Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

The Castle that Raja Mal built

Bookmark and Share

Barely five kilometres from Kallar Kahar on the high road to Choa Saidan Shah, a black top road takes off to the south for the village of Karoli. Three kilometres down this road another one branches to the left for the village of Malot. Lying on an up-thrust block of limestone that rises gradually from the valley of Dhun in the north, is one of the highest points in the Salt Range. Once there was a denticulate wall, interspersed with massive gate houses, overlooking the easy access from the north. Today all that remains is just a portion of this wall and two disintegrating gateways. Behind this protective wall lie the closely packed houses of the village of Malot.

Legend attributes this fortress to Raja Mal or Mallu, the supposed progenitor of the Janjua Rajputs of the Salt Range. While Alexander Cunningham quotes the belief that he lived in the age of the Mahabharat, others declare him a contemporary of Mahmud of Ghazni. Whatever the case, most people agree that the fortress was built by this obscure Janjua chieftain. The crumbling battlements of Malot do not seem to be older than five or six hundred years, which coincides with the time that the Janjuas were predominant in this area. This, however, could possibly have been the time that the earlier structure was renovated, but that it was in fine trim in the 16th century we learn from the Babur Nama. After taking the fort of Malot (or Malkot near Batala, India) in January 1526, Babur banished the treacherous governor of Lahore Daulat Khan Lodhi and his sons under the charge of Kitta Beg to the ‘fort of Malot’ near Bhera.
Read more »

Labels: , ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM, , links to this post

The vandal in the mosque

Bookmark and Share

It was a cold December in the year 1987 that my wife Shabnam and I went travelling in the outback of Badin district with a friend we had met only a few days earlier. Abubaker Shaikh of Badin knew everything there was to know about the district. We were looking for old monuments and he, having travelled there extensively, was our captain.

At the end of one long day as we were heading back for Badin, Abu said we ought to check out Belo vari Maseet — Mosque in the Forest. And so, somewhere near Tando Mohammad Khan, we turned off the main highroad onto a byway. The tarmac eventually gave way and we trundled along through tall grass and spreading peelu and acacia trees until we spotted the three squat domes in the distance.
Read more »

Labels: ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 11:47 AM, , links to this post

Xuanzang in Chakwal —

Bookmark and Share

Late in the year 631 of the Common Era, a Chinese traveller made his way from Taxila to the town of Singhapura. He tells us that this 'kingdom' was 'about 3500 or 3600 li in circuit.' Now, the Chinese linear measure of li equals one-sixth of a the English mile which would make this a truly vast kingdom six hundred miles (1000 km) around. But the traveller also states that on the west, Singhapura was bordered by the Sindhu River. Clearly, the traveller was grossly over-estimating the extant of Singhapura.

He also notes that that the country, a tributary to Kashmir, surrounded by 'crags and precipices', was extensively farmed and reaped abundant produce. Of the people, Xuanzang writes that they 'value highly the quality of courage; moreover, they are much given to deceit.' Singhapura, Xuanzang notes, was a cold country. But he also tells us that he travelled 700 li (116 miles or 185 km) southeast from Taxila to reach it.
Read more »

Labels:

posted by Salman Rashid @ 11:30 AM, , links to this post

Double Jeopardy

Bookmark and Share

Mohammad Siddique Ronjha Nakhuda (Captain), native of village Keti Bandar in the delta of the once great Sindhu River, his teen age son and three other men were lucky to make it through that August night in 1995. Others are known to have lost the way and perished in the wilderness. This is the story of hundreds of fishermen from the coastal communities of Sindh – as well as that of their counterparts from India.


Once Ronjha was a fairly well-off fisherman with his own boat and crew. One fateful day in early 1991, as he and his men were hauling in their nets at two in the afternoon, they saw a boat approaching. Since they had been fishing in Sir Creek which, they believed, was within Pakistan’s boundary, they were not alarmed. But this creek in the extreme east of the delta has been claimed by both India and Pakistan and soon Ronjha and his crew were arrested by men of the Indian maritime security agency – men they had until then thought to be their compatriots.
Read more »

Labels: , , ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 11:34 AM, , links to this post

Who built the Grand Trunk Road?

Bookmark and Share

Friend Rahat Dar is one top-class shutterbug and I love his 'Dar side of the Picture'. And he is responsible for setting me off with this one when he printed a picture of the kos minar in Baja Lines, Garhi Shahu (TNS). The caption to the photo says this particular piece was built by Sher Shah Suri. Balderdash! So here goes.

