Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Thousand Treasures

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Some 20 kilometres south of Quetta, past Dasht-e-Bedaulat (‘Wretched Plain” — a misnomer now because electricity and tube wells have turned this once barren land fertile) there rises an imposing purple loom west of the road. Rising to 3,308 metres (10,850 feet) above the sea, this, in common parlance, is Chiltan. Ask any Brahui who lives in its shadow and he will call it Chehel Tan — Forty Souls. He will also tell you that the valleys below are called Hazarganji — Possessor of a Thousand Treasures.

Aside: Balochistan is a country rife with tales of hidden treasures left behind by passing hordes through the long and creative years of history. From the arid wastes of Makran through the juniper-scented valleys of Kalat to the sun-baked hills of the Marri-Bugti area, echo tales of hidden riches.

Some, therefore, believe that the name refers to that untold and undiscovered wealth in Hazarganji.

But the Brahui will tell you another story. Long years ago, there lived a poor Brahui shepherd and his good wife who remained childless despite years of wedlock. Then, Providence gave them not one nor two, but fully forty children. Worried how they would feed this brood, the couple resolved to keep one and abandon the others in the forests of Hazarganji. Days went by and reports filtered in of the mysterious ravines being inhabited by a bunch of elfin children who enticed travellers away. No one could catch them and anyone who pursued them was forever lost in the unknown folds of Hazarganji.

Shamed that he and his wife had not kept faith and abandoned the children, the shepherd went into the forest with his remaining child in order to lure his progeny back. But the pixies of the forest were too smart for the old man: they stole their last sibling and made off into the forest to forever become ghosts that everybody heard of and few laid eyes upon to survive to tell the tale. And so the mountain came to be called Chehel Tan.

Situated as it is in a rather fragile ecosystem with little precipitation, the contours of the mountain are nevertheless rich with flora and wildlife. Here, grow wild olive, pistachio and acacia that shadow herbs, grasses and wild flowers of a hundred different kinds. And here roam the peculiar Chiltan markhor, believed to be a hybrid of the true markhor and a wild sheep. Partridges and other birds call from the thickets and rodents prowl among the rocks. Wolf and black bear are reported and the fox is abundant. The skies are commanded by the magnificent lammergeier (bearded vulture) and Eurasian griffon and hawks dash through the thickets in pursuit of prey on the ground. Once seriously threatened, the wildlife is making a slow comeback since the establishment of the Hazarganji-Chiltan National Park.

While the carnivores are as elusive as the Brahui’s children, the markhor can be met with in the higher reaches of the mountain. Travel with a park ranger in pre-dawn darkness and you can lie in a hide to watch herds of markhor making their way from the watering holes in the valleys to the higher slopes where they feed during the day.

Years ago, long before the legend of the forty children was created, the Brahuis recognised the mountain and its valleys as a place of great fecundity. To them, it was like a mother that fattened their herds, gave them herbs to spice the food, ward off sickness or simply to make their homes fragrant, and provided them the hunt for their fleshpots. The valleys were rich and gave of their bounty freely to man. It had been that way for as far back as human memory went and there was no decline in the abundance. This place was the possessor of a thousand treasures. This was Hazarganji.

And so the poet among the Brahuis created the tale of the forty children. Not keeping faith in the largesse of Providence, the couple abandoned them to be miraculously nurtured by the fruitful mountain on whose misty blue slopes the children reside to this day.

This story was the Brahuis’ salute to a mountain whose fertility had kept them alive through the generations.


posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 24 April 2014 at 22:25, Blogger Unknown said...

Beautiful tale of chahal tan. Once again thank u for enriching us.

Have u come across such elf stories in other parts of the country as well? If it's yes pls share.

At 25 April 2014 at 09:18, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

This is the only story of elfin children I have heard in Pakistan. If there is yet another, I do not know of it. I may perhaps discover one soon. Glad that you enjoyed the piece.

At 5 April 2015 at 23:00, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very well written..hazarganji undoubtly is a visual treat for visitors!! I often visit it


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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