Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Who reads travel literature

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My writing is for a very, very miniscule part of the nearly 200 million Pakistanis. I think I am not known to more than a couple of thousand people and all of them have followed my work for a long time. Travel writing is actually not understood or perhaps even not appreciated in Pakistan.

Except for The News on Sunday, there is no journal with a dedicated travel writing section. I continue to write, I suppose, for the thousand or so who continue to read. If you look at my books, Gujranwala: The Glory That Was and that was sold more than a thousand copies in 23 years; The Salt Range and the Potohar Plateau, sold a little over a thousand copies in nearly 15 years. No other book made this mark! Most readers complain of the high prices which is not my fault but my publishers. But then, I know, that these same people having refused to buy a Rs 1500 book will turn around and spend twice as much on fast food!
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Stranger in Alai

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‘You want to walk through Alai to Kaghan?’ The young man asked incredulously. I nodded. ‘But it’s hard and you’re too old!


Grey hair (even if it is a week old stubble returning after a head shave) certainly does not inspire confidence. The crowd gathered to ogle me at the only hotel in the village of Rashung in Alai Valley snickered and nodded knowingly. No, I could not do it, they all agreed. I was too old for this sort of thing. One said that since there was every danger of my guide-cum-porter having to carry me over the intervening passes, they would charge a preposterous five hundred rupees per day to go with me.

Having driven all the way from Battagram through Thakot in the Sindhu Gorge to this remote little village in the heart of Alai, it seemed it would after all be impossible to trek across to Kaghan. In my mind, I was already beginning to formulate alternate plans when Maqbool, the Forest Department ranger in whose charge I had been placed at Battagram, intervened. I had done a good deal of mountain walking in my life, he told our audience. For instance, said he, I had climbed K-2.
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Last of Pakistan Railway

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Time was when the trains of Pakistan actually departed and arrived as scheduled. There were sometimes delays, but short ones. And of course we were also 'before time' as the conductor guard would tell passengers. In such cases the train would not be permitted on the platform and would be stopped at the inner signal. Travellers would alight, take their baggage and walk out of the station.
 
The Third Class compartments may never have been something to get excited about, but the second (non-a/c) and the air conditioned sleeper cars were very good. Time was when the toilets in the Khyber Mail sleeper car had showers! MY favourite fantasy these days is to relive that long lost glory: getting on the south-bound Khyber Mail at Lahore and as the train draws past Jungshahi east of Karachi, getting into the toilet to shave and shower. Ah, what incredible luxury that was and I still feel myself doing it when I think of it hard enough.
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King Paurava the great

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I set out of Lahore early. Northbound on the Grand Trunk Road, I took the slow passage through Gujranwala and Wazirabad, rather than the faster bypasses and stopped at the old ‘Chenab Road Bridge’ as the metal plaque says. A hundred metres upstream was the impressive Alexandra Bridge commissioned in January 1876 to carry the first Metre Gauge railway line across the Chenab. Inaugurated by the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), it was named after his royal consort. But some railway man called A. A. Qureshi knew only one similar sounding name and that appended with the title ‘The Great.’ And so it came to pass that this good Qureshi had a sign put up to give out the history of the bridge. The second sentence tells us, without punctuation, that the structure was named ‘after Mr Alexandra the Great the then Chief Engineer of North Western Railway.’


I sent up a happy prayer for Qureshi and for that conscientious officer of the future who will have the peeling sign repainted and ordered in three columns to make it easier to read and possible to photograph so that it may enter the realm of history. The contribution of Pakistani railway engineers to the history of British royalty must never be forgotten. For me it was an appropriate diversion for I was on my way to revisit the field of that epic battle fought on the field outside nondescript Mong in May 326 BCE between Raja Paurava of the Punjabis and Alexander from distant Macedonia. (This is the learned pronunciation. The average man would have referred to the king as Pora, which was rendered Porus on Greek tongues.)
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Travel sections

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If papers and journals with respectable circulation were to have stand alone travel sections, I am convinced that these sections readership will be very high. People are interested in travelling, only they have nowhere to turn for information. Once upon a time PTDC and the provincial tourism development corporations were of some help. Today only KPK and Kashmir have tourism departments that one can even mention.

That having been said, it is essential to understand what the travel section should be. It is excellent to contain not just information on getting there, where to stay once there and what to see. But even more important is to try and induce a sense of provenance: the why and wherefore of the place. This sense will breed pride in what/who the traveller is and sensitivity to the monument or whatever. We might have fewer vandals that way; and also fewer tourists and more genuine travelers.

Related: My Association with TNS

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Salman Rashid’s archetypal Amaltas

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I don’t know which trees Joyce Kilmer had in mind when he published his collection Trees and other Poems in 1914. But since he was an American (journalist and poet), I suspect he would have been taking of elms, oaks and yews that he was acquainted with. The first stanza of his ode Trees is remarkable: I think that I shall never see/ A poem lovely as a tree.


