Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Mountains' Might

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My wilderness walking began in February 1979. I had only three months previously left the army and was then working for a multi-national firm in Karachi. We got a two-day weekend, a great departure from army life where even on a holiday you needed prior permission to leave the station. Having heard from one of my colleagues of Khadeji Falls, a small waterfall, about an hour out of Karachi on Super Highway, I one day took the bus to this place. It was mid-February and the weather was perfect. The fall was a disappointment, but the greater one was the unruly crowd of picnickers. They were noisy, littering and silly. So I walked off across the river and into the wilderness. About fifteen minutes after leaving the crowds, I was in a wilderness so consummate and overpowering that I just had to sit down and soak it all in.

This became my favourite haunt after this episode. Every other Friday (we had Friday and Saturday off in those days) I would be here with a small haversack, the military kind got 'on payment' from an Air Defense regiment in Malir, that contained my food and water. In the beginning it was only a day's dash out and back to get the bus back to Karachi. But then I found a place where a bend in the river (it is the Malir) had gouged out a deep pond filled with clear, emerald water in which I could see fish. This became my haunt. I would come out here all by myself and spend the night by this pond sleeping on a rock that was large and flat enough for me to lie on. I would eat whatever I had brought out with me and in the morning cook tea with water from the pond. Then I would bathe in it and walk back.

I went farther and farther afield, but all my walking was confined to the Khirthar Mountains. These included walking from Sann to Rannikot Fort with my friend the late Tariq Saeed and spending days exploring around this mysterious fort. The first big walk was with another friend, Maqbool Abbas, when we walked the length of the Hub River from the seaboard outside Karachi to a few kilometers short of its source in the upper Khirthar.

Chitral came next and then Baltistan. But when I took my three-month walking trip through the Western Himalayas, Karakoram and Hindu Kush in 1990, even though I was pretty hardened by the Khirthar walks, I had no experience of being any higher than about 3000 metres. I fared quite well on that. It appalls me that readers of Urdu travel fiction think the only place to travel to is the North. I have climbed the second highest peak in the Khirthar. Kutte ji Qabar (The Dog's Grave is 2096 metres) besides my other walks in these hills and have come to appreciate the meaning of Khirthar: khir is milk and thar cream in Sindhi and this is the most beautiful, evocative antithetical name I have ever heard. The story, 'Chandio's Land' can be read in my book Prisoner on a Bus.

In Balochistan, Takht e Suleman. At 3379 metres, it was a great experience, as was Musa ka Musalla (Moses' Prayer Mat, 4055 metres) in Kaghan. These two were climbed respectively in October 1993 and June 1994. In June 1999, I climbed Sikaram, the 4761 metre-high peak of the Safed Koh in Parachinar and in June 2003 Pir Ghar (aka Preghal, 3515 metres) in South Waziristan. All these peaks have shrines on top that are clearly remnants of Dharti Ma (Earth Goddess) worship. In the Thar Desert, the bueatiful red hills of Karonjhar outside the town of Nagarparker are another great walking area. Though they are only about 300-400 metres high, I have walked around in them in August when the sky was overcast and a fresh, moist wind blew at about 40 knots. The birdsong, especially of the white-cheeked bulbul, in these hills is like nowhere else.

Though I have walked in Kaghan, Chitral, Gojal and Baltistan and enjoyed myself immensely, I simply love the Khirthar Mountains as a great winter stamping ground. In the Punjab, the Salt Range and the Soon Valley are good walking areas. Tilla Jogian at 1002 metres is another great walk for a day. Not to be forgotten are the Suleman Hills in the district of Dera Ghazi Khan where I have walked with my friend Raheal Siddiqui. A couple of these stories appear in Sea Monsters and the Sun God; the remaining wait for the next anthology.

Bail Pathar, Been Gah (both about 2200 metres) were great walks. Raheal and I missed the somewhat higher Behu because of rain and a minister visiting Raheal's district unannounced. There is an evocatively named hill in the Central Brahui Mountains near Manguchar. Koh e Maran - Mountain of Snakes - is 3277 metres and just about kills me with suspense because from the distance, even though the massif itself is elongated, the peak looks almost volcanic. If things get well in Balochistan, I will be there early next year. I just have to see what snakes are to be found on this peak.

The trails of the Margalla Hills of Islamabad that everyone else seems to have walked, have been assiduously missed by me. I suppose I just don't want to be where the crowds are. Give me the Mountain of Snakes any time.

Related: The Apricot Road to Yarkand, Mintaka Walk 

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM,

7 Comments:

At June 5, 2013 at 9:50 AM, Anonymous Iron Raza said...

Inspiring or challenging? I can’t decide. I don't know.

 
At June 5, 2013 at 9:58 AM, Anonymous Ramla said...

Tire the mountains as they say.

Mountain of Snakes?

 
At June 5, 2013 at 12:55 PM, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

No. No one can tire the mountains, or Nature. Never dream of attempting such a folly. You will not only be defeated, you will be destroyed. You respect Nature, including mountains and wilderness. Anyone who could utter an inanity like this had probably never left the comfort of a sitting room.
There is indeed a Mountain of Snakes.

 
At June 6, 2013 at 10:16 AM, Anonymous Googler said...

You brilliantly make sense of a place few of us can know by your art of walking those places and then writing about them. Thanks a million or showing Pakistan mountains' might.

 
At June 6, 2013 at 12:08 PM, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Thank you, Googler

 
At June 7, 2013 at 9:37 AM, Anonymous Jasmer Singh Lall said...

You have a lovely and a wonderfully healthy attitude about life and living, and when you couple all this with so many other things that are going good in life, not to mention all the sunshine and wide-open spaces in the wilderness, it is small wonder travellers are happy. Keep travelling and stay happy.

 
At June 7, 2013 at 1:02 PM, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Jasmer Singh, thank you for the good wishes. Good to have you here.

 

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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