Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Tower on the Ford

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If anything, the solitary tower standing on its high plinth amid rich farmland is enigmatic. Locals know it as Pattan Minara – Tower on the Ford – and believe that this lofty tower once stood on a ford upon the Indus River. It is indeed true that when Alexander passed through this region in the year 325 BCE, the river did indeed flow nearby and not forty kilometres to the westward as it does today. All around the building several mounds strewn with pottery shards mark the remnants of cities past.


Though no detailed study has been carried out at the site, the archaeologist and the historian provide a few sketchy details. Pattan Minara was built in two distinct phase. The ground floor with its square plinth and west-facing doorway is a Hindu temple. The building style and the embellishment on the exterior show a clear connection with the Hindu Shahya temples of the Salt Range, the most telling of which is the representation in miniature of the front elevation of the building on the three façades. 
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Alexander's Campaign - Episode 5

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Alexander's Campaign in Pakistan - Episode 5 by f560415578

Episode 4 - Episode 6

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 10:57 AM, , links to this post

Jamia Masjid Akbari, Rohri

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This photo was taken on December 16, 1984 inside Jamia Masjid Akbari, Rohri. The mosque was built on the orders of Akbar the Great by his governor Abdur Rahim Khankhana in about 1588. This is thus among the oldest mosques in Pakistan. But the interior is now ruined. They have cement plastered the arch and it now has a shoddy wooden cupboard. Only the tiled floor remains as it was.

 This my favourite image because of the atmosphere it captures.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM, , links to this post

The Apricot Road to Yarkand coming in Urdu

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Right now I am translating The Apricot Road to Yarkand. I am on Chapter 3. It’s slow work, but it is coming along nicely. Shabnam’s Urdu expression being better, She edits it to make the text tighter. However, I hope that Urdu readers not being used to anything more substantial than the grade 4 school essays, the book may need to getting used to when it is finally published. This only time will tell. In case, it is appreciated, I will translate select pieces from the earlier anthologies for a collection of Urdu travel pieces.
 
Meanwhile, I am writing a fortnightly travel/history piece for the Urdu paper Pakistan. The second in the series appears tomorrow (31 March). The first one was on Raja Paurava and Alexander and this is on the philosophers of Taxila who astounded Alexander with their wisdom.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 11:22 AM, , links to this post

Sights Less Seen

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The Indus River has parented one of the great civilisations of the world which, modern research shows us began when man shifted from a nomadic to a sedentary life. That was about 7500 BCE. Our built heritage liberally sprinkled across this great and wonderful land, therefore dates back nearly ten thousand years.

Though the beginning of our prehistory is marked by the absence of the written word, archaeologists have yet been able to painstakingly piece together a clear and coherent story from the myriad relics discovered from the ruins of our earliest cities. Written history begins for us with the earliest Sanskrit treatises compiled from the oral tradition about the beginning of the first millennium BCE. This was followed quickly by the works of the Greeks beginning with Herodotus in the early 5th century BCE. Later still, the written word proliferated and history became much more lucid giving the remains of our ancient built heritage an historical context.

Nevertheless, there are still hundreds of monuments across the four provinces of Pakistan that continue to hold their veil of secrecy tight around themselves. Going by their architectural style, these monuments can easily be assigned a definite era, yet historians are hard put to tell us who built them and for what purpose. Indeed, most of our lesser-known monuments have either not been touched by archaeologists or, at best, have received a cursory once over. The mystery therefore abides.


The twelve historical sites from across Pakistan featuring in the following posts have been selected for two reasons: either they are relatively little known, or they hold a certain degree of inscrutability. Though some of the sites have been duly investigated by archaeologists and historians there are others in this collection that have never felt the probing touch of the scientist’s scalpel.

Note: Sights Less Seen is part of Pakistan Petroleum Limited (PPL) book of days initiative.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 9:18 AM, , links to this post

Moving the mountains

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Our porters are of singular courage, strength and resolve. This is true wherever they be they from: Baltistan, Shimshal, Chitral or Kaghan. The Shimshalis are great fun-loving ranksters, they sing, joke and laugh with abandon. The Baltis may be generally quieter, but they have a sharp sense of humour. The Chitralis are the most generous and kind. The people of Kaghan concentrate on the work at hand.

I have never yet come across a mountain guide or porter who lacked courage or strength. In loyalty too they are remarkable, going to great lengths to help their wards. They will help you across difficult stretches or through streams and be always ready with a word of encouragement when you begin to flag. Their understanding of topography is remarkable which, I suppose, comes from a lifetime living among the mountains. Similarly their knowledge of weather conditions is surprising. In lightly falling snow, my Shimshali friend Yahya Beg felt the snowflakes between his fingers and declared that before nightfall, the sky would be clear. He said he knew from the quality of the flakes. And sure enough, we had a beautiful starlit night!
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Alas, Sindh is now Lost: Indus Valley State Railway

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In January 1831, Alexander Burnes the swashbuckling young lieutenant of the army of the East India Company set sail on the Indus River from Thatta. He was on a large boat bearing five dray horses and an ornate coach as gift from the British sovereign to Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab. That is how it was on face value.

Apocrypha of exploration has it that somewhere along Burnes’ journey through Sindh, a fakir sitting by the river, upon seeing his approach, wailed, ‘Alas, Sindh is now lost. The English have seen the river, the road to our conquest.’ To Burnes himself a native soldier said, ‘The evil is done. You have seen our country.’ Twelve years later Sindh was taken by the army led by Charles Napier. Within months steamers, precursors of the railway, were plying up and down the Indus.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 9:15 AM, , links to this post

Honesty and truth in travel writing

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My philosophy is very simple: tell the truth so that when someone follows up on your journey they cannot fault you for inaccuracy. That is it. It is essential that a travel writer must always be meticulously truthful, accurate and honest. Anything short and the very purpose of travel writing is defeated, nay, killed.
 
