Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

The city across the Gulf

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If I have to be anywhere this summer, it will be Nagarparkar in the Thar Desert. Centuries ago when trading caravans from Kathiawar and Cutch routinely passed through this wonderful little way station en route to Shikarpur in Upper Sindh, travellers called it the Nagar (city) across the Gulf of Cutch (paar). And so time made it Nagarparkar.

When the monsoon builds up in the month of Bhadon (mid-August to mid-September), Nagar transforms into that wondrous place where the sky is piled up with thunderheads, where a brisk wind whips around the streets, cool and wet, and where unexpected showers of misty drizzle remind you of mountain villages in Tuscany. Peacocks, totally unafraid of humans, cut across your path and frolic in the thickets of neem and acacia rending the air with their cries of ‘pfau, pfau!’ (which is probably where they get their German name).

Indeed this is the sound that one wakes to in the drowsy dawns of Bhadon in Nagar. Unwilling to let the peacocks carry the show, koels hiding in the leafy neem trees, keep up a veritable chorus of their own mellifluous calls. The clouds, the cool gusting breeze, and the bird song make Nagarparkar, in the heart of the Thar Desert, almost unreal. It seems less a village surrounded by mile after mile of sand dunes, more one located in a little known mountain valley.

To complete the picture, the main street of Nagarparkar as well as the central square where everyone converges for tea and a bit of kacheri, as they call the gossip gathering, too does not belong in a desert village. The pitched roofs of the buildings with the tubular inter-linking tiles to keep the rain out that were introduced by the British to places like Mumbai and Karachi were soon preferred in Nagar too. While keeping the monsoon showers out, these tiles lend a picturesque and distinctly non-desert aspect to Nagar.

Sweeping around the town to the east and south lie the pink hills of Karonjhar. My friend, the venerable Ali Nawaz Khoso (look up this remarkable man while in Nagar), tells me that the name means Sprinkled with Black. Look closely and you will notice that the pink granite is indeed peppered with dark flecks. Scarcely higher than a couple of hundred metres, the hills yet possess a breathtaking beauty. In the folds of this range sits the temple of Sardhara where the annual Shivratri (Shiva’s Night) festival takes place. But this sadly does not coincide with Bhadon when I would like to be in Nagar.

My favourite place in the Karonjhar hills has long been Turwutt jo Thulo, a wind-scoured pedestal on a peak overlooking Nagarparkar. Here, so the legend goes, did George Tyrwhitt repair every evening to survey his domain and perhaps enjoy his whisky and soda. As Political Superintendent of Thar district back in the 1860s, this enigmatic Welshman earned a reputation of half-angel half-demon. Dear old Ali Nawaz Khoso is the last keeper of Tyrwhitt’s lore.

The thirty-minute walk from the centre of town to the pedestal leads through a wild and narrow gorge that teems with singing white-cheeked bulbuls. With the monsoon winds at their strongest in Bhadon, the Thulo must be the windiest place for miles around. Whisky may be hard to come by at the Thulo, but a flask of tea (no scones either) and some melons from the local bazaar serve just as well.

The new, and surprisingly good, black-top road connecting Nagar with Hyderabad makes it possible to motor all the way through 200 km of desert. And if PTDC get it right, their new motel might be functional by August. If that happens, come Bhadon I’ll willingly take the bus from Hyderabad for a few days of bliss at Nagarparkar.

Odysseus Lahori one year ago: Living through another age of partition

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 29 January 2015 at 10:41, Blogger Brahmanyan said...

History never dies. Thanks for taking us through the forgotten days.

At 29 January 2015 at 11:06, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Good to have you aboard, Brahmanyan.

At 29 January 2015 at 15:54, Blogger Rehan Afzal said...

I always found the locals pronouncing it as Nungur Parkar and was quite surprised to hear that they thought I had come from Sindh. incidentally the Thurris don''t consider themselves a part of Sindh. Nungur Parkar however was literally an oasis to me, with its beautiful Jain Mandir.

Luckily a local narrated the ancient story of Saldara and how it got to be so venerated; this I would tell you in our next meeting.

At 30 January 2015 at 08:43, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Rehan, the middle n that the Sindhis sneak in in quite common. Cigarette, eg, is singret. You are spot on: the Tharis do not consider themselves Sindhi. Their dialect is distinct and the Parkari dialect of Nagar has more Gujarati than Sindhi. Of all the places in Thar, Nagar is truly magical; the most beautiful place ever.

At 30 January 2015 at 08:54, Blogger pilgrim said...

Every time you write with lucid words it transports me there ,,wonderful piece

At 30 January 2015 at 09:24, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Thank you, pilgrim.


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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