The poem, all twelve lines of it, is a beautiful, heart-warming appreciation of trees that one can scarcely go any better. But have you ever stopped to put your face against the smooth bark of the peepul or the rough one of a tahli or neem and imagined you can hear the sap coursing through its veins? The sap that carries the songs of several decades and, in the case of some fine old banyans, even of centuries. I have, and I have heard songs and tales and have seen events unfolding as the tree saw them. But then I suppose I am a sentimental old dreamer.
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Lahore, not Paris

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I was born and raised in Lahore and here I have lived all my life. Except of course the seven years in the army and the ten I lived in Karachi immediately after quitting the army in 1978. That is, of my sixty-one years I have spent forty-four in this city. It has been my hometown and a place which I would not gladly give up for anywhere else. In 1986, travelling around Germany I fell in love with Augsburg: it is such a lovely little city. My German friend Günther asked if I would like to live there for the rest of my life. I said no. Lahore was the place for me.
 
 
When I was younger, as in my 20s and 30s, I took Lahore for granted. From the city of my childhood to the city of my youthful years, it seemed immutable. The sense of humour and joviality that Lahoris were well-known for did not change. I have three classic examples of printable Lahori humour but I don’t know if I can translate them appropriately enough from Punjabi to English. The general civility of the people remained uniform in all these years; their concern for the stranger's predicament did not vanish. And this was the strangest thing about these people: a total stranger if seen worried or in a fix was suddenly everyone's prime concern and Lahoris went out of their way to comfort and help such a person. Friendliness was endemic, universal. Standing in a line for more than five minutes sometimes made friendships. When a friendship did not begin, there was always jocularity as long as the line lasted. There were no strangers in Lahore; only friends you had somehow missed meeting.
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Meeting an ancient tree

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Excerpt from "Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan"

On the walk from Thandiani to Nathiagali, as one approaches Dagri Forest Rest House, one cannot miss the sign: 'A Monomental (sic) Tree,' it says. And goes on to proclaim that the Quercus semicarpifolia (a kind of oak locally known as brunji) aged an estimated 1500 years stands 140 feet tall with a girth of a whopping 21 feet at ground level. It is indeed a magnificent tree that rises straight and tall to a spreading crown of branches that was not yet fully in leaf when I saw it in mid-June. Fifteen hundred years is a long time - a millennium and a half, enough for more than fifty-five human generations to have lived and died. The sap that runs through this grand veteran, its bark, its limbs, perhaps all carry the memory of our ancestors who passed through these hills in those centuries.

This is a hero, if anyone had ever paused to consider it. A hero that has braved fifteen hundred winters - winters that had, before foolish man had mucked up the air, much more snow. All this while, together with its brothers, it has remained anchored to the earth with its tangle of roots and prevented spring thaws and summer rains from washing away the veneer of precious soil. It has defied fifteen hundred thaws and fifteen hundred monsoons to soak up the runoff so that man's ephemeral hutments farther down the river valleys may not be washed away by the swelling torrents. Then the air that it breathed would have been the purer, for unthinking man had yet not the wherewithal to poison the earth and its atmosphere. Could it be that the tree notices the difference in the quality of the air that it breaths now as compared to the one that sustained it in its younger days?
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Alexander's Campaign - Last Episode

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Alexander's Campaign - Episode 13 [Last] by f560415578

Episode 12 

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Jhao: forerunner to Makran

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In September 325 BCE, Alexander the Macedonian had settled the affairs of Patala (Hyderabad) and started on his journey westward. His route lay southwest to what is now Karachi and then north to Lasbela. The ancient histories tell us that Rhambakia lying on his route was the home of the Oreitai tribe, and their ‘largest city’. We know today that the remnants of Rhambakia very likely sleep under the high mound on which the modern houses and bazaars of Lasbela town stand.
 
 
As the Oreitai received word of his impending arrival they put up small pockets of resistance along the way. But being no match for the great host of the Macedonian forces, they were routed until the invaders reached Rhambakia.
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Chinar City

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I arrived late in Parachinar. About twenty years too late. It was once among the most picturesque towns in Pakistan, and certainly the most charming little place in Pukhtunkhwa. But now it is almost as ugly as any old city. But it did match the mental picture I had of a town surrounded by vast numbers of Oriental Plane (chinar) trees. While the streets of the old town afford no room for trees, the broad avenues of the newer part laid out by the British after annexation in the last years of the 19th century, are all shaded by what I love to believe is the subcontinental cousin of the Canadian maple.

