Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Food for Thought

Bookmark and Share

Some days ago, the English language paper that I read carried an item about a bank fraud. Two officers of some bank in Lahore, executed a heist of, if I recollect correctly, something over Rs 20 million. Now in common parlance that is TWO CRORE RUPEES! The money was drawn (note, I do not say misappropriated or stolen) from the account of a Deputy Superintendent Police. Now, a DSP rises through the ranks, that is, he enrolls as a common constable and makes his way up. Anyone who enrolls as a constable has to be from a poor family. There is no other way about it. Rich families send their sons to the Civil Services Academy where they run the full gamut before going off to some police college or the other. So, point to remember is the DSP came from a family of very limited means.

The news item said that the bankers were both arrested. Since our papers by habit never carry a follow up story, we do not know what happened to them next. But we can be pretty certain that since a policeman is involved, they must have got hell – perhaps still getting it. That’s all very fine. But has someone asked the DSP where he got this kind of money? Why, to have Rs 20 million taken from his account, the crook must have had an equal if not more still in the bank. And what about all his other bank accounts? Somebody really has to investigate where and how a poor police constable got this sort of wealth. But no one will. The bank officers will probably lose their jobs and the crooked, filthy cop will get his money back.
Read more »

Labels: ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:40 PM, , links to this post

I, a child of the Maha Sapta Sindhu

Bookmark and Share

The Maha Sapta Sindhu has told his tale. I who have walked along his banks in the far north where he is too young to father great civilisations have also seen him in his full glory three thousand kilometres lower down. Then in the fullness of his middle reach he oversaw the birth and growth of the greatest civilisation the world has known, the Sindhu Valley Civilisation.

The most lasting impression of this great river left in the minds of the Indo-Aryan new comers was one of a far-spreading, rushing stream of unrestrained strength and so they called him Sindhu – ocean or great river. Indeed, as recently as the 1820s when Alexander Burnes, the Scottish explorer, made his way up by boat from Thatta, he was amazed by the breadth of the river. It was high summer and the Sindhu, so he tells us, was spread across no less than thirty kilometres in the region between Sukkur and Shikarpur. For such a river, the name Sindhu was as apt as it could get.
Read more »

Labels: ,

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

Calling British Bureaucrats

Bookmark and Share

The Brits have to be the stupidest, most idiotic, brain dead morons in the whole wide world. The paper today tells me that they are instituting a new clause for visa seekers: a security bond for £ 3000 for anyone to get a visa. I understand that this money is refundable after the traveller returns home. At today’s exchange rate this amounts to Rs 450,000.

Well, that makes things very easy for those economic refugees, poor unskilled, uneducated men who end up getting a visa and getting lost in Britain to become scullery boys and dough ball makers at cheap pizza joints. In their lingo which is still in use, not returning home is ‘slip hona’. It makes easy for these poor chaps because the going rate of buying a visa from a corrupt visa officer at the exalted High Commission in Islamabad today is upward of Rs 1.2 million. So, a prospective ‘slipper’ will spend one-third the sum on the bond, thumb his nose at the system and get to Britain nice and dry while the morons of the British bureaucracy preen themselves for their success.
Read more »

Labels:

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

Date City

Bookmark and Share

Abu Ishaq Al Istakhari was a native of a town the Greek called Persepolis in southwest Iran that had, over time, come to be known as Istakhar. He was a great traveller who journeyed across the Muslim empire from the shores of the Atlantic to India during the 10th century and wrote a brilliant geography titled Kitabul Akalim or the Book of Climates. Together with Ibn Haukal, who crossed paths and exchanged notes with him in Sindh, he accounts for those few medieval geographers, Arab and Persian, who actually travelled through the lands whose geography they wrote. The rest were simply copyists or transcribers.


Among other things Istakhari tells us that Makran was a vast but desert country whose largest city was Kanazbun. Over time alteration of diacritical marks or misreading rendered the name into various forms like Kirbun, Kirbuz, Firabuz and Kinarbur. But we now know that all these names were referring to the town way out in the backwaters of Balochistan that we today call Punjgur. Whatever name they called it; all the writers were in agreement that this was no little hick town in the desert. They all wrote of it as being a large, rich and rather cultured city.

