Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Chinar House, Abbottabad

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My friend Omer Salim Khan Tarin, historian and researcher, led me up the timber stairs. Nearly 130 years after the seasoned pine (or could it be teak?) had been cut and shaped for the stairs, it was as robust as on the first day. The landing at the top was littered with some old stuff and the door to the attic converted into a parlour was on the right. I looked in through the broken glass of the door and called out, ‘Miss Fitzhugh?’


Sitting amid spreading grounds, forever in dappled sunlight for the many trees around, 3 Club Road also known as Chinar House in Abbottabad, is a right beautiful English country house with a pitched roof, skylights and gables. Unlike an English house, where it would be an unnecessary adjunct, a veranda runs along the east side. Behind the house, detached from the main building, is a row of followers’ quarters and a high roofed ruinous byre shaded by a handsome old cedar.
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Madhu Lal Hussain

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On the onset of spring, the canal traversing through Lahore is decorated with multi-coloured boats, fitted with models of architectural wonders of Mughal era. The tradition of celebrating spring in Lahore is centuries old and usually begins with the kite flying festival (this practice has been discarded for past some years because of official ban) and culminates with Mela Chiraghan — festival of lights — that is held in the last week of March to celebrate the Urs of Punjabi sufi poet and saint Shah Hussain, popularly known as Madhu Lal Hussain, at his shrine in Baghanpura.

As basant draws menfolk of Lahore on roof tops and fills the blue skies with colourful kites and still chilly mornings with cries of bu kata; so, Mela Chiraghan has been attracting multitudes from Lahore as well as the interior of Punjab to relive the myth of Madhu Lal Hussain at his shrine.
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'Horse Trading'

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Bashir arrived with Riaz who, he said, was a "brother". This could have meant that he was anything from a cousin thrice removed, to someone who simply lived in the same village. The loads were arranged, some last minute shopping done and we set off just before eleven with Bashir making dark observations about this being no way of running an expedition. From years of being a guide for Westerners, Bashir was almost de-culturised: he did not look upon his work as something to be done with quickly and his clients as useless baggage to be escorted from one point to another. He enjoyed being in the mountains, had a healthy respect for them and felt there was a bond between man and mountain. Riaz, on the other hand, had never been a porter and was a morbid fatalist who began every sentence with, "If tomorrow we live, if death does not overtake us...." considered it madness to be walking to Chilas when we could easily have taken the bus from Mansehra.


Past the clump of red roofed buildings that are the Tourism Corporation's resort we tramped into a broadening valley with fields lush with the vibrant green of young wheat, where women gave up whatever they were doing to shout greetings to Bashir and Riaz. Sometimes there were protracted discussions about how far they were going and when they would return. It defied explanation how both parties could make themselves heard above the roar of the river. Thus it was for the next three and a half hours until we got to Battakundi.
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Abbottabad: beauty and buried bounty

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I noticed young Asad Tanoli when he posted an image of his native Sherwan on social media. It was a right picturesque little alpine village and not the image I retained from 1972. Lying about 30 kilometres west of Abbottabad, it was then a hamlet of stone and timber houses with a sprinkling of some mud-plastered ones.

On the phone, Asad spoke of dozens of kots around his village and the remains of a house built by old James Abbott. Now in the vernacular, a kot is a fortress and I had visions of them dotting every hilltop. As for Abbott’s old home, I conjured up an image of something with a touch of the eerie much like the old Murree Brewery ruins near Ghora Gali or Reginald Dyer’s ruined house in faraway Rabat in Balochistan.
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Between Two Burrs on the Map - Epilogue

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By six in the evening we had left Golain Valley and were on the jeep that the mad mullah drove as though we were being pursued by all the demons of hell. "After a journey of three and half months and over a thousand kilometres the slaty waters of the Yarkhun River are not the most appropriate of ends." I said to Thun Khan. He laughed and we got to Chitral without mishap. But there was no air ticket waiting as had been promised -- I was consigned to the sixteen hour bus ride over the winding Lowari Pass to Peshawar.