Though its height of about 1700 metres above the sea makes Parachinar a delightful summer retreat, the thing of beauty here once was the exquisite woodwork of its buildings. Here were two or three-storeyed houses with timber and wrought iron balconies screened by wooden latticework so that no outsider may lay eyes upon the women of the household. Here were store fronts protected not by the roll-up, roll-down ugly steel shutters that we now know, but by broad wooden slats, intricately carved on the outside that went one above the other into slots to close the arched doorway. The doorways, made of seasoned timber, were wooden pillars of Mughal design rising up to multi-cusped arches whose spandrels were adorned with the rosette, a common enough feature of vernacular architectural embellishment.
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Sir Ganga Ram: Engineer, Angel and Visionary

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It all started on an idle February Friday when we took off to ride Ganga Ram’s horse pulled ‘train’ that connects the village of Buchiana and Gangapur in the heart of Punjab. The train was temporarily out of service but one thing leads to another and the following Friday we motored south of Lahore to Renala Khurd to see the lift irrigation system designed by Sir Ganga Ram.

The building of this system was to irrigate tens of thousands of acres of land that lay some ten metres higher than the newly dug Lower Bari Doab Canal (LBDC). Having established the irrigation system, Ganga Ram was to receive a vast tract of infertile land on a ninety year lease. Over the years this was transformed into some of the most productive farmlands of Punjab, bringing its owner great prosperity. In deference to the request of the builder this continues to be the only lift irrigation scheme in Punjab that charges at normal rates – similar systems elsewhere cost two times and a half as much.
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The Gauges

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There are different gauges, that is, the width between the two railway tracks for the train. In Pakistan we had four.
 
Decauville. The smallest was the Decauville track, 2 feet wide, that was used in the early 1960s only for a short time and an even shorter distance to haul equipment. It was subsequently dismantled. I believe the train in the Chhanga Manga forest is the same gauge. Narrow Gauge. This had a width of 2 feet 6 inches. There were several lines. The ZVR between Bostan (northeast of Quetta) to Zhob (Fort Sandeman) was the showpiece of this gauge in Pakistan. At 319 km, it was the longest stretch in this gauge in the entire subcontinent. It also had the honour of running through Kan Mehtarzai at 2224 metres (7290 feet) above the sea which was the highest in the world for NG.
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Monument of Wasted Labour

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Babur, a most remarkable man, founder of the Mughal dynasty of India, poet, diarist and soldier extraordinary, passed through Jhelum. Thus the various references to Jhelum in his diary show us. On the occasion of taking Bhera he tells of his departure from Kallar Kahar (Chakwal district) on 21 February 1519. Babur and his army crossed the river that same evening very likely by the ferry of Ahmadabad, a few kilometres downstream of Pind Dadan Khan. Having flown his banners on Bhera, Babur spent a few restful days there. Among other things, he tells us of his galas on longboats on the Jhelum River. As the waves of the river gently rocked the boat, much strong spirit (arak) and a confection of opium (ma'jun) was consumed to the accompaniment of the lute.


But the Mughal empire was not yet to be. Babur withdrew to Afghanistan and returned again in November 1523. The part of his diary dealing with this expedition being missing, it can only be conjectured that he crossed either at Jhelum or at a ferry below the town. Two years later, in December 1525, the day before Christmas, Babur was ferried across the 'Behat water at a ford below Jhelum [town].' This time his route is known. It lay through the country of the Gakkhars, down by that branch of the Rajapatha that our G. T.
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Taking a note of it

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All travellers take field notes. I usually do this every evening. Rarely, however, there is something that needs to be noted immediately for fear of losing its essence. Then I stop and write. The essential thing here is to observe as one goes along; to keep all senses at their maximum. Every bit of passing scenery, whether it is the desert or green mountains or even arid heights, is rich with colour and drama, only the traveller has to be observant. 

 Sometimes I tend to jumble the sequence of a full day of travelling: did we pass the ruined homestead first or the beautiful bend in the river? In such cases, the digital camera comes very handy. All I have to do is check the images on the display. But before I went digital in 2005, such situations were helped by travelling companions. Losing field notes is the horror of every traveler. I have fortunately never lost my notebooks. But I did lose one full roll of film with images from Deosai, and twice have I lost my tapes with interviews of people about whom I was hoping to write. Thankfully, I now have a digital recorder that sits in my camera bag.
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A world beyond the Mountains

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Treading on the borders of China and Wakhan to its north, Chapursan is as remote as a valley can get in Pakistan. A mere forty years ago, before the Karakoram Highway was pushed through, it was among the hardest locations to reach within the boundaries of Pakistan. With a narrow river taking up the valley floor, bounding and frothing in high summer and a sedate blue from autumn until spring, most horizontal spaces in Chapursan are under the plough. All around rise rock walls, sombre gray or brilliantly coloured, as if to exclude the valley from the outside world.

