Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

The Trees of Lahore

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Until the 1970s some one hindered and sixty species of birds were listed in Lahore. While the city had such green spaces as Lawrence Gardens, Aitchison College, the cantonment and Model Town, farm and forest on the outskirts began where Defence Society or Allama Iqbal Town and the innumerable societies now sprawl in south and east Lahore. Also, houses along main thoroughfares were constructed on plots of four or five thousand square yards or more, giving every residence a large garden with trees, shrubbery and flowers.
 
 
The conversion of suburban farm, forest and scrub land to housing estates led to large scale deforestation. Over the years it was observed that not just government agencies, but private developers as well as individual home owners are clearly repulsed by trees. The first thing anyone does is remove the forest cover, even when the trees do not get in the way of construction. Wherever indigenous forest was destroyed, the grid of new roads was bordered with eucalyptus.
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On travelling

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I travel by any means available. I have walked, walked, walked, ridden donkeys, horses (in eternal fear of them galloping off with me or without me but with my gear), camels (both dromedaries and Bactrian double-humped ones), bicycled, motorcycled and been on jeeps with drivers to scare the daylights out of the bravest person.

There is one key to getting to know a place: keep the eyes and ears wide open and see and hear, not just look and listen. Register the sights, sounds, smells, the birdsong, the quartering eagle in the cloud-laden sky; the nattering birds in the thickets; the fragrance of the wild rose and that of the thyme and artemesia crushed underfoot; the sound of the water and the soughing of the wind. And you know the place.
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Walking history’s highway

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I hobbled across the floor of large shattered rocks, the remnants of a glacier past, and painfully hauled myself over the low saddle behind which my two companions had disappeared only shortly before. Then I saw it, the object of a long-held desire: the concrete pillar that marks the Mintaka Pass between China and Pakistan.

The meadows on the way to Morkushi

But I could not believe I was actually there. For one, as we came up to the last bit of glacial remains, my guide Irfanullah had said that the boundary pillar lay about an hour away. Secondly, I had imagined the pillar to be much taller. Why, it marked the boundary between two countries and ought to be of monumental proportions, yet as it was, the column was just about the height of a man, a metre and seventy centimetres. Having caught sight of it, it was not without a good deal of gratitude that I trudged the last painful steps to the crest of the pass.
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Those quaint rest houses

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My friend Kashif Noon called to tell me of a string of forest rest houses stretching from Kallar Sayidan southeast of Rawalpindi all the way to Murree by the road less travelled through Kahuta and Lehtrar. He had heard of them on the good authority of a certain Rizwan Mehboob.


According to Kashif, Rizwan, while serving in the Forest Department nearly twenty years ago, had become very well acquainted with the rest houses and the lore attached to them. It would be useful to travel discover these little known rest houses, some of which owing to a lack of maintenance are now ruinous and may soon be lost forever.
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Real development stories

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Since 1992, I have been writing NGO 'development stories'. Time was when these were unknown and newspapers and journals were thirsting for them. But now attitudes have changed. Most editors say they are publicity for NGOs and don't want them anymore. However, over these years, I have established close connections with a few NGOs that value my work and ask me to document their initiatives whether they are post-flood rehab or poverty alleviation or health and education.

Until 1992, I saw that NGO annual reports and 'development stories' for papers were more like corporate records. Though the organisations work with human beings, there were no people in the stories. There were only claims of what had been done by the NGO. Though it is in bad form to make this claim, but I suppose it has to be made here: I was the first writer to bring the beneficiaries into the story. It was their story and I used their words. Most of the time, these ordinary people, the real people of Pakistan, said things that touched your heart; they could bring tears to your eyes. This was the easiest way of writing these stories because you did not have to make an effort to create a story: it was just there in words that needed only to be translated.

I still do that and my stories have been circulated abroad, some have ended up as documentaries and others have brought more funds to my clients.

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Alien Invasion

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Pakistan is headed for an ecological disaster. And the worst part of the scenario is that persons actually entrusted with preserving its ecology are helping it along on this doomsday path. In their insane quest for producing ever greater green cover with the least bit of work and without any understanding of the term ‘ecological imbalance’, officials of the country’s provincial Forest Departments have been promoting alien species. For close on forty years, mindless Pakistani foresters have progressively replaced indigenous trees with the imported Eucalyptus.