The driver who had promised to leave at four in the morning was still asleep at five. Nevertheless, fourteen hours and three buses later I was in Peshawar. But just as the rickshaw trundled into the station the night train to Lahore was pulling out. Someone shouted that we could still catch it at the outer station and for the first time I felt thankful to whoever had invented the rickshaw. It is the only mode of transport that can go over and under other vehicles, into the gutters and out again and defy gravity in several different manners as it attempts to get from one place to the other.

It was a muggy dawn with remnants of the monsoon persisting cloyingly in the thick air of Lahore. In the foyer of the railway station I paused to stuff my ice axe and rope into my rucksack. I had unwittingly stopped near a pair of taxi drivers: pot bellied, unkempt, unshaven, scratching their groins and spitting all over the place.
"Hey, is he an Angrez?" I heard one asking the other.
"Don't be silly. Ever seen such a dark Angrez," came the reply.
"But he's got all the stuff that the Angrez carries." This made some sense. The other one came towards me with one hand still on his groin.
"Taxi, Sur. Pearl Continental. Four hundred rupees," he tried. Ye gads, four hundred rupees for four kilometres!

It was five o'clock, too early in the day to shock these good men. Therefore, in the most English accent that I could muster I said, "Thank you my good man. I'd rather walk."
"Oy Angrez, teri bhen di siri!" one of them called after me and they both guffawed.

Hey White Man, your sister's head. As Punjabi invectives go this one is almost innocuous; something that could only have been invented by Lahoris.

It felt good to be home again.

Related: Between Two Burrs on the Map

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As Abdullah Shah Ghazi looks on

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Perched atop a hill, rearing almost 100 metres above the sea, at Clifton is the much-revered tomb of Abdullah Shah Ghazi, the patron saint of Karachi. His powers, even in death, are immense for he saves the city from cyclones. That is what I heard in the 1980s from those who believed in the sainthood of the man.


Before Muhammad bin Qasim took Sindh in 711 CE, the Arabs mounted five unsuccessful attacks, all routed by Dahir’s army. The fifth attack, led by Buzail, was the one instigated by the loss of gifts en route from Serendeb (Sri Lanka) to the Omayyad caliph. This was the only sea-borne assault on Sindh — the rest all having come by way of Kech and Lasbela.
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Penglish

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This piece appears in the November 2014 issue of Herald

There’s Penglish which is Pakistani English which is, well, something. And then there is Ppenglish – Pakistani Punjabi English. Now, since I don’t speak Pashto, I cannot even say what that other Ppenglish would be. But knowing some Pakhtuns, all I know is that would really be something.


And with this I see smoke coming out of the ears of all those Pakhtuns who read this. Take it easy, chaps. But for goodness sake don’t take yourselves so seriously. That causes constipation.
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Who was Mian Naseer

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Between the city of Dadu and the Khirthar Mountains in central Sindh, there stretches a great and dusty plain. No canals cross this land and because it lies beyond the reach of the southeast monsoon rain is infrequent and therefore little agriculture. Here the tamarisk and kikar grow and the rough-legged buzzard and barn owl hunt for jird, gerbil and rat by day or night respectively.


Scattered in this barren landscape are some graveyards dating from the early 18th century. The largest of this is the graveyard of Mian Naseer Kalhora locally referred to as Mian Naseer jo Qubbo — the Dome of Mian Naseer. This remarkable collection of beautifully painted funerary buildings lies northwest of Dadu city and twenty kilometres west of Kakar village.
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Perch of the Queen

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The Yusufzai plain in Mardan District was once rich with stories of Raja Vara. Inevitably, most ancient ruins in this district abounding with Gandhara sculpture were attributed to this mythical raja. So when archaeologist Alexander Cunningham visited the area in the 1860s in search of sites connected with Alexander’s campaigns, he was told the legend of Raja Vara and his rock climbing queen.


Vara’s ruined castle high up on an elongated hill above Naogram village was remarkable for the large, upright and smooth-sided rock rearing nearly eight metres above the hill’s northern extremity. This, the queen is said to have ascended daily to survey her husband’s territory. And so the complex of ruined buildings was Rani Gut or the Queen’s Rock in Pashto.
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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