Read more »

Labels: , ,

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

So much more than foodie factor

Bookmark and Share

I am not a foodie in the sense of the word my friends Majid Sheikh and Irfan Hussain are. Of these two gastronomes, I know that Irfan is also one master chef whose conjurings have to be tried one day. These two good men travel around the world sampling good food and drink and know where to eat the best ravioli in Brindisi or stroganoff in Vladivastock, or goulash in Budapest. I love food to the extent of it being available at home or only a short drive away. And I can happily put away a plate of daal-chaval or fish baked with blue cheese and garlic vinegar, or fish cooked in a rich sauce of yogurt and spices or fish in any way it can be cooked.

When travelling abroad, I just take what is on offer. Except once while travelling round Bedfordshire with friends Mike and Maggie we ended up eating three meals daily (besides breakfast) because they are real junkies who had a copy of Good Food and Drink Guide in their car which we dutifully followed. We ended up dining in some really ancient inns. The refreshments and food were excellent. The Guide really knows its business.
Read more »

Labels:

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

Nanga Parbat: we will not ‘tolerate’ anymore

Bookmark and Share

‘Such acts of inhumanity will not be tolerated.’ Thus speaks Nawaz Sharif, Prime Minister of Pakistan upon the dastardly and gruesome murder of ten mountaineers and their cook at one of the base camps of Nanga Parbat. This is the most damaging act of terrorism so far. It has earned Pakistan the world’s opprobrium – as if we needed any more of it.

The terrorists will simply thumb their noses, stick their tongues out and make rude farting noises at NS. ‘Don’t tolerate then and we will carry on doing what we have to do,’ they’ll tell the man. The terrorists know NS is impotent. He just does not possess the gall to act against the terrorists. He can simply not do anything to bring an end to the mindless terror perpetrated upon the country by these bigoted maniacs.
Read more »

Labels: ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:57 PM, , links to this post

Who else wants to emulate OB

Bookmark and Share

There is one great role model for the kind of travels I undertake. I have known him since the late 1960s, if I am not wrong. He was the late great, unbeatable, unmatchable, inimitable Obaidullah Baig. There can never be another person like him.

I am not certain about the year he started his TV documentary series titled Sailani kay Sath, but I think it was about 1969. We had only PTV and what a high standard it maintained. And there was OB (years later, he became OB to all of us his admirers and friends), very handsome square-cut jaw, thick-rimmed glasses and grey safari suit – grey because it was, remember, black and white TV.
Read more »

Labels: ,

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

A stage to tell stories

Bookmark and Share

The Citizens Archive of Pakistan is a new and upcoming non-profit organisation that seeks to preserve our culture and heritage. It seeks to educate Pakistanis to foster in them an awareness their of history and heritage. The best thing about this is that they do not have haranguing sessions where an old fogey gets on stage with platitudes and platitudes and tells young people what they 'should' or 'should not' do to make Pakistan the world power.

I was invited to the session on 22 June at Faiz Ghar and I discovered a stage to tell stories. Nayyar Ali Dada the architect who needs no introduction, Nusrat Jamil, the tireless social activist, Imrana Tiwana, famous for her brave stand for Lahore under the umbrella of Lahore Bachao Tehreek and of course the inimitable Aijaz Anwar (remember Nanna of Pakistan Times?) gave light, meaning and laughter to the stage. The discussion was on how the city has changed over the past decades. And why?
Read more »

Labels: , , ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 1:43 PM, , links to this post

Musa ka Musalla

Bookmark and Share

Now that is a fancy title. It had to be. In the early years of mountaineering and well into the 1950s when most Himalayan and Karakorum giants were still unclimbed and when team after team of strong willed and eccentric young men pitted their strength and sometimes their lives against those silent cathedrals of rock, ice and snow, ‘reconnaissance’ was what they were supposed to have done when they failed to reach the summit. It is understandable that no climbing expedition ever left home with a view to merely investigating the routes up a mountain: they all set out with an unshakable determination to reach the summit with each man dreaming of that moment when he would be fortunate enough to stand on that hallowed, untrodden piece of earth. In the end it was the elements that defeated them and they returned home to write books titled Reconnaissance of Rum Doodle - 1927 or Reconnoitering Uthan Dandi - 1922.


