Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Makran is a beautiful country

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On 26 Jan I was northbound out of Karachi along the old RCD Highway. At Uthal we turned west. FWO, the builders of the new Makran Coastal Highway, call this spot Zero Point and the road is designated N-10 in the grand scheme of National Highways Authority.

Agore, before the highway was laid out, was as remote as a village could ever be in Makran. But now despite having stopped at the mud volcanoes, we made it in a few hours. The landscape at the volcanoes was as surreal and eerie as ever. A bleak landscape of small tufts of withered grass, a flat, featureless sky, and, once we left the highway, not a sign of human intervention. In this dream world, the three cones rising out of the flatness were other worldly. In another country, this would be a spa with thousands of tourists flocking here to rub themselves with the mineral rich mud.

The two and half days in Agore were heaven: not a sound to disturb you at any time of day or night. Temple of Durga in a narrow side valley of the Hingol River gorge was still there after, as the maharaj would have us believe, two million years. To be fair with him, the rock overhang under which the temple is situated would have been used as a shelter by our proto-human ancestors since that early period. Surely some of the sooty blackness on the roof of the overhang would go back to about one hundred and thirty thousand years when our Homo erectus ancestors first began to use fire.

Early morning winter light on Kund Malir turned its wind-swept mango trees to magical paintings. On the beach, our driver successfully got us in a nice hull-down position because he did not know it and his front wheel drive did not work. The Baloch fishermen came around to help us push the pick-up truck back on to firm ground. They were a merry, friendly lot. Two of them had film star good-looks too.

Ormara could make a great seaside resort. The high hammerhead – 700 metres high – could be the site of hotels, casinos, bars and what have you. But we are Pakistanis and we don’t permit fun. So Ormara is nothing but a huge untruth. Some moron has invented a Greek general called Ormarus who served Alexander Macedonian and gave his name to this place. This moron and his followers who have never read anything in their lives do not know that Alexander did not go this way.

In Karachi I was warned about danger in Pasni. So we gave this town a wide berth. But years ago, I had walked the streets of this lovely little fishing village without fear of persecution. Oh, how we have harmed Balochistan!

Having recovered from the false property boom in the early years of the century, Gwadar has receded once again into somnolence. But the dream of this picturesque village one day turning into a rival for Dubai refuses to go away. The young Major Zeeshan, a Corps of Engineers officer, speaks little but always earnestly and one soon sees that he means business. He has worked in a situation of intense peril. Shortly before he took over a construction team was attacked and eleven men, including a young Baloch, were mercilessly killed. Even as he winds up his work to move back to Karachi in a few weeks, he is under threat.

One day was to drive to Jivani and the Iranian border. Jivani should actually be written Jivnri because that is how the Baloch pronounce the word with a palatal nr sound common to the four major languages of Pakistan. But on kilometre stones officialdom has changed the name to Jiwani with a long a. Soon all moronic outsiders will refer to it that way.

The old aerodrome and the waterworks built by the British during World War II are a treat and should be preserved as tourist attractions. But that is the last thing we will do for them. The lovely ficus and mango trees shading the waterworks will be cut down the minute we get our hands on Jivani and the old buildings with the ancient transmitter and generators at the aerodrome will be demolished. We will not preserve any sign of the past.

The road that races with a fine surface to the Iranian border dissolves into dust and rocks in no man’s land. Though this is a crossing point for holders of the rahdari, there is no place for officials to hold office on our side. They sit under a weather-beaten tarpaulin holding down their papers and registers with stones.

The Iranian border guards, they tell me, are rude and stand-offish. So the border guard who beckoned me rudely got a taste of his own medicine. I stared at him evenly for a few seconds, turned around and walked back into Pakistan. Phooey to the bastard who tries to be rude to me. Otherwise, ordinary Iranians visiting our side were friendly and spoke in clear Urdu while our Baloch who were going over were equally fluent in Persian. However, their common language being Balochi drew an analogy with divided Punjab where we speak the same language but are separated by a border.

On the way back, while photographing the point where Makran Coastal Highway bifurcates for Turbat we had a minor issue. The Coast Guards men came around to say photography of the highway was not permitted. That is, over the past two weeks I had indulged in a criminal act! Heaven knows what we are hiding in the garb of the Makran Coastal Highway.

This image by Husain Qazi
Endnote: it has to be conceded that Frontier Works Organisation have wrought a near wonder in this new highway. Before the road was in place, it took three days to reach Gwadar from Karachi. Trust me on this for I did the journey in 1987. Ormara was accessible only by air if you didn’t want to kill yourself getting their by dirt roads. And Agore, which we now reach in two hours flat out of Karachi, was made in fifteen a quarter century ago.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 12 February 2014 at 14:42, Blogger Rehan Afzal said...

Dear Salman sb you have brought back memories from 2006-7, when I visited the Makran belt 5-6 times, twice by road. The newly built Coastal Highway was one of the best roads I have driven anywhere in the world. We barely met 50 vehicles on the way and sped at over 200km/hr.

Kund Malir was indeed heavenly and I was surprised why the Karachites hadn't destroyed it as yet, being only 3 hours away. I am glad you found it in good shape.

Another interesting point on the Irani border was Kurumb, accessible from Turbat via Tump and Mund, with such open vistas along the way; you could see the horizon all around, which was just surreal. And crossign in to Iran was a breeze. In fact the Irani shopkeepers really welcomed us and even sent their porters with us; we bought lots of stuff :)

However my most favorite ride was from Gwadar to Turbat; all dirt track and I felt like a rally car driver. I always wished we should have rally car championships there.

At 12 February 2014 at 18:33, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Rehan, the road is still in good condition. By and large. But there being no weighbridges en route overloading is taking its toll. I have been in Turbat and as far west as Kalatuk. But never to Mand. I love the country. It is among the most beautiful places in our part of the world.

At 12 February 2014 at 21:48, Blogger Lahoremassagist said...

Ye, love the beauty of this land. The top image is so much telling.

At 14 February 2014 at 06:25, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

You said it, Nayyar.


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