The hardy Eucalyptus, a native of Australia, was first introduced to the subcontinent as far back as the 1890s. Twenty years later it was being planted here in limited numbers for its oil (eucalyptol) that was known to have decongestant and antiseptic properties. Then nothing was known of its hydrological properties and the effect of its leaf litter on the chemistry of the ground.
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Alexander's Campaign - Episode 9

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Alexander's Campaign - Episode 9 by f560415578

Episode 8 - Episode 10

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Mintaka: ancient byway into the subcontinent

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Sitting at the head of Misgar Valley (Gojal, north of Hunza), the 4760 metre-high Mintaka Pass has one of the most evocative and tantalising names: in the Wakhi language, it is the Pass of a Thousand Ibex. Sometime in the latter Middle Ages, the Wakhi people who speak an archaic form of Persian came down this way from Tajikistan and Wakhan to make the valleys of Gojal their home. Their hunters’ instinct would have been greatly titillated by the sight of herds of Himalayan ibex browsing on the slopes around them and they gave the high, wind-swept saddle a name that stuck.


The Wakhi tribes were not the first comers on Mintaka, however. Nearly a millennium and a half before them, in the latter half of the 2nd century BCE, a great horde of horse-riding northern peoples followed their leader down this pass on their way to become masters of much of modern-day Pakistan. The chief was called Maues and his people were the Scythians. Driven out of their home by drought and the pressure of a more powerful tribe, they sought the fertile plains of the Indus Valley whose fame by this time had spread far.
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Steaming up the Khyber

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They Khyber Pass! How the name rings of romance and high adventure. It brings to mind the likes of Kipling's King -- of the Khyber Rifles. And men like Ajab Khan, the true blue Afridi, who had stolen his way into the house of an English officer and made off with his young daughter only to return her some days later: unmolested and in the glow of health. That was the age of chivalry. And it brings to mind the fierce struggle of the Afridi tribesmen before they finally, albeit unwillingly, submitted to the power of the Raj.


Before them the pass had been the conduit for traders, migrants and brigands drawn by the riches of the Indian sub continent. It had been the way for the outward spread of Buddhism, and a millennium later saints and mystics in the service of Islam wound their way down its dusty contours to illuminate the hearts of Vedic India not at the point of the sword but through the true spirit of the new faith. And of course this was the same way that Krateros led one phalanx of Alexander's army to the conquest of wondrous Pushkalavati near modern day Charsadda.
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Why is travel important

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Any naturally curious person would as a matter of coarse wish to travel and see the world around them. It may be hackneyed, but the old adage about a journey of a thousand miles being more educative than the reading of ten thousand volumes is very true. Travel educates, it uplifts and it instills an appreciation of fellow humans in the traveller. Most of all, travel is self-discovery. Journeying is important for all of us whose minds work. I do not mean expensive journeys abroad or even to the great Gilgit-Baltistan region. But why not just hump a light backpack and go walking, say, in the Salt Range, the Suleman or the Khirthar Mountains and, when the situation once again permits, in Balochistan.

If you ask me, I would never say no to a journey. In fact, with the poor security situation in Pakistan, I feel extremely restricted. Time was when I never worried about being in peril in Balochistan or Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa and just went when the fancy took me. Even to the remotest parts of these provinces. In 1984, I was freewheeling in Bannu when a turbaned Pathan asked me where I was from and what brought me to the city. I told him I was freewheeling so he asked why I didn't come with him to his Miran Shah. And off we went to North Waziristan where I stayed with this kind person in his home in Miran Shah. I would have to be completely mad to do that today!
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Discover another Pakistan

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Tourists who once came to Pakistan had varied interests. There is therefore no prefect trip or perfect time to visit Pakistan. However, there is an ideal time between November and mid-March. This is the time to be in the south in Sindh and Balochistan – that is, if the security situation permits. That having been said, while Balochistan may unfortunately be somewhat unsafe for a foreigner, Sindh is a fine place to be and the traveller can have the run of the entire province including the fabulous forts of Rannikot (80 km northwest of Hyderabad) and Kot Diji a short drive south of Sukkur and Rohri.

Besides the desert and the charming lakes of Sanghar district, there are interesting little towns to explore. Nasarpur (near Tando Allahyar) for its colourful cotton khes, Hala for the tiles, Buit Shah for the picturesque mausoleum of the great Shah Latif, Rohri and Sukkur for the medieval remains and also for the ruins of Alor where Alexander paused briefly and which was taken by the Arabs in 711. And of course how can anyone miss Moen jo Daro!
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Decline of Pakistan Railway

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The Pakistan Railway has been destroyed on purpose. The bus mafia is so strong, it has so much money, it can do what it wills. Ghulam Ahmed Bilour, the Railways Minister is the biggest transport tycoon in Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa, there is no major town in the province from which he does not have buses plying to Karachi. He never wanted the railway - even the vestige that was left of it by the turn of the century - to survive. He nicely put paid to it.

