Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Unto us a saint is given

Bookmark and Share

Some eight or nine kilometres from Kharian city en route to Jhelum by the Grand Trunk Road, if you are careful, you will notice as you enter the Pabbi Hills a shrine on a low knoll just off the road to your right. The green dome is unremarkable, but the dozen or so fading green flags fluttering around it catch the eye. In fact, there are two sets of green flags. The one around the domed building and the other on a slightly higher hummock twenty metres or so to its northwest. Just below them runs the main railway line. By the southbound track of the highway a tent is pitched and next to it sits a steel collection box minded by a man who, it is claimed, is an employee of the Auqaf Department.

Pir Bren Gun Shah (foreground), Pir Howitzer Shah (background) and the railway line

I do not recollect ever noticing this shrine in passing – and I have passed up and down this highroad innumerable times. Indeed the six years I spent at Kharian in the early 1970s and the several walks I took in these hills also throw up no memory of this establishment. But that may not necessarily mean it was not there. It only means that I am not particularly drawn to shrines, real or imaginary, or that it may then just have been an insignificant set up.
Read more »

Labels: ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM, , links to this post

A bridge almost too far

Bookmark and Share

P. S. A. Berridge, a Bridge Superintendent with whom my father worked as a young Assistant Engineer on the North Western Railway in pre-partition India, wrote a very readable account of this railway network. The book, titled Couplings to the Khyber, has long been my bible. Unfortunately, out of print in Britain there are only a few copies of this book to be found in Pakistan; one in the Railway Headquarters of Lahore and the other in the library of the Department of Archaeology at Karachi.

The destroyed bridge at Tanduri

Berridge notes that the story of the construction of the line to Quetta has ‘no parallel in the whole of the history of the railways in India.’ Among other things, he tells us, it was the exemplary courage and fortitude of the engineers and ordinary labourers against not just the elements but recalcitrant and depredatory Marri tribesmen, that was most admirable and which made the laying of line possible.
Read more »

Labels: , ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 1:00 AM, , links to this post

Mud that Bubbles

Bookmark and Share

(This journey was undertaken in August 2002. This two-part story appeared in September that year in The News on Sunday)

‘May there be peace between India and Pakistan,’ Marvin intoned solemnly as he finished building his little cairn. ‘Forever,’ he added as an afterthought. ‘Amen!’ I said under my breath.


From the lip of the dead crater looking out to the tall active mud volcano. The third is just visible on the horizon to the right of the high cone
We were standing where the cone of the mud volcano began to rise above the featureless sandy plain and it was only on our way back from the top that Marvin had noticed the hundreds of little cairns sprinkled all around. We did not know what the cairns meant, nor did I remember reading anywhere about a cairn-building ritual connected with the worship at the mud volcano en route to the Hinglaj pilgrimage. Perhaps this was part of the ritual or simply a sort of signature to record a passing devotee’s visit. In the spirit of good pilgrims we built our cairns and prayed for peace to be given a chance.
Read more »

Labels: , ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM, , links to this post

Dawn in Deosai

Bookmark and Share


More images in Deosai: Land of the Giant - available at at Sang e Meel (042-3722-0100), Lahore

Labels: , , , ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM, , links to this post

Happy Birthday to Me

Bookmark and Share


This is what I wrote On My 2362nd Birthday!

Join the party here and here

Labels: ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 9:00 AM, , links to this post

No season for fairs

Bookmark and Share

The traditional melas — fairs — in the subcontinent were the place for ordinary folks to let their hair down. Long before they took on a quasi-religious colour in Muslim Pakistan, fairs were secular whose timing was guided by the seasons.


Harvests meant food in the larder and cash in the pocket and so we had festivals in April and May, coinciding with the wheat harvest alternating with those to mark the cutting of rice and sugarcane. Things changed and while some many festivals became aligned with the lunar calendar, some despite their attachment to shrines and death anniversaries of the saints interred therein continued to stick to the earlier solar calendar.
Read more »

Labels: , ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 1:28 PM, , links to this post

Cholistan in Lahore

Bookmark and Share

‘I am a Cholistani; Cholistan lives within my soul,’ says my friend Akhtar Mummunka. And so it is that barely half an hour from the famous crossing known as qainchi in east Lahore, as one drives to Kasur, one notices a sign by the canal bridge on the right side of the road proclaiming ‘Cholistani’.


There along a smaller distributary and barely a few hundred metres off the highroad is a walled-off, tree-shaded compound. This is the dream that was born back in 2002 when Akhtar was invited to conference by Asian Productivity Organisation in Japan. Every year, this organisation awards one person from around the world for outstanding work to preserve the world’s environment.
Read more »

Labels: , ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM, ,

On a mountain of the moon

Bookmark and Share

Out in the backwoods of Balochistan, on the old trade route connecting the Balochistan plateau with what was once called Siestan (in Iran), lies the dusty little town of Nok Kundi. The place became famous after the second decade of the 20th century when the government of India laid their ‘Lonely Line’ from Quetta to Zahedan – railway track of over seven hundred kilometres that passes through one of the most desolate areas of the country.


