Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

The Glory of Storytelling

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I think story-tellers are born. You have to be born with this skill and then hone it as you go through life. I suppose the story-tellers we had as children helped to a great deal. These were tellers of tales of kings and queens, bold adventurers and nutty pranksters, of talking birds and djinns who flew through the air – stories that lasted through night after summer night when you lay on the white cotton sheet on the charpai outside. I was an imaginative child who visualized what was told. This also must have helped in some way because then it made me want to tell my story in a similar way.

I become involved very deeply with the people I meet. Kafeel bhai was very endearing and his story was heart-warming.

In the beginning of my writing career starting August 1983, I wrote only about places. People were only incidental. But as I travelled more and more, I started getting more involved with people. They brought warmth to the story. I suppose I got here simply by practice.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 2:19 PM, ,

State of Grace, No. 4, Chaudhry Khaliquzaman Road, Karachi

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Walking westward along the railway line from the cantonment railway station, past the Clifton Bridge, lie a row of mostly decrepit residential bungalows. Built from the 1880s onward they seem to have come off a common template. All the houses are constructed of pale yellow sandstone with red tiled roofs, elegant porches terraced on top with stone balustrades and strongly accentuated arches. Their tall arched windows are shaded by wooden blinds that open or close as needed and the verandas are shielded behind timber fretwork.


About a century before these houses were built in Karachi, far away in Kolkata, the engineers of East India Company in Kolkata were either raising the most grandiose edifices to showcase their wealth and power or building homes for staff. Though in no way modest, the design of the residences did not warrant much concern for individuality. Or so it seems. Indeed, a complete template appears to have been used for all and sundry.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 8:31 AM, ,

Bowling Stone, Gymkhana Cricket Pavilion, Lahore

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In a quiet corner on the east side of what was then Lawrence Garden – now Bagh-e-Jinnah – hot air balloon enthusiasts of Victorian years gathered on Sundays to soar the skies. During the 1870s, ballooning gave way to cricket and by the end of the decade the ground became an exclusive venue for the game.


In keeping with the English cricketing tradition, a pavilion was required for the purpose. Civil engineer G. Stone, who was at this time involved in the design and construction of a number of government buildings in Lahore, was called upon to design the cricket pavilion. Clearly a man who did not see eye-to-eye with promoters of the vernacular arts such as Lockwood Kipling, whose contemporary he was, Stone was a strait-jacketed English traditionalist.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 9:27 AM, ,

Ongoing Odyssey

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Odysseus was a very simply choice.

Odysseus travelled, either driven by storms or by his will to discover strange and wonderful lands where he met all sorts of people. Though I never met a Cyclops, I too have travelled to wonderful places across the length and breadth of Pakistan.

The Odyssey lasted twenty years, mine is still ongoing – though it is not in one stretch and there is no danger of returning home and not being recognized by anyone.

It was Odysseus’ spirit of adventure that made me adopt him name.

The choice of name Odysseus was also the irrepressible urge to see my world. Odysseus had it, and I follow suit.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 10:00 PM, ,

Art Deco Rhapsody, Khan of Kalat’s Residence, Kalat

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Once upon a time, the Khan of Kalat in Balochistan lived in a massive medieval fort that sprawled over the hills above the town. Today, only a vestige of it remains for it was severely damaged by the great earthquake of 1935.


Mir Ahmed Yar Khan, then on the throne, ordered the building of a new palace for himself after the earthquake, this time not across the hills but in the meadows and orchards a short way eastward of the clump of houses and bazaars that made up his capital city. Those were the heydays of Art Deco, though the style was not known by that name until 1966. And as in Europe and North America, buildings raised in the subcontinent during the period between the wars boasted the curvilinear, sensuous lines typical of this new stylistic movement.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 10:31 AM, ,

Journey into Kashmir by motorcycle

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The original plan was to drive east from Rawlakot all the way across the Haji Pir Pass, make a horseshoe turn and drive back to Bagh the very long way.


