Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Every thing is in a name

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Two-and-a-half millenniums ago, Plato was very strict about travellers who misrepresented details of their journeys abroad. He was of the drastic view of death to such mendacious travel writers. Sadly, in Pakistan we do not have a Plato to set the norm, therefore, what passes as travel writing in Urdu is nothing but the most disgraceful charlatanry.

Pakistani travel writers have no background knowledge of the places they pretend to be writing about and, therefore, their work is of no greater substance than the essay written by a grade five student on how he/she spent the summer vacations. Since readers of Urdu travel writing too are completely ignorant about their country, the rubbish that the writer spews out at them is taken as ‘knowledge’.

One Urdu writer is a master of destroying place names. In the Karomber river valley north of Ishkoman (northwest of Gilgit), there is a place that most people now refer to as Sokhtarabad. If the so-called travel writer who first wrote of this name in his book had ever seen a Victorian era map or read, at least, one travel account of this area, he would have known better. The place in Victorian references and maps is called Sokhta Rabat.

The name means ‘burnt-out inn’. Surely at some bygone time, there was, at this very spot, a caravanserai. These travellers journeyed between Wakhan and Ishkoman (sometimes as far as Gilgit) over the Khora Bhort Pass bringing with them furs, leathers and dairy products. In recent times, they went home with wheat flour, kerosene oil and textiles. In 1990, I learned that the travel had continued into the 1980s when Soviet occupation of Wakhan put an end to it.

My informant, a right venerable gentleman called Shah Fakir, told me he had not seen the inn. He had, however, heard of it from his elders. He presumed the inn would have been burnt to the ground by a lightning strike. He was not sure however.

Now, the name Sokhta Rabat concealed a truly intriguing bit of history. Any travel writer worth the salt would have discussed the travel route, the trade that came by it and would have marvelled on the destruction of the inn. But for that, background knowledge was necessary which is non-existent among the crop of so-called travel writers.

This writer also writes of a mountain called Shah Gori, and, sexist as he is, likens it to a fair maiden. Because the rubbish he periodically churns out receives wide readership, there are thousands of yahoos (only they read his work) who actually believe that the real name of K-2 is Shah Gori — roughly translatable as ‘fair-skinned princess’.

The name that the people of Baltistan gave K-2 long before the first western explorer and map-maker arrived in this region was Chhogho Ri — Great Mountain. Towering far above every other snow-laden peak, the mountain was given as apt a name as possible. Here it was, visible from afar from so many vantage points frequented by shepherds and hunters, flying its plume of spindrift in the 150 knot winds that whipped its virgin crest. Blindingly white in the midday sun, it would turn the colour of burnished gold as the hunter on a distant ridge gathered up his bow and quiver and humped the ibex he had bagged just as the sun readied to dip below the western crags. Not wrongly did they, who live beneath it, call it Chhogho Ri.

Next to this giant was the beauty they called Chhogho Lingtza — Great Hunting Ground — a name corrupted by Europeans to Chogolisa. Surely, in a mild summer, a Balti hunting party having ventured the harrowing trek up the Baltoro Glacier would have arrived here to find a large herd of ibex. For the men of this group, the dazzling pyramid of pristine snow and ice forever became Chhogho Lingtza.

Along came an ignoramus feigning scholarship as the country’s foremost travel writer and changed the name to Mona Lisa. Plato certainly was drastic in his verdict against the corruption of knowledge, especially with reference to travel writers. But there was great wisdom in his words. Since death to such mendacious writers is not the norm now, the work must be exposed as the sham it is.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 27 March 2015 at 18:15, Blogger omarali50 said...

Mashallah. Good work.
But as you know, he has written a lot, so there is surely much more that needs correction. It's an odious task, skimming through the tales of his imaginary flirtations in misnamed and misunderstood places, but somebody's got to do it...

At 27 March 2015 at 22:36, Blogger Rehan Afzal said...

Mustunsur Hussain Tarrar, or Chacha Ji, as we used to call him back in the days, is an ignorant, if not an illiterate man. He churned books for his booksellers and needed to juice up his stuff with the trepidation of romance in his travelogues. Unfortunately he only read Mohiuddin Nawab's "Dyota" and churned his personal version of Farhad Ali Taimur in his Epitomizing tales of Ibne Batuta-ism. The worst part is that he's not even aware of the heinous literary and historical crimes that he commits with such fecundity and audacity. He is a reincarnation of Nasim Hijazi of Sorts I guess.

Hazaaron saal nargis apni baynoori pay roti hai
Burrdee mushkil say hota hai chummun mei'n Salman Rashid Paida

At 28 March 2015 at 09:19, Blogger Brahmanyan said...

Well said. Change of names take place for two reasons, either due to ignorance or political compulsions. In Madras (Chennai) the name of Hamilton bridge was called "Ambattan bridge" meaning "barber's bridge" in the local language and that is the name by which the bridge is known now !

At 30 March 2015 at 09:47, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Nice one, Barber's Bridge.

At 30 March 2015 at 09:49, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Rehan, the sad thing is that innumerable people worship Tarar as THE travel writer of this country. They believe the tripe he creates as true. Sad.

At 30 March 2015 at 09:57, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Omar, there isn't a single work of this writer that does not have page after page of irresponsible, puerile and even foolish statements. The tragedy is this tripe is swallowed by undiscerning readers as gospel.

At 30 March 2015 at 10:43, Blogger Rehan Afzal said...

The worst part is that the moron is revered by his dimwit readers - I once attended a wedding where he also came; the way his imbecile (mostly aunties) readers were swooning over him was quite nauseating. the next time I come across him, I will give him a piece of my mind - and yours too Sire !

At 30 March 2015 at 12:31, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Hahaha! Two pieces of minds will be a tad too much for him. But these overweight aunties are morons. They cannot discern good writing. They worship him only because he is a TV star. The celebrated individual must have it in them to make their followers treat them like humans and not gods.

At 7 April 2015 at 06:41, Blogger James said...

Thanks for sharing your article. As a nature lover, I see Nature as being free, wild, untamed and boundless, so any place names assigned by explorers are actually ultimately subjective. I suppose when it comes to mentioning the names of places in travel writing, we can attempt to find a balance between academic rigour and academic dogmatism, depending on the context of the topic and the target audience, in order for the place names to be generally understood and accepted by the audience.


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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

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