Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Travelling Back in Time

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If I could travel back in time to a particular place, I have one clear choice: Taxila in the late 4th century BCE. Now, this would be at or immediately after the passage of Alexander the Macedonia. This choice is not to have been able to see the all-conquering Alexander. It is a wish to know and live in a virtual Utopia.

Taxila, so the Greeks who were in Alexander’s train tell us, was a city of high culture and learning. Here the streets were sometimes roamed by the philosophers who wore only a loincloth and lived outside where farmland gave way to forest. They came into town and I would have liked to have been there to hear their Stoic views on life – views that they abide by with rigid exactitude. Though they followed a thinking very similar to that of Diogenes, they nevertheless valued life and did not endorse destroying it or persecuting another simply for adhering to a differing way of life. And how could they?

Taxila was home to three religions, namely, Buddhism, Hinduism and Zoroastrianism. Surely among the great multitude that either lived here or passed through there would have been atheists. No one looked at them askance or asked how they could not believe in a god. Like Bertrand Russell’s jailer they would have heard ‘atheist’ and remarked, ‘Oh well, there are so many religions but we all believe in the same god!’ That was the joy of living in a multi-religious society.

It would have been a great feeling leaving my home in Taxila without locking up when I went out with my family because thievery was unknown in my town. Not that everyone was ultra-rich that there were no crooks around. On the contrary, while there were rich people, most were very poor. But it is not riches or poverty that makes a thief or otherwise of one. It is unshakable morality and goodness of the soul.

And, oh, what a vibrant social scene it must have had: even then Taxila was home to the oldest residential university in all India. Here would have been students from Pushkalavati (Charsadda) and from Urdhasthana (Kabul) across the Suleman Mountains; here would have been those from Mallisthanapura (Multan) and those from Patliputra (Patna). Eventide in the many taverns of the city and there would have been a very babble of languages as these youngsters argued with traders and travellers from Maracanda (Samarqand) or farther afield in the valley of the Syr Darya. How spiritually invigorating the discourse would have been!

I know I would have been a traveller even in those days. I know it was I who took the tales of Alexander’s pomp and splendour on one of my journeys to the distant land whose name I now forget. There the black-robed Indo-European peoples living in isolation in their mountain-locked valleys were enthralled by my narrations. Over time, even in my lifetime, they incorporated my stories into their own body of lore. And they began to presume themselves children of Alexander (whose name they did not know) or his soldiers.

Yes, I have no doubt. If there is a place in the past and a time to that place where I would like to somehow magically be transported, it is Taxila in or about the year 310 BCE.

More on Taxila in Salt Range and Potohar Plateau 

Book is available at Sang e Meel (042-3722-0100), Lahore

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 9 July 2013 at 11:41, Blogger Haroon said...

This has been my one wish since childhood; since you told me about that great city in Alexander in Scindhia. Thank you for articulating it again.

For everyone else reading this, go and watch the 4th and 5th episodes (about Taxila) of this wonderful and very important documentary here and marvel at the beauty of who you were.

Actually, I think this documentary should be mandatory viewing for school students in social studies/ Pakistan studies/ history courses.

At 10 July 2013 at 21:33, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is left of Taxila? Soe old mounds and a museum. You have breathed life in the place. Loved it Salman. Hadi

At 11 July 2013 at 09:54, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Salma Mahmud wrote last article for TFT
titled "The Best and the Brightest - Part 1"

I am embedding the URL for it.
It is a shame that Part 2 cannot be written.

Also wrote "The grammar of lions"

At 12 July 2013 at 04:41, Blogger Khalid Saeed said...

This picture above looks something similar to Mexican Mayan ruins Aztec pyramids.I wonder about the time period of these two civilizations was same or close to each other .

At 13 July 2013 at 15:26, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

the picture is of the Bhamala stupa, a little ways away from the main cluster of Taxilan ruins. It was built 1st century CE and burnt down by the Huns in about 500 CE. The likeness is purely coincidental. There is no connection between Taxila and any Mayan city.

At 13 July 2013 at 15:28, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Haroon, Thank you very much.
Hadi, Taxila is immortal. How can I, in whose spirit the city lives, even attempt to breath life into that great metropolis?


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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