 
The village of Raminji sits on a shelf high above the right bank of the Chapursan River 3100 metres above the sea, barely fifteen kilometres from the entrance to the valley at Sost. Here a boy was born on the tenth day of December in 1955, the fifth of eight children. His earliest memories are of the claustrophobia induced by the sombre rock walls that enclosed his village and these go back to the time before he started school at the age of four and a half. The mountains like prison walls enclosing him in a little world that was mostly vertical with a huge slash of sky above. That was when the child felt the urge to surmount these confining hills and look upon the wider world beyond.
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Roads More Travelled

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'Roads more travelled' do not really interest me. I will gladly do a piece on, say, Qabula (a village near Arifwala) or Rasulnagar (Gujranwala: The Glory That Was) or Rohri in Sindh, but I have found it singularly difficult to write on Multan or Lahore. Similarly, I have not been wble to write exclusive pieces on such touristy places as Rohtas or Derawar forts after I first visited them. But several years after, I did write about them when I read some interesting historical items connected with them. With Derawar it was the legend of the Alexandrine treasure and at Rohtas it was the apotheosis of Khwas Khan who was the fort's governor under Sher Shah Suri.
 
There are many travel writers, particularly those who contribute to tourist magazines, who will work their magic on places like Venice, Budapest and what have you. Also, remember William Dalrymple's City of Djinns (about Delhi) - there must be others that I cannot immediately recall. But speaking for myself, I can say I have never been turned on by famous places.
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Hill of the Jogis

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On a clear evening the setting sun, as seen from the Jhelum bridge or Rohtas fort, appears to be going behind the purple loom of a solitary hill. On the fringe of the Salt Range highlands and detached from it by several kilometres, this is Tilla Jogian - Hill of the Jogis. Rising one thousand metres above the sea, richly wooded with wild olive, phulai (Acacia modesta), a species of wild pistachio, some sumbal (Bombax malabaricum) and, on the very peak, a few chir (Pinus longifolia), Tilla Jogian has long been hallowed ground.


According to Alexander Cunningham, the 19th century British archaeologist, the hill was dedicated to the sun god Balnath and therefore known as Tilla Balnath. Over time, it came to be known as Tilla Goraknath so named, according to Cunningham, after another form of Shiva. He also noted that the latter name was of a fairly recent origin. It was perhaps following Cunningham that the Glossary of Tribes, Castes and Clans of Ibbetson, Maclagan and Rose tells us that Goraknath lived in the 15th century of this era. Inferential evidence shows otherwise, however.
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Punjab, Afghanistan and Turkistan

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There are endless names shining through the annals of the Great Game that raged during the 19th century. Most of them are British and a few of them Germans who worked for the East India Company and later the government of India. On the other side of the divide are the names of some Russian stars.
Lost in the glare of these famous personages are not a few ‘natives’ who served British interests in this region. Since that was a time of limited knowledge about the great knot of towering peaks and high passes in the mountainous region comprising the Western Himalayas, Karakoram and Hindu Kush ranges, exploration and map-making was of the utmost imperative.

Natives — Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs — trained in the art of surreptitiously measuring distances, keeping notes and drawing charts were let loose in high Asia. They travelled in the guise of mendicants and pilgrims and were collectively known to their British masters as pundits. Their work supplemented that of British explorers.
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Dera Chaubara: Todar Mal reposed here

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Todar Mal Khatri features prominently in the histories of Sher Shah Suri and Akbar the Great. For the former he was a star administrator and finance manager who was entrusted with overseeing the fiscal and administrative matters concerning the building of the famed Rohtas Fort. The man’s renown as a finance manager apparently went far, because when Akbar took the throne, he placed Todar Mal in charge of the treasury. Over time this brilliant man rose to become one of the king’s ‘Nine Jewels.’


Born into poverty, this remarkable man rose through the ranks of life by sheer and honest hard work. Indeed, the Akbar Nama hails him for his ‘uprightness, straightforwardness, courage, knowledge of affairs, and the administration of India.’ In his lifetime as well as after his death Todar Mal was celebrated for being honest, forthright and honourable to a fault.

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Alexander's Campaign - Episode 12

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Alexander's Campaign - Episode 12 by f560415578

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Travellers and tourists belong to two different worlds

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Travellers and tourists are simply not the same.

Travellers go in search of knowledge and enlightenment. They will generally be well-read and knowledgeable about the place they travel through. Their garb is seldom fancy. They will mostly either be solo or with only one or two other people who will share their interest. Of course, on difficult expeditions there might be more people. You will hardly ever find a true traveller in a group organised by some tour company. Travellers like to go easy, to soak in everything, while these groupie things are push-push, shove-shove affairs: Day 1. Get into the X city, check into hotel, take tour of old city and watch traditional dance, eat dinner. Day 2. Get into Y city, tour of new city, ride roofless bus and watch street artists at work. Day 3. Reach Z city blah, blah, blah. They make me breathless. Such tours will leave any hard core travel buff breathless and feeling stupid for having wasted so much money on such an inane activity.