Bear in mind that Plato suggested that travel writers must be examined vigorously upon their return in order to ascertain the quality of the knowledge he/she has acquired during the journeys. He went on to say that a traveller returning with corrupted knowledge should be forcibly isolated, perhaps even killed. This is as quoted by Roxanne Euben in her book Journeys to the Other Shore.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 3:32 PM, , links to this post

Stealth in Steel: Kandahar State Railway

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The lonely spot where the IVSR swung southeast to reach Sukkur was headed for fame. Barely months after the first train chugged through the forested spot of Ruk, the Second Afghan War broke out and suddenly the primary imperative for the government of India was to make a fast connection between Karachi and Quetta, and beyond. The answer was the Kandahar State Railway (KSR).


The order for selection of officers to work on this line went out on the autumnal equinox of 1879. Within ten days work commenced and in keeping with the urgency of the times, the first two hundred and thirteen kilometres of KSR from Ruk to Sibi was laid in a mere one hundred and one days! Completed on 14 January 1880, this feat has no parallel in the history of railway engineering in the subcontinent and remains a record to this day.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 9:22 AM, , links to this post

Challenges in travel research

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I know that some so-called 'real scholars' will deny sharing their knowledge with others - I have personal experience on this. But my teachers, Dr Saifur Rahman Dar, Khaled Ahmed and Kamil Khan Mumtaz have always been very forthcoming.
 
The kind of research I needed to do was virtually unknown in Pakistan. For example I do not know of a single library in the country that holds copies of the Geography of Ptolemy, or Periplus of the Erythrean Sea (the title means Circumnavigation of the Eastern Sea), Megasthenes' Indika. Nor too have they been reprinted in Pakistan. These are original sources on the ancient geography of our part of the world. Consequently, when I needed these books, my first access to them was in the library of the Royal Geographical Society and Institute of Classical Studies, London. Later I discovered they had been reprinted in India and I got my own copies. Thank heavens for the Jain Publishers of Delhi! Sadly, Pakistan is a researcher’s wilderness.
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Arrow through Khwaja Amran: Chaman Extension Railway

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The railway lines in the far western part of the British Indian Empire which ultimately became Pakistan were laid mainly for strategic purpose. The Kandahar State Railway, taking off from Ruk near Larkana to reach Quetta as the Sind Peshin State Railway, was meant as a warning to Czarist Russia that the Victorians were never far from Quetta and the frontier, just in case they considered mischief in uncertain Afghanistan.

However, between the garrison and the vague border, there lay the great mass of barren rock called the Khwaja Amran. The clayey topsoil of the range turned to powdery dust when dry and deep mire when it rained. Through this variation did the trail snake around the contours of the mountain to drop down into the arid flat pan of Chaman on the Afghan frontier. Even in the best of times, a military column took three days to journey the one hundred and forty kilometres from Quetta over the Khwaja Amran Pass to Chaman. When it rained, it was nearly impossible to get laden mules and gun carriages through the knee deep muck. A revival of KSR was the answer.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 10:46 AM, , links to this post

As Lonely a Line can be: Nushki Extension Railway

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Even for the British, the far west of Balochistan with its rebellious tribes was an uncertain frontier. Consequently, immediately after the First World War broke out in 1914, a new paranoia rode the minds of authorities in India: infiltration through Iran by Turkish and German agents to foment trouble and precipitate the ultimate breaking away of Balochistan. A force was despatched from Quetta to the region of Saindak, now celebrated for its copper mines, to keep an eye on the situation.


The mode of travel of this force was a hundred sixty kilometres southwest to Nushki by what was then called the Nushki Extension Railway. Thence westward the remaining four hundred and sixty kilometres to Saindak by slow moving camel train. With the war in Europe dragging on and there being no sign of let up in the activities, supposed or real, of the Turko-German agents provocateur as well as the need to regularly rotate troops on that distant frontier, it was decided to extend the line.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 8:49 AM, , links to this post

My next travels through Pakistan

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Travel was indeed a very peaceful, enlightening experience until we became a frontline state. But let's take about two troubled provinces one at a time. That blessed land of Balochistan with its wide open spaces give such a sense of exhilarating freedom that you feel like a bird. Here, in this untrammelled, unexplored land, you make discoveries that educated you beyond your wildest dreams, far more than decades in some university. However, Balochistan did not fall foul because of the frontline misadventure. We abused the province - and this includes all of us, you me and everyone else. We are guilty because when the establishment was misgoverning this wonderful land, we all silently watched. We are guilty because we did not protest. My Baloch friends tell me I can still return to their land and travel with them and if there is trouble, they'll be the first to die for me. I trust them completely. But I joke that in that case there will be two of us dead!

Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa simply had to go that way after what we did in the 1980s. I recently learned that one Zahir Shah who was my guide in June 2003 on the trek to Pre Ghal (also Pir Ghar, Pir Ghal) is now a leading terrorist. I want to meet him, but friends in the civil service tell me that they will not risk taking me anywhere near Waziristan. It has been said that they will try to get him to come to Tank or Dera Ismail Khan for a meeting. But I don't know if that will ever happen.
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Doll House Station: Attock Khurd

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To the east the Kherimar (Sandal Destroyer) Hills of Attock district rise in a series of jagged crags; to the west flows the Indus in a channel thirty metres below ground level. On the far bank rise the sparsely forested slopes of the Suleman Hills in Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa and to the north and south the face of the earth is divided by the wide channel of the mighty Indus.