Bridge on the Soan River on the Rawalpindi-Daudkhel line. The Soan Bridge Railway Station is the white-washed building to the right. This is one of the most dramatic railway bridges still existing
But Bilour was small fry. The malaise began more than forty years ago. After taking over, Ayub Khan, the military dictator, instituted the huge subsidy on diesel reducing its price to less than half that of petrol. Several rich Khans from North and South Waziristan then controlled the truck business of Pakistan and this was to mollify them and keep them aligned with the dictator. The result was that much of the freight that railway (then still called North Western Railway to be shortly thereafter renamed Pakistan Western Railway) hauled was stolen away from it by the suddenly expanded truck fleet.
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Moola: pass of the King’s Highway

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On the exit march after his ‘Indian Campaign,’ Alexander the Macedonian fetched up in the city of Patala (Hyderabad) in September 325 BCE. It was time for him to shed some of his old pensioners. And so the aged general Krateros was given charge of ten thousand veterans to lead home to retirement. The route Alexander wanted Krateros to explore and map was the direct Barbarikan-Arachosia highroad.


Now, Barbarikan was the famous and prosperous mart on the Sindh seaboard by a mouth of the Indus River. We today know it as the ruined city of Bhambor; Arachosia was the Helmand Valley of Afghanistan. This ancient route lies sandwiched between the modern Indus Highway to the east and the great barrier of the Khirthar Mountains to the west and was in use until the 1940s when the new black top highway was laid. Now only local camel caravans ply its ancient and arid loneliness.
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Alexander's Campaign - Episode 8

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Episode 7 - Episode 9

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Writing books piece by piece

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Writing a book like Salt Range and Potohar Plateau or The Apricot Road to Yarkand is a more pleasurable experience. You read over some years and its helps build up a thesis, do the field work, improve your research some more and then come home to write. The Salt Range took me five years to publish from the time I started work. The idea for Apricot Road germinated back in 1991 when I was researching something else at the Royal Geographical Society. The journey was undertaken in 2006 followed by a second visit to RGS. Then I just could not get into writing mode for three years. The book was published in early 2011.


Writing newspaper articles can be two different types. The one where you hurry out and back and produce something. The other is the result of a long period of research followed by a leisurely journey and then easy paced writing. The first kind never made it to my anthologies; only the second did.
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Bolan: where the Brahuis hold sway

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Mach (the name means Date Palm in Balochi), sits 980 metres above the sea amid barren hills that glint the colour of burnished gold in the sun. Twenty-six kilometres away to the northwest, Kolpur lies at 1790 metres above the sea. While the former is known to be among the hottest places in Pakistan during the summer, the latter gets a goodly fall of snow most winters. Between the two, the tortuous windings of the Bolan Pass follow a stream through a landscape whose timeless desolation is scarcely offset by the modern lorries, cars and trains that speed along its contours.
 
 
The river carrying its burden in subterranean channels and dry for the most part, every now and again releases the water in the form of springs. Where that happens, villages sprout up and verdure makes for a pleasant counterpoise to the starkness of the rocky gorge. But in the distant past, greater precipitation meant a greener Bolan and a perennial river. And so, six thousand years ago, when the cities of the Indus Valley engaged in a brisk trade with Mesopotamia, the Bolan Gorge formed the northern branch of the great three-pronged east-west highway.
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Chhappar: born of an earthquake

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About a hundred and fifty kilometres north of Sibi, there sits on a roughly east-west axis an elongated hill the shape of a gigantic Swiss Roll. At some remote point in time, much beyond the span of human memory, a cataclysmic earthquake split this hill into two almost equal halves. Down this roughly hundred-metre wide crack known as the Chhappar Rift there now flows a small stream from the north to the south. Depending on the weather, this can either be a raging torrent during the rains or a mere trickle otherwise.
 
 
Throughout the long and creative passage of time, this great crack was part of a byroad from the plains of Sindh in the south to the valley of the Zhob River in the north. For an ancient traveller heading from a Sindhi town through Sibi for, say, Gardez or Ghazni, this was the shortest route. Closer to our times, we know that from about the middle of the 18th century, the Hindu merchants of Shikarpur, celebrated for their diligence and honesty, were trading as far away as Bokhara, Samarkand and Saint Petersburg. The Chhappar Rift, being the shortest connection between Sindh and those northern towns, was a frequent route.
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Khyber: Pass of the Pathans

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Cutting across the Suleman hills to connect the fertile Peshawar valley with the Afghan highlands, the Khyber Pass is arguably one mountain conduit in Pakistan to have seen the most protracted unfolding of human history. From the dawn of time to the modern age, it has formed a major entry point from the Afghan highlands into the vast and fertile Indo-Gangetic plains. On the one hand, it reverberated again and again to the tramp of booted feet, clink of armoury and the whinnying of war horses. On the other, its walls have absorbed the sound of softly murmured prayer of the pilgrim and the trader on a long and lonely journey in search of nirvana whether spiritual or temporal.
 
