Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Jhao: forerunner to Makran

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In September 325 BCE, Alexander the Macedonian had settled the affairs of Patala (Hyderabad) and started on his journey westward. His route lay southwest to what is now Karachi and then north to Lasbela. The ancient histories tell us that Rhambakia lying on his route was the home of the Oreitai tribe, and their ‘largest city’. We know today that the remnants of Rhambakia very likely sleep under the high mound on which the modern houses and bazaars of Lasbela town stand.
As the Oreitai received word of his impending arrival they put up small pockets of resistance along the way. But being no match for the great host of the Macedonian forces, they were routed until the invaders reached Rhambakia.

Alexander was impressed by the site of the town and felt that if it were improved and its defences revamped it would ‘become great and prosperous,’ so the histories record. As was his past practice, he left behind a trusted general to oversee the reconstruction of Rhambakia. Meanwhile, the king made arrangements for his onward march into Gedrosia, as Makran was known to the Greeks.

Alexander’s historians tell us that the road westward crossed from the country of the Oreitai into that of the Gedrosians by a pass that was narrow and tortuous. There, in the mouth of the pass, the combined forces of the two tribes had taken up position to defy the invaders. To this tryst did Alexander hurry from Rhambakia. But as he approached, the native soldiery lost heart at the sight of his vast, well-armed and very experienced army.

Even as Alexander approached, the defenders quietly dissolved into the labyrinthine gullies of the pass that we now call Jhao. Had they stayed to test their arms, this Battle of the Jhao Pass would have been the last action that Alexander was to fight in the subcontinent. That was not to be, however.

Long before Alexander, there were others who came and went this way and it was not peculiar that Alexander found Rhambakia ideally situated to become ‘great and prosperous.’ Any town on a major trade route would always stand to profit.

We know that there were three east-west routes between the Indus Valley and Mesopotamia that were being traversed by trading caravans and ordinary travellers from at least as far back as the 5th millennium BCE. One of these came over the foothills of the Khirthar Mountains in the vicinity of Sehwan; through Lasbela and the Jhao Pass it went on to the rich and busy entrepot of Turbat.

Even in that distant time, we hear of the peace of trading caravans being shattered. Semiramis, the mythical queen of Mesopotamia from an indeterminate time in the misty past may also have trekked through this pass. On a more definite note, three hundred years before Alexander, Cyrus the Great of Persia, marched homeward through this waterless conduit.

Desiccated, barren and claustrophobic the serpentine Jhao Pass was, if anything, a sign of things that lay ahead – the waterless wastes of Makran. Semiramis made it out of the desert with only seven retainers; Cyrus did only marginally better with twenty survivors. As for Alexander, his losses in terms of treasures and manpower were immense.

How to get there: From Karachi, the road as far as Uthal (120 km north) being the new Coastal Highway, is of a fine quality. The remaining 60 km stretch to Lasbela is somewhat indifferent. Nevertheless, the journey from downtown Karachi to Lasbela takes no longer than four hours. Lasbela has no hotels and booking in a government rest house is necessary. From Lasbela town, the drive to the pass is about 30 minutes and can be undertaken without a guide for it lies on the highroad to Awaran and Turbat.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 10:16,


At 24 May 2013 at 12:04, Blogger Nayyar Julian said...

Such a far off place. One only can wish to see it. Thanks for introducing this. The whole series Roads Less Travelled was very very telling for me. I have not even heard of many you mentioned. Thanks.

At 24 May 2013 at 12:15, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Glad that you enjoyed the series. This work was done for Pakistan Petroleum Ltd diary for the year 2011.

At 26 May 2013 at 18:08, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Breathtaking travel photo from Balochsistan – capturing Pakistan’s under-explored corner. Amazing reach out. JJ

At 27 May 2013 at 11:09, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

If there are mountains of the moon anywhere in this country, it is Balochistan.

At 25 January 2014 at 20:23, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great salman rashid, all time favourite. Akaxender took a wrong route from lasbela through awaran to kirman, he should ve gone north to besema turn left for pungur n then kirman n bam to avoid heat n desert. Bigest military mistake
Tariq rind

At 8 February 2014 at 13:37, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Spot on, Tariq. The best route through Makran was indeed the Besima-Panjgur road. Good water, plenty of food and in October, balmy climate. Indeed, Panjgur would have even been COLD.

At 8 August 2014 at 13:59, Blogger Rehan Afzal said...

However you should know that the ancient route to Panjgur was via the Purali / Kud River Valley, which was what Alex must have been following. In fact it was exactly this route which was taken by the Arabs to invade Sindh. Incidentally the Besima-Panjgur track had not been well known back then.

Plus Alexander was seduced by the Spice Growing Oreitae, whose Capital was Ora (Rhumbakia was apparently only a village). Arrian tells us that Hephaestion went from Rhumbakia to Ora. In fact the famed Alexandria of Gedrosia, was founded at Ora as Alex was so enamoured by the Oraeitae, who were so democratic, they even voted to surrender.

At 24 May 2015 at 14:15, Anonymous Anonymous said...

excellent one, opening new corners to explore


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