In this scenic setting, the doll house railway station of Attock Khurd stands on a low rise a hundred metres east of river’s edge. Its pitched roof with the chimneys and gables, the square pillars from which bell arches spring topped with keystones, and even the gargoyles were clearly designed by someone who valued English country architecture. This comely building, now festooned with bougainvillea, was left here as a lasting monument and a signature of the designer’s Englishness.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 9:44 AM, , links to this post

Alexander in Taxila - Episode 4

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Alexander in Taxila, Pakistan - EPISODE #4 by f560415578

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 4:50 PM, ,

Sher Bano Zungle

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Sher Bano’s Forest Most people in Pakistan have heard of the juniper forests of Ziarat in Balochistan. And for all of them the forest comprises only of trees that grow within Ziarat town. What they don’t know is that the best parts of this, the finest juniper growth in the entire country, spread upon thousands of hectares outside Ziarat. Since few know of this fact, fewer still have seen this enchanting forest.

And in those remote regions, they tell the tale of Sher Bano, a Pashtun woman.


Lore has it that Sher Bano Zungle (Jungle) was so dense a forest of juniper that sunlight scarcely reached its floor. It was roamed by wild and dangerous animals and no man dared to venture into its dark inner reaches. Not even in full daylight; less so in the dark of night for then the forest was believed to be thronged by evil spirits. As men sat around their fires at night in the security of their homes, they dared each other to this test of courage. But there was not one Pashtun brave who would take up the dare of going into the forest at night to drive a stake into the ground as proof of his having been there and returned.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:12 AM, ,

Connection between travel writing and photography

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The connection between writing and photography is two-fold. I take photographs to augment and reinforce the diary I write on my travels. Both serve the purpose of preserving memory. As time passes, one tends to lose the details of events and places. The diary reminds me how the event unfolded and the image connects the event to the place. Finally, the image compliments my write-up and takes distant places into the homes of readers, whatever few there may be. Some of the images are uploaded on this blog as well.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 2:18 PM, ,

Worth its Salt: Sind Sagar Railway

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Deep in the Punjab hinterland, there runs a line that seems to lead nowhere. It takes off westward from the station of Malakwal, off the main line from Lala Musa. Had it been built after independence, one could look at it differently as a line meant to serve the travelling public.


But this was the Sind Sagar Railway that crossed the Jhelum River to skirt the purple loom of the Salt Range to Khushab, Mianwali, Kundian and down south to Darya Khan. Across the Indus from this sleepy town lay Dera Ismail Khan under the shadow of the Suleman Mountains and treading on the toes of Waziristan. As much a flashpoint in the 1880s as it is now, Waziristan needed monitoring and the Durand Line (drawn in 1893) patrolling. And so even the obscure old Sind Sagar was as strategic a line as PNSR or KSR.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 10:52 AM, ,

Stitch in the Crack: Chhappar Rift Line

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From the summer of 1942 until 2007 Khost was the northern terminus on the line north from Sibi. But back in March 1887, when Kandahar State Railway aka The Harnai Road Improvement Scheme aka Sind Peshin State Railway was completed and the first train steamed into Quetta, it had gone this way, and not by the Bolan Pass which was deemed too steep for the Broad Gauge trains of the day.
 
Out here, west of Khost, a huge Swiss Roll-shaped hill lay athwart of the axis of the railway line. This hill was no barrier for the line, however. Cracked open through and through by some prehistoric earthquake, the Chhappar Rift, as it is known, provided to the enterprising railway engineer the ideal crossing place from lowland Khost onto the Balochistan plateau.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 8:30 AM, ,

Blizzard Express: Zhob Valley Railway

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As it emerged on the north side of the huge gape of the Chhappar Rift, the line now called Sind Peshin State Railway turned westward to reach Khanai. Thence south it went to Bostan and Quetta. Late in the 19th century, a large quantity of chrome ore was discovered in the hills south of a little village called Hindubagh (renamed Muslimbagh in the 1960s). When First World War rolled around, the demand for chrome in the manufacture of steel armaments rose dramatically and Muslimbagh hit the map in a big way. Virtually within weeks a railway line sprang out of Khanai to snatch away the output from the mines.
 
Now, this seventy-four kilometre-long connection was not the ordinary Broad Gauge in use on the North Western Railway. This was, instead, the toy 2 foot 6 inch Narrow Gauge. During the war the line served its purpose well hauling out a huge amount of chrome ore. With the end of hostilities, railway authorities decided to extend the line all the way to Zhob, renamed Fort Sandeman three decades earlier. Thence, it was implied at that time, the line will drop down the Suleman Mountains to the dusty plain of Dera Ismail Khan in order to link up with the ferry of Darya Khan.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 9:11 AM, ,

Once upon a Line: Metre Gauge Steam

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If the lines west of the Indus River were built to serve a military strategic purpose, one stitch across the Thar Desert east of Hyderabad was laid purely for commercial reasons. This was the line from Mirpur Khas eastward to Jodhpur. It all began when the Karachi Chamber of Commerce represented to the government that a rail connection be established between Jodhpur and Karachi. The reason for this demand was that Rajasthan being connected to Mumbai by the Bombay Baroda and Central India Railway, all exports from Rajasthan ended up at Mumbai port. This was unfair and to the detriment of Karachi’s commercial interest, so her businessmen thought.