Travellers do not just look and click with the camera. They pause, they take everything in and then might take an image or two. They talk to the 'natives' and get invited to their homes. Tourists are noisy. And Pakistanis are all tourists! They wear frilly jeans and crazy hats - their best finery. Every time they tumble out of their coach, they all check their cell phones and even with Zero coverage continue to fiddle with them until they get back in and drive on. They click at everything in sight because when they get home they plonk their hefty albums in front of all visitors to bore them to death. In a group of twenty, there will be at least two families with teenage children who never wanted to come in the first place. And since they are their they mope; nothing interests them. The all carry two and half litre-bottles of cola and gripe about them not being cold. They scream a great deal and simply do not know the meaning of quiet appreciation of natural beauty. Tourist cannot stand the smell of the 'natives'. The traveller and the tourist belong to two different worlds. As Rudyard Kipling said, 'Never the twain shall meet.

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Time!

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Kaleem Omar (those of you who don’t know his prose and verse have missed something great) said since I was to be in Kafristan, I ought to look in on Subedar Khan. That was the summer of 1986 and old Subedar who had worked for many years with the Omar family had, some years ago, retired to his native land. I forget the name of the village in Bumburet valley where the jeep driver deposited me outside Subedar Khan’s home. My knock was answered by a man in his sixties and when I announced I was Kaleem’s friend, he warmly embraced me and showed me into his empty home. The family was away in Lahore, he said, and I could take over any one of the three rooms.


Born into a Kalash family, Subedar Khan had converted to Islam at some point and had gone to mainland India sometime in the 1930s. There he found work with the well-established firm of Omarsons. If I had imagined I would glean gems of Kalash culture from him I was miles off target: all Subedar could speak of was Shaukat Omar, Zafar Omar – and in reverential tones too. It was obvious that Kaleem’s father and grandfather had treated the man well. He also had stories to tell of travelling with the family all over the great Indian subcontinent. But precious little of his own Kafristan did I gather from him.
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The Power House that Ganga Ram built

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At Gangapur we had been told that Sir Ganga Ram did not only have the ingenious horse-drawn train to his credit but that he had built a power station not very far south of Lahore. This power house, they had said, was to lift a canal three levels in order to irrigate a block of land higher than the canal. This was too good to be passed and so the next Friday we were on our way south to Renala Khurd famous for Mitchell’s Fruit Farms. The man at the octroi post seemed a little bemused when I asked how we could get to Ganga Ram’s power station.
 
‘Its built on a canal,’ I tried to simplify things.
 
‘Oh, that one! You should go through the bazaar and keep going until you hit the Lower Bari Doab Canal. Turn right along the canal and you cannot miss the power station,’ he said cheerfully. He was right. The neat looking brick building sat squarely across the silty waters of the LBDC. On the front the lettering said, ‘Ganga Power Station’ and below it was the year of construction: 1925. The chowkidar said we were free to look around but were not allowed to photograph. I threw in the name of my brother in law who is a Chief Engineer in WAPDA, but that didn’t help.
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Fine art of conversation

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The people I meet on the road are generally very forthcoming. There are, however, others who are both camera and tape recorder shy. But with the taking over of the modern digital recording machine which looks quite like a cell phone, the shyness seems to have been overcome.

So, recording someone's conversation is easy. I must hasten to add that I have never ever recorded anyone surreptitiously; always with their permission and knowledge. Once we start talking the formality quickly melts and even people who initially did not want to be photographed acquiesce.

The ticket to get people in an easy conversation mode is to NOT make the whole thing out like an interview. Also, I joke and set people at ease. The conversation starts and at some point when I feel it is getting very interesting I ask if it is ok to record. No one ever says no. It is wonderful that people open up more and more as the conversation progresses.

And I get the most remarkable insights into their lives. Of course there are instances when a conversation goes nowhere. In such cases the interview ends in a few minutes.

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The Great Asiatic Divide

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The Himalayas, Karakorams and the Hindu Kush form a great barrier, in total extending for nearly 3000 km from Bhutan to Chitral. These mountains divide the waters between the Indian subcontinent and Central Asia: on the south side the waters feed the Indo-Gangetic river system and on the north they drain into the great Central Asiatic wildernesses. That in a nutshell is the Great Asiatic Divide or the Great Asiatic Watershed.

To cross it is a momentous feat because you step from the subcontinent into Central Asia. In Pakistan you can do it on the Lukpe La and on Shimshal Pass. Nowhere else. India, Nepal or Bhutan do not have this singular honour of straddling the continental divide.

Had I been able to cross the West Muztagh Pass in 2006 (we did not because of fear of Chinese soldiers), I would have again crossed into Central Asia.

