Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

What are travel writers made of?

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There are two aspects of the traveller's life: the one ordinary and comfortable at home and the other, which for want of any other word we can call extraordinary. At home it is going exercising in the morning, driving the wife to work and either returning home to read and write or doing mundane chores like getting the excess telephone bill adjusted or changing some electric fixture like a light or fan switch and getting the car serviced. Strangely, when I am out on a journey, I do not miss home until about four weeks on. What I miss about home is the song of the bulbuls in the morning twilight. And I miss ice cream! No other ice cream; always Hico's vanilla. I tell you in more than fifty years, this ice cream has not deteriorated. It is the same as I remember it from 1960. Years ago, a vanilla cone purchased from a van in Lausanne (Switzerland) was exactly the same flavour as our own Hico.
If I speak strictly for myself, my perception of home life has not changed in any way by my frequent and extended travels. I have neither come to appreciate the sedentary life more nor am I turned off by an impending journey. In fact, being at home for a long time without an interesting travel, I become edgy and irritable. Then I have to go away, even if for a couple of days. Sometimes, Shabnam suggests that I take a few off 'from home'.

The three month-long trek back in 1990 described in Between Two Burrs on the Map wearied me both in body and soul. That was the only time I felt like that. I think that was because I did not want to fail on that journey. I had constantly lived with the fear of having to give up on some glacier or high pass simply because it was too much for me. Indeed, the beginning was something like that. I was in Muzaffarabad hoping to join up with a Gujjar family on their way to Deosai from where I hoped to get to Skardu. But the Kishenganga (we call it Neelam) Valley was closed to travel because of cross-border firing and I had to give that part up to trek north from Kaghan. The dread that something similar might occur to prevent me from completing the journey drained me spiritually and physically. That was the only time it was too much travel for me.

Other than that, I have never felt tired after a journey. I remember, after a tiring day-long - and a very long day it was too - journey from Karachi to Rannikot Fort, when my friends thought they would not be able to move for the next few days, I was like always. Just a good night's sleep and I ready for more. Treks like the one to Mintaka Pass with blisters on my feet or the six-week trek in the Karakorams and then in China to see the Muztagh Pass route was very enjoyable. The journeys in the Suleman Mountains and the days spent in Cholistan and Thar where no phones exist were all highly pleasurable.

But if someone were to ask me to come with them on a trek across Antarctica, I will simply refuse. Even before I embark on this journey, I know this will be way too much for me. But a road and trail journey from Yarkand to Lhasa is very much a fancy these days.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 7 June 2013 at 09:24, Anonymous Aghader said...

Life is a matter of choices and you do make touch choices which shape your perceptions. Staying away from the comforts of home and exploring in the wilderness is a tough choice. But what is the return; the story you write or satisfaction you get or ego boost or all of it. What is that which take you to the mountains and deserts? I want to understand what actually goes on in your mind.

Did I say I love you work though can’t relate to some of it.

FYI, Hico's vanilla is my fav too :-)

At 7 June 2013 at 12:32, Anonymous Javed Rehmat Ullah said...

So Yarkand to Lhasa is on the cards now. When? Where is Lhasa?

At 7 June 2013 at 12:44, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Lhasa is the capital of Tibet. There is a fantastic truck ride from Karghalik to Lhasa. Alternately, the brand new train from from the east. But before I embark on this one, there are books and books and books to read.

At 7 June 2013 at 12:48, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

There is no ego boost, Aghader. It is an all-consuming wanderlust. It is to discover what lies beyond the next bend in the road. My friend Nazir Sabir, the great mountaineer, said his drive to climb the highest places on earth was to see what could be seen beyond. It is only curiosity to know the world I live in that drives me. Writing came a few years after I had actually started travelling. The returns of this sort of life are few - and small.

At 7 June 2013 at 20:58, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Name of Ibne Batuta comes up when I see your work. Great. Wish there were some more like you who could travel to places you have mentioned and give a different view. But to the best of my knowledge there are none. People who travel to Kaghan only absolutely different view than what you hve written. Why do hey see Kaghan only as an accessable hill station to chill for some days in summers, I wonder? Jamshed

At 7 June 2013 at 21:27, Anonymous Tristram said...

Indefatigable explorer and writer. How else one can do those 1100 KM (Between Two Burrs on the Map) in tough mountains. I have read the book when I was in Lahore for two years an enjoyed it immensely.

At 8 June 2013 at 10:05, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Thank you, Tristram. It was a great journey.

At 8 June 2013 at 10:10, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Jamshed, we do not know travel writing in Pakistan because no one had read real travel writing. Even as grown-ups our writers are still stuck in the fourth-grade mental mode: for them a travel story is simply the child's account of the summer holiday. Hence only Kaghan etc. They will, however, make their journeys sound like treks across Antarctica and ordinary Urdu reader never having even heard of real travel writers will take these spurious tales to be the real stuff. Unfortunately we do not realise that illiteracy in English severely limits are capacity to gain knowledge.

At 9 June 2013 at 21:45, Blogger Nayyar Julian said...

This is called better of both sides. I am sure you have gained this equilibrium over time. Or was it like this from the start?


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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