Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Men at Their Best

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I have known Brigadier Humayun Malik since, I think, 1974. He was commanding one of the brigades of 6 Armoured Division where I served as an anti-aircraft artillery (now Air Defence) officer. But he came to know me only when we met twenty years later when he was working with the Houbara Foundation. I introduced myself and it was like meeting an old friend. Now, with so many years of having benefited from his company I feel that if he had not joined the army, Brigadier Malik would have been a writer.

Brig Humayun Malik with his childhood friend, the late Aslam Malik
Brigadier Malik is a true officer of the classic mould and a great raconteur with a remarkably sharp memory that dredges up even minor details of events more than half a century ago. He was the teller of the story of Karam Hussain Shah, that man of admirable fortitude who could only thank his Lord when his only child, a son, died – a story told in this blog.
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Canals of Empire

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On Wednesday, 26 February I leave for Karachi. There is some research on the canal network of Sindh to be done in the Sindh Archives. My young friend Zaman Narejo of the Pakistan Administrative Service (erstwhile DMG) currently serving with the Chief Secretary has very kindly offered to facilitate.

Then it will be to the Kalri-Baghar canal system to check out the way the waterway turned two lakes into one huge Kinjhar to supply water to the city of Karachi. It will be after a quarter century that I will again be staying overnight on Kinjhar that was once a favourite haunt for my wife and me.
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History of Jhelum

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Shandaar Chowk ( 22-02-2014) by Kay2TV

Part II on next Saturday (Mar 1, 2014) at 6:30PM on KAY2 TV

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Journey’s End

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For the first time in our days in the mountains, the morning dawned clear and bright without a speck of cloud in the sky. However, shortly after sunrise, a blue skein was perceptible all around. There was no breeze but it was bitterly cold despite the fact that our height, since descending into the Shaksgam, had remained uniform at about 3900 metres. Without the usual gusting wind, taking down and packing the tents was still an ordeal because their surfaces were crinkly with rime.

Chhogho Ri, the Great Mountain of the Baltis and the Chogor of the Uighur and Kirghiz people of Xinjiang. At a little before eleven in the morning when I became the first Pakistani to see its north face, the mountain was blue-clad. This image was only for the record

Immediately after striking camp, we rode the camels thrice in quick succession to cross narrow channels each nearly a metre and a half deep. About us shingle slopes altered with river terraces their verges sliced as if by the surgeon’s knife or grey-brown slopes of stark rock. In front, Kindik Tash seemed to recede as we approached it. Telling us to keep to the rocky slope along the left bank, Seet now rode his lead camel and was continually crossing and re-crossing clear blue channels.
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‘half of what I have seen’

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In January 1986, I rode a Corps of Engineers truck loaded with a concrete mixer to Agore. My objective was the famed temple of Sri Mata Hinglaj in the valley of the Hingol River not far upstream from the river’s delta. Other than a journey of thirty-six hours by a beat-up pilgrim bus that I had already missed, this was the only available transport.


We had left Karachi in cold, pre-dawn darkness – at 2.30 AM to be precise. Near Uthal we gave off the old RCD Highway and swung west into a great desolation of sand and stunted grass. Thereafter we trundled along at about ten to fifteen kilometres an hour – for fourteen hours. That brought us to the banks of the Hingol River and the Engineers camp.
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Civil Military Relations

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Over the past four months I have made two trips [1, 2] to Makran and have had extended exchanges with local men as well as with several defence services officers at various levels. These latter were from the navy and army. The lessons to draw were remarkable.


First off, most defence officers agreed that the people of Makran are simple, peaceable and friendly who appreciate developmental work in their district and that mischief does not come naturally to them. This would make them a community easy to work with and find acceptance from. Also, officers were of the view that the insurgents causing strife from time to time infiltrated into Makran from the more troubled districts of Balochistan to the northward.
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On KAY2

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Will be on air today (Saturday, Feb 22, 2014) at 6.30 PM (PST) discussing Jhelum and parts of the Salt Range [including Jhelum (city and river), Alexander the Great, Raja Paurva and Tilla Jogian) during one hour, two parts, discussion program Shandar Chowk at KAY2 TV. Second part will be aired same time next Saturday (Mar 1, 2014) - image from the show.

Here is the link: http://kay2.tv/livetv.php

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On My 2362nd Birthday!

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As you read this I will be preparing to be born 2362 years ago. Today. At 11.30, just before midnight. How does it feel to be as old as that? Well, in a word: great.