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Momentous feat: as much for the expeditions as for the destinations

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Lukpe La (5700 metres) certainly was the highpoint of the 1990 expedtion described in Between Two Burrs on the Map. It was actually quite a relief having made it that far and then across this icy pass. But there were many miles yet to go before I could end the expedition in Chitral and the feeling of actually having accomplished came on only after crossing Ishkoman Aghost (Pass) en route to Yasin that I got the first sense of nearing completion and success. The last thirty odd kilometers through the Golain Valley into Chitral were triumphant. I felt on the top of the world.


But in the 2006 expedtion (The Apricot Road to Yarkand), there were at least three highpoints. First, the setting out from Raskam village where the jeep dropped my guide and me and we got the camels for the onward trek. Second, the attaining of Aghil Pass (4780 metres). This was because until 1963, this pass was part of Pakistan and had I been older, I could have been there without a passport. Also this was the source of the Surukhwat River that we had followed upstream since leaving Raskam. Third was entering the Shaksgam River valley at the bottom of Aghil because I had read again and again of it in Eric Shipton's classic of mountaineering and exploration Blank on the Map. No less exciting was becoming the only Pakistani to glimpse the north face of K-2.
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A Journey without Maps

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We tend to take for granted things and people that have always been there as we grow up. And so for most people born and raised in Lahore the well known Ganga Ram Hospital was just an institution left by some half-remembered Hindu seth who may have done better had he been a Muslim. But then also only marginally for we as a nation suffer from the disease of total disregard for our national heritage.

Only some weeks earlier I had discovered the great philanthropist and engineer, Sir Ganga Ram. Subsequently talking to friend Saleem Kailani I learnt that the man came from a village not very far from Shiekhupura that is even today called Gangapur after him. But the more interesting fact, I was told, was that he had designed and built a ‘railway pulled by horses’ that connected his village to Buchiana on the railway line from Shiekhupura to Jaranwala long before the connecting tarmac road was built. And so one Friday recently we took our aimless meander through the country to ride Ganga Ram’s horse-drawn train.
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On my way back from Mintaka Pass

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The best way to go is by one’s own shanks or one’s own wheels. Riding camels, donkeys, horses what have you is unnatural business: if Nature had meant humans to ride these creatures, She would have fitted the beasts with handle bars. On a bicycle the handle bar lets you steer quickly this way or that and you can hold on to it in order to prevent a fall in case someone knocks against you or if you have to brake very hard.

You can hardly tell that inside these boots I have bleeding feet

But what is a flimsy bridle? It cannot keep the rider steady. It cannot prevent a fall and I have never been able to figure out how polo players and other equestrian experts bloody well stay in the freaking saddle.
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Prisoner on a Bus

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Excerpt from Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Mashkel lies miles behind the ‘back of beyond’ of Balochistan; right on the border with Iran. And when friends Kamil Khan Mumtaz and Uxi Mufti decided quite on the spur of the moment to go to Iran for a couple of days on a temporary permit, I resolved to return to Quetta by bus. Our host, the Assistant Commissioner, said there was one early morning ‘coach’ that would put me in Quetta in time for dinner. This I thought was perfect.

The AC’s orderly who was sent out with five hundred rupees to reserve a seat reported that the bus would depart from a neighbouring village on the dot of six, and that I would get my ticket and the remaining two hundred and fifty rupees on the bus. Despite having lived in Pakistan all my life, I am still very much a punctual fool. As we drove across the flat desert landscape to the bus depot, I searched in the pre-dawn darkness for the UFO lights of the bus flashing on and off; but there was nothing save a darkness pierced only by the beams of our jeep. The bus was in the depot all right, but it wasn’t the ‘coach’ the AC had promised it would be. It was, instead, a tired old banger with the legend ‘1994’ on its rear end. Its ragged body bore the scars of countless scraps with passing vehicles in its eventful life.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:30 AM, , links to this post

Alexander's Campaign - Episode 11

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Alexander's Campaign - Episode 11 by f560415578

Episode 10 - Episode 12 

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

Alone-ness in the wilderness

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I have always liked to travel alone. When I was young and first began venturing into the great wilderness of Khirthar north of Karachi, there was no question of asking any of the Karachites I knew. They were all too city-bound. I liked being alone in the wilderness. I think it was this alone-ness (not loneliness) that cultivated the respect and admiration for nature and the wild places of this good earth.
 
For the first time then, in early 1979, did I actually become aware and extremely appreciative of birdsong. This could not have happened if I had been with a noisy group. Also the soughing of wind through the coarse vegetation of the Khirthar was another song that I had not known.
 