Musa ka Musalla – the Prayer Mat of Moses, is a whaleback of a mountain 13,374 feet high, lying north west of Kawai in Kaghan valley. The first time I saw it was early in 1972 from a hill above Abbottabad. Its contours were softened by deep snow and to me, uninitiated to the thrill of mountaineering it seemed a truly formidable mountain to climb. That prospect of snow glistening against a beep blue sky kindled in me a desire to one day stand on its crest. This time around, nineteen years later, when I gazed upon it from Mansehra it looked benign and tame with its light sprinkling of snow – just the kind of mountain to climb for an out-of-form mountain walker like me.
Read more »

Labels: , , ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 8:55 AM, , links to this post

Beware! Jehangira hunts here

Bookmark and Share

‘Red sun night, shepherds’ delight; Red sun morning, shepherds’ warning’. So they say in Scotland, and as our jeep made its way up the ridge to Kund Rest House I was in high spirits – it seemed we were in for a spell of bright weather. The sun, levitating above the purple ridge of the Kala Dhaka in the west, was a huge red orb. Below, in the Pakhli Plain, the paddy fields glistened like sheets of silver, the pine forest around us smelled like only a pine forest can and a torrent of bird song cascaded out of it.


I had met my old friend Bashir, the mountain guide, at Shinkiari (north of Mansehra) and had rented the jeep to drive us to Kund where we were to begin our walk. We had hoped to begin by climbing the whale back mountain Musa ka Musalla (about 4100 metres), descend into and then go east of the main Kaghan valley. Here, in the tributary valleys, we had hoped to trek for about a month.
Read more »

Labels: , , ,

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

Mountaineering: the grandest of sports

Bookmark and Share

I don’t know if anyone else ever said it, but I say mountaineering is the king of sports. It is the grandest of sports played out in a unique setting where the player is pitted against nature. It is not a sissy’s game where a few drops of rain makes you run for cover. Mountaineers climb because there is something unique that drives them; and we have to accept that these people are driven.

Nazir Sabir, the greatest Pakistani mountaineer, once told me that he was driven to see what lay on the other side of the mountain. But I think, more than seeing what lies outside, it is that these special people want to see what is within. They seek to discover the self and no better way of doing it than pitting themselves against relentless, unforgiving Nature.
Read more »

Labels:

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

girjhak of yore, jalalpur today

Bookmark and Share

The village that we now call Jalalpur was where Alexander crossed the Hydaspes River in the dark of night in May 326 BCE to give battle to Raja Paurava on the far side. Greek writers do not let on if, prior to this event, there was a village at this site or not. But in the 16th century, two thousand years after Alexander’s passage, we read in Abul Fazal’s chronicle of Akbar’s reign that there was a locality in the doab between the rivers Jhelum and Sindhu called Girjhak. (There is a village of this name just outside Model Town, Gujranwala.) This, the archaeologist Alexander Cunningham tells us, answers to the same Jalalpur, the latter name harking back to the interest in this area of Emperor Jalal ud Din Mohammad Akbar.

The interest was primarily for the chase and both Akbar and his son Jehangir favoured Girjhak for its chinkara that they call ‘red deer.’ Though Abul Fazal gives no word of the vast bags of game that Akbar and his retinue would have collected at Girjhak, Jehangir brags. In one hunting trip to Girjhak and Baghanwala (referred to in the Tuzk e Jehangiri as Nandna) in March 1607 he killed two hundred and sixty-five animals of which one hundred and fifty-five were taken in Girjhak alone. The bag included antelope, blue bull (nilgai) and wild ass. The last, now extinct in Punjab, was reported as fairly numerous around Pind Dadan Khan, Haranpur and Bhera even as recently as a hundred years ago could certainly have ranged this far northward. There were also mountain sheep and goats, writes Jehangir. The former, the Punjab urial, can still be seen, albeit very rarely, in the hills of Nandna above Baghanwala.
Read more »

Labels: , ,

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

Travel writing at its best

Bookmark and Share

Travel writers are essentially journalists. If we go back in time to the middle of the 5th century BCE and consider the immortal work of Herodotus, we find an historian who travelled to verify the history he had already read about. Of course, he also wrote on events without visiting the sites. This is understandable keeping in view the difficulties of long distance travel in those far off times.
 
Herodotus was a journalist if you consider his work on events that were very near his time. His report on the battle between the Spartans under Leonidas and the Persians under Xerxes was like a war correspondents report even though he was writing on an event that took place about the time he was born. At the same time, Herodotus was also a travel writer. It is on a whirlwind journey across a great swathe of land that he takes his readers making them almost breathless.

