Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Deosai National Park Gets Going on Uncertain Feet

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Though the paper declaration in favour of DNP was signed at the end of 1993, little was done in this direction other than the manned check posts at entry points. Meanwhile, the initial funding from World Society for Protection of Animals took the project to the end of 1994. As this dried up Worldwide Fund for Nature Pakistan came ahead with aid to continue.

Pursuant to the early recognition by HWF that the project could not succeed without stake-holder communities being on board as well, the year 1995 saw increased interaction between the two. There was one snag, however. Both Zakaria and Rahman, first-class professionals in their respective fields of engineering and dentistry, were not the best of community motivators. A relationship that began with a fair degree of understanding and sympathy soon degenerated to vague distrust of these outsiders who were out to ‘make millions of dollars’ by abrogating the communities’ rights to certain areas of Deosai in favour of some mysterious foreign agenda. Besides the curbing of grazing rights in Deosai, what worried the communities most was the declaration of a complete moratorium on hunting in and around the plateau.
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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.
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Chup Sha! Hari Singh raghle!

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In the first week of January 1836 an aristocratic Austrian visited Gujranwala: the botanist Baron Carl von Hugel. Having spent some considerable time in Kashmir, and subsequently having sojourned at Wazirabad with the Neapolitan governor of that city, the wily and cruel Paolo de Avitabile, he was now on his way to the durbar of the aging Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

Gujranwala was then the domain of a man called Hari Singh Nalwa, a native of the town. A Rajput by caste and follower of the great Guru Nanak by creed, he was the ablest general that the Punjabi Maharaja could boast of. It was this man who had taken Punjabi arms across the Sindhu River and into the Pukhtun heartland. Such had been his terror that for nearly a hundred and fifty years after his death Pukhtun mothers were to restrain recalcitrant children with a whispered, ‘Chup Sha! Hari Singh raghle!’ (Be quite! Hari Singh comes!).
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Unrequited Possession

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My friend Iqbal Qaiser, the well-known Punjabi intellectual, knows Punjab better than most people. On the subject of ancient caravanserais, he said there was one on the road from Gujranwala to Pasrur. It was because of this sarai that the village was called Saranwali; saran with its nasal ending being the Punjabi word for a roadhouse. Iqbal admitted he had not seen it but from what he had heard, it seemed to be in fairly good shape.


Now, having hunted for old sarais myself, I thought this one was worth investigating. And so, having turned left on the road to Pasrur from Sialkot Bypass outside Gujranwala, I stopped at a teashop to ask how far to go. ‘Five kilometres,’ said the man who did not know how long a kilometre was because I ended up driving twenty after asking him. But he did correct me: the name of the village was not Saranwali but Siranwali that is exactly twenty-five kilometres from the Bypass.
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... and so they stayed

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Among other things, the first year’s survey assigned names to places (that already had Balti or Shina names) as well as the hitherto nameless bears. Deo nau Thuk where wolf scats were spotted became Wolf Peak; the amphitheatre south and east of it, Bowls. As for the bears, a female with young became Aunty; the biggest male was Big Boy of Kala Pani, so named for the area around the southwest corner of Deosai that it frequented. Yet another male exhibiting aggressive behaviour towards nursing mothers became Shaitan (Devil). All these names have stuck fast to this day.


The year 1994 was for consolidating the previous year’s research as well as collecting social and land usage data. The Deosai grassland was being exploited both by the communities on its periphery as well as the far-ranging Gujjars who had spread the name they gave to the plateau across the plains of northern India. Both groups entered the grassland at about the same time as the freeze ended around the middle of June and exited with the setting in of dawn frosts three months later. Local communities kept to those tracts of Deosai that were nearest to their base villages, living there during the brief summer in rude stone and canvas shelters. The nomadic Gujjars, on the other hand, being self-contained with tents went into the heart of the plateau and, depending on the availability of grazing, frequently moved about. As time went by and human and livestock populations multiplied, pressure on Deosai increased in consonance. More and more areas that were unutilised in the past were being trampled by domestic livestock.
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…because we don’t do these things

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Wednesday morning. 10:10. I halted at a traffic signal in Jauhar Town, Lahore. Noticed a young man on the footpath turn suddenly around mid-stride, stoop and collect a banana peel to deposit it in a nearby rubbish bin. I was dumbfounded. We are Pakistanis and we don’t do these things. Even for a person as cynical as I have become over the years, this was a bright light in a rather dark night.


I kept my eye on the man walking away, now across the road, willing the light to turn so that I could catch him. The light turned but by the time I parked my car, the man had disappeared. I had no face to go by, having seen only his walk. All I knew was a gait and that was not much to recognise a person by.
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Some Came Looking

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By the late 1980s it was vaguely known among the small number of trekkers in Pakistan that Deosai was home to a large population of brown bears. It was early in 1987 when one such person, Vaqar Zakaria, a chemical engineer by profession, heard it on the Islamabad trekkers’ grapevine that another trekker was all set to go to Deosai to see the bears coming out of hibernation. Like Zakaria, Anis ur Rahman was himself an experienced mountain-walker who ran a thriving dentistry practice in town.


