Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Rabat: Caravanserai at the edge of Pakistan

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In the narrow apex where the borders of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan meet, the map marks a place as Rabat. Gird by the stark, barren crags of the Kacha Koh hills that to the southeast form the border between Pakistan and Iran, and the higher Koh e Malik Siah to the north, this is no village. Rabat is just a militia post and a number of ruined buildings.
 
 
Constructed of sun-baked bricks and mud plastering, these ruins are dominated by one large walled-in compound. It is this building that gives Rabat its name: in Arabic the word signifies ‘caravanserai’ – and that is what this and the neighbouring smaller building once served as.

Inside the broad enceinte of the main serai, there were clearly two classes of rooms. The ones facing south with a fireplace in the corner and veranda in front would have been reserved for rich travellers and caravan masters while those facing west are simpler and would have housed the camel handlers and other servants. The west wall of the serai is ruined, but the foundations show that here too ran a row of simpler rooms.

In the southeast corner of the serai is a two-room residence with a courtyard. One of the rooms has a tastefully crafted fireplace and other a sort of blackboard painted on two walls. Though the blackboard cannot be explained, the building clearly was the inn-keeper’s residence. A hundred metres to the east lies another smaller serai with rooms along only one of its walls.

No archeological team has ever visited this all but unknown site; therefore it cannot be definitely dated. However, from the construction and state of ruin, it can be surmised that both serais date back to about the early Middle Ages.

Though the serai complex now sits on the very edge of Pakistan on a road that leads nowhere, but in those far off times it lay smack on the highroad from the Persian Gulf to the marts of Farah, Kandahar and Ghazni. It may then have been known by an earlier Persian name which may have simply been ‘Serai’. When the Arabs reached this area they only translated the name into their own language.

A couple of hundred metres westward, past the brick and mortar fort of Kharan Rifles, there are two more ruins. One of these is clearly a residential bungalow built like most Raj homes in the subcontinent. It has a veranda with arched openings and two rooms behind. One was a bedroom and the other a sitting room. The veranda in the back has a bathroom and a kitchen at either end.
The other ruined hulk with its central corridor and large rooms is difficult to decipher. But like the bungalow, this too is a British construction. By a tradition passed down through the years, the militiamen manning the fort believe this was a church.

While the age of the two caravanserais can only be guessed, the Raj buildings date back to 1914. With the advent of WW I, the Germans began to incite Baloch tribes in the area to revolt against the Raj. To curb this initiative, a force named the East Persia Cordon was established and in March 1916 one Lieutenant Colonel Reginald Dyer was sent out to command it. He failed to bridle the recalcitrant Baloch, but went on to earn notoriety by the Jalianwala Bagh massacre of Amritsar.


The bungalow and the ‘church’ may have been constructed for the use of Dyer or whoever else that followed in his footsteps. As for the two caravanserais, they will hold their secrets until the archeologist applies his spade to them.

How To Get There: This is a journey for the truly adventurous. Train service from Quetta to the border town of Taftan (640 km west of Quetta) is doubtful, but the road has been considerably improved. Buses normally take up to 16 hours while one’s own transport will take about 10 hours. Taftan has a PTDC Motel. The road from Saindak (30 km north of Taftan) to Rabat is unpaved and good only for 4x4 vehicles. This 60-km journey takes two hours. Very basic overnight facility at the militia post of Rabat is possible with prior permission from the commandant at Saindak.
 
Note: This is the last story of Sights Less Seen - Pakistan Petroleum Limited (PPL) book of days series.  Roads Less Travelled - book of days 2011 - is the next.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM,

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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