Incidentally, the film 300 about the Persian-Greek war seen again and again on Star Movies and HBO these days has dialogue that comes straight out of The Histories of Herodotus.
Read more »

Labels: ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 9:33 AM, , links to this post

Samina Baig standing tall at Everest

Bookmark and Share

The summit bid on any eight thousander is a test of nerves, skill and immeasurable determination. On 18 May 2013, Samina, twenty-two, and her brother Mirza Ali Baig, twenty-nine years of age, left Camp 3 (7100 metres) on Everest at 6.00 AM, reaching South Col (about 8000 metres) eight hours later. There they rested four hours and at 8.00 PM that same evening, they were on the pitch to the summit. The following morning, Samina Baig stood on the highest point on the planet Earth, 8848 metre-high Mount Everest.


Then she began the descent to reach South Col in five hours. A brief rest followed before she continued her marathon back to Camp 2, reaching it at 8.00 PM on the evening of 19 May. With two brief periods of rest, six hours in total, she had been on her feet for a full forty-eight hours! But Samina has not passed into history for making this epic struggle. She has entered the annals of Pakistani sports for being the first woman to summit Everest. For her the dream began eight years ago.
Read more »

Labels: , ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 9:00 AM, , links to this post

Minchinabad Mansion

Bookmark and Share

Minchinabad, that lies twenty-five kilometres northeast of Bahawalnagar on the highroad that once went on to Fazilka, has no claim to fame. But in the heart of this town of rural Punjab, there is a right lovely haveli. Having been built in the 1930s and known as Mahal Nagar Mal, it does not boast of great age, but it does vaunt fine taste and class. Since 1947 when one of the greatest trans-migrations of history took place and the real owners fled east across the new border, this mansion has been the home of a Sukhera family who came from the other side.
Façade of the main building. The marble arch of the entrance, richly worked in floral designs with figures of a flute-playing Krishna on either flank is strongly subcontinental. The feature of niche with deity as far back as the second or third century BEC. The roofline with its vases and arches is European in contrast.
 
Dilshad Hussain Sukhera, the elder, is now the keeper of the lore of the mansion. He relates that it was built by two brothers Nagar Mal and Bhajan Lal sometime in the 1930s - the exact year being unknown. Coming from a long line of assiduous merchants of the Agarwal clan that had business interests in distant marts, the brothers came in for a good deal of money when their father passed away. The fortune that became theirs, says Sukhera, was no less than twenty-five million rupees which, in the 1930s, was a royal sum indeed.
Read more »

Labels: ,

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

We Pakistanis

Bookmark and Share

Punjabis, Pakhtuns, Sindhis, Baloch, Kashmiris and the several different ethnic groups of Gilgit-Baltistan are all part of that great horde of sub-continental people through which there runs a common thread. For want of another name, I call it our Indian-ness. Though I know only some Punjabis from across the eastern border, I suspect that folks from Trivandrum or Assam may not be very different from us in basic character traits.

Punjabis and Pakhtuns are open and amiable. They meet you and want to know everything about you from how much you earn, line of work, number of children and religious preference. And this they want to know within ten seconds of meeting you, a total stranger. Sadly, for both these people, religion since the time of the Great Incubus of the Eleven Year Long Night is to be worn on the sleeve. It has to be exhibited in the most blatant and barefaced manner. During a conversation, they will repeatedly bring religion into discussion without any context. Always, the knowledge of religion for the common man is based on hearsay or lore.
Read more »

Labels: ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:10 AM, , links to this post

I, Maha Sapta Sindhu

Bookmark and Share

I am Maha Sapta Sindhu, the Great River [comprised] of Seven Rivers. That is what I was called by the earliest ancestors of those of you who claim to be of Indo-Aryan origin. When they arrived here in my land four thousand years ago, the great cities that I had fathered were still living. Moen jo Daro and Harappa and several small satellites were peopled by the race that you in your parochial and mindless racism today list as the Scheduled or Untouchable castes. They were my real progeny; you adopted.
Mind, as they are my real children, so too does their blood run in your veins even when you insist on your pure Indo-Aryan ancestry. Never forget that your ancestors that you hold so der as superior to my first-borns, did not come here to destroy my cities. They came to mix and adapt. Their gods Shiva, Hanuman and Ganesh are the same that my children worshipped ten thousand years ago. They wedded too, albeit rarely, my dark-skinned to create what you are today.
Read more »

Labels: , ,

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

jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Bookmark and Share

The sons of Jhelum tell stories regarding the name of their town and the river that give their district its name. The favourite among these, and also the most widely believed, is that Jhelum was the name of a horse owned by that most celebrated of all classical warrior kings, Alexander of Macedonia. Jhelum was the horse, it is said, that had carried the young king across the world on his enviable career of conquest and glory. According to this legend, the horse’s fortune ran out when it was either killed in battle or died of natural causes on the site where the city of Jhelum now stands. The devastated Alexander immortalised his steed by giving its name to the city where it died.