The attraction was a Mughal garden on the far side of Haji Pir.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 2:51 PM, , links to this post

Last Port of Call, Ziarat Residency

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Constructed in 1892 almost entirely with centuries-old juniper timber, the Residency of Ziarat, as it is now known, was initially meant to serve as a sanatorium. At 2450 metres above the sea and pleasantly located amid a forest where the air is even today richly scented by juniper, it could hardly have served a better purpose.


The end of the 19th century heralded the back-to-India movement in buildings and vernacular architecture elements in Raj buildings became generally acceptable. Yet this building situated virtually at an inaccessible edge of the empire has clean-cut and undiluted European designing. Sitting on a raised stone masonry plinth, its gabled porch and veranda, running around three sides supported by timber pillars, could well belong anywhere in the English countryside.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 8:50 AM, ,

Hallowed Corridors, Sindh Madrassatul Islam University, Karachi

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Long ago, secular studies were as much a part of the madrassa curriculum. But things changed with the decline of Muslim power in the subcontinent. The decay gave rise to feelings of uncertainty and the notion that the downfall was due to the abandonment of faith by the Muslims. As a result, new stringency took over madrassa curricula and by the early 18th century most institutions provided grounding only in religious matters.


Hassanally Akhund, born in 1830 in Hyderabad, went to such a school to learn the Quran and Persian and Arabic languages. But this man, who was later accorded the title of Effendi by Sultan Abdul Hameed, the last Ottoman ruler, possessed exceptional talent. He taught himself English and rose quickly through a number of government jobs to become a lawyer and Public Prosecutor of the Sindh High Court.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 3:17 PM, ,

Going Gothic, Empress Market, Karachi

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The subcontinent was unfamiliar with the concept of a designated building housing a number of shops and businesses under one roof. Far from it, the local idea of a market was either the periodic bazaar in an open square outside town or the narrow, stuffy alley lined with shop fronts topped by residences. Indeed, British merchants who arrived in India during the 17th century comment on the bazaars with a touch of romance.


But when the engineers of the East India Company began to develop marketplaces in Bombay and Calcutta, as they were then called, they recalled the layout of markets as they were in their native land. This was a new movement and the pace was set by covered bazaars like Crawford Market in Bombay, now Mumbai, India.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:58 PM, ,

Bahawalpur Baroque - Sadiqgarh Palace, Dera Nawab Sahib

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When Nawab Bahawal Khan Abbasi IV died in 1866, his son Sadiq was a child of five. Yet even as this youngster grew up in a time of uncertainty with a dowager mother fending off the intrigues of courtiers and pretenders to the throne, he managed a reasonable degree of education. On his 18th birthday, Sadiq received the traditional dustaar or turban and with it authority to rule over the rich and independent State of Bahawalpur as Nawab Sadiq Mohammad Khan IV.


Nawab Sadiq Mohammad Khan was a man cultivated and possessed of fine taste. He was a great builder of palaces and as a connoisseur of Italian architectural practices left behind a number of extravagant buildings that flaunt his style and wealth.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 10:25 AM, ,

Mock Invincibility - Railway Station, Lahore

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When civil engineer William Burton designed the railway station in Lahore in 1859, he had before him the precedence of railway architecture from Sindh. While the stations were all straightforward buildings, major river bridges in that province were designed with strong fortifications on both ends. Rail river crossings usually being in remote places, these defensive arrangements were manned by soldiers or police, a practice that continues to this day on some strategic bridges.

Now, it was understandable for remote bridges to need protection but to design the station of a major city with elements of a strongly fortified place was rather odd, especially in times of peace. Not strange then that it was assumed the design was purely defensive. Closer study of the ‘fortifications’ shows that despite their formidable appearance, they are merely decorative.