 
Though it was not the only entry point to the subcontinent – there being no fewer than half a dozen other conduits within eighty kilometres along the border on either side of it – the Khyber was the easiest route because it could take wheeled traffic. It is as though nature had purposefully cleaved a clear trough through the range to afford trouble-free passage.
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Travel writers are geographers too

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Understanding of geography, quite like that of history, gives you a sense of belonging. The more profound the understanding, the more solid one's sense of self and identity. And understanding therefore of geography, one's place in the world, is essential.
 
For me geography is the essence of travel writing. Even before I started writing, my knowledge of the geography of Pakistan especially and of the world generally was very sharp. Except for some Pacific Ocean islands, I never had trouble pointing out any particular place on the map. In fact, I have long said that I have a fetish for maps. Incidentally, maps being an inseparable part of all military work, the seven years of army service gratified this fetish a great deal. When in London at the Royal Geographical Society, I spend hours on end in their famous and most extraordinary Map Room poring over charts of our part of the world. This association with maps naturally led to a desire to see the places I had visited on those sheets. I first started travelling and then the reading and edification followed.
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Roads Less Travelled

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The most primordial act of the human race is walking. Hundreds of thousands of years before they formed societies and built their cities, humans walked. They walked from end to end of the great land masses of the planet, discovering their world as they went. For the walker, there was no road too difficult, no obstacle insurmountable. The walker went everywhere. And then, some five thousand years ago, humans domesticated the horse and the world suddenly grew smaller.

There were straightforward journeys across the easy geography of the plains. But there were others across mountainous terrain that could only be traversed through gaps or passes. In some cases, these passes were ordinary conduits across low mountain barriers; in others these were high altitude, ice-bound gaps in walls of rock, ice and snow. While man’s facility in discovering the first kind is understandable, the heroism of discovery and the subsequent travel over glaciated mountain crossings is truly admirable. The stories of these passes speak of man’s hardihood and determination.
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Rabat: Caravanserai at the edge of Pakistan

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In the narrow apex where the borders of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan meet, the map marks a place as Rabat. Gird by the stark, barren crags of the Kacha Koh hills that to the southeast form the border between Pakistan and Iran, and the higher Koh e Malik Siah to the north, this is no village. Rabat is just a militia post and a number of ruined buildings.
 
 
Constructed of sun-baked bricks and mud plastering, these ruins are dominated by one large walled-in compound. It is this building that gives Rabat its name: in Arabic the word signifies ‘caravanserai’ – and that is what this and the neighbouring smaller building once served as.
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Travel writers’ connections with locale

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It is ideal to live in a place for extended period of time to write about it. For example, visiting Herat (Afghanistan) in March 2006 for four days was enough to fall in love with this magical city. But I never came back to write of my experience. I simply had too little a feel of that city. I should have been there for at least ten days. But in Pakistan, four days in Rohri in Sindh were enough back in 1986 to write a little piece because I had read so much about this, one of our most magical cities.

If it is a ruined building, an abandoned mansion, I generally spend a full day there. But the precondition is to be left to myself. I must be alone to let my imagination work; nobody should be constantly bombarding me with banter. The same is true for battlefields, forts etc. The rule of the thumb about writing on places, therefore, is three to four days for cities and a full day for a particular building.

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To Ketas by motorbike

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About three weeks ago, I received an email from a certain Omar Jahangir who had read my piece 'Shiva weeps no more'. This was my lament about the drying up of the sacred pond of Ketas by the cement factories installed barely a stone's throw from this historical site. Mind, cement manufacture is a water INTENSIVE industry. Young Omar, the Additional Deputy Commissioner (General) at Chakwal wrote to tell me that they had some work on the pond and revived it. He invited me to come see it for myself. Now, we are always ready to revile everyone for everything they do wrong, seldom to do we acknowledge the good work of others. So there I was on my motorcycle putt-putting off to Choa Saidan Shah.