All my early treks - and these were in the Khirthar Mountains - were by myself. Then I met Maqbool Abbas who had good temperament and together we walked the length of the Hub River (about 250 km) in February 1987. In Chitral in 1986, 1987 and in Swat and Baltistan in 1988 and the year after, I was again alone. The expedition described in Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan was sponsored by a businessman friend and I had money to hire porters. Had this sponsorship not been in place, the expedition would never have taken place.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 11:40 AM, , links to this post

Hill Walker’s Requiem

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If nightfall is the hour of the ebbing of the spirit, dawn rejuvenates. At shortly after four, I peeked out of my tent to see a glorious star-studded sky with a hint of a pastel dawn in the east. The agonising chafing of my blisters with every single step yesterday was forgotten and I was ready to press on in my quest of Mintaka Pass. The Killik was no longer within my reach, that much I knew with certainty.



An hour later I roused my young companions. Irfan and Amanullah had slept in the shepherd’s hut of Murkushi and word was that it was infested with cockroaches. As they cooked dinner, they had seen the creatures crawling about the walls and into the many holes between the stones. One of the trio from Misgar that had joined us the previous evening had baked a loaf of bread and left it in the pot uncovered. In the morning it was found crawling with virtually hundreds of those horrid insects.
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My travel companions

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Bashir who features in the Kaghan trek of Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan and I are still friends 23 years after the expedition. He is fine person with a great sense of humour, very fit (still) and has good temperament. Azizullah (from the same book) I met in 1995 in Gilgit that was five years after the expedition. I had written about him as I found him: he was grasping one moment and incredibly kind and generous the second and I thought he would not like what was said. Someone had read the relevant parts of the book to him and when we met and I acted sheepish, he was so large-hearted as to say, 'don't worry. Whatever you wrote was just the truth.' Now, there are few people like Azizullah in Pakistan. I met him again in 2010 when I was walking to Shuwert to photograph for the PPL book of days titled Roads Less Travelled.

I have great regard for my friend Hasil Chandio from the Khirthar Mountains. He is so tied to the good earth that has been his home for hundreds of years. He is proud of his heritage, he holds the stories of the elders dear to his heart and he has roamed the mountain more than many others. He is kind and hospitable. He is very, very funny and he is the kind who never forgets a friend. In Balochistan have met men like the dandy Ghulam Jan: tall, good-looking and dignified who with his friend Lal Gul led me to the peak of Takht e Suleman (Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan) in 1994. I can never stop being thankful to Hasan Jan of Hushe (Baltistan) who was with the team on the Muztagh Pass expedition in 2006 and again with me in 2012 on the trek to Thalle La between Shigar and Shyok Valley. He is the most considerate person I have ever met.
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Shandur: where Kelly and his Punjabis fought nature

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Most people know Shandur Pass on the highroad between Gilgit and Chitral only for its annual July polo festival. The reader of history is, however, also aware of this being a lonely byway for travellers of a long-gone era on their way between Central Asia and Punjab through Swat.
 
 
No archaeological record of travellers has so far been discovered on the Shandur itself, but absence of such record does not necessarily record absence of human activity. Lying almost at the foot of a frequently used pass between Central Asia and Chitral, Shandur was the easiest and shortest connection with Swat and eventually the Peshawar valley. In the thousand years between the advent of the Common Era and the beginning of the Turkish incursions that brought an end to Buddhism in our part of the world, a trickle of Chinese Buddhist pilgrims passed regularly down this way.
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Who owns Lahore?

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I go cycling very early in the morning and my route takes me from College Road (Township) to Model Town [Lahore]. The two tracks of this road are divided by a brick-lined storm water drain. For the past about eight years I have daily seen groups of women on donkey carts dismantling the bricks from the lining and loading them on their carts. These women are from the Changar, Ode or whatever group of nomads that we are all very familiar with. They seem to be giving up their peripatetic lifestyle in favour of a sedentary one and obviously need these bricks to build their homes – bricks that they cannot afford to purchase.
 
Every summer as the new financial year begins in July, some government department comes around to repair the lining. They put in new bricks where they have been stolen. But evidently no one ever asks how the bricks disappear. During winters, the women are at work in the dark, but now these days they plunder in daylight. There are worshippers returning from the mosques, strollers, young people, guards sleeping (yes, sleeping) outside the stores they are supposed to guard, petrol and natural gas filling pump attendants, and yet the women go about their destructive business without a care. No one seems to mind the plunder.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 10:25 AM, , links to this post

My name is Salman Rashid

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In February 1989, shortly after the fatwa, I was in Gwadar. Sitting in the town square (oh, how the town has changed in these years!), I was minding my own business over a cup of tea when a stranger came and sat opposite. We started talking and I learned that he was Iranian. He asked me what I did for a living and I said I was a writer and then he asked me my name. The next thing I knew was the stunned reaction of the man. Very slowly, in real slow motion, the man started to rise from his chair. Then he point a finger at me and said, 'You are the man!