Nevertheless, visually at least Burton created an English castle in the heart of Punjab. At either extremity of the wide frontage, separated from the main building by extended wings, sits a combination of two thickset towers topped by embrasures. The porch of the foyer is commanded by two slimmer towers with pitch-roofed garrets. Two similar arrangements with clock faces oversee the surrounding areas from a higher setting above the foyer. The parapet of the entire roof is loop-holed to add to the general effect of an impregnable castle. But other than the massive turrets on the sides and loop holes, the garrets are merely decorative and do not serve any defensive purpose.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 9:34 PM, ,

Palladian in Full - Lawrence and Robert Montgomery Halls, Lahore

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Government civil engineer G. Stone was the man who ruled the construction roost in Lahore for much of the two decades from 1860 to 1880. Evidently, a rather grim keeper of English values, he had very fixed views on the design of Raj buildings in the territories of the jewel in the imperial crown. He firmly believed that everything he built must drip with ‘Englishness’.


The Lawrence Hall, named after the first Lieutenant Governor of Punjab John Lawrence, was paid for by donations from the European community. Facing the Mall and the Governor’s House, it was among Stone’s earliest buildings in the Punjab capital and took a year to build. When it was completed in 1862, it was the first-ever purely neoclassical masterpiece in the truest Palladian tradition in Lahore. Without doubt, its majestic proportions embodied the might of the empire.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 11:51 AM, ,

Clean Break - Governor’s House, Peshawar

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The final battle that undid the Punjabi empire of Maharaja Ranjit Singh was fought between the Sikhs and the British at Chillianwala in January 1849. The Punjab that was thus annexed by the East India Company at that time included the territories that we today know as Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa.


The East India Company moved in swiftly to establish its hold on the new territories and cities such as Mardan, Kohat and Bannu became headquarters from where the arm of governance stretched out to outlying areas. Peshawar, that had through the long and creative passage of time always been the principal city on the frontier, retained its position as the capital for the new rulers of the land.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 7:22 PM, ,

Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

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Nyla Daud

From being a rather small town district headquarter at the time of partition, to developing into a densely populated, sprawling micro polis-like freak of the original, Jhelum, the city, as well as the areas around it have had few tales to tell; barring of course the many and, at times, rather far-fetched theories of how the place really got its name. The last factor has been instrumental in intriguing travel writer Salman Rashid to the extent that he was won over by District Nazim Farrukh Altaf Chaudry to write a book on Jhelum district. An extension of a multimedia venture in which a 30-minute documentary forms one part, Rashid’s book, Jhelum: The City of The Vitasta is as much a keeper of lore associated with the area, as it is a reincarnation of the historical and socio cultural significance of the district, which, in current times is known for little else but the fact that it is the training ground for some of the most able-bodied men recruited into the Pakistan Army.

Aesthetically dressed up with some very fine visuals, contemporary Jhelum appears to have a very photogenic frame for Rahsid’s latest addition to his growing list of travel books. It also moves considerably up the literary scale, because it is based on exhaustive research to sift the chaff from the grain: in this case, fact from fiction, since there has been no dearth of “historians” assiduously applying themselves to the task of inventing history. Apparently, sometime between the first European historian did his research about the area and that of Rashid’s, Jhelum had become the name of Alexander’s horse.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 10:59 AM, ,

Transplant drive

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I was telling a relative of mine about the one dozen different species of birds that nest in my garden (and it’s a one-kanal house) and at any given time the song of twice as many species. He, a retired judge of the superior court, living in Judicial Colony near Thokar Niaz Beg was surprised that there was a total absence of birdsong in their area.
I told him that the birds were missing entirely because of the absence of indigenous species of trees in the locality. The entire colony is choc-a-bloc with all sorts of exotic trees. There is not a single peepul, neem, amaltas, to name only a few.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 2:29 PM, ,

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

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Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan is the story of a 1100 km journey, of which 800 km was done on foot, in the wilds of Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral.

It is a story of trek through the three greatest mountain ranges on the globe: the Himalaya, Karakorum and the Hindu Kush. Following mostly in the footsteps of the great explorers of the 19th and early 20th centuries, I spent a whole summer reliving the 'quintessence of early travel and exploration' in difficult conditions and extreme weather. Starting in the Western Himalyas at Naran in the Kghan valley, the journey led me to Skardu, Shimshal, Ishkoman and Yasin, ending in Chitral. Meandering travel took me through some of the least known parts of the largend, history and ways of the people I  encountered. This is the first authentic and sensitive account of the people and lands of north Pakistan written  with a passion for lost histories and cultures. 