It was a leisurely drive through Gujrat and Lala Musa to the Chillianwala monument which I wanted to photograph. Despite having left home at 6.00 AM, I was not able to get there until 10.00. Though the monument looked priceless in the sunshine dappled by the tall old trees, I had wanted a lower sun. I paused, but did not take any pictures. It will have to be done another time. Then across Rasul Barrage south to Dhariala Jaleb from where I turned to the hills. Passing the sign for Gharaibwal, I made a mental note of stopping here on the return journey to photograph the old and disused railway station of which I have a great memory from an unforgettable train trip in 1994. That was time when this line was worked by those magnificent steam behemoths that we have sadly lost. This story is preserved in my book, Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan.
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Alexander's Campaign - Episode 7

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Alexander's Campaign - Episode 7 by f560415578

Episode 6 - Episode 8

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Dhonra Hingora: not a soul was left living

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The rich farmlands and mango orchards of the canal-fed plains of lower Sindh give way to a saline tract overgrown with mesquite bushes and peelu trees. In this flat land, there rise above the vegetation three domed buildings. On closer inspection one also notices vestiges of scores of brick and lime mortar foundations and walls as well as remnants of houses, some of them smothered by the growth.


Lore preserves the tale of a pious man much given to the pleasures of the marijuana drink bhung, who was one day visited by troopers from the court of the Mughal king Aurganzeb. The purpose of their call being to confiscate the pitchers of the intoxicant that the saint reportedly always had at hand. The pitchers were there all right, but when the soldiers looked in, they found them brimming with yogurt. Now the Sindhi word for yogurt being dhonra and because it had been established by the Hingora tribe, the town came to be known as Dhonra Hingora.
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Travel writer is a whistle blower

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Unfortunately travel writing in Pakistan is thought to be only describing the picturesque beauty of some place, mostly mountain country which we think is exotic. How many travel pieces have we seen about travels in deserts? And how often do we read of someone being concerned with the destruction of, say, the summer palace of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in Rasulnagar (Gujranwala district)?
 
The travel writer, especially a native travel writer, is essentially a whistle-blower. His role is not only to inform readers about the country, but to bring to notice the destruction that has or is taking place. We have to move forward from being mere givers of commonplace descriptions of extraordinary places. It goes without saying that the travel writer must be a voracious reader. Only then he/she can move away from the mundane to a higher plane.
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Travelling without reading

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Over the past three decades of travelling around the country and especially of mountain walking, I have come to realise that ordinary Pakistani tourists do not read anything. This may be due in part to the fact that tourism in our country is merely getting away from the heat. We go to higher places and do not care to know anything about them. We are the ‘been there, done that’ kind of tourists. Travel does not broaden our mental and spiritual horizons.
 
This realization came on very strong during the trek to explore the Muztagh Pass (The Apricot Road to Yarkand). My travel companions, one an economics professor the other a medical doctor were not there with the same sense of wonder as me. For them this great experience was just another trek, just another been there, done that claim. If I excitedly spoke about some camp ground where we either passed or spent the night and told them of Godwin-Austen having been there in 1861, they showed no interest. It meant nothing to them.
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The Maharaja’s Residence

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History has no religion. This is a simply truth that we in Pakistan seem to be unaware of. For sixty-five years the government strived very, very hard to give it a religion and the sad thing is it succeeded. Consequently, now the history of Pakistan is only what is Islamic. Hard put to ignore Mehrgarh, Harappa, Moen jo Daro and Taxila, we simply try to wish away all relics of our built heritage if they did not originate under a Muslim patron.


Now, we cannot deny that Maharaja Ranjit Singh (Nov 1780-Jun 1839) was a truly great warrior king of Punjab. Astute, highly intelligent and possessed of immense cunning to boot, this man used his mental faculties to turn the divided Sikhs into one great community. Upon attaining the throne after his father’s death in 1799, Ranjit Singh found himself ruler of a small part of Punjab. Within a few years, this remarkable man whose prowess in the battlefield matched his acumen as a statesman and diplomat had increased his sway from Kashmir to Multan and from the Jumna River to the Khyber Pass.
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My audience

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When I began writing three decades ago, my audience actually was the thousands of Western expats living in Pakistan - at least that is what I thought. Until that time, whatever travel writing for native English speakers existed was done by foreigners, and I felt that sometimes the nuance of a Punjabi phrase, or even something said by a Sindhi, Baloch or Pathan was lost in translation. I wanted to pass on the Pakistan of Sindhi, Baloch, Pathan and Punjabi people, real people, to the reader of English.

But whereas my work was then known to most expats, I soon found that a good number of Pakistanis also read it. Now, since we turned an 'insecurity state', there are few expats. There has, moreover, been a decline in the quality of diplomats as well. Time was when consul generals and high commissioners came calling at our home because they wanted to know Pakistan and read my work. A couple of years ago, a friend told me of some woman heading the American Centre at Lahore whose only interest was boutiques and a high class pimp of the old city.
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Fort Prosperity

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One of the more reliable histories of Sindh tells us that the fortified city of Kalankot carries the name of its founder Raja Kala of antiquity. But Richard Burton who travelled widely in Sindh in the 1860s believes the name comes from Sanskrit meaning Fort Prosperity.