It was only now I realised what was about to happen. I quickly grabbed his outstretched hand and forced him back into the chair. And then I talked like I have never talked in my life. I told him I was Rashid, Rashid, Rashid and not Rushdie. I whipped out my ID card for him to read and told him I lived in Lahore. The man quieted down, looked hard at me and said I would quite look like Rushdie if I trimmed my beard a little. I had a thick, black beard in those days which was shaved off after returning home.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 5:51 PM, , links to this post

Shimshal: the elusive pass

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By the middle of the 19th century Britain had dug in well and settled for a long rule in the Indian subcontinent with eyes on Central Asia. The primary British interest was to tap the vast commercial potential of the marts on the far side of the mountain barrier formed by the Hindu Kush-Karakoram-Himalayan chain.


As early as the 1820s, British agents had explored and discovered the main artery for such trade: the route north from Srinagar and Kargil through Leh and over the Karakoram Pass to Karghalik and Yarkand. By about the middle of the century when British and Indian trading caravans were busily streaming back and forth along this ancient road, a periodic irritant came into the notice of the authorities.
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History’s Highway

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At the end of his Indian Campaigns, while resting his troops at Patala (Hyderabad) in the autumn of the year 325 BCE, Alexander of Macedonia trifurcated his army. One section under his own command was to march south to where Karachi now stands and then up north to Lasbela, thence westward to Turbat, south to Gwadar and eventually via Kerman to Babylonia.


The other two parts were to rendezvous with the young conqueror in Babylonia by two different routes. One under the command of the general Nearchus was to sail down the great Sindhu River to the Indian Ocean and coast westward. The third division under the aging Krateros was to take the heavy transport and ten thousand retired veterans back to Babylonia by the Helmand Valley in modern Afghanistan and Hamadan in Iran.

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Oh! Uch

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One school of historians believes that Uch is the city, another one of those several Alexandrias, which Alexander’s historian Arrian says was built on the confluence of the Chenab and t he Indus. The conqueror had hoped that ‘the place would grow and become a world-famous town.’ In the Middle Ages, Uch was known as Askalanda or similar variations of the word, all believed to be derivatives of Alexandria leading historians to connect it with the Macedonian conqueror. However, others deny this connection and would seek the city elsewhere.


Be that as it may, by the 11th century, Uch (or Ucha – Elevated – because of its situation on a high mound) was indeed ‘world-famous’. Eminent archaeologist Dr Saifur Rahman Dar points out that lying on the trunk road down from Central Asia through the Afghan highlands; Uch was a busy way station for travellers heading either for Rajasthani cities or for Multan en route to Delhi.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:10 AM, , links to this post

Alexander's Campaign - Episode 10

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Alexander's Campaign - Episode 10 by f560415578

Episode 9 - Episode 11

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A miracle called Chamalang

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Kamal Khan of the Nasir sub-tribe of Pushtuns hails from Loralai. In the year 2000 he begged and borrowed from everyone he knew to invest Rs 20 million in the Chamalang coal mines in Duki sub-division of Loralai district. In 2002 young Kamal Khan absconded with over Rs 18 million outstanding as debts against him.


No one, save his nearest family, knew where he was and over the next four years he returned home just once on Eid to meet his aging mother. He came surreptitiously under cover of darkness, remained hidden in his home and departed equally furtively. His family knew he was hiding away in Darra Adam Khel, an island of Federally Administrated Tribal Area between Peshawar and Kohat where the writ of the Pakistan government does not hold. There he worked as a clerk for a coal merchant and knew he was safe from his creditors.
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Babusar: Passage of the Pious

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In the last years of the 2nd century BCE, Maues the Scythian king led his tribe from Central Asia down the Hunza valley and into the Indus Gorge near Chilas. There he pitched his army against the forces of Gopadasa, the local king. The Scythians prevailed and a faint carving on a rock by the bank of the Indus outside Chilas town pictorially records that far away event: Scythian soldiers leading a corpulent Gopadasa in chains to Maues sitting in a chair.


Historians would argue over the route taken by the Scythians from their Central Asian homeland to Chilas. Of the two possible routes, the one across the Mintaka Pass takes precedence for selection because of the absence of the difficulty of glacier crossing and ample pasturage all along. And so, having bested the king of Chilas, Maues marched on to make his home in Taxila.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:30 AM, , links to this post

Hajira: mystery in the Salt Range

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A little way northward of the village of Maira Tharchak in the heart of the Salt Range there sits a solitary cubicle measuring roughly five metres square. Constructed of dark limestone, its walls taper inwards near the top which is roofless.


The building has three doorways; the closed west wall being simply marked by a mehrab inside. The building is plain inside and out: there is neither inscription nor painting, nor indeed the stone mason’s mark. In the northeast corner of the interior sits a rude pile of undressed stone to mark a burial. This is apparently a later accretion added by someone who found the empty building handy to inter their dead.
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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