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 8:25 PM, ,

Icthyophagi — the Fish Eaters

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Greek chroniclers of Alexander tell us of his near disastrous march from Lasbela westward across the Makran wilderness. They know this desert country by the name of Gedrosia. These same chroniclers also tell us that along the seaboard of this largely uninhabited wasteland lay the country of the Icthyophagi — the Fish Eaters.


They give the coastal area this name because Alexander’s admiral of the fleet Nearchus and his men found no food other than fish in this country. There being scarcely any vegetation, the cattle fed on fish and, so it is recorded, their flesh had a fishy taste. Even the huts that the Icthyophagi lived in were built using the spine and ribs of giant fish. (I have seen giant vertebrae used as stools and rough tables by old and young alike.) These were evidently whales which the Greeks mention as ‘sea monsters’ and whose abundance they report. Sadly this profusion is no longer the case because today’s Makrani fishermen rarely see these wonderful sea mammals.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 9:08 AM, ,

Travels are no fun at all

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Someone once said, and I read it years ago, that the joy and fun of travelling was inversely proportional to the speed of travel: the faster you went, the less you were likely to either enjoy the journey or to get anything out of it while a slow journey was always more meaningful. I have yet found no reason to quarrel with this very smart observation.

People might huff at this and say what is this man ranting about. But have you ever read a travelogue about a journey by modern jet (or even old fashioned propeller-driven aircraft) from one place to another. I tell you even the best travel writer in the world will be hard put to write about a flight from anywhere to anywhere. But give me a camel and a camel driver and set me loose where you want and there is a story. Conversely, let me go walkabout and watch my yarn unravel.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 11:23 AM, ,

Hot Seat

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Altaf Hussain Asad

The author of six books on history and geography of various areas of Pakistan, Salman Rashid’s travel writings were well received in the knowledge-friendly circles of the country.  A voracious reader from his childhood, Salman Rashid grew up in a house where books were accorded great importance. He remembers his father reading books on scientific topics. 

Says Salman Rashid about his addiction to the printed word, “A civil engineer by profession, my father was a lover of books. He liked reading scientific magazines and periodicals. Similarly, my sister too was into reading books. Taking inspiration from my father, I too started flipping through the pages of books at quite a young age. I would try to study even scientific magazines, though at that time they sounded Greek to me. Kids magazines like Taleem-o-Tarbiat and Bachon Kee Duniya were also there to entice me. Once the habit of book reading developed, reading books just became a part of my life.”
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 8:19 PM, ,

The Apricot Road to Yarkand

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Maheen Pracha

“With so much of the vast Himalaya still a blank on the map, our first privilege is to explore rather than to climb,” wrote Eric Shipton, the twentieth-century British explorer-climber. But as Salman Rashid wistfully notes in The Apricot Road to Yarkand, “In the world of the beginning of the 21st century, there were no blanks on the map to fill and be celebrated.” Yet this in no way diminishes the romance of retracing historical routes, and not solely for the sheer joy of adventure.

Rashid’s account of the mediaeval route from Baltistan to Yarkand (now in the Chinese province of Xinjiang) has its roots in Francoise Bernier’s Travels in the Mogul Empire. A wandering French doctor who found service at the court of Aurangzeb, Bernier explains why the older trading route between Kashmir and Tartary (as it was then known) by way of the un-glaciated Karakoram Pass was abandoned on the order of the ruler of Ladakh. A new route, reports Bernier, was established from Skardu to Kashgar and Yarkand by way of the Muztagh Pass. For Rashid, the idea that caravans were routinely crossing a heavily glaciated, high-altitude pass was the germ of an expedition.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 4:20 PM, ,

Breakfast at Kan Mehtarzai

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Breakfast at Kan Mehtarzai here

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 10:21 AM, ,




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