Though the origin of Kalankot will remain shrouded in mystery until detailed scientific investigation is carried out, history does paint a sketchy picture. After their capital of Mahatamtur was sacked by imperial troops from Delhi in or about 1284, the Soomras moved to this area and built the fort. There is also the possibility that the fort already existed, in which case the Soomras may have restored it for their use. They did not remain long however: by the middle of the 14th century when the Sammas came to power Kalankot lay in ruins.
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Mayo Gardens

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In 1906, barely forty-five years after they had laid the first rail track across the dusty Punjabi landscape, railway authorities had chosen Lahore to be the headquarters of what they called the North Western Railway (NWR) from among the several railways that chugged across undivided India. Though some of the lines (like the one into Jammu and the narrow gauge up into Simla and yet others across Punjab) remained with India at the time of independence, Pakistan inherited a somewhat truncated NWR.


When Lahore became the headquarters, the city saw a flurry of construction work to house railway officers and subordinate staff. Mayo Road (renamed Allama Iqbal Road) that stretched from the railway station to the Mian Mir cantonment saw the first string of houses. The first real railway housing estate, however, was the one that sprawled between Garhi Shahu and the Loco Shed just southeast of the railway station.
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Nandna: Al Beruni was here

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Abu Rehan Al Beruni, a native of the Ferghana valley, one of the greatest minds of his time, sojourned in Nandna in the year 1017. The fame of this ancient hilltop university and temple had reached him in Ghazni where he lived in virtual imprisonment under Mahmud, the Turkish despot.
 
 
When he finally received permission, he hurried eastward and fetched up at Nandna where he hoped to be tutored in Sanskrit. The brilliant man evidently took time off from his lessons for though he learned the language his book Qanun al Masudi also tells us something more. He wrote: ‘When I happened to be living in the fort of Nandna in the land of India, and I found a high mountain standing to its West, and also saw a plain to its South, it occurred to my mind that I should examine this method [of the astrolabe] there.’
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Buddhist attractions in Pakistan

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Pakistan is incredibly rich with Buddhist heritage. If the country was any safer, it would be crawling with Far Eastern pilgrims: Chinese, Koreans, Thais, Malays, Japanese and also many from Sri Lanka. Just take Taxila, for example. At every corner, literally behind every bush, there is an important relic connected with the great Buddha. Here are stupas, monasteries and temples - many of them known only to the serious researcher and obviously also to the committed Buddhist pilgrim.

Not very far away, near Rewat on National Highway 5 or Grand Trunk Road, is the lesser known but very important Mankyala stupa attributed to Kanishka, the great Kushan king. Then we have Takht Bahi; and we have the monasteries and stupas of Swat. Of special interest in Swat are the several rock carvings of Buddha. Peshawar is yet another important Buddhist centre, especially so because of the priceless content of its Museum.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 9:57 AM, , links to this post

Bhamala: the hidden monastery

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As the city of Taxila expanded over the centuries, there grew around it like appendages a number of religious institutions. Buddhism being the predominant religion in the heyday of this great city, these establishments were all monasteries of that religion. The better known among these are Jaulian, Mohra Moradu and Dharmarajika. There are others in the same area that are lesser known. Of these surely the most enchanting and the least known or visited is the Bhamala monastery.
 
 
Situated on an elongated hill above the right bank of the Haro River where the valley is only a couple of hundred metres wide, Bhamala is as secluded as it can get. On three sides the hills loom high, only to the southwest is the view open where the narrow valley looks into what was once a large depression containing a few villages but now lies submerged under the placid blue waters of Khanpur Dam.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:37 PM, , links to this post

Shah Daula Bridge

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An idyllic countryside with golden wheat fields spreading as far as the eye can see, a winding road shaded by shisham and acacia, buffaloes wallowing in roadside ponds of mud while paddy birds watch from the side with a sternness that does not match their poor demeanour, blue skies above without a cloud and a meandering stream called the Degh. Here, some twenty kilometres northwest of Muridke (on the Grand Trunk Road between Lahore and Gujranwala) the perennial Degh or Devka Nadi, as it known near its source in the Jummu hills, is spanned by a massive-looking arched bridge. They call it the Shah Daula Bridge and attribute it to the generosity of this saint buried in Gujrat.



Indeed, the little village by the bridge has no identity of its own and is called Pull Shah Daula. To me it seems there was no village here when the bridge was built and when over the years the habitation grew up around the bridge keeper’s house, it took the structure’s name for the sake of simplicity. No surprise, then, that even today the bridge looms large above the village – not so much physically as figuratively. And legends regarding it abound pushing real history into the amorphous periphery of human understanding.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 8:00 AM, , links to this post

Alexander's Campaign - Episode 6

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Alexander’s Campaign - Episode 6 by f560415578

Episode 5 - Episode 7 

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

Lal Mahra: Who sleeps here?