Then again, local self-assigned intellectuals tell, with great gravity of countenance, that Jhelum is a compound of two Greek words: Jul and Hum. The former meaning ‘water’ and the latter ‘cool.’ That is, the Greeks, given as they were to drinking the water of frigid mountain streams and not finding any in the land of the Sindhu River, were so taken in by the coolness of this river that they gave it a Greek name. Needless to say that these Greeks are said to be none other than Alexander and his great horde. The last, in this list of mindless stories is that the word Jhelum signifies ‘hoof mark’ in Greek and is so called because Alexander’s trusted charger left a mark on the soft ground at this spot.
Read more »

Labels: ,

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

Guide to Pakistan

Bookmark and Share

I contributed to, actually majorly re-wrote large chunks of, two editions of Insight Guide to Pakistan. The first was the 2000 edition and then again the 2005 (or was it 2006?) edition. But when I met Tony Halliday, the editor, in late 2006, he said as much as he would regularly like to update this valuable book, he knew it would be impossible to get the publisher interested in Pakistan.
He was so right. With the way things are, no one would want to come here to have a, shall we say, blast.
Read more »

Labels: , , ,

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

A Bus with Green Wheels

Bookmark and Share

Parked in the compound of the Shalom Christian Centre, Jhelum is a London transport Green Line bus. But that is not something extraordinary, the fact that it has green wheels and that these came in response to a ‘specific prayer’ is. The story is best told by the soft-spoken and bearded Rennie Gold who runs the Centre.
 

‘Before we came to work here at Jhelum, we were at Gujranwala and this place where we now live was an old mission hospital in an rather derelict condition. To expect anyone to come here for a mission conference or any kind of conference at all was like asking for too much. I wanted to put Jhelum on the map and I remembered a climbing friend of mine who had recently moved to the Fen District in England where it is completely flat and he had taken up canoeing as an alternative to climbing. So I thought that Jhelum with its smashing mile wide river could be a great place for a similar sport which could go hand in hand with work at the Centre.
Read more »

Labels:

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

Across the Border

Bookmark and Share

On the twentieth day of March this year, I went home for the first time in my life. On that day I was fifty-six years and a month old. Walking east across the border gates at Wagah I was on my way to the fulfilment of a family pietas of very long standing. I was going home to a home I had never known; a home in a foreign land where my ancestors had lived and died over countless generations. That was a home where the hearth kept the warmth first kindled by a matriarch some hundred years ago.


And then in one great upheaval in a singular moment in time, that home ceased to be home. One part of the family made it across to become one bit of a huge data: they were among the nearly two million people uprooted from their homes. Another part of the family also became a statistic – a grim and ghastly one: they were part of the one million who paid for the new country of Pakistan with their blood.
Read more »

Labels: , ,

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

Sea Monsters and the Sun God

Bookmark and Share

Excerpt from Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

The sea heaved gently as we prepared to set out on the dawn tide. The end of October was a good time for a landlubber like me to be putting out to sea. The last of the monsoon winds had already blown themselves out and the sea was going to be calm until the end of next February. Abdul Majeed, the captain, whose crinkly hair stood erect as if his scalp was electrically charged – just as in the comics, and his coxswain Noor Jan, poled the boat away from the jetty. A couple of smart yanks and the two outboard motors puttered to life easing us out of Pasni fish harbour and into the open sea. The jetty fell away, the rock of Jebel e Zareen loomed to our right wall-like in the darkness and behind us Pasni went dark in another power break. Somewhere in the gloom ahead lay the island of Astola – the object of our voyage. We were following up two thousand three hundred and twenty-four years – almost to the day, after Nearchus, Alexander’s admiral of the fleet had set foot on it.


