Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Thar Desert

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Anyone who wishes to see Thar Desert in Sindh heads for Mithi, Islamkot and Nagarparker. Mithi with its acrid salt water and not so old cement concrete buildings is boring. Islamkot is remarkable for the ashram of Sant Naino Ram and Nagarparker is plain and simple magic. In August the sky is nearly always overcast, a brisk wind scuds across the grey sand dunes and in the trees of Islamkot, more so of Nagarparker, the koels and peacocks sing.

This part of the Thar Desert is therefore a right proper destination for the traveller, especially since a blacktop road now leads all the way to Nagarparker. Since the new PTDC motel is functional (I hope) at Nagarparker, there is a proper place to doss down as well. And there are temples and ruins to see and the magical red granite hills of Karonjhar to climb outside Nagarparker.

But there is another part of the Thar to the north falling in Sanghar district that the Sindhis know as Achhro (White) Thar that no outsider seems to know of. There are no roads or motels here, nor too any famous old Jain temples or stories of diamond-studded idols lost forever among the dunes. Achhro Thar has other things to offer, however.

For one, the gateway, if you please, is through a number of lakes. On Google Earth, these lakes appear as elongated blue gashes cutting across the rippling dunes. There are so many in a north-south axis in an arc to the east of Hathungo town that as we drove from one to the other, in my excitement I even forgot to take down their names.

Imagine the magic of a placid blue sheet of water amid sand dunes on which sit the conical-roofed chaunras that people live in. A man fishing in one lake told me that this particular one was ‘bottomless’. They may be deep, but bottomless; I took with a large dash of salt.

Our route was from Khipro town to Hathungo where the blacktop road ends. Then on we were in the desert. Past the lakes, in the deep desert, I saw the sense in the title Achhro -- White. The sand in this part of Thar was indeed a paler shade of grey and the dunes were somewhat finer and less compacted than those of the south. There were also fewer villages as we drove deeper into the desert. In fact, the first real village after Hathungo on our route was Rablahu.

From the jeep as I attempted to take a photograph of the village when a man in white clothes came hurrying towards us. He waited to see what he had to say to us and the man angrily harangued us for “photographing the women.” There were no women in sight and even as I pointed it out, the fact did not help the man one bit. He ranted on and on until we just drove away. I have known such things to happen in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but this was ridiculous.

Ranahu, our destination for the night, was made late in the evening. I had returned after five years and the only change was that a mobile telephone company transmitter in the village had put Ranahu on the national communication grid. Our host Hathi Singh was hardly a hathi (elephant). A tad shorter than me, he was far too fair-skinned to be a desert man. But that, it was said, was because he was a Sodha Rajput.

His otaq, guest room, was on a high dune, a little way from the main clump of dwellings. The village is divided into different paras or precincts and this was Hathi’s para. The charpais were laid out with colourful bedspreads under a sky resplendent with stars that one living in the city forgets exist.

In the darkness, the dunes to our southeast were periodically lit up by jeep headlamps and then the demons appeared roaring down the dune to the bottom of the trough between two dunes and then up towards us. The first time this happened I thought some lunatic had a score to settle with Hathi and was on his way to make mincemeat of us. But the jeep roared right past us to the other para.

Hathi wanted to show us the new wind turbine that was installed by an NGO four years ago. Rigged with a pump to a deep bore, the machine delivers water 24/7 without any supervision. This, he said, was a darn sight better than the endless labour on the well. Five years ago, I had seen a camel pulling out a 50-litre boka made from old tractor inner tubes. But now, the turbine simply chugs around on its own filling up a nearby cement concrete water tank.

Their livestock had improved since the turbine had gone up. This, he said, was because men were now free from the endless chore of drawing from the well and could go out with the grazing goats. Earlier, with little boys minding the herds, suckling kids were commonly taken by foxes. The country here abounds with the famous desert or white-footed fox and we did espy the wily creatures two or three times the next morning.

Early the next morning we drove to Dagarahu, 17 kilometres to the northeast. In between we did not see any habitation. We stopped briefly to check out the old well and the new wind turbine before having tea with Khan Mohammad Rajar. Sort of a very serious man, he refused to shed his sombre demeanour. I joshed him but failed to break through his grim exterior. In the end I told him it was surely because of his skullcap, which I thought hampered one’s sense of humour. Khan Mohammad finally favoured us all with a shy smile.

All along my friend Hameed Mallah who had driven me from Khipro had said a trip to Achhro Thar in late April was a tad too late. It was already high summer. Through the day a furnace blast came in from the southwest. But the night before had been cool and I was roused by my shivering at about two in the morning. Thankfully, a bunch of quilt work rallis was to hand.

But to really enjoy an outing here I had the choice of two seasons. I could come out again in August when monsoon clouds and the east wind temper daytime temperature. Or I could return in late November. I have to think about this. But one thing is certain: I will return for a much longer outing.

Odysseus Lahori two years ago: Book of Days 2009 - Tales Less Told

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM,

5 Comments:

At March 5, 2015 at 12:52 PM, Anonymous Muhammad Athar said...

Sir the article has reminded the old days 1981 to 1983, once upon the time i was posted in the area and enjoys the hostile summer ang beautiful Peacock songs

 
At March 6, 2015 at 10:44 PM, Blogger Memoona Saqlain Rizvi said...

Marked.

 
At March 8, 2015 at 10:32 AM, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Athar, the peacocks still sing in Nagar. It is still a very beautiful and peaceful place.

 
At January 28, 2017 at 4:37 PM, Blogger Ammar Rehmani said...

beautiful write-up

 
At January 28, 2017 at 5:51 PM, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Thank you, Ammar.

 

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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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Books of Days