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Going by the opulence of the blue tiles and elegant cut-brick work, locals believe the funerary monuments contain the mortal remains of some important Mughal king and his retinue. History that would normally have another tale to tell, in this case however is silent. And the silence is resounding.


What is today farmland because of the canals that now criss-cross the area, was nothing but scrub desert as little as seven decades ago. But back in the 13th century when population was a mere fraction compared to today, this arid region of Dera Ismail Khan would have been uninhabited desert. Through this desert passed the ancient Hashtnagar (Peshawar)-Multan thoroughfare and the tombs locally known as Adhira or the Mughal tombs of Lal Mahra lie just off the old road to the west.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 9:12 AM, , links to this post

Ketas: where Shiva wept

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When the goddess Sati died, her husband Shiva was distraught as only a god could be. He wept so inconsolably that the tears flowed as rain from his eyes. The two streams from the divine eyes formed two ponds, one Pushkara in Rajasthan and the other Ketaksha in the Salt Range of Punjab. Both are sacred to followers of the Vedic code. Among their many pilgrimages, it is Ketaksha that the Hindus consider one of the more important ones.
 
 
Over the years the word Ketaksha was corrupted to Ketas, by which name we now know the group of ancient buildings sitting by the road outside village Choa Saidan Shah in the Salt Range. Here the late 17th century domed temple of Shiva casts a narcissistic shadow in the placid blue waters of the pond and dominates the rest of the ruined buildings sprinkled all around. Here are roofless hulks of the dharmsala that housed visiting pilgrims and here are other temples, some pre-dating the main temple by as much as seven centuries.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 11:06 AM, , links to this post

The Shergarh Palace

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Under the placid waters of the lake formed by the damming of the Sindhu River at Tarbela, there repose, among others, the water-logged remains of two ancient settlements. The one called Amb on the west bank and the other Darband on the east. It was from Darband that the chief of Amb ruled over a largish fiefdom that spread partly along the west bank of the Sindhu and largely on the east side. The plain area of modern Haripur district east of the river being known as Tanaval, the family favours the cognomen of Tanaoli for itself.
 
The Shergarh palace as seen from the northeast

Their own history, fawning and full of flaws and misrepresentations (not unsurprisingly written by a Tanoli), makes them conflictingly either Pukhtuns from the vicinity of Ghazni or Turks of the Barlas sub-clan. In both cases it takes the line back to the prophet Joseph as an explanation for their good looks. Painting the family in the most glories of martial colours, this document brings the Tanaoli family to the trans-Sindhu territories about four hundred years ago. Having taken over the level tract of Haripur district, the family, it is recorded named it after Tanal, a mountain pass between Kabul and Ghazni. Interestingly, all of the several maps (both modern and from the 19th century) consulted for confirmation of the existence of this pass turned up blanks. It consequently appears that the name Tanaval pre-dated the arrival of this family and that they simply took the name from the area.
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Golra Railway Museum

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Related : Some Said Scrap: Golra Railway Museum

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

Travel Sponsorship in Pakistan

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Since about the late 1980s, Pakistan began to lose out on the tourism business. We became more and more Islamic and exclusivist. Then the security situation took a nose dive. First of all, the dictator organised, orchestrated failure of the state. It was in those days that the police was instructed to not entertain complaints of petty theft – not that the police was any better before this. This snowballed to an uncontrolled extent and we now have a situation where a young couple honeymooning in Lal Suhanra having had their bag stolen with cash and credit cards were told by the police, ‘Ethay ki lain ai cee? Ghar araam nahi hai tuhano?’
 
No one should be interested in sponsoring a journey in Pakistan. This is mainly because of the security situation. A mountaineering expedition is another thing. Right now – and I don’t know if it will actually come through – Toyota Indus Motors are working out details to sponsor the Shimshali women’s mountaineering expedition to Muztagh Ata (7000 + metres) in China. This was as a result of my article on the past exploits of these daring young women in The News on Sunday.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:13 PM, , links to this post

Rajo Pind: jailhouse or caravanserai?

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Sher Shah Suri’s famous Rohtas Fort sits on one side of the Kahan River. Across the muddy waters of the stream lies the village of Rajo Pind. Otherwise unremarkable, the village proper can be entered by a lofty but ruinous gateway that was once part of a high wall enclosing a large compound. Inside the compound, among the modern houses, there are three buildings dating back to the Mughal era. The locals believe these were part of a jailhouse where the Suri king interred his political foes.