Liaison was established. The notion, broadly speaking, was that since the bears break out of hibernation at the beginning of summer, Rahman and Zakaria would get up into the plateau just in time to watch them pour out of their caves and hiding places. As the word was that Deosai virtually crawled with the beasts, and because the common Pakistani had never seen a bear in the wild, much less one breaking out of hibernation, the duo decided to take a two-camera team from Pakistan Television to film the monumental event.
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Nilofer’s Pakistan and mine

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This article appeared in The News on Sunday sometime in March or April 2007 and it is still very pertinent. Nilofer, my grand-niece, is now twelve years old.


Nilofer Rolston is a delightful five year-old who lives in Toronto, Canada. She is my grand-niece who, along with her brother Jibraeel (age seven); I met for the first time last winter. There was a little confusion about the word ‘Mamu’ for they have one in Canada and I, much older, had suddenly materialised from a place called Pakistan. But in the end we all agreed that I could also be Mamu to them – just like I am to their mother and to their real Mamu. In the two weeks I spent with them we had good fun and the bonding was complete.

I recently received a little drawing from Nilofer. One side of the paper says, in that large scrawl typical of any five year-old just beginning to learn the secrets of the written word, ‘Dear Mamu I hope you have a good tine (sic) in Pakistan love Nilofer.’ No punctuations, nothing; but the message is full of love and feeling.

The other side has a banner reading PAKISTANS on top. Below it is a radiant sun next to which a rainbow casts a joyful light on the landscape of three flowers – yellow, turquoise and blue – and two smiling faces. That is the way young Nilofer sees Pakistan: a country of smiling people, sunshine and rainbows coloured by the glory of myriad flowers. Her Pakistan is a joyous, blissful country. The charming, untainted innocence of my grand-niece took me to a time when this country actually was as she depicts it. And it was not because all was good and well with the new Pakistan. It was radiant sun and rainbows and smiling faces because there was hope.
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Lahore that once was cycle friendly town

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I learned to cycle in 1959. I was then seven years old and Lahore was the most beautiful, the most god almighty wonderful, human and humane and caring city in the entire world. Venturing out of our Durand Road home, I first explored Davies Road (and that is how it was spelled in those days) and Lawrence Gardens where you could take your bicycles right in.

There were perhaps a couple of hundred cars in all Lahore. The streets seemed the widest in the world, horns were heard only once in a while, and the great noise was the throaty thrum of those 600 cc motorcycles driven by teenage boys clad in drainpipe pants and red or dark blue, open-collared shirts with their hair slicked back and their pointed black shoes shined to reflect the sky. Of course, the other sound was the staid clip-clop of the horse-drawn tangas (I refuse to call it a tonga).

No one and no one was in a hurry to run over a seven year-old child on a wobbly rented bicycle. I didn’t even have to be careful – though my mother did tell me to watch the road before letting me loose; other drivers cared. They looked out for me. That was the kind of city Lahore was.
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Apricot Kingdom: Baltistan in History and Fable

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Excerpt from Deosai: Land of the Giant 

For his voluminous treatise, The Histories, Herodotus came to be known as the Father of History. Born in or about the year 485 BCE in Halicarnassus (today called Bodrum, south of Izmir in western Turkey), he was a great traveller who spent much of his youth exploring and making assiduous observations in the known world of his time. The copious notes of his journeys formed the basis of his nine-volume Histories. As an accomplished storyteller, what he lacked in first-hand information, Herodotus made up from the travellers’ tales that he heard in the inns he frequented. Some of these stories that became part of his work were, naturally, quite far-fetched. Not strange then that a somewhat less charitable title for the Father of Histories is Father of Liars.


Though his wanderings took him to Egypt and Libya in Africa; across a great part of the Levant and the eastern parts of Europe; they did not bring him to the subcontinent. What he writes of our part of the world therefore is hearsay. Among that body of fact and fiction about the subcontinent Herodotus mentions, among other things, an Indian city called Caspatyrus in the country of Pactyica. Now, Caspatyrus is variously believed to mean either Kashmir or Peshawar (or even Kabul), but the clue lies in the name of the country – Pactyica: the name is unmistakably preserved today in the names of the provinces of Paktia and Paktika in eastern Afghanistan and in the tribal name Pakhtun. It is more likely; therefore, that Caspatyrus was on the site of or near modern-day Peshawar.
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Sindh Sojourn

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After three days in Karachi, two of which were spent at the Sindh Archives Department, I got to Larkana to village Mirpur Bhutto. This is the home of my young friend Ali Bhutto. Now, Ali began corresponding with me sometime in November. He was interested in history and when we talked of books he wrote back to say his father’s library contained all the volumes I mentioned. Though I had no clue which Bhutto family this was, I knew they were landed and had fine taste in books.


On the last trip in January, Ali offered to meet me in Sukkur and take me to his village. As we got into his car he noticed the book in my hand and asked what I was reading. It was Kamal Azfar’s The Waters of Lahore. Very casually young Ali said, ‘Oh, we used to be neighbours in Karachi.’
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Bombay Fornicator

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The Brits had a strange way of naming things in official jargon. For example, in the army, we had an Officer’s Office Chair which was inventoried as Chair, Officer’s Office. That is, last name, comma, first name. Just as David Atkinson is Atkinson, David.