Our ship, scarce bigger than a large rowboat, had no name and the thought that we were to cross twenty-two nautical miles of sea in this dinky little craft petrified me. But Maqsood, the turner, to whom I had been introduced only the day before and who had opted to come out with me appeared unaffected as he calmly pulled on his cigarette. For our captain and helmsman, it was evidently business as usual for no sooner had we cleared the breakwaters that Noor Jan wrapped the ends of the two rudder ropes around his toes and began to nod sleepily.
Read more »

Labels: , ,

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

What are travel writers made of?

Bookmark and Share

There are two aspects of the traveller's life: the one ordinary and comfortable at home and the other, which for want of any other word we can call extraordinary. At home it is going exercising in the morning, driving the wife to work and either returning home to read and write or doing mundane chores like getting the excess telephone bill adjusted or changing some electric fixture like a light or fan switch and getting the car serviced. Strangely, when I am out on a journey, I do not miss home until about four weeks on. What I miss about home is the song of the bulbuls in the morning twilight. And I miss ice cream! No other ice cream; always Hico's vanilla. I tell you in more than fifty years, this ice cream has not deteriorated. It is the same as I remember it from 1960. Years ago, a vanilla cone purchased from a van in Lausanne (Switzerland) was exactly the same flavour as our own Hico.
If I speak strictly for myself, my perception of home life has not changed in any way by my frequent and extended travels. I have neither come to appreciate the sedentary life more nor am I turned off by an impending journey. In fact, being at home for a long time without an interesting travel, I become edgy and irritable. Then I have to go away, even if for a couple of days. Sometimes, Shabnam suggests that I take a few off 'from home'.
Read more »

Labels: , ,

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

Trolley Travel

Bookmark and Share

The early years of the 19th century saw the beginning of one of the greatest struggles of modern times: the tussle between the two imperial powers, Russia and England, for ascendancy in Central Asia. This epic struggle led many a good man either to death or to glory, and one such was the young Scotsman Arthur Conolly who was beheaded in the central square of Bokhara by Amir Nasrullah in 1842. It was this high-spirited young man who, in a letter to his sister, gave the euphemism of ‘The Great Game’ to this conflict.


When railways came of age around the middle of the 19th century both nations saw in it the means to easily and quickly cross the great desert expanses of Asia. And so it was that while the Russians struggled to span the blistering Kyzylkum (Red Sand) Desert, east of the Caspian, England was inching its way forward across the desert and mountains lying between Sibi and the garrison town of Quetta. Fear of the Cossacks riding in through the vast openness of Balochistan, the subcontinent’s back door, rode high and the ‘Kandahar State Railway’ (KSR), as it was called, was top priority.
Read more »

Labels: , ,

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

Mountains' Might

Bookmark and Share

My wilderness walking began in February 1979. I had only three months previously left the army and was then working for a multi-national firm in Karachi. We got a two-day weekend, a great departure from army life where even on a holiday you needed prior permission to leave the station. Having heard from one of my colleagues of Khadeji Falls, a small waterfall, about an hour out of Karachi on Super Highway, I one day took the bus to this place. It was mid-February and the weather was perfect. The fall was a disappointment, but the greater one was the unruly crowd of picnickers. They were noisy, littering and silly. So I walked off across the river and into the wilderness. About fifteen minutes after leaving the crowds, I was in a wilderness so consummate and overpowering that I just had to sit down and soak it all in.

This became my favourite haunt after this episode. Every other Friday (we had Friday and Saturday off in those days) I would be here with a small haversack, the military kind got 'on payment' from an Air Defense regiment in Malir, that contained my food and water. In the beginning it was only a day's dash out and back to get the bus back to Karachi. But then I found a place where a bend in the river (it is the Malir) had gouged out a deep pond filled with clear, emerald water in which I could see fish. This became my haunt. I would come out here all by myself and spend the night by this pond sleeping on a rock that was large and flat enough for me to lie on. I would eat whatever I had brought out with me and in the morning cook tea with water from the pond. Then I would bathe in it and walk back.
Read more »

Labels:

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

Deception at Dhamiak

Bookmark and Share

In the bleak, tortured landscape of the northeastern Potohar Plateau, Dhamiak had remained uncelebrated since the beginning of time. Lying amid a wearisome tangle of narrow and meandering gullies, tinged red by sub-soil salt and thinly covered with scrub, it never had reason for fame or glory. Its only claim to renown was for being a staging post on one branch of the old Rajapatha, or King’s Road, that has been in use from ancient times. While the main royal road, leading west through Punjab went by the Salt Range, this branch followed an alignment only slightly different from the modern Grand Trunk Road.