The ruins comprise of a row of simple rooms arranged on either side of a smaller gateway along the north side of the village. These rooms wrap around to the west side and run into a modern residence. These rooms are said to be part of the old jailhouse. These are, in fact, residential rooms of an old caravanserai. Those that are still serviceable serve as store-rooms for local residents. Others are gradually being dismantled and replaced with modern construction.
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Once upon a Line

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Related: Once upon a Line: Metre Gauge Steam

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

Travel writing at your own expense

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Writing generally does not hold any attraction for young people because there is no money in it. Travel writing, the least of all because of all the associated difficulties. Here you travel at your own expense and then the dividends are poor. I was fortunate to have my journals pay for my travels. But I no longer write for Herald and The News on Sunday which had been footing my travel bill since 1993 when we first began together, has a changed policy. Consequently, to establish oneself, a young writer will have to be essentially either very rich or sponsored by some agency as it used to be in Victorian times. Failing that, I don't see anyone wishing to be a full time travel writer in Pakistan.
 
[The Punjab University English Department has this year begun a course in travel writing. There are only two students there; a girl and a boy. Both are very keen readers and that is the making of a researcher.] The two young people currently taking the travel writing course both have promise. But I don't really see them pursuing travel writing as a profession. The way is really way too hard.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 11:27 AM, , links to this post

Khaplu Fort: back from the brink

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For several centuries the successive rajas of Khaplu oversaw the affairs of their kingdom from a very eagle’s eyrie of a castle on a high hill outside town. But when the Dogras of Kashmir overran Baltistan in the late 1830s, they forced the raja to give up that out-of-the-way place and make himself more accessible. They were not thinking of better governance, however. They only wanted to have the raja within easy reach so as to prevent any mischief when they perceived it.
And so the year 1840 saw the new residential fortress of the Khaplu raja coming up right inside Khaplu town. Solid of construction, square in plan and rising through four irregular floors the fort is a fine example of the defensive-residential building seen across the Northern Areas of Pakistan.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 8:39 AM, , links to this post

Life in Babsuar, Ishkoman

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It was early September 1990 when this photo was taken in a tiny village called Babsuar (not to mistaken with the one of the same name in Kaghan) up northwest of Ishkoman on the way to Ishkoman Pass.

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

Was Alexander the great?

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There were different facets to the personality of Alexander the Great. He was indeed a great general and a brilliant strategist who never knew defeat himself but was gracious to his defeated adversaries. On the other hand, we know he killed some 7000 Rajputs who had come from the east to fight against him with the Pathans in Massaga (between Dir and Swat). This was when their leader died in battle and they petitioned Alexander to be permitted to return to their country. Alexander offered to conscript them in his own army to which they initially agreed but later decided to bolt during the night because they did not want to fight against their own brothers. Alexander had their camp surrounded in the dark of night and ordered a general slaughter in which none of the Rajputs escaped.
 
Then again he killed some 800 Pathans in a similar situation on Aornos (Pir Sar).

We must also not forget that he killed Cleitus in a drunken revel in Samarkand. Clietus had saved his life in the Battle of the Granicus River (Turkey) and had this man not been there, Alexander would surely have been killed during battle on that river. Also when Coenus, another one of his generals, spoke on behalf of the troops after the revolt on the Beas, he died mysteriously a few days later. Historians believe Coenus was poisoned on Alexander’s order.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:21 PM, , links to this post

The Salt Range and the Potohar Plateau

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

Enclosed, after their emergence [from the mountains], between Indus and Jhelum as between a pair of arms, lies the curious block of country known as the Potwar (sic) plateau; rimmed to the east and south by the relatively puny, though impressive escarpments of the geologically complex Salt Range...’ Ian Stephens in Pakistan.

General view of Soon Valley

Rising abruptly from the Punjabi plains west of the River Jhelum and ending equally precipitously on the Sindhu, one hundred and eighty kilometres in the west, the Salt Range is a mass of sheer escarpments, jagged peaks, rolling hills and desolate ravines gouged out by rivers that have long since ceased to flow but in the more intense deluges. Nestling between these hills, are wide valleys irrigated by spring fed streams, as fertile today as they were a thousand years ago. All of them but the comparatively flatter and more intensely farmed tracts glow a deep, dull red colour. This is the signature of sub soil salt that lies deep underground in vein after substantial vein and gives it name to these low hills.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 8:41 AM, , links to this post

Going up from Harchin to Phargam Pass in Chitral

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One of my favorites, this photo was taken in early September 1990 while going up from Harchin to Phargam Pass in Chitral. Notice the man's footgear: it is nothing but old pieces of cloth wrapped around and tied with thongs.

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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