In response to this demand, a Broad Gauge connection from Hyderabad to the village of Shadipalli, ten kilometres east of Mirpur Khas was completed in 1892. But the Jodhpur Bikaner Railway ran entirely on the Metre Gauge. Now, this entailed trans-shipment of freight at Shadipalli in the outback for onward transmission to Hyderabad.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 6:55 AM, ,

Alexander’s Campaign - Episode 3

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Alexander’s Campaign - Episod 3 by f560415578

Episode 2 - Episode 4

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 11:49 AM, ,

Going Nowhere: Jassar Bridge

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An 1856 report on the imperative of laying the railway in Punjab dealt at length with the importance of Amritsar as a commercial entrepot. It highlighted the trade that passed through this city to Europe and Central Asia. Here were wholesalers dealing in Tibetan wool, Kashmiri shawls, Afghan fruit, both dried and fresh, carpets from Turkey and furs and skins from Turkestan, besides European finished goods.

 
At that time, the great knot of mountains that we know as the Karakoram-Himalayan system was not fully explored. Map makers and explorers were however venturing into towns like Gilgit and Ladakh and spurred by the fast developing railway system in the subcontinent there grew a fantasy. It was as eccentric and far-fetched as any dream could be. This was the dream to take the railway from the plains, through the defiles of the Pir Panjal Range in Kashmir and across the Indus gorge to Gilgit. Thence, so the dreamers envisioned, it would strike northward into the grim and tortured chasm of the Hunza River to reach Chinese Turkestan.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 8:28 AM, ,

Discovering Sir Vidya Naipaul

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I met VS (as I call him) in November 1995 when he was in Pakistan researching his book Beyond Belief. Nadira, an old friend of mine and who is now his wife, had already met him at a diplomatic function and learned that VS wanted to meet people. She thought I would be a good ‘specimen’. When she asked me, I refused to meet VS saying that he was rude, arrogant and unkind to the people he met. I had this impression from reading an earlier book titled Among the Believers in which, I thought, VS had ridiculed Nusrat Nusrullah, a very senior Karachi journalist. I remember telling Nadira that I did not want to be treated the same way.


Nadira said something rather insightful: ‘Salman, just be yourself and you’ll discover a man you will never be able to forget.’ And so I called VS in his hotel room and he said I could come over for twenty minutes after which he was busy. When I went up to his room, I have to admit that never having seen a picture of VS, I expected a tall, thin hawk-like person. But what I found was a man with a chubby face in which the feature that captivated me was his eyes. They were, and still are, heavy lidded, sad eyes. These are the eyes of a person who is terribly, terribly sensitive and who does not only feel the pain of another human but perceives it without being told of it.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM, ,

Travel Writing in Pakistan

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Be assured that travel writing is not even considered a genre of writing in Pakistan. In this country, sadly, only fiction is writing. Moreover, Pakistanis will not deign to read a book on Pakistan. It seems as if they think it an activity below their dignity and status. They might read a newspaper article, but never ever a book. Especially true if the book is written by a Pakistani. The Pakistani travelogue therefore has no future.
 
Several times in Islamabad where bookstores stock my work, I have, without disclosing my identity, asked the sellers who buys my books. The answer is an unambiguous 'ONLY FOREIGNERS'. The same question was asked of the man in the kiosk inside Karachi's departure lounge and the response was the same. A few months ago, in Liberty Books, Clifton, Karachi, the salesman told me that a man about my age came looking for The Apricot Road to Yarkand and after turning it this way and that and learning that it cost Rs 2200, did not buy it. Foreigners being my only readers is not because of the high price of my publisher's product, it is simply that Pakistanis do not read. I have actually never met a stranger, a Pakistani, who has read my book. Some know me from my newspaper articles, but no one knows that I have a few books as well. But I have met so many foreigners who have read my books.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:26 PM, ,

Some Said Scrap: Golra Railway Museum

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Walking into the office of the Divisional Superintendant (DS) of Rawalpindi Division in early 2003, one could not but remark on the exhibit in the foyer. Here were a couple of those old paraffin oil Tilley flood lamps that lit up work sites on dark nights. Here was an old Neal’s Block Token Instrument, an imperative of every station master’s office; a telegraph key; and an old wind-up clock supplied by Gillett and Johnston of Croydon for the North Western Railway in 1912, and many more items. All the instruments were in working order.

Only weeks earlier, DS Ishfaq Khattak and his Divisional Transportation Manager Hameed Razi decided to begin this collection of railway memorabilia. It was thought that with most of this old equipment either being phased out or becoming unserviceable, it was liable to be lost forever. The operation began on a tiny scale within the limits of the Rawalpindi railway division with instructions to all station masters to turn in old and unused equipment. And this proved to be a most prescient move.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 11:29 AM, ,

Deosai: Land of the Giant

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Lying just 30 km south of Skardu (Baltistan) and sitting at 4000 metres (13,200 feet) above the sea, Deosai is the highest and largest plateau in Pakistan. Hemmed in by snow-draped crags a thousand metres higher still, it is a land of fens, rolling meadows, icy streams of crystal water and skies sculpted with fleecy clouds.


At this altitude there are no trees and summer is short and crisp. That is when the grass and sedge grow tall and dozens of different species of wild flowers turn Deosai into a colourful palette. That is when skylarks sing and lammergeyers quarter the cloud-laden skies for animal cadavers. Then the stoat and the Tibetan fox hunt amid the rocks, the brown bear browses in the grass and the wolf and snow leopard prowl the peaks for ibex.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM, ,

Baba Ghundi: the Dragon-Slayer of Chapursan

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North of Hunza in the region of Gojal, Chapursan Valley stretches from the border post of Sost 60 km westward to end in a towering wall of rock and perpetual ice. Here, almost at the foot of the granite barrier sits the lonely and picturesque shrine of Baba Ghundi: the Old Man from Ghund (Wakhan).


