Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Travelling without reading

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Over the past three decades of travelling around the country and especially of mountain walking, I have come to realise that ordinary Pakistani tourists do not read anything. This may be due in part to the fact that tourism in our country is merely getting away from the heat. We go to higher places and do not care to know anything about them. We are the ‘been there, done that’ kind of tourists. Travel does not broaden our mental and spiritual horizons.
This realization came on very strong during the trek to explore the Muztagh Pass (The Apricot Road to Yarkand). My travel companions, one an economics professor the other a medical doctor were not there with the same sense of wonder as me. For them this great experience was just another trek, just another been there, done that claim. If I excitedly spoke about some camp ground where we either passed or spent the night and told them of Godwin-Austen having been there in 1861, they showed no interest. It meant nothing to them.

This, sadly, is the way with all the trekkers I know either through personal contact or from their exchanges with me by email. Most of them have read those so-called travelogues in Urdu and believe that is what travel writing is all about. These are spurious works. The average Urdu travel writer has not read anything other than Isobel Shaw’s Trekking Guide. He is as ignorant as his reader and therefore instead of uplifting them, he descends to their level and writes. In a way, they cannot be blamed because of their illiteracy in English and, sadly, no matter how we may vilify it, this foreign language is the fountainhead of knowledge. It does not matter to them if they have incorrect names of places even when the true name conceals an historical event. They do not care to know what history unfolded in the place. They are blind, their souls are vacant because they have no desire for enlightenment and the travel writer is not helping.

Recently I met a young woman, with a good education and excellent command of the English language. She is a trekker and a mountaineer who financed the triple-peak expedition of the women of Shimshal in August 2012. Assuming she would be well-read in mountaineering literature unlike the average mountain walker, I said to her she was the Herrligkoffer of the expedition. This was a reference to Dr Karl Herrligkoffer the rich German who financed a couple of German Nanga Parbat expeditions in the 1950s. I was surprised that even this English-speaking woman had never read any mountaineering literature. She had no clue about the doctor.

This is an imperfection, a lack of belief in what we are doing. We seem to be in whatever we are in without any real commitment. Real devotion to any discipline would mean the striving to gain as much knowledge about it. I don’t see that happening anywhere. Our knowledge is only half-baked verbal mythologies. When will this change?

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 08:00,


At 11 April 2013 at 11:28, Blogger Jalal Hameed said...

Yes I agree with Salman Rashid - travelling without reading leaves out many hidden treasures of the area and one really regrets when he comes to know of these facts after he has returned.

At 27 August 2019 at 15:13, Blogger Adil Rehman said...

I also have the same opinion as you sir. I think there is one way to get familiar our youth with Pakistan's geographical and historical places. The institutes who are teaching geography and history should divide their course outline in multiple group of chapters and after completing each group the should arrange a geographical tour for students. The will help them memorize and explore the places and develop interest regarding traveling.

At 2 September 2019 at 17:33, Blogger Salman Rashid said...

You have a very valid point, Adil Rehman. Thank you. But no one is listening.


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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