Ever since we, the people of the subcontinent, converted to Islam and realised that the Arabs who led us up this garden (of Eden) path looked down upon us poor converts, we began to despise our pre-Islamic past. By the 13th century we were fast inventing illegitimate Arab fathers for ourselves to cover up our pagan past. And so when it came time for partition in 1947 all those of us who had lagged behind earlier became not just ordinary Arabs but Misters to boot -- for that is what the word Syed means.
Read more »

Labels: ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 1:38 PM, , links to this post

Menhirs, Stone Circles and Graves

Bookmark and Share

There is, it was reported, a series of menhirs (free-standing upright stones) and stone circles in the vicinity of Fort Munro, the hill in Dera Ghazi Khan trying so hard – and failing – to hit it off as a summer resort for southern Punjab. And so it was that my friend Khurram Khosa and I drove over the divide between Punjab and Balochistan at Fort Munro. We were on an ancient highway that has carried murderers, ascetics, traders and adventurers back and forth. Beyond the village of Rakni (busy bazaar and a police station with over a dozen brand-new smuggled cars waiting to rust to pieces) we drove on to Bawata.


Outside Bawata, to the south of the road hard by the Balochistan Levies checkpoint, were the menhir and stone circles – entirely unknown outside the area. To my untrained eye the stone circles looked like foundations of corrals and so far as I was concerned could be from two hundred to two thousand years old. The largest of these circles even had a time frame: an angular mehrab to the west told us that even if this was a prehistoric circle, something similar to Stonehenge, it had been appropriated at some point and turned into a mosque. Nearby there were several other sets of upright stone slabs that appeared to be the foundations of small rooms. Khurram said so far as he knew the Department of Archaeology had never investigated these puzzling stone relics.
Read more »

Labels: , , , ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM, , links to this post

The fall of Taxila

Bookmark and Share

Beginning with the annexation of Taxila to the kingdom of Alexander, there began a three hundred year-long period of Taxilan Hellenisation — save of course the century-long hiatus of the Mauryan period. The successors of Alexander's general Seleucus Nikator annexed Afghanistan and Taxila together with most of modern Pakistan.

salman rashid

A hundred and fifty years later, they were overthrown by the pale-skinned Scythians (Saka to the Indians). These horse-riding warriors so overwhelmed our part of the world that Sindh became Saka Dvipa — Island of the Sakas for the people of India and Indo-Scythia for the distant Greeks.
Read more »

Labels: , ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 10:49 AM, , links to this post

Bijnot Fort

Bookmark and Share

The fortress of Bijnot lies way out in the Cholistan Desert — a hundred and twenty kilometres southeast of Derawar Fort and just about twenty-five from the Indian border. Dating back to the 8th century, it is now in a state of utter ruin — ruin that was caused not by the passage of time, but by the accuracy of Indian artillery shelling during the 1971 conflict. The story to recount is not of the fort's history and glory; it is the story of two outlaws who frequented this area.


Madho Singh (aka Jagmaal Singh) of the clan Rathore was a native of Bikaner and one of the three sons of a Thakur who held two villages as jagir. One day the Thakur was rudely put down by a neighbour whose cattle were grazing in the Thakur's fields. The incident much distressed young Madho Singh and catching the offender at a lonely spot did him in with his steel-tipped staff. The long arm of the law reached out and Madho Singh became a fugitive.
Read more »

Labels: , ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM, , links to this post

The guilt

Bookmark and Share

Charan Singh, eighty-three years old and blind lives in village Buttar Khurd just off the Grand Trunk Road between Amritsar and Jalandhar. I met him on a cold and foggy day in January. Even before his grandson led him into the courtyard of the house where we waited, we heard the tap-tap-tap of his walking stick. Slightly built of medium height, old Charan Singh had milky white eyes that had not seen for nearly twenty years.

My friend late Talwinder Singh with the blind and elderly Charan Singh
In 1947, as a twenty-year-old sepoy in the district administration, he was assigned as security guard to a Sikh revenue officer when partition was announced. According to Charan Singh, this officer tried every which way for Kasur to be part of India, but what was a mere revenue officer when the powers that were wanted the city to go to Pakistan. And so, one day, all the Hindu and Sikh officers attended office for the last time and prepared to head east for Khem Karan, the nearest town of the new, divided India.
Read more »

Labels: , ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM, , links to this post

A Chinaman in the Salt Range

Bookmark and Share

salman rashid
The year was 630 AD, and China was ruled by T’ai Tsung, ‘the most powerful figure of the brilliant T’ang dynasty’, when a twenty six year old Buddhist monk left the city of Chang-an on a religious journey that was to last sixteen years. This journey was to take our pilgrim to nearly all the sites in the Indian subcontinent connected with the great Buddha. The fruit of this protracted labour was unprecedented reverence upon his return to China and to be acclaimed as one of the greatest Masters of Buddhism of all times.