It’s a great feeling. Having been around since the time Alexander arrived with his legions and lived through the great parade of everyone marching in to make the subcontinent the great and wonderful place it became, I’ve seen and learned a great deal.

But the funniest thing in these long years is the number of people I’ve met who claim to be one hundred and forty years old. Bloody minnows. Just one hundred and forty years old? Compare that to my 2300+ years!

If they are Punjabis, they claim this great age because, as they say, they remember the time of Maharaja Ranjit Singh – the only Punjabi leader worth the name since Raja Paurava (Porus) the Great. If from Hunza they remember, so they think, Mir Safdar Ali who was ousted by the Brits in the last decade of the 19th century.
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This Side That Side: Restorying Partition

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Book 'This Side, That Side' published in India was launched at Faiz Ghar, Lahore on February 20, 2014. Books is about true stories of partition and contains one piece by me.  


Here is a trailer of the book. Have a look http://vimeo.com/73392119

Related: “Partition is and probably will remain unsurpassed

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The White Trail

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The story behind a poem by a young woman about a time long before she was born, when people were maddened by hate


I visited my ancestral Jalandhar for the first time in March 2008. Until then, my family did not know what had become of my grandparents (paternal), two aunts, a great grandfather, the family's servant and his wife and five children.

My grandfather had not thought it necessary to leave hearth and home and move the family to Pakistan. But they did not remain in Jalandhar either, as my uncle learnt in September 1947 when, as an intern at Irvin Hospital, Delhi, he volunteered to serve in the refugee camps of Jalandhar.
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Return to Ari Pir

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I first saw this magical place in February 1987 when a friend and I trekked from the mouth of Hub River to its source. Here, one hundred and forty kilometres due north of Karachi in the district of Lasbela (Balochistan),   the Saruna River breaks out of its confining rocky gorge and spreads out to form a deep tarn just before it runs into the Hub. On the one-inch map that we were using at that time the place was marked ‘Ari Pir’ giving us the impression that it was a village of sorts.


But all it had was a grave (or two) on a rocky eminence and a solitary shack all but lost in the wide-open landscape that typifies the Khirthar Range of Sindh and Balochistan. The shack was the local inn where pilgrims could rest on their way from the shrine of Shahbaz Qalander at Sehwan, several days’ journey (by foot) to the northeast, to that of Shah Noorani in the Lahut Valley a day’s march to the southwest. Since the festival at Lahut follows a couple of weeks after the Sehwan celebrations and because the followers of the one are also devoted to the other, there is a great once-a-year traffic of bhung-quaffing pilgrims along this route. There is, besides, the incidental traffic of occasional malangs back and forth as well. The inn serves them all. Otherwise it’s very quiet.
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To the Navel of the Earth

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River terraces sliced as if by the surgeon’s knife was a description first given by Eric Shipton during his 1937 Shaksgam Expedition. It is still true. Because of negligible precipitation, there is little erosion and the verges of the Shaksgam Gorge keep their shape

Francis Younghusband’s account elides rather hurriedly over the journey from where he left the Yarkand River valley in the Raskam neighbourhood, to traverse the length of the Surukwat, over the Aghil and into the Shaksgam valley. Strangely, he assigns no name to the pass; his description is exact nevertheless:
The height was beginning to tell, and the pass seemed to recede the nearer I approached it. One rise after another I surmounted, thinking it would prove the summit, but there was always another beyond. The valley was wide and open, and the going perfectly easy, leading sometimes over rounded boulders, but more often loose soil.
With Wahab and Seet slowly bringing up the camels, I hurried on across the stony ground of Chonkor Utik to the chevron of converging ridges just below the great slanting wall of snow to the left. The pass itself was three false crests and two and a quarter hours from our camp. The Surukwat, never a mighty river in its short life to its junction with the Yarkand near Ilica, was but a piddling spill here. It got ever sparser as I neared the pass.
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What's in a name?

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Place names change with time. For example the Roman township of Londonium on the Thames evolved into London. But other times, names mutate. And if the army carries out the mutation, it can be amusing.

