), is actually a complex of two regions known as Hazarganji-Chehel Tan. The first part of the name means Thousand Treasures and together with the legend of forty children is simply Brahui celebration of the fecundity of this mountain range.

Since time immemorial, Brahui herders and travellers were aware of the wildlife, trees, medicinal shrubs and grasses that fattened their herds. And so Chehel Tan became the mountain where even defenceless babes could survive by themselves.

Note: This story first appeared in Tales Less Told - Pakistan Petroleum Limited (PPL) book of days 2009.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 08:24,


At 20 May 2016 at 15:59, Anonymous Amna Azim said...

I have never seen any piece as beautifully written as this. Such perfect sentence structuring.Stay blessed, kind sir.

At 20 May 2016 at 16:18, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Amna Azim, I am eternally grateful. Thank you very much.


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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