This branch was the road less travelled; the majority of traffic passing through the heart of the Salt Range. The celebrated Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang writes of his prolonged sojourn at Taxila (631 AD) and a visit to the monasteries of the Salt Range. Thereafter, he tells us of his journey to Kashmir. Though he does not describe his route, it is evident that he would have used this road. Nine hundred years later Babur, the founder of the Mughal Empire in India, tells us of having travelled by this ‘sub-montane road’ through the country of the warlike Gakkhars of the Potohar Plateau en route to Lahore in November 1523. Between the time of the Chinese master’s passage through this area and that of Babur’s, a remarkable event took place by this lesser branch of the King’s Road: the assassination of a Turkish king in present day Jhelum district.
Read more »

Labels: , ,

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

The Royal Geographical Society

Bookmark and Share

The Royal Geographical Society sits in the corner of Kensington and Exhibition roads. It is neighbours with the Royal Albert Hall and across Kensington Road spreads the verdure of Hyde Park. I was elected a Fellow in June 1991. That was the first time I had ever stepped inside its hallowed corridors. You entered from Kensington Road side into a foyer. Right in front was the, I forget what they call it, but I think it is, the Tea Room where you can also eat a great lunch and sometimes dinner. The food is premium always and in contrast to a comparable restaurant anywhere in London surprisingly low priced. If you turn left in the corridor the Map Room, oh, the MAP ROOM, is on the right. And what a Map Room it is! There must be thousands of charts of every manner to be found there. On the many occasions I took time off from reading to consult the charts, I was like a child in a toy shop, my attention wandering from map to map.

But if you don’t go into the map room and follow the corridor to the end, a staircase leads to the first floor. As you pass along the corridor, you cannot but notice the artefacts on display along the walls. There is something from Ernest Shackleton’s polar expedition, Eric Shipton’s sextant, another explorer’s theodolite, something from Robert Scott or Kenneth Mason, or Ranulph Fiennes. There was a kayak too whose claim to fame I do not now recall.
Read more »

Labels: ,

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

Lehri Nature Reserve

Bookmark and Share

Some thirty kilometres northwest of Jhelum and just off the Grand Trunk Road lies a protected parkland spread over 17,000 acres of broken hills, stark rock faces and deep gullies. Naturally covered with phulai (Acacia modesta), sanatha (Dodonea viscosa) and wild olive, this chunk of land belongs to the Lehri and Jindi Reserve Forest. It is today known as Lehri Nature Reserve.


Being an offshoot of the semi-arid Salt Range, Lehri is a fragile eco-system because of scant subsoil water and depends largely on seasonal rains. Consequently, the wildlife that the area harbours has but a precarious foothold. This fact, however, did not stop rapacious and well-connected people to plunder the meagre natural resources of this reserve forest. By the middle 1980s the Lehri-Jindi complex was a moribund eco-system and it was very fortunate that it caught the official eye. With the idea of developing it to resemble the Lake District of northern England, work began on Lehri Nature Reserve in 1986. Some of the several seasonal streams that cut across the forest were dammed to form bodies of water and in times of good rains there are over three dozen ponds of various sizes. Two of these are large enough to be called lakes.
Read more »

Labels: , ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 9:24 AM, , links to this post

Festivals of Pakistan

Bookmark and Share


I was never a great mela-goer. Growing up in Durand Road, we were ten minutes from the shrine of Bibi Pak Daman and the annual festival. But we were not permitted to go by our parents. The first real festival I actually saw was after I left the army and went to live in Karachi. This was Abdullah Shah Ghazi's death anniversary and I quickly realised that there was nothing religious about the festival; that it was almost totally secular with a very thin veneer of quasi-religious belief. It was nothing about pleasing a deity or a departed spirit; it was everything about letting one's hair down. This was no mourning of a hundred of years-old death, but a celebration of life.

I just loved it. Thereafter, I attended other festivals and found them to be the same. Shah Bilawal Noorani in the interior of Lasbela district in Balochistan was another great festival, a regular picnic in a lovely forested spot. The devotees dopes themselves blind with hashish and bhung. Shahbaz Qalandar at Sehwan with its entrancing dhammal is yet another beautiful festival that goes a long way back to the roots of Sindhi culture.
Read more »

Labels: ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:19 AM, , links to this post




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