Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Moola: pass of the King’s Highway

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On the exit march after his ‘Indian Campaign,’ Alexander the Macedonian fetched up in the city of Patala (Hyderabad) in September 325 BCE. It was time for him to shed some of his old pensioners. And so the aged general Krateros was given charge of ten thousand veterans to lead home to retirement. The route Alexander wanted Krateros to explore and map was the direct Barbarikan-Arachosia highroad.

Now, Barbarikan was the famous and prosperous mart on the Sindh seaboard by a mouth of the Indus River. We today know it as the ruined city of Bhambor; Arachosia was the Helmand Valley of Afghanistan. This ancient route lies sandwiched between the modern Indus Highway to the east and the great barrier of the Khirthar Mountains to the west and was in use until the 1940s when the new black top highway was laid. Now only local camel caravans ply its ancient and arid loneliness.

One look at a topographical map of the area shows that the Khirthars run as a virtually unbroken wall all the way with few breaches giving access to the Kalat highlands en route to Arachosia. The few passes that do exist are narrow, rocky and unsuitable for wheeled traffic as the ox carts the veteran army of Krateros would have had in its train.

There is one defile, however, that cuts clear across the Khirthar barrier. Watered by a perennial river that takes the tribute of several smaller streams, it is wide, fertile, punctuated by tree-shaded villages and hardly like a corridor through an otherwise arid mountain range. Curved like a giant misshapen horseshoe this is the Moola Pass, fully one hundred and fifty kilometres long and connecting the ancient town of Gandava in the east to Kalat across the Khirthars. This was the route Krateros took.

The Greek general and his veterans were not the first people to pass through the Moola, however. Four thousand years before them, trading caravans from Moen jo Daro and other nearby Indus Valley cities wended up this way to the Kalat highlands to make for the Rakhshan River Valley (Kharan district) en route to Persia and Mesopotamia. Sprinkled through the length of the Moola gorge are ruined settlements and mounds where one can turn up artefacts, terra cotta and gold, datable to the fourth and fifth millennium BCE. When these towns lived and their artisans crafted the pieces, caravaners from the valley of the Indus would have tarried in Moola roadhouses and shopped in the now forgotten marts.

In the latter half of the 6th century BCE, Cyrus the Great of Persia extended his sway over much of Sindh, an influence that was to last two hundred years until disrupted by Alexander. Then the road through the Moola became very busy with the coming and going of Persian troops, traders and nobility. Dotting the course of the ancient road are ruined blockhouses going back to that period which may have served as custom or octroi stations.

Cyrus is known to have visited his Sindhi satrapy at least once during his reign. Remains of an ancient roadway may well be a reminder of the time the King of Kings passed this way. Paved with dressed flagstones, bordered by uprights and featuring stairways on slopes, this was no ordinary road. It was the King’s Highway, especially laid out for a royal journey.

The age of kings and conquerors is well past us. But the ancient road in the Moola Pass is still in use. Even as you read these lines, work is afoot to lay a blacktop highway exactly along the alignments that the traders of Moen jo Daro travelled.

How to get there: Moola can be accessed either from Kalat in the west or Gandava and Jhal Magsi east of the Khirthars. From Quetta, Kalat is reached in an easy two hours by car. There are a couple of rather Spartan hotels in town, but the government rest houses are much the better option. Gandava is a tedious six hours from Quetta with no place to stay.

The journey in Moola which requires at least one overnight stay is best made with local contact. If contacted beforehand Saifullah Zehri (, of Moola can be very helpful in making overnight arrangements. In Jhal, it will be very useful to have an introduction to the Magsis.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 10:16,


At 22 April 2013 at 17:53, Anonymous Ikran Khan said...

Such a beautiful place but going is equally tough. Who goes there anyway?


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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

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