For most of us of the ‘been there; done that’ breed of travellers, Ziarat in Balochistan is simply the Residency where Jinnah spent his final days
, the few juniper trees in its grounds and Sandeman Tangi. The last a veritable cesspit with all its detritus of human visitations and the accompanying stench.
Fortunately there is more to Ziarat than meets the common eye. One only has to be a little venturesome. For starters, it is a paradise for bird and small mammal watchers. The one great thing about wandering anywhere outside Ziarat town is the locals’ easy going lack of curiosity for strangers. No crowds gather; no one comes up to gawp. But hospitality is offered readily and without thought for recompense.
The juniper that makes Ziarat famous is spread over some 50,000 hectares – way bigger than any other in Balochistan and indeed the rest of Pakistan. Known as a living fossil this remarkable tree grows only one metre (3 ft 3 inches) in fifty years. Consequently, some massive trees (and there are many in Ziarat) may be as old as five thousand years.
With the Residency ‘done’, take the blacktop road weaving around and follow the signs to Prospect Point (4.5 km from the Residency). As apt a name as can be, this is the spot to savour views to the valley below where Kharwari Baba sleeps in an unpretentious tomb. Beyond lies an unbeatable vista of juniper-draped limestone ridges converging to the evocatively named Dozakh Tangi in the middle distance. Thick with juniper and wild flowers, it is hardly a picture of Dozakh (Hell in Persian), however.
The blacktop road ends at Prospect Point and that is where the real Ziarat adventure begins. A jeepable road descends into the valley to the tomb of the saint who is believed to have stood on an icy winter night, water-filled steel tumbler in hand, by the side of his sleeping mentor until his hands froze to the vessel. A few hundred metres from Prospect Point another trail takes off to the right as one heads down to the tomb. Take this road to reach Zezri village with its red-roofed rest house.
The rest house, a bit odd with its red pitched roof amid the junipers and the village hutments, can be booked at the office of the DCO, Ziarat, and is a very quiet get away. As you lounge on the lawn, among the many birds, watch out for those cheeky magpies who will steal food or any shiny item left unattended and then taunt you from nearby trees.
In midsummer Zezri (2250 metres) is in full bloom and smells of the forest: the rich scent of juniper berries, the aroma of thyme crushed underfoot as one walks and the myriad fragrances of wild flowers and shrubbery. The forest rings with birdsong, most notable among which is the warble of the white-cheeked bulbul and collared pikas scuttle about the rocks among the trees. This is an ideal base camp for long walks in the valley and up the hills without fear of getting lost because one can rarely lose sight of the rest house.
For the truly adventurous Zezri is the kick off point for a wonderful scramble up the bare, sheer sides of Khalifat (3485 metres, 11,430 ft). For the seasoned hill walker the climb is a cinch of seven to eight hours; lesser mortals will need a guide and a few more hours. As guide, none better than the venerable Noor ul Haque (aka Noor Aqa) or Abdul Qayyum, both retired foresters who will happily lead the way for a small consideration. They can be reached by the office of the Divisional Forest Officer, Ziarat at 0833-560-280.
The forest gives way to a narrow chimney leading up to a plateau at 2705 metres. Thence onward it is a scramble up sheer limestone walls and over dramatic crags that fall sheer to great distances and may not be very conducive to the health of people suffering from vertigo. Another plateau at 2835 metres affords fantastic views to the south. At one’s feet and some 1500 metres below is a dark green forest of wild olive – the only one of this species in or around Ziarat. On clear days one can see as far away as Sibi at the bottom of the Bolan Pass; and it is said that when the train ran up to Khost, if the wind was right, one could just hear its whistle from the valley.
For company one finds kestrels soaring way below and the solitary golden eagle or bearded vulture far overhead. There is no sound save the soughing of the wind around the weather-worn rocks.
Beyond this plateau, a wide grassy couloir leads sharply upward between two craggy walls of limestone. Going up virtually on all fours, it takes about an hour to make the summit. There are no tales of wandering saints or djinns in love with fair maidens, but the peak has been made to look like a shrine of sorts with coloured flags on tall poles. In fact, pains have been taken because the tallest pole is fitted in a cement concrete base – a difficult construction on a peak that is absolutely waterless.