Legend has it that there lurked in a lake in Chapursan a dragon that daily feasted on a human sacrifice from among the populace. One day as a young woman, her name having been drawn by lot, sat by the lake waiting to be taken by the monster, the pious Baba came upon her. Having heard her out, he told her to return home and tell the people that they need no longer fear the monster. And when the dragon emerged from the water, the pious man cut it to pieces with his sword.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 9:08 AM, ,

A Sindhi Trojan Horse

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Sreman was the celebrated chief of the Chandio clan of the hill country west of Larkana. Large of heart with matching physical stature and courage, he ruled over his country with and equal measure of benevolence and firmness. It was in his time that Zunnu Pathan, the upstart ruler of Kandahar, came down to plunder Sindh. His thirteenth attack being one too many, Sreman resolved to avenge this wrong.


And so he prepared five hundred camels; each to carry two wooden boxes and each box to conceal a fully accoutred warrior. Sreman Chandio then set out for Kandahar in the guise of dealer of musk. As his convoy of camels drew up outside the walls of that distant city, it was nearing dusk and the customs officials were in a hurry to call it off for the day. In order to verify that Sreman really was a musk-seller, they ran a knife through the narrow slits of random boxes. The far-sighted Sreman had prepared for just such a chance: the warriors within were poised with musk-scented kerchiefs with which they wiped the blade leaving it heavily fragrant.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 9:10 AM, ,

Lahore that I grew up in was a great place

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I grew up in Lahore. All my life I lived here except for the seven years in the army and ten in Karachi. I returned again in December 1988 and have lived here since. I knew a Lahore that was a very beautiful city. It was a city of people who were cultured, courteous and with a sense of humour that was sharp without being vulgar. This was a city of the most magnificent Mughal buildings and gardens. It was also a city where you could actually get into the countryside without going anywhere. The urban sprawl of what is now Johar town was a place of mango orchards and fields where one could hear the song of more than a hundred different species of birds.
 
Lahore was a city where the gates of your house were always open, except when you turned in for the night. It was a city where armed robbery or rape was unknown. Lahore was where a traffic accident did not mean you were lynched. It meant people got out of their cars and quietly resolved who was to pay for the damages. Here a young man and woman could walk hand in hand without being accused of 'obscenity and vulgarity'.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 8:09 PM, ,

Wheels of Empire

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It all began in 1831 with Alexander Burnes who explored the Indus River and its tributaries all the way to Lahore. Twelve years later, in 1843, the army led by Charles Napier annexed Sindh under the rule of the East India Company and within months the first steamboat of the Indus Steam Flotilla, precursor of the railway, was plying the river between Karachi and Lahore.

But the Indus was and still is a fickle river. In winter it shrank to a channel no wider than a couple of hundred metres with a sandy flood plain of several kilometres on either side. In summer, because it has no hard banks in the plains, the river spread as much as thirty kilometres. Even though the route was known, navigation was difficult because of shoals and sandbanks and travel possible only during the day. Progress was therefore never faster than thirty kilometres per day.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 5:06 PM, ,

The Temple of Gori and the diamond-studded Statue

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On the highroad from Naukot to Nagarparkar in the deep south of the Thar Desert of Sindh, their lies between the towns of Islamkot and Virawah the tiny, nondescript village of Gori. The village takes its name from Gorecha (also known as Prasanath), a Jain god. A couple of hundred metres east of the village, amid the grey dunes and the kundi trees, sits the ruinous temple dedicated to this god.


The spire of the temple is gone, a victim of the great earthquake of 1898. But the bulbous domes, the finely polished marble pillars of the portico and in the dimly lit interior, the exquisite frescoes adorning the portico and the overall workmanship tell that no expense was spared in the building of the temple. According to the Memoir on the Thurr and Parkur of Stanley Napier Raikes, magistrate of the district in the 1850s, this temple once held a statue of Gorecha.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 9:06 AM, ,

Greeks in Chitral?

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Legend has it that some of Alexander’s legions having lost their way strayed into remote Chitral. Unable or unwilling to leave this delightful hill country which so resembled Macedonia both in terms of scenery and climate, they remained there, wedded local women and started families whose descendents are the modern Kalasha. The other yarn concerns Alexander himself having crossed into Chitral. Having remained in those cool climes several months, he left behind many pregnant women to begin the Kalasha line.
 

Self-proclaimed anthropologists draw parallels between Kalasha culture and that of the Greeks. But they deny the similarities that Kalasha culture, especially their pantheon, has with other ancient sub-continental cultures. It is an interesting and spiritually uplifting notion for anyone to be linked with the greatest and most civilised conqueror the world has ever known. The Kalasha therefore cling to the notion of being Alexander’s progeny.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 7:31 AM, ,

Alexander’s Campaign - Episode 2

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Alexander’s Campaign - Episode 2 by f560415578

Episode 1 - Episode 3

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 10:53 AM, ,

Yusuf Khan and Sher Bano

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The hill of Kharamar – Rearing Snake, stands on the north side of the Mardan-Swabi highroad near the village of Shahbaz Garhi. As one regards it from the road, the vertical escarpment below its highest point (1050 metres) does indeed look like the spreading hood of a gigantic cobra. On the northern slope, just below the peak, there sits a solitary grave shaded by a single palosa tree. Here, by one account, lie the mortal remains of Yusuf Khan; by another his beloved Sher Bano shares the grave with him.