Over a century later, Nok Kundi is still hardly a destination; it is just a way station one passes through. And if on a clear day one pauses in the passing to glance around, one cannot miss the purple outline of a range on the distant northern horizon. This is the Koh e Sultan whose highest peak crests at 2332 metres (7650 feet) above the sea. The mountain commemorates a mythical character named Sultan e Pir Kaiser also known as Pir Sultan regarding whom no fabulous tales are told. And yet he is venerated as saint.
Read more »

Labels: ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM, ,

Jewish-Indian Lobby

Bookmark and Share

This piece appears in the February 2015 issue of Herald

Our prescient religious leaders have long been on about the Jewish-Indian Lobby that has been working overtime since the middle of August 1947 to undo us, the envy not only of the world of Islam (remember we have Islamic nukes), but of the entire Universe. In mullah parlance, this most pernicious of outfits bent upon undoing our Citadel of Islam is called Yuhood o Hunood ki Laabi.

Though this nexus was formed on the day we achieved independence, it came out into the open in 1956 when the Indian film industry released a flick with the telling title of Yahudi ki Beti – The Jew’s Daughter. I ask you! Yahudi ki Beti. Now, if there wasn’t a nexus between the two malicious countries of Israel and India, why was the film titled the way it was? Why couldn’t it be Eesai ki Beti or Hindu ki Beti? It goes without saying that it would never have been called Musalman ki Beti because of the intense malevolence the Yuhood o Hunood ki Laabi reserves for us Muslims, the one and only chosen people of God.
Read more »

Labels: ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM, , links to this post

Temples of the Salt Range

Bookmark and Share

Long before the Pathan general, Sher Shah Suri, built inns and mail stations along what has come to be known as the Grand Trunk Road, there was a network of highways criss-crossing the fertile Punjab plain and connecting it with regions beyond. One such was the road that crossed the Jhelum river near today´s village of Rasul, entering the Salt Range through the Nandna Pass, and heading west across the Indus at Kalabagh before reaching Bannu, on its way to the markets of Kandahar. The Salt Range is so called because fine quality salt has been mined here since classical times.


This road has seen its share of historical events. Alexander passed this way, and so did Hiuen Tsang, the Chinese traveller who visited India in the 7th century. Late in the 12th century, the doughty Khokhar Rajputs of the Salt Range revolted against the rule of Ghur, and the Ghorids had to struggle hard to keep this connection open. Babur took control of the area on his way to India, and later, Sher Shah Suri gave up claim to this road since he could not subdue the ferocious Gakkhars.
Read more »

Labels: ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM, ,

Trek through the Himalaya, Karakorum and the Hindu Kush

Bookmark and Share

"Let's go, let's go. The donkey is here," said the foul smelling man impatiently as he burst into the room at precisely seven o'clock in the morning. Mohammed Rafi, the drover, spoke only his native Brushaski and owned a perky little animal that trotted along and within minutes we had left Darkot behind.


Two hours later as we passed the village of Umalsat I suggested we stop for tea. Rafi pointed into the distance where, he said, was the house of some uncle who was waiting for us with tea and something to eat. We carried on for another two hours in the course of which I repeated my suggestion at least twice to be met with the same response on both occasions. Finally I tried another angle.
"Where is your uncle's house?" I asked.
"In Darkot," came the bland reply.
"You fool, you mean there is no uncle up front?"
"Uncle. Yes." he said pointing into the distance.
"Screw your uncle. We're stopping right here to make some tea," I said.
"No, no. We'll have tea at uncle's house," he protested.
Read more »

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 8:00 AM, , links to this post

Jamrao Canal, The Dragon’s Tail

Bookmark and Share

East of the Indus River, there flowed a fabled river known as the Hakra or Ghaggar. Some 6000 years ago, this river cradled a civilization as great as that of the Indus Valley. At an unknown time in the past, geological changes near its source in the north caused this river to merge with another stream, drying out its lower reach. As a result, where that civilization once flourished, today roll wind-rippled dunes in every direction as far as the eye can see.


Through this wasteland there meanders an old channel believed to be the bed of the ancient lost river. Mostly dry, the bed filled up only during the worst floods in the Indus. Flowing from the vicinity of Rohri town to empty into the Kori Creek on the seaboard, its winding course earned it the moniker of Nara, the Sindhi cognate of snake or dragon. Along the way, the Nara broke its banks to create picturesque tarns amidst the dunes. Whenever available, its unreliable flow was used to water small plots of vegetables and cereal.
Read more »

Labels: , ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM, , links to this post




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