While Zezri is accessible by jeep (40 minutes), my favoured way of reaching it is by foot, five hours from Ziarat. On the black top road from the Residency to Prospect Point, turn off at Green Juniper Restaurant to descend into Trang Nala. Climbing up, attain the jeep road to Kili Sardaran, home of the chief of the Sarangzai clan of Kakars. Leave the village to the right and enter the juniper-rich plateau of Bar Maghzi. At the far end, the trail once again descends into a stream, this time the bone dry Loi Ghat – Great Stream whose far side leads up to Ismail Maghzi and Orazhe Sar. The latter is two hours from Ziarat and hence onward, it is downhill all the way to Zezri.
Passing the landmarks of the bleached white Spin (White) Maghzi and the knob of reddish brown rock called Tor Skhar (Black Rock), one attains the concrete pond of Gharrai beyond which lie the fields of Zezri. This area is particularly rich with thyme, especially after good summer rains, and its fragrance fills the air as it is unwittingly crushed underfoot.
No visit to Ziarat is worth the while without seeing its Tangis – narrow clefts in limestone hillsides eaten away by flowing water. Sandeman Tangi, just outside town, is, as noted above, a waste. Travel east to Chautair (25 km from Ziarat) along the highroad to Duki. Ask here for directions to Kuncha (u as in ‘put’) Tangi which lies one kilometre to the south of the road. This is a tortuous and utterly picturesque defile cut clear across a wide limestone ridge with a stream in its bed. As it winds its way this way and that, carved by eons of whimsical water, its width varies between thirty metres at its widest and a minimum of just about eight.
Continue through the Tangi to Batay Tair Pass (2530 metres) and descend a rather difficult trail (even for a 4x4 vehicle) through boulder-strewn stream beds to Neshpa, a village of right friendly Kakars. The junipers in this area grow tall and huge – some rising to 50 metres in height.
Neshpa is the summer village for Sor Khezi that lies several kilometres farther to the north. The intervening forest is known as Sher Bano Zungle – Sher Bano’s Forest – after a woman who took up a man’s dare. They say the forest was so thick that no man dared to enter it at night for fear of demons that roamed the darkness. One day Sher Bano said she would. The condition was that she go into the forest and drive a stake into the ground to prove she had been there.
The doughty woman did just as it was said. Only, in the darkness, she mistakenly drove the stake through the hem of her shirt. As she was getting up, her shirt restrained her. The fear of a demon having got her took the better of this brave woman and she gave up the ghost. Men of lesser mettle came looking for her and discovering what transpired named the forest after Sher Bano
Sor Khezi, is a wonderfully picturesque village sprawling over low undulating hills. The ochre mud-plastered walls of its houses are set to advantage against the rust-brown pitched roofs of juniper bark. Hauntingly deserted in summer, it comes to life from September when the Neshpa population moves here for six months. The lahndi, dried salted mutton, of this village is famous and can be seen in preparation in winters.
The trail reconnects with the Duki highroad to the north. While this jeep safari takes a leisurely seven hours or so, the same can be done on foot with one overnight stop. This can conveniently be positioned at Neshpa (summer) and Sor Khezi (winter) where locals offer generous hospitality.
In a nutshell, Ziarat simply is not a day outing. It is a long vacation because quite like an onion it permits itself to be peeled layer by layer. Each new discovery being more interesting, exciting and picturesque than the previous.
Labels: Balochistan, Juniper, Ziarat
posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM,
At May 7, 2015 at 7:51 AM,
Every inch of Pakistan is worth visiting n it's great to learn about every place. For me we are the blessed ones that we live in such a country. Great work n thanks for visiting Balochistan n letting us know abt it !
At May 7, 2015 at 10:42 AM,
Mujtaba Ezaz said...
Sir tussi great ho.
At May 7, 2015 at 5:57 PM,
Sir after going through your articles the desire to travel increasing day by day even to those places where already spend no of years.
At May 7, 2015 at 6:45 PM,
Nayyar Julian said...
This is beyond history
At May 10, 2015 at 11:22 AM,
Salman Rashid said...
Gentlemen, Anonymous, Mujtaba, Athar and Nayyar I am grateful to all of you, sirs.
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