Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Jalaluddin Khwarazm

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Ghora Trup — the Horse's Leap — is a natural ramp of limestone sticking out into the blue waters of the Sindhu River. It lies outside the evocatively named village of Sojhanda (Hundred Flags?) in the district of Attock.

And a right picturesque little spot it is too: rolling hills rising to the jagged crests of the Kala Chitta (Black and White) Range on the Punjab side and across the river, a flat plain stretching to a low ridge that culminates in the misty blue peak of Jalala Sar.

Locals have no recollection of whose horse's leap is commemorated here. The self-styled keeper of lore may even tell you that it was Alexander, in whose days men were of giant stature, whose horse (also being of equal size) cleared the mighty river in a single leap. Or you will hear of the heroic nameless angrez who did it. No one remembers it was Jalaluddin, the fugitive king of Khwarazm in Central Asia, who was fleeing a disastrous confrontation with the 'World Conqueror' Chengez Khan.

It all began when Jalaluddin's father Mohammad Khwarazm, thinking himself too powerful for the Mongols, threw every norm of civilised behaviour to the winds by spurning an overture of friendship by the Khan. A trading mission comprising four hundred and fifty merchants, most of them Muslims, was sent out to solicit friendship. On the orders of the self-assured Sultan and against all norms of diplomacy, the lot was ruthlessly cut down and the goods confiscated.

Chengez Khan sent out another embassy to seek redress for the outrage. But the Sultan, having lost sight of reality, humiliated the diplomatic status of the trio: one was beheaded and the remaining two were unceremoniously banished from Khwarazm with their heads and beards forcibly shaved in the ultimate oriental gesture of disgrace. And so it was that in due time the fair cities of Bokhara and Samarqand got to see the fury of the whirlwind that was the Mongol army under Chengez Khan.

Sultan Mohammad fled to eventually die homeless on an island in the Caspian where his son Jalaluddin was hard put to procure a shroud for the dead man. With the Mongols breathing down his neck, Jalaluddin sought refuge in Afghanistan. The juggernaut followed, and in a brief battle northwest of Kabul the Mongols got their only taste of defeat. But when Chengez himself came up with more troops, Jalaluddin flew across the Suleman Mountains to the banks of the Sindhu River right where the little village of Nizampur stands today, twenty-five kilometres south of Nowshehra.

The year was 1221 and it was a cold February morning when the Muslims of Khwarazm having failed to put the river between themselves and their pursuers made ready for battle with the frigid ice-blue waters of the Sindhu behind and the Mongol horde in front. Jalaluddin advanced on foot so that it would not be said his stand was not as brave as it was desperate. But by the afternoon when innumerable Khwarazmians had given up their lives in combat, Jalal knew that his day was lost.

Ata Malik Juvaini, the writer of Tarikh e Jahan Kusha (History of the World Conqueror, written circa 1255), tells us of Jalal breaking off from the fighting at one point to make his way to his camp. There he bid his family a tearful farewell and called for his favourite charger. Then, like a man possessed, he drove into the Mongol wing in one last mad show of defiance. It was a desperate attempt that made but a small dent in their line. Then, turning rein, he galloped for the riverbank. On the gallop he discarded his cuirass and without letting his horse break stride, forced it in full flight to leap into the eddies five or six metres below. Behind him, most of his army followed suit.

Chengez Khan was much impressed by this show of madness and restrained his archers from shooting the fleeing Sultan as he guided his horse across the water. But his followers were not so fortunate for history records that the Sindhu was reddened with blood as far as the Mongols' arrows could reach. The Sultan made the east bank at the natural ramp that is to this day known as Ghora Trup. Then he rode upstream to a point directly opposite his camp where he waited for his dress and accoutrements to dry as he watched, in impotent rage, his camp being plundered and the humiliation of his family and dependents.

The Sultan made an attempt first to establish himself in the Salt Range and subsequently in lower Punjab. But his efforts were thwarted by the Mongols and Jalaluddin spent the remaining three years of his life running from his enemies until he was done in by a Kurd in Iraq. This murder, it must not remain unsaid, was committed on the behest of the Sultan's own brother.

Juvaini tells us that when Jalaluddin threw his horse from the straight sided, five or six metre-high bank of the Sindhu into the water, the Khan called up his sons and commended the courage of the fleeing man. 'Such a brave son is what a father should wish for,' Chengez Khan is said to have told his sons.

Based on this one utterance, an Urdu novelist who has written a spate of spurious 'historical novels', lionises Jalaluddin Khwarazm. For those who have not read any real history, Jalaluddin who has nothing, least of all valour, to show for himself becomes a great Islamic hero. Those who glorify this man do not know that he is credited with the destruction of, among countless other places, Uch, Bhakkar, Pari Nagar and Bhambor, and the massacre of countless innocent souls in these flourishing cities. In spurious history it is not revealed that those who died at the fugitive Sultan's hand were mostly Muslims.

In his haste to paint a craven general in glorious colours, the novelist exhibits a remarkable lack of integrity by not mentioning Jalaluddin's shameless abandoning of his family to the Mongols. Nor too does he address the other advice Chengez Khan gave his sons: 'A man's greatest pleasure is to sleep with the women of a vanquished foe.' Indeed, that is the fate the women of the Khwarazmian harem faced after they were abandoned by the poltroon who the ignorant celebrate as a hero.

In the context of the Al Qaeda-Taliban-Local Terrorist nexus, the many anchors on private TV channels today seem to have learned their lesson from this so-called historian: brand a person Muslim and insist that he can never do wrong.


posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 29 March 2014 at 13:06, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Then correct the history books.

At 5 April 2014 at 05:37, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Really really good piece.. Please post more about mongols if you can (not necessarily about their invasion of the sub-continent but other places too).. Thanks

At 5 April 2014 at 11:07, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

There are occasional references to Mongol invasions in my various pieces. I'll try to highlight them.


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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

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