Way out in Balochistan’s backyard where the border forms that great M with Iran, there is the sprawling village of Gwalisthap. In the vast sandy desert, smack on the barren shores of Hamun-i-Mashkel, the great saltpetre waste that takes your breath away, Gwalisthap with its couple of dozen homes is spread across more than 15 square kilometres. That is the way the Baloch prefer to live: with vast spaces between homes.
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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.
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The spirit of Lahore

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Sugar and spice and all things nice. That is what Lahoris were always made of. But let me ramble. The year was 1968, it had been a great monsoon and in September the mid-morning sun was sharp and clear but it did not hurt. My friend Sajid and I stood on the pavement outside Tollinton Market (yes, there was a pavement in those days) watching the world go by as we talked of the weather.


Sajid said, ‘The power of summer is broken.’ Translate that into Punjabi for that is what we spoke. A man walking past overheard, paused, turned around and came up to us. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘It’s broken. It’s broken into two. And I’ve seen it; it’s lying on the far bank of the Ravi.’ In Punjabi he said, eyes wide and wagging his finger, ‘do totay hoya ai, do!’ And having delivered his piece, he turned around and marched off and the two of us burst out laughing.
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The funny side of... obscenity

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I must be going blind. Or just stupid. How else would I fail to see things that should send a lecherous old fart like me going hubba, hubba, hubba?

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed a small marquee on the side of the road by the roundabout outside Wapda Town. The flex sign on the marquee said, in Urdu, ‘Come join us in our battle to eradicate obscenity and nudity.’ Now these two nouns (fahashi o oryani in Urdu/Persian) have been flogged to near-death in Pakistan since the auspicious day of 5 July 1977. And since that day, I have been on the lookout to join in the fun and games. Sadly, with singular lack of success.

It was predawn darkness when I read the sign and the roads were deserted. I naturally presumed fahashi o oryani were not due to begin until sometime later and duly returned at a more reasonable hour. Agog, I peeked into the marquee holding on to my eyeballs from keeping them popping out of the sockets. But nothing. The tent was empty and forlorn.
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Into the Mountains

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Leaving Karghalik after four in the afternoon we entered a boring landscape shrouded in a pall of dust that settled thick on one’s person. So pervasive it was that its heaviness choked the nose. An hour out, we passed Kokyar – Blue Earth. But for the two remarkable circular sand dunes that looked like huge mounds of grey pudding sitting to the east side of the road, it was scarcely a noteworthy village. Nothing was even vaguely blue about Kokyar, not even the sky.

The jalebi bends in the Kuday Dawan. This area is utterly desiccated because of little rain

One hundred and fourteen kilometres from Karghalik we were in the heart of a pass that Wahab said was the Kuday Dawan after a village of the same name on its south side.* In the failing light, we saw below us a series of hairpin bends that may have looked pretty were they not muffled by the thick haze of dust. But here in the dusty landscape utterly without tree cover, they could best be described as bleak. They reminded me of pictures I had seen of the Jalebi Bends of Zanskar in Indian Kashmir – only; the latter place was somewhat the greener.
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Pakistan Railways - No Gravy Train

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Time was, until the 1980s, when one could board the Khyber Mail in, say, Lahore at 9 am on any given day of the week. The following morning sometime before 6 am, one would be roused as it swept past the somnolent platforms of Jungshahi. One took advantage of the toilet attached to each cubicle of the air-conditioned sleeping car and emerged 40 minutes later relieved, shaved and showered.

Yes, showered. Those were still the glory days of the Pakistan Railways (PR) and the toilets in all air-conditioned sleeping cars had showers. Then the liveried bearer would stick his head in with his pile of trays with steaming goodies for breakfast. Indeed, breakfast was not all this man served; he would appear, as if by magic, at all mealtimes. The food was no match for the chicken curry, brown rice and egg ‘puteen’ served by railway rest house cooks, but it was passable.
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Land of the impure

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By a quirk of fate, the Indian Campaign of Alexander the Macedonian was restricted entirely to what is now Pakistan. After his death in 322 BCE, his empire disintegrated and the brilliant Chandragupta Maurya rose to power in a great kingdom that spread across much of the subcontinent. Asoka, who outshone his grandsire, extended his rule to most of Afghanistan, even wresting bits of that country from its Greek masters.