Yusuf Khan lived with his sister and widowed mother in the village of Turlandi a few kilometres due south of the Kharamar peak. Now, in Pukhtun tradition, acrimony between paternal cousins (turboor), because of the division of a common grandparent’s properties, is as bitter as that of sworn enemies. And so, the orphaned Yusuf Khan and his family were turned out of the ancestral home by his turboors.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 8:42 AM, ,

St Thomas in Taxila

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Among its proudest displays, the Cathedral of Lahore exhibits a small cross in a glass case. Known as the Taxila Cross, it was found in 1935 just outside the ruins of Sirkap, the second city of Taxila, and is commonly believed to signify that Christianity had taken root in the subcontinent shortly after the crucifixion of Christ.


The ‘proof’ supporting this theory is a manuscript titled The Acts of St Thomas that was discovered in 1822 in Syria. According to this document, St Thomas having been assigned by Jesus to teach the gospel in India, arrived by boat at the seaside capital of King Gondophares. Working miracles, he successfully converted the king and all his subjects to Christianity.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 11:52 AM, ,

Why I travel

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I travel very much for the same reasons as Professor Santayana: to escape ‘into open solitudes’. I have this rather primordial desire to be where few people have been and where I can be by myself. It was for this reason that for most of my life as a traveller I went alone. The late and much lamented Saneeya Hussain, my friend and first editor at the Star, used to call me Lone Wolf. I have to use the professor’s words again to explain the urge to travel alone: ‘running some pure hazard’. There is a great thrill in it. This is a thrill that tingles up and down the spine. Imagine a walk in pre-dawn darkness in Thar Desert or somewhere in the foothills of the Khirthar Mountains – both places where the infamous krait of the viper family, hardly noticeable because of its sandy colouration – lurks under the bushes and stones. If you are alone and bitten, there is no chance of survival. The poison attacks the nervous system and one dies within minutes.

There is also the ‘taste of hardship’ that Allama Iqbal has the parent shaheen telling the shaheen child: 'sakht koshi say hai talkh e zndagani angbeen.'
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:20 PM, ,

Guru Nanak and the hand print

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Legend has it that the great Guru Nanak having reached Hasan Abdal tired and thirsty on a hot day sought a drink. But there was no water to be had in town; the only source being up on a hill and jealously guarded by Hasan Abdal also known as Wali Kandahari (deputy of God from Kandahar). The guru sent one of his disciples to get some water from the Muslim ascetic who refused to oblige one whom he considered heathen.


Twice did Guru Nanak send up his man and twice was he returned empty handed by Wali Kandahari. In a fit of ire, the guru struck the earth with his staff causing a clear and copious spring to burst forth and, at that moment, drying up the spring on the hill. Not to be outdone, Wali on the hilltop cast a small pebble at the guru. As it rolled down the hill, the pebble grew in size until it was a boulder large enough to smother the spring and the guru.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 9:50 AM, ,

Raja Paurava and Alexander

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In the gloom of a stormy night in late May of the year 326 BCE, Alexander of Macedonia secretly crossed the Jhelum River to fight his epic battle against the Punjabi king Paurava (Porus to the Greeks). The battle took place outside Mong village in the district of Mandi Bahauddin where lore celebrates the invader’s victory by either converting him to Islam, though he pre-dates this religion by a thousand years, or making him a hero from the Quran. Paurava is of course vilified for being heathen.


The well-known exchange between the victor and the vanquished concerning how the latter wished to be treated and his response are part of lore that is related as a sign of Alexander’s greatness, not of Paurava’s equanimity in defeat. Paurava simply pales in the presence of Alexander, but history looks at the Punjabi king differently.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 8:30 AM, ,

North Face of Chhogho Ri

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In front of us was a cone of bare rock above which a snow peak towered into the sky, heavy with its diaphanous blue veil. To the left of these two masses of rock and ice rose the misshapen pyramid of Chhogho Ri. It had a snow-covered hump on the left side. In the centre of the face in front of us, a great ridge ran up like a giant scar all the way up to the summit. Between this ridge and the hump on the left was a deep gully festooned with enormous hummocks of snow and ice just ripe for the avalanche. The face to the right of the ridge was crumpled and completely covered with snow. If the nearer peak had a blue veil, Chhogho Ri was partial to purple. It was in sharp contrast to the symmetrical, elegant lines of the south face as seen from Concordia at the top of the Baltoro Glacier, a contrast that yet did little to mar the majestic grandeur of the second highest peak on the planet.


I stood in open-mouthed awe for a good few minutes before starting to walk. 'Aren't you taking a picture?' Wahab wanted to know. 'Look at the blue haze. This is hardly going to be a picture. We should have been here shortly after sunup.' I was averse to just an ordinary snapshot of such a powerful spectacle and had not even reached for my camera. 'You must take a photo. You said it is certain you will never return. One day you'll need this photo to remind you what the mountain actually looks like from our side.' Wahab said solicitously. Then with a moment's thought he added, 'It will remind you also of the time you became the first Pakistani to see the north face of Chhogho Ri.'
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 2:05 PM, ,

Bridge over River Soan: Rawalpindi Mianwali Line

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The line south from Attock city to Daudkhel and Mianwali was meant to be the direct connection between Rawalpindi and the ferry of Darya Khan connecting with Dera Ismail Khan. In that way, it was another strategic line. But it does not feature in any history of the North Western Railway.


The reason for its obscurity is not peculiar, however. When work on this line commenced in the mid-1890s, the situation in Afghanistan had about settled, if settled that country was ever going to be. Moreover, the connection to Darya Khan by way of Malakwal and Khushab had been commissioned in 1887 taking much of the importance of this direct line from Rawalpindi. In a way, this lonely little stretch of railway was stillborn, so far as its main strategic purpose went.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 11:24 AM, , links to this post

The functions of travel literature?

