Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

My next travels through Pakistan

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Travel was indeed a very peaceful, enlightening experience until we became a frontline state. But let's take about two troubled provinces one at a time. That blessed land of Balochistan with its wide open spaces give such a sense of exhilarating freedom that you feel like a bird. Here, in this untrammelled, unexplored land, you make discoveries that educated you beyond your wildest dreams, far more than decades in some university. However, Balochistan did not fall foul because of the frontline misadventure. We abused the province - and this includes all of us, you me and everyone else. We are guilty because when the establishment was misgoverning this wonderful land, we all silently watched. We are guilty because we did not protest. My Baloch friends tell me I can still return to their land and travel with them and if there is trouble, they'll be the first to die for me. I trust them completely. But I joke that in that case there will be two of us dead!

Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa simply had to go that way after what we did in the 1980s. I recently learned that one Zahir Shah who was my guide in June 2003 on the trek to Pre Ghal (also Pir Ghar, Pir Ghal) is now a leading terrorist. I want to meet him, but friends in the civil service tell me that they will not risk taking me anywhere near Waziristan. It has been said that they will try to get him to come to Tank or Dera Ismail Khan for a meeting. But I don't know if that will ever happen.

Everywhere else men who I followed on my travels are still my friends from more than thirty years ago. In Sindh, Punjab, Gilgit-Baltistan, I maintain a relationship with my travel companions.

The sad thing is that the traveller's Pakistan has shrunk drastically. This is true even for Punjab and in a lesser degree for Sindh. In Punjab the complete breakdown of the state has created immense insecurity. Take the example of Tilla Jogian, the hilltop monastery near Jhelum. I have been going their regularly since 1974, sometimes leading college students, boys and girls, TV crews, friends etc. Every time we arrived at the bottom to begin the climb locals would tell us that the hill was crawling with criminals and every time I rubbished them to their faces. But now because there is a complete breakdown of authority, I would not dare to try Tilla.

I discovered Kashmir last October. By motorcycle. And it was great fun. Lovely scenery, such warm and friendly people who were always welcoming. This was a diametric change from my experience in 1988 when I bolted on the second day of my journey because of the suspicion everyone had for strangers. I hope to return to Kashmir, again by motorcycle, in May and then again in October. And that will not be the last of these trips.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 20:14,


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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