The decay of the Mauryan Empire gave rise to a new wave of Greek adventurers. In or about the year 184 BCE, Demetrius, the first of the Euthydemid line of kings, left his seat of power at Balkh from where he controlled Afghanistan, and annexed Taxila. Not two decades had passed when another line of Greek adventurers, the descendents of Alexander’s general Seleucus Nikator, displaced the Euthydemids to become masters of first Taxila and Sialkot and eventually most of what is now Pakistan.
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‘No one believes the Professor’

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I first came to know of the ‘Professor’ from friend Farjad Nabi’s documentary film whose title I have borrowed for this piece. The film features an aging, square-faced rather good-looking man with long hair – the kind of face that belongs in an action film. The impression I got from the first few minutes of the film was that this was an absurd attempt in the tradition of Jonathan Swift through a gross misusing of the main character. But it turned out otherwise. When the show ended, I shook the hand of Orpheus Augustus Marks, who featured in the film, and whom I had earlier noticed among the audience. It was an honour, I told him, to make his acquaintance.

Here, I thought, was a man that needed to be discovered. And so recently one morning around ten I arrived at his second floor flat in Lahore’s Riwaz Gardens flat. In response to my knock, he opened the door a mere chink and said he was busy in his worship and would appreciate if I could come back after an hour. I returned at the appointed hour to be shown into a cluttered, unswept room with a charpoy (woven with synthetic tape) without bedding, a couple of chairs, a table and a settee all piled with books, old newspapers, unwashed items of clothing, old film posters and assorted stuff. A leaking blue plastic water cooler lay in a puddle on the floor – Professor Marks’ only modern convenience that was any good.
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The long wait in Xinjiang

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Ever since I first heard the name back in the mid 1980s, I was mystified by it: why should Kashgar, a few thousand kilometres from the nearest ocean, have a hotel called Seamen’s? It was actually Seman (with a nasal ending) which ended up wrongly spelled in some shoddy guide book and thus passed into tourists’ usage. There are actually two of the same name, both multi-storeyed, facing each other across a wide street. Taking a room in the older one which has the old Russian Consulate in its backyard, I called Keyoum Mohammad of Kashgar Mountaineering Adventures with whom I had corresponded from Lahore.

The old quarter of Kashgar as seen from the north. Strangely, pictures dating back to the 1880s do not show a town on a high mound, but one flush with the flat ground. The Chinese government is encouraging Uighur people who live in this part of town to abandon it and move to modern apartment blocks in the newer areas of Kashgar. Sooner than later, the old town will be abandoned and razed to the ground

Completely bald, round-faced and chubby Keyoum brought along a young man with a jutting jaw and eyes that crinkled into slits when he smiled. My trekking permit, said Keyoum, was expected any day now. But I had telephoned him from Skardu three weeks earlier to tell him when I would reach Kashgar. Wasn’t that time enough for the permit to be organised? Permits normally took only a couple of days to be processed, he said, and though delays were not unknown, there was no reason to worry if mine had still not come through. Keyoum said he had brought along young Wahab, my interpreter and guide, so that we could get to know each other. Beginning the next morning, Wahab was to gainfully employ the waiting time showing me the sights of Kashgar.
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A White Trail

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If we did not know that the lives of minorities are under immense threat in Pakistan, Haroon Khalid’s A White Trail, gobsmacks, nay, sucker punches us with the reality. The language is unpretentious; there is no mincing of words, no melodrama, no harangue or pontification. There is page after page of cold, hard, cruel reality delivered with the palpable brutality of a sledge hammer blow. It is a work to make thinking Pakistanis hang their heads in shame and Jinnah turn in his grave.

Trail (from the white portion of the national flag represented the increasingly beleaguered minorities) is a travelogue that takes one on a whirlwind tour of minorities’ festivals and worship places in Pakistan. Comprising of articles originally written for a newspaper and apparently enlarged to become a book, the journalistic language is understandable. That having been said, the work is not dry and impersonal. It has the rich and round fullness of a travel book with plenty of anecdotal content.
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Besting the Nile

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Sargon, king of Akkad or Mesopotamia, who ruled during the 24th century BCE, is known to have boasted about the greatness of his country’s markets and the splendid trading vessels anchoring in his ports. Among other lands, he proudly mentioned Meluhha, suggesting the social, cultural and economic importance of what we now have reason to believe was Sindh. The ships that called at Sargon’s ports came from the rich and flourishing city ironically known today as Moen jo Daro or Mound of the Dead.


In 1921, the Archaeological Survey of India arrived to investigate the dusty mound for Buddhist remains. They uncovered the Buddhist stupa, all right. But as they probed deeper, they hit upon an urban centre, well-developed and orderly and more ancient than anything Indian archaeologists could expect. Little did they know that investigations during the next two decades would push back the provenance of Moen jo Daro to the 3rd millennium BCE.
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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