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Travel literature is really an attempt at preserving culture, tradition, history, built heritage, scenery etc as it exists at the time of the writer's observation. Things, culture and people change. It is necessary to preserve what is and a travel writer does just that. For this particular reason, a travel writer has to be precise and truthful. One must never succumb to the temptation of fictionalising the narrative as it happens in Urdu. Example: there used to be a paar vala mela in Shahdara. All old Lahoris were to be found there when it took place, I think, in April (perhaps to coincide with Besakhi). It is no more; it was last held sometime in the 1980s and then we went totally Islamic under the ***** Zia. My great regret is never having been to this mela. That should have been the purpose of any travel writer.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 1:20 PM, ,

Mountain of Forty Souls

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The purple loom of the Chiltan Mountain spikes the skyline 20 km southwest of Quetta. In its folds and deep ravines there live forty elfin children. Woe betide the unwary traveller who should cross paths with these elusive pixies for they entice and lead the person away from the path and into unknown depths of the forest whence none have ever returned. Indeed, Brahui shepherds will swear that they hear voices calling out to them as they lead their herds around the mountain.


Elderly Brahuis recount the tale as though it had unfolded but yesterday. Providence, they say, dealt a bizarre hand to an indigent Brahui couple: for long they had remained childless and then bestowed by nature with not one or two, but fully forty infants. Hard put to provide for themselves, the very thought of having to feed forty additional hungry mouths drove the parents to desperation. The only recourse, so they decided, was to keep just one of the babies and abandon the other thirty-nine in a nearby mountain in the hope that other travellers or wood-cutters would rescue them and take them for their own.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 8:24 AM, ,

Sindhi girls

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This photo captured Sindhi girls on the bank of the inlet canal to Haleji Lake, Thatta in December 1987.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 4:42 PM, , links to this post

Alexander’s Campaign - Episode 1

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Alexander’s Campaign by f560415578

Episode 2

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 2:42 PM, ,

The Invisible Saint

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Legend has it that the nameless saint and his sister the pious Bibi Nani arrived in the Bolan Pass to convert fire-worshippers to the true faith. But the pagan king took exception to their activities and sent out an armed posse to get them. The duo fled down the gorge but despairing of ever evading their pursuers, decided to split. While the sister went down the pass, the brother turned northwest into a wild and desolate gorge.


It is not told how Bibi Nani came to her end at the bottom of the Bolan where her tomb sits under a bridge by the rocky bank of a seasonal stream. But the nameless saint unable to shake of his tormentors ended up where the gorge forms a dead end. And even as the soldiers approached with bared swords, the saint calmly walked into solid rock. No sooner had he disappeared, when there opened a hole in the rock and out poured a large volume of water. Since the saint disappeared into solid rock, he became Pir Ghaib – the Invisible Saint.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 8:37 AM, ,

Prisoner on a Bus

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Prisoner on a Bus is an anthology of my newspaper articles published in The Frontier Post (1991-93), The News on Sunday (1993-2001) and Herald (1993-2001).

The book was published in 2003 and it owes everything to Mr Niaz Ahmad, my publisher. The idea of the book rested on the fact that the kind of work I was doing in 1990s (and still continue to do) was then not being done by anyone else in the country - there are a few rising stars now, though. And even as I went about my business, I noticed that the places and items that I covered were slowly being lost. For example the story 'A Track Less Travelled' about the Narrow Gauge railway line between Bostan (northeast of Quetta) and Zhob 320 km, despite being a jewel in the crown of Pakistan Railway was neglected and slowly crumbling to dust. Similarly, the house of Jahandad Khan (the last piece in the book) was pulled down shortly before the book was published.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 8:36 AM, ,

Tales Less Told

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Ever since humans acquired the gift of speech, they have been telling tales. Originally these stories were no more than details of the last great hunt or the location of a bountiful hunting ground and the prowess of the one exceptional huntsman who successfully brought down a large animal that fed the clan for days on end.

With the establishment of farming communities and the first settlements some ten thousand years ago, the tales changed dramatically. Now there were yarns of the last drought and its accompanying shortage of food or the deluge in the time of a vaguely remembered grandsire that wiped out so many clans and settlements. But now, living as they were in cities, humans also had tales to tell of love and treachery, of courage and honour, of social customs, of journeys of trade and adventure and of long-ago ancestors that had to be elevated to lofty pedestals and a larger than life persona.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM, ,

Renaissance in the Punjab, Mahal Nagar Mal, Minchinabad

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As early as the middle years of the 19th century, when British rulers had just started to raise their first edifices in northern India, the moneyed class of the Punjab had become deeply enamoured of this new building tradition. It is known that elite families who retained their own mistri would instruct him to visit upcoming cantonments to study new and upcoming buildings. The design would then be duplicated for the homes of the rich.
 
At the dawn of the 20th century, the sea change of acceptance of vernacular architecture as an integral part of colonial buildings had already occurred. By this time, the mistri had acquired his own elaborate vocabulary of European architectural elements. He had developed his skill to a degree that he was blending the vernacular with the European to delightful advantage. Scores of little-known private residences dating back to the early 20th century across the country are breathtaking examples of local craftsmanship.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 10:58 AM, ,

Sense and Sensibility, Islamia College, Peshawar

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About the middle of the 19th century men like Sir Syed Ahmed Khan in the north and Hassanally Effendi in Karachi realised that the regressive mindset among Muslim youth was attributable mainly to their rejection of modern education. Working independently, these two dedicated men succeeded in the latter half of the 19th century in bringing English education to young Muslims in their respective areas.


