Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

I am 2300 years old!

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You meet fools and you meet fools all the time who tell you their grandfather died at the ripe old age of one hundred and fifty years. And there are moron Urdu journalists who put this crap in their idiotic newspapers past the unseeing eyes of greater idiot editors. Everyone believes this shit because we, by dint of our religious belief, can simply not be guilty of critical thinking and analysis.
 
In Rahim Yar Khan where my friend Raheal Siddiqui was DCO in 2007, I was placed in the charge of a local journalist (name forgotten, but we can call him August because in German jokes every idiot is so named) who, besides other items, insisted on taking me to the home of this one hundred and twenty-five year old man. To ‘prove’ that the oldster was actually that age, he produced a newspaper article written by August himself. The article was dated May that year, that is, six months before my visit in which the man had said he was one hundred and twenty-five.
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Rites of Passage

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Long before we wrongly attributed the Grand Trunk Road to Sher Shah Suri, the Punjab was criss-crossed by a network of land routes. One such road was perhaps the precursor of the modern day connection between Gujranwala and the riverside town of Rasulnagar. At the site of the latter, there was from ancient times a busy ford on the Chenab that handled the traffic of salt coming down from the Salt Range mines. Traders and travellers going east into the Indian heartland carried on along one arm of the royal road built by Chandragupta Maurya, of which we first hear from Megasthenes who came to the court of Pataliputra in 300 BCE. But those headed north or south had two options. To reach Jammu in the north or Multan in the south, travellers could either sail the Chenab or use the high road that ran parallel to the river. Over the years, the nameless ford on the Chenab was enriched by this passage of trade and travellers.

  
Consequently, when a man named Noor Mohammad Chattha of the nearby village of Munchar Chattha moved to this site and set up his family home in 1732, he too entertained vision of aggrandisement. And so the small habitation that emerged that year was named Nooray da Kot (Noor’s Castle). Chattha annals do not disclose how the business of the ford and staging post benefited Noor Mohammad, but we do hear that his son Pir Mohammad was prosperous enough to build a battlement around his father’s castle. It is also recorded that Pir Mohammad renamed his father’s stronghold and called it Rasulnagar after his religious mentor Pir Abdur Rasul.
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Footloose once again

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Since 2008, I am engaged every year by one of my paymasters in preparing the images and text for their annual diary [Book of Days] and table calendar. For 2013, we are doing one on archaeological sites that were first discovered by British explorers. And so, there I was in Sindh to revisit sites that were once – when I lived in Karachi – my regular beat.

Bhambore. The way into the city from the harbor

The sun was out when I left Karachi one forenoon for the four-hour drive to Shahdadpur to reach the ruined city of Brahminabad. On the Super Highway we drove into pelting, driving rain that considerably dampened my spirits. Shahdadpur was made in good time and with an old friend from there, we went on to village Chhuttal Sehto that sits by the ruins. This was ideal time for photography. Only the thick overcast ruined the light and we returned disappointed.

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Looking forward to meeting Dadan again

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I met Dadan Chandio in March 1996. The piece appeared in The News on Friday (as it then used to be) and was noticed by Benazir Bhutto, then the prime minister. She ordered chief minister Abdullah Shah to look into the matter. But before Dadan could get his much needed reprieve, BB’s government was dismissed and the matter died on itself.

In January 1999, I returned to the area with a team from PTV to make a documentary on Kutte ji Qabar. On our last day up on the mountain as we were walking back, I saw this black-clad figure majestically walking towards us. Though I could not recognise him from the distance, but the strong swinging gait was unmistakably Dadan’s. And soon he was there: tall, slim and still looking good with his AK-47 across his shoulders.
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Encounter with a Dacoit

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‘So, are you really the infamous dacoit, Dadan Chandio?’ I asked.
 
‘Do I look like a dacoit, sahib?’ he replied with a question. Frankly, he didn’t. Standing at about 1 metre 75 centimetres Dadan is a wiry man in his mid to late forties with graying hair and beard. A vicious scar runs across the bridge of his nose and down to his left cheek barely missing the eye. It is from this wound perhaps that his voice gets the thick nasal tone. I ran into him up in the Khirthar Mountains west of Larkana and when I asked if he would like to talk to me he said he didn’t see why he should not. I would have expected a vicious looking man, rather in the mould of the Punjabi film hero, but here he was, soft-spoken with a face scarred from a hatchet blow and psyche scarred from over two decades of running scared.

He was born into the same sub-clan as the Nawab family of Chandios and so is distantly related to them. Having spent his childhood in Ghaibi Dero Dadan took three years of schooling before dropping out to help the family in their meager agriculture. Now, the chief of the Chandios has long been one of the biggest land holders of rural Sindh, but in the Land Reforms of Ayub Khan this vast holding was apportioned out amongst smaller holders. Dadan and his father received 32 acres each. This was in Jagir number 6, but according to Dadan the Nawab refused to relinquish control over the property. Thus began a struggle between Dadan and Nawab Sultan Ahmed Chandio, a struggle that was to turn Dadan into a bandit – at least it was to give him that notoriety.
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Channan Pir

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The shiny new pick up truck went bowling down the black top road bordered on one side by rolling, grey sand dunes and by vibrant green citrus orchards and wheat fields on the other. I was riding from Yazman (Bahawalpur District) to the annual festival of Channan Pir in the Cholistan Desert and my co-travellers, all twenty or so of them, were devotees come from as far away as Faisalabad, Rahimyar Khan and Kashmore. Being the first Friday in February, these people were the vanguard for the festival was to continue over the next six Fridays culminating in middle March. As far back as anyone could remember the death anniversary celebration of Channan Pir had always extended a full six weeks.
 