Hiuen Tsiang, however, was no ordinary monk. Even before the pilgrimage he was an acknowledged Master, versed in the tenets of Buddhism for whom religious books, imperfectly translated from the Sanskrit into Chinese, were a source of everlasting yearning for the gospel of Buddha. Far from his home, beyond the death dealing deserts of Turkestan and across the Snowy Mountains, lay the land of his dreams: India - the birth place of the great Buddha. There, Hiuen Tsiang knew, were those great centres of learning that hummed day and night with the true word. In cloisters in that distant land, he knew, lay the original works of Buddhism. And there, too, were Masters who would have the answers to questions that had remained unanswered most of Hiuen Tsiang’s life as a monk.
Read more »

Labels: , ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM, , links to this post

Karonjhar Hills

Bookmark and Share

Just outside the fair and utterly picturesque little town of Nagarparkar in the extreme southeast of Thar Desert and treading on the Indian border, there looms to the east a jumble of pink hills. These are the Karonjhar Hills. Of their name, my elderly friend Nawaz Ali Khoso has this to say: the word is a compound of Karon (Black) and Jhar (Sprinkling). Indeed, look closely and you will notice the pink granite peppered with black spots. On a spot high above the village on one of the ridges of Karonjhar, there is a flat pedestal with a flagpole. Locals call it Turwutt jo Thullo — the Pedestal of Turwutt.

Salman Rashid

It is the good Nawaz Ali who is also the keeper of the esoteric tale of Turwutt. In 1958, so it is related, Turwutt came to Nagarparkar at the head of an army to defeat Rana Karan Singh. A great battle was fought and the British were defeated. Turwutt barely made away with his life by hiding under a pile of cowhides in a tanner's workshop. Returning with a greater force, Turwutt prevailed and having taken over Nagarparkar, awarded a large jagir to the Meghwar who had hidden him under his wares.
Read more »

Labels: , , ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM, , links to this post

Punjabis in Central Asia

Bookmark and Share

We must remember that Kunala's stewardship of Taxila and Xuanzang's visit are separated by a full nine hundred years — time enough for the accretion of folklore to colour real history to a degree almost beyond reality In the spring of 630 CE, Xuanzang, the pious Chinese Buddhist pilgrim, set out from the monastery of Chang'an (Xian on modern maps). He travelled across the sandy wastes of Turkistan, over the dangerous snow-draped passes of the Hindu Kush Mountains to Afghanistan and eventually fetched up in what is today called Pakistan.


Here, among other places, he spent some time in a city that he renders in his language as Ta-ch'a-shi-lo.

That was Takshasila — as Taxila was known to its educated natives. Since Xuanzang was on a pilgrimage collecting Buddhist texts and relics, he visited the various monasteries sprinkled around town and mentions the one to the south-east of Taxila.
Read more »

Labels: ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM, , links to this post

What is the matter with us?

Bookmark and Share

Last Sunday I was at Ketas Raj, the ancient religious site (Buddhist and Hindu) in the Salt Range. It is useless to lament the destruction of the pristine site with marble flooring and steel pipe banisters to the stairways where none had ever existed in history. Culprit: Department of Archaeology.


Behind the recently ‘renovated’ (and therefore utterly destroyed) two 11th century Hindu Shahya temples, there was a newish building that I had not noticed on my last visit two years ago. This was a public toilet. But, said the employee of the department trailing us, it had been vandalised.
Read more »

Labels: ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM, , links to this post

Bomb Blasts

Bookmark and Share

This piece appears in the June 2014 issue of Herald.

Every time a bomb explodes, the otherwise somnolent intelligence agencies of a sudden become very alert. They descend upon the site of the blast and, first of all, make a complete hash of every bit of evidence so that we never know which hidden hand it might be causing all this trouble here.