In Peshawar, this shift had already occurred in the classrooms of Edwardes High School founded by the Church Missionary Society in 1855. In order to take education a notch higher, Sir George Roos-Keppel, chief commissioner of the province, floated the idea of a college for Muslims. This was around the end of the first decade of the 20th century, when there was no institution of higher education anywhere in the newly established North West Frontier Province.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 11:58 AM, ,

Sentinel Watch, Police Office Building, Jacobabad

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Upper Sindh was challenging country to manage in the 19th century. To its west were the Bugtis and to the north the Mazaris – both formidable Baloch tribes. The first administrator that the East India Company sent out was a man of exceptional calibre and humanity who established his writ in this volatile region. For the local Baloch, John Jacob became a saint of sorts, on whose grave in Jacobabad they light oil lamps even today.


More than half a century after Jacob had brought order to the region, the men of the Raj thought it necessary to raise a new building to house the offices of the Superintendent of Police. The 20th century had dawned and mixing local and European architectural forms was widely acceptable. Completed in 1910, the Police Office Building in Jacobabad became yet another remarkable example of the amalgam.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM, ,

Sindhia mein Sikander

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Sindhia mein Sikander - the documentary - spread over thirteen episodes each of 30 minutes was about Alexander’s Indian Campaign. We joined Alexander at Nawagai (Bajaur), and followed him through Pakistan to Makran where he left the country. The original idea to write a book germinated when I was researching for my book The Salt Range and the Potohar Plateau during the mid-1990s. I tried to get funding from National Fund for Culture and Heritage but at that time Dani was heading the fund and he was like the proverbial snake in the treasure-house - repugnant to the idea of spending the money. But after the success of Nagri, Nagri Ghoom Musafir, Muneeza Hashmi who was then GM PTV Lahore asked for another idea. I suggested Alexander and she fought very hard with the MD Yusuf Baig Mirza for financing for the project. The rest, as they say, is history.

Related: Sindia mein Sikandar [13 episodes]

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 8:30 PM, ,

Place of Penance, Gurdwara Rori Sahib, Eminabad

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It is a unique fantasy of arches, overlapping petals, Gurmukhi lettering, columns, minarets and domes. Fantasy, because it is made entirely of cut and moulded bricks. And unique as there is no other building in the Punjab that matches its flowing lines. This is the lofty gateway to Gurdwara Rori Sahib outside Eminabad town in District Gujranwala.


When the gateway was raised in the first decade of the 20th century, Antoni Gaudi, the Spanish architect was well-known and his inventive use of curvilinear art nouveau ornamentation was viewed with admiration throughout Europe. If the now forgotten architect of the Eminabad gateway was trained under the tutelage of Lockwood Kipling of the Mayo School of Arts in Lahore, it is possible he drew inspiration for this assignment from Gaudi’s work. On the other hand, if he was a traditional mistri – which seems more likely to be the case – he had an admirably original and innovative mind. Since this sort of work was not the norm, the originality was coupled with a boldness that came from a mastery of tradition architecture.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 9:00 AM, ,

Wish I was there

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There are some places in Balochistan that I have never been to. One is the Mashkai Valley which stretches northward from Awaran (this lies on the direct road from Lasbela to Turbat). This is a very beautiful valley and I heard of it when we were making Sindhia mein Sikander in November 2001 and spent a night at Awaran.
 
 
The other place is again in Balochistan. For years I wanted to hire a camel near Nal and trek down the Hingol River all the way to the sea. In the upper reach the river is hardly anything to be excited about. But as you near the Rudia hills, the scenery becomes very dramatic and carries on that way all the way to the seaboard.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 5:54 PM, ,

Truthful inaccuracy

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Folks do not like the new film Zero Dark Thirty. This film is about the 10-year long hunt for the most evil terrorist the world has known since Hasan bin Sabah, the Old Man of the Mountain — the two having much in common.


I am not a movie fan and know little about films, but the gripe of most reviewers is that this film features Arabic being spoken on the streets of Pakistan in the year 2011. One reviewer even ridiculed the scene of a camel train somewhere in Abbottabad. This poor reviewer may actually never have left his TV lounge where he writes his reviews because we have camels aplenty in this country.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 5:53 PM, ,

The Salt Range and the Potohar Plateau

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Neither is The Salt Range and the Potohar Plateau a book of archaeology nor is it a treatise on classic architecture. The Salt Range and the Potohar Plateau is simply a book of fascinating stories known commonly to only a select club of archeologists and historians. It attempts to tell the common reader of the colourful unfolding of history in the Salt Range and the Potohar Plateau not just through the description of ruined monuments but through the folklore.

Now in circulation is the second edition of the book first published in 2001.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 3:10 PM, ,

Facets of Fusion, Collectorate Building, Larkana

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In 1902, large chunks of Shikarpur and Karachi districts were carved out to form the new district of Larkana. Until then, this country was known as Chandka, after the well-established Chandio tribe. With natural and man-made canals that endowed it with rich forest, abundant agriculture and fruit farms, Larkana had already been noticed as the ‘Garden of Upper Sindh’. The men who were on their way to rule over the district knew it would be a source of plentiful revenue.


In keeping with the promise of a large levy, the administrators thought it appropriate that there be a building of impressive proportions where the proceeds be held in transit on their way to the central treasury. With its crenulated towers that come straight from a castle in Britain, its Greek columns and pediments and its Indian domes, the Collectorate Building in Larkana becomes just the fulfilment of this need.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 9:22 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