I had come to investigate what I believed to be the most primordial festival in Punjab, the others were heading for the shrine of Channan Pir either to offer thanks for the dead saint’s benediction in providing long sought for sons or to seek fulfillment of their quest for sons. The boys born out of supplication at the shrine came freshly scrubbed, wearing their best finery with oily hair and shiny plastic shoes. The thick smear of kohl lining their eyes made them winning candidates for parts in some B-grade horror film. Some of the boys even wore cheap rouge on their cheeks.
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Malakwal to Gharibwal

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At five minutes after eight every morning the R-474 steams out of Malakwal railway station for Gharibwal nestling under the most easterly escarpments of the Salt Range across the Jhelum river. It is a journey of twenty-two kilometres but the train takes an epic one hour and ten minutes – and that that when it is not delayed en route.
 
 
Though there is no First Class on the R-474, Geoff, Andrea, Shabnam and I are getting an even better deal: we are riding with the Assistant Transportation Officer, Zubair Ghouri, in his official saloon car. The fat and jovial Ghouri seems one of those few who are in the right line of work. With a penchant for travelling coupled with an insatiable curiosity he is doing well gallivanting around the country and being paid for it. He seems to have been everywhere that is worth going to and has an inexhaustible repertoire of traveller’s tales. The saloon is a veritable home on wheels with an attendant’s room, a kitchen and a toilet.
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John Jacob's Clock

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Muhammad Zaman Narejo, Additional Commissioner I, Larkana is the bringer of good news regarding John Jacob's clock in the DC's residence at Jacobabad. Having read this blog and the sad footnote, young Zaman betook himself from his work at Larkana to Jacobabad to check out the clock. He called to tell me that the clock was, after all, not destroyed by the protestors. The clock is still there and working as these images show. Thank you Zaman Narejo, you have done very well.
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Five Days in Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa

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Swat was where I began my yatra of a number of archaeological sites. Hussain Qazi and I arrived in Mingora to dull grey skies and a pissing drizzle. Our dear friend Colonel Zeeshan Faisal Khan had arranged for us to put up at the Circuit House in Saidu. Or is it Mingora? The two towns on either side of the now polluted stream can only be figured out on the second day.


The Circuit House is now like a fortress to remind all and sundry of the terrible time the terrorists gave to this once beautiful and much visited valley. The windows of the first floor room that opened onto spacious terraces on all sides are now sheltered behind high walls and a tin roof so that no one can see the terrace from the surrounding mountains. The raised walls have rifleman’s openings – not real loopholes, but square openings. It was sad to see this reminder of bad times.
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The red hills of Kalabagh

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Kalabagh, in the far western corner of Punjab treading on the toes of the Northwest Frontier Province [Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa], is surely the most picturesque town in the province. As one approaches from the east, one is struck by the singular beauty of the stacked houses that rise up from the blue waters of the Indus in an irregular pyramid. Whitewashed or dun they vaunt bright blue or green doors and shutters that stand stark against the red salt hills surrounding the town. It is just the kind of place that you would want to stop and explore.


To the north rise the grim red-brown crags of the Bhangi Khel hills through which the mighty Indus, confined until this point in its narrow, rocky channel, breaks out into the plains of Punjab. Long before the several dams and barrages were built to contain the river it braided itself across a wide, sandy flood plain that attained a width of no less than twenty kilometres immediately below Kalabagh. From the beginning of history, therefore, Kalabagh sitting just above the widening was the ford on the Indus in this district. It was here that the highroad from the Salt Range crossed over into the Bhangi Khel hills on its way to Bannu and Kandahar. It was here that trading caravans from Kandahar and Kabul in the west and Multan, Rajasthan and Shikarpur in the east and the south would have tarried before the onward journey through rugged mountains or waterless deserts. Or there was the less savoury choice of sailing down the Indus by flat-bottomed cargo boat. Unsavoury for the journey to Rohri in Sindh could take as much as twenty days in summer and twice as long in winter when the river dwindled. And of course there was the return journey that took double the time.
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Foreign Invaders Through Afghanistan

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Greek historians of the Classical Age wrote a very curious observation about India (Pakistan). They wrote that India was a country that did not attack any other and that no other country attacked India. Indeed, the ruins of Moen jo Daro and Harappa, the two major Indus Valley Civilisation, show citadels and walls that were obviously not made to withstand attacks. They were more to keep a check on the people entering or leaving the city; perhaps with a view to prevent traders from evading payment of customs dues. It was as if our ancient ancestors had no threat of invasion. Though this remote period was separated from Greek writers by two thousand years in which much happened, the collective memory of the people of India held the word to be passed on to the Greeks.

That was our prehistory. But about 1700 BCE, came the great influx of speakers of the Aryan tongues. (Some Indian ‘scholars’ contest this invasion, asserting instead that India was the original home of this white-skinned, fair-haired, blue-eyed race whence they spread across the world. They tread on weak ground). The Aryan invasion changed everything for thereafter India lay open.
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End of an Era

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When, in the 1880s, the British laid the great railway network in Punjab, one busy junction was to be at Wazirabad. From here travellers coming up from the east or the deep south could change either for Peshawar on the frontier, or for Jammu nestling below the Western Himalayas. Those were the days of steam, and it fell to the lot of the small town of Malakwal (in present day Mandi Bahaudin district) to be the repair and maintenance depot in this region.
 

Those were the days when those black behemoths went steaming and clanking the length and breadth of the subcontinent. By the 1960, however, they were settling into graceful old age as they gave way to the faster, sleeker diesel locomotives. Towards the end of the 1980s Pakistan Railways were still operating with steam on a number of sections, with the Lala Musa-Shorkot haul (314 km) being the longest regular steam worked passenger service in the country at that time. The Malakwal facility was servicing over three dozen steam locomotives at the time.
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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