Aside: the only hidden hand I can possibly think of is Napoleon’s. Yes, that frog who went by the last name of Bonaparte. Or was it Bone Apart because of the several bones he broke in a childhood skateboarding accident? Why do I think of him every time I hear of the hidden hand? Well, look at some of his images, hat pulled low to hide his shifty eyes, he keeps the bomb hand slyly concealed under the parting of the two lapels of his coat at his breast.
Read more »

Labels: , ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM, , links to this post

Blinded by guilt

Bookmark and Share

Salman Rashid
Charan Singh
On a cold and foggy morning in January 2010, my friend Talwinder Singh, the short story writer from Amritsar, drove me to Buttar Khurd, a short way off the Grand Trunk Road en route to Jalandhar. We had come to see old Charan Singh.

Even before he entered the courtyard where we sat, we could hear the tap-tap-tap of his cane in the paved alley outside. Small of stature and a little hunched over by age, the man had large milky eyes that had not seen the light of day for 20 years. He himself was, so he said, 83 that year.

As a 20-year-old constable in the district administration, he was assigned as guard to a Sikh revenue officer in Kasur. When the line was drawn with Kasur falling to Pakistan and mayhem began, Charan and his officer crossed the BRB canal and made for the new India. On the crossing, they saw the brown waters clogged with bloated bodies, the Hindu and Sikh men, women and children who had only a few days earlier lived peaceably with the Muslim neighbours.
Read more »

Labels: , ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 7:30 AM, , links to this post

Who owns Fort Kot Diji

Bookmark and Share

I saw Kot Diji for the first time ever in 1984 in June with the heat flaring off the bleached limestone hill on which the fort sits. And what a magnificent sight it was! Crowning the hill smack by N-5, the artery that connects Karachi with the rest of the country, the fort of Kot Diji is shaped like the figure 3 with a handle on the upper crook. Its west, north and east sides embrace the highest point of the hill, while the lower southern side affords entry.


The heavy timber door is spiked with fifteen-centimetre long iron barbs that would put the mind of any attacker to rest about ramming the door with an elephant. Mir Sohrab Khan, the first ruler of the Khairpur family of Talpurs was one smart tactician to have sited his fort on this hill: with his force concentrated to beat back an attack on the east side, he could have well left the other three sides virtually undefended because there was no way an assaulting force could have taken the fort by escalade. The walls rise up from the sheer sides of the hill making it impossible for scaling ladders to be put in place. And even if attackers were to bomb or mine a breach, a mere handful of defenders inside could beat back the badly winded assaulters with ease.
Read more »

Labels: ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM, , links to this post

Just another journey

Bookmark and Share

As journeys go, this one was hardly a great one. Kamran Alavi (with his throat orchestra of which more later) and I reached Gilgit hoping to go walking up north of Misgar in the Gojal region in the extreme upper edge of Hunza. That would have been after I had done a short dash to the end of the Chapursan Valley to check out the tomb of Baba Ghundi.


Since I had been in Chapursan back in 1990 (when I had more hair and less fat), I had never returned and there were some people I sorely wanted to see again. One was Sarfraz Khan alias Chairman of the village of Zuda Khun who had a gold tooth and a rifle. All his life he had been a keen hunter and when he agreed to lead me across the 5200 metre-high Chillinji Pass, he brought his trusted old rifle along. With a wide grin he had said he would be coming back with an ibex or two. I asked how he could carry back two dead animals and he said that the pass being glaciated, he could always bury one in the deep freeze and return for it later.
Read more »

Labels:

posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM, , links to this post

‘Not a soul was left living!’

Bookmark and Share

The deep-throated double hoot of the Indian Eagle Owl rising from the ruin they call the mari (mansion) rode the gusting wind across the undulating peelu-covered terrain to me on the roof of the derelict mosque. Other than that haunting call and the sigh of the north wind it was silent as it has been for over two hundred years. From my perch on the roof of the mosque I could see the full extent of the ruins of Dhonra Hingora sprawling over perhaps a hundred acres: two mosques, a domed mausoleum, remains of houses, the four corner columns of the mari, and massive brickwork that appears to be the remains of a bridge. And everywhere amid these ruins, shards and shards of glazed and unglazed pottery badly eroded by the saline soil.


Lying outside the small village of Tando Fazal, twenty-five kilometres southeast of Hyderabad on the road to Sheikh Bhirkio, Dhonra Hingora, or the ‘Ruins of Tando Fazal’ as the sign of the Department of Archaeology calls them, commemorate the lost majesty of a once thriving centre of trade and commerce. Legend recalls a holy man who lived here and took time out from his ecclesiastical duties to prepare and drink vast libations of bhung. Indeed so given was he to this narcotic drink that he always had several pitchers brimming with it, ready to be imbibed.
Read more »

Labels: , ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM, , links to this post




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