Years ago, in those beautiful days when Pakistan Railways ran its cocksure way proudly across the length and breadth of the country, I rode trains just for the fun and adventure of it. Of course, there had been an earlier period in the Seventies when I rode trains out of necessity. There was hardly a working line in the 1980s that I did not travel on and scarcely a rest house or railway station waiting room where I had not tarried – even if there was no need to tarry.
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Chinky and Pinky in Lahore

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Though I did not attend the Literacy Fair (as I insist on calling these shows), I did meet the good Vishwajyoti Ghosh and Nishtha (whose last name I never asked) together with their colleague Tasungtetla, nicknamed Atet. Together with our one and only Ahmad Rafay Alam, they came to dinner on Sunday, 23 February.

Now, Nishtha is slightly built while Atet is a big girl, tall and large-boned. Nishtha’s grandparents were from Lahore and Atet is a native of Nagaland in the far northeast of India. And if you don’t know that, that is what makes the Indian subcontinent the most interesting part of the world: Nagaland is just another country whose people are a beautiful mixture of Chinese and Indo-Aryan blood. Naturally enough Atet has a button nose, high cheek bones and somewhat chinky eyes.

We talked of everything under the sky and at some point the Lahori sense of humour was mentioned. The girls had a beautiful story to tell. This particular day, Nishtha was dressed in pink and the two were walking from Liberty Market to the terminus of the Lahore-Delhi bus only a few steps away when they saw this young man walking towards them.
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History of Jhelum - II

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Shandar Chowk ( 01-03-2014) by Kay2TV
Part I

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Baba Waite

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A simple man and a confirmed bachelor, Waite had served as the chief of police in Jhelum besides several other districts and had fallen in love with the Salt Range. After retirement though he lived largely in Kalabagh, he spent a great deal of time in these parts where he became a legend. Men in their forties remember receiving gifts of toys from him as young boys. Others recall his giving away a bicycle to a man who in the course of a conversation had said that his son walked ten kilometres to school and back daily. There is also the story of Waite lending some money to an acquaintance who failed to return it as promised. Until the day he died, Waite steadfastly refused to see his debtor again, even turning his face away when driving past the man’s village.


An eccentric and a misogynist to the soles of his boots, Waite is reputed to have never entered a rest house if a lady was known to be present – even when he might have arrived after a long journey at a late hour. It is also said that at the beginning of every winter he gave all three of his servants either overcoats or achkans according to their preferences. And that one time he even gifted a block of land to one servant to build his house. Upon inspecting the newly constructed house Waite found that the only thing lacking was the traditional wall-mounted crockery rack and gave an additional sum for that fixture as well.
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Deosai Colors

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Related: Chapter - Land of the Giant, Review - Deosai Romance

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Story of the Muztagh Pass Expedition

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Book is available at Sang e Meel (042-3722-0100), Lahore

I was fortunate to get the plane from Kashgar to Islamabad and thus escape the bone-jarring 16 hour bus ride from the former to Gilgit where I would have laid up for the night and then faced another similar journey of equal duration to Rawalpindi. And then another few hours by train or coach to Lahore. But from the beginning.

Title image The Apricot Road to Yarkand 
We were equally lucky going out for we got the plane to Skardu on 10 August where we found everything in order waiting for us. Ghulam Mohammed, who was handling this trip, is a very good operator. On the following morning we were on the jeeps to Askole - World's End. I bore with me a framed photograph of Haji Mehdi who ran that store in Askole back in 1990 where we purchased, among other things a bag of potato mix which was mistaken for powder milk up on Lukpe La and we had potato tea - a novelty, but who had since died. His sons now run a little inn in the village. So now I have a photograph of one of his sons holding up a picture of their father. The walk began the next morning and we went up the Panmah Glacier. On the fourth day out we reached Shingchakpi Camp Ground where Godwin-Austen had met with the four Baltis coming out of the swirling storm clouds. Weather remained persistently bad with clouds obscuring the higher peaks and daily evening showers of rain.
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Treasure Forsaken

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Xuanzang, the celebrated Chinese pilgrim who journeyed across India for 16 years between 630 and 646, left behind a remarkable record of his travels and travails. Without the account left by this pious seeker of the original texts of Buddhism, some of our history would surely have either been lost forever or at best misinterpreted. One story Xuanzang recounts tells us of Raja Sibika.


This great king was an earlier incarnation of the great Buddha. In that life, seeking to attain enlightenment or budh, he one day chanced upon a dove in the clutches of a hawk. As Buddha was known to do in the future, Raja Sibika cut off chunks of flesh from his own body to offer to the hungry hawk and rescued the dove. Our devout pilgrim tells us of a stupa dedicated to this king somewhere in Swat.
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On KAY2 TV

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Part 2 of the discussion program Shandar Chowk on KAY2 TV today (Saturday, Mar 1, 2014) at 6.30 PM (PST). Discussing will focus on Taxila (also Jhelum, Alexander the Great, Raja Paurva). 

Related: Part 1

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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