Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Weekend World With Sophiya

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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’.
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'The Great Opportunity Is Where You Are'

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Twenty-seven year-old Ali Buksh comes from a poor Shahwani Brahui family of Mastung. His father is a watchman with the Meteorology Department at Quetta. It was no small miracle that on his father’s meagre salary Ali Buksh managed to complete eight grades of school — especially when there were six other brothers as well. Then, in order to augment the small income, it was into the grind of unskilled construction labour for him. Over time, realising that this was not the end-all, he learned driving. By and by he got a license and became a pick-up truck driver.

That was a good deal better than the back-breaking labourer’s work, but working as a paid driver Buksh’s income was never more than two hundred rupees a day. The rattle-trap that he drove would habitually break down and more often than not Buksh was expected by the owner to get it going again. As time went by, more than the driving, it was the tinkering with the engine that Buksh began to enjoy. And so, having done his day’s work as driver, he went under the wing of a master mechanic in Quetta.
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Railway bridges on River Indus

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Who built the Railway bridges on Indus at Attock and Kohat? As per my knowledge they were built by Khan Bahadur Sher Muhammad, after British could not succeed due to high depth and fierce flow of Indus River. And he was the same Engineer who designed and constructed the first hydro power project of Western India (Swat Valley). I shall be thankful if you could offer any details about this," asks Ali Ahmad Manzoor on Facebook.

What myths we create to glorify some people we believe in! I do not know if, as you claim, Sher Muhammad built the first hydropower project in Swat. But the other claims are both false. I will also be interested in knowing when Sher Muhammad was born and where he was educated. Let us take the two Indus bridges one by one.
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Rediscovering mud volcanoes in Avaran

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My friend Aziz Jamali is a hard task master. Standing orders for the four days Akmal and I spent with him in Awaran were: out of the house at 6:30 AM – without breakfast too. This only helped make huge appetites for lunch and that was just as well for the fare was always premium. His full mop of silver hair gives a deceptive look to his youthful face, and I cannot even venture a guess as to his age. But as a trekker of some experience, he was the fittest in our trio who seemed unfazed by early morning hard work on an empty stomach.

Aziz Jamali and a levies man examine the bubbling mud at close quarters.

As deputy commissioner Awaran, Aziz has been almost everywhere. Whenever he can take time out from rebuilding the poor earthquake-ravaged district, he goes exploring. Among other little or even unknown items, he has discovered a number of mud volcanoes in his district. Now, having read of these natural curiosities in early 19th century works of British explorers, I was also acquainted with the set of three that lies on the seaboard just south of Makran Coastal Highway in Lasbela district a few kilometres from the fishing village of Sapat Bunder.
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Not my Fault

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This piece appears in the March 2015 issue of Herald

There is an old Garfield cartoon where the orange cat tells readers that it has a very responsible position in the home. ‘Every time something goes wrong, I’m held responsible,’ says the balloon above the Saturnine glumness of his face.

Next to Garfield, our politicians are the cutest people on earth. Whereas poor loveable Garfield is always responsible, our politicians never are for anything that goes wrong. First off, the incumbent PM’s patent look beats the one-tooth-missing grin of Alfred E Neuman’s ‘What, me worry?’ expression. Secondly, he has the habit of saying the most inane things on earth with great gravity. In fact, his gravity while uttering absurdity is greater than that of a black hole.

By the way, if you didn’t know what a black hole is, it’s not a part of the human anatomy – as you so facetiously thought. You can now wipe that smirk off your silly face. It is a celestial body that permits nothing, not even light, to escape its surface. Though there are similarities between black holes and Pakistani politicians, we shall not go into that for the time being.
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Oh, Taxila

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As Alexander of Macedonia came slowly down the massive headland whose name he pronounced Aornos and which was known to Pukhtun ancestors as Una Sar (today more famous by the name of Pir Sar, its smaller satellite), he was looking forward to the much-awaited R&R in Taxila. The thought of possessing Taxila, 'the largest [city] between the Indus and the Hydaspes (Jhelum)', through conflict was the farthest from Alexander's mind because Ambhi (Omphis for the Greeks), the king of Taxila, had already made peace with him.


To the educated upper classes, Taxila was known as Taksha Sila, while in the vernacular it was Takha Sila which was the name that went into the Greek as Taxila. Now because Sila is rock or stone in Sanskrit, it is believed that Taksha Sila or Rock of the Takkas was so named after a local tribe. Conversely, others believe the name to have meant 'Hewn Rock' from the amount of cut stone that was the construction material for Taxila buildings. Yet another theory is that the name comes from Takshaka, the serpent king of ancient legend.
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Palace of Fairies

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Sea Monsters and the Sun God is available at Sang e Meel (042-3722-0100), Lahore

Among other Mughal buildings mentioned by S. M. Latif in his book on Lahore written a hundred years ago, there is one called Pari Mahal: ‘The Pari Mahal, or the “palace of fairies” is situated in the Shah Almi Gate quarters. It was founded by Nawab Ilmud Din, surnamed Wazir Khan, Minister of Shah Jehan, and was his private residence. He also held court here. It was furnished with magnificent halls, gardens, baths and other elegant buildings; but the three governors of Lahore, and, after them, Ranjit Singh, stripped it of its costly materials. The shops attached to the haveli, together with certain other buildings, still exist and are substantial works of architectural beauty.’

Latif does not say anymore and the ‘three governors,’ one can assume, were those who ruled over the city immediately following Wazir Khan. But the fact that the building was called Pari Mahal and that it was his ‘private residence’ implies explicitly enough that Wazir Khan housed his wife (or wives and concubines – the last if he kept them) in it. So when friend and fellow writer Sarwat Ali read out this passage to me, I resolved to see this 17th century building that had missed my notice thus far. Even before I set out for Shah Almi, I harboured little hope of re-discovering a grand Mughal relic. I knew there would be no more than a crumbling ruin rendered ungainly, almost ugly, by the growth upon it of cement concrete excrescences – as is the wont in our country.
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The Jail that wasn’t

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My friend Shahid Nadeem is a collector of half-a-century old radio sets and record changers that still work. He has enough for his home in Islamabad to be declared a small radio museum. He is also a source of odd bits of history of his part of the country. His part being the Potohar region in the vicinity of Mandra, he knows much of the history that was overlooked by the rest of the world. And he also has a seemingly endless supply of folklore. One story from this latter realm was about the jail in Hasola, few kilometres from his native village of Dhrugi Rajgan.


The vice-headmaster of the village school had narrated the yarn, he said. As Shahid’s own great-grandmother had spoken of an ancestor’s incarceration in a jail run by the Sikhs, the story made some sense to him. The ancestor Raja Fazal Khan was arrested for not coughing up what the Sikh tax collector thought was the requisite amount and housed in the Hasola jail. Eid came around and Fazal Khan being denied parole to pray in the Dhrugi Rajgan mosque broke out. Climbing the parapet, he leapt out and was lucky to land on a heap of horse dung dumped by the wall of the jail. Through the broken gullies of the surrounding land he sprinted for Dhrugi and arrived just in time, as the congregation was making ready to begin the worship. But even before the ritual was over, a Sikh posse had reclaimed Fazal Khan and re-installed him in their jail. Impressed with his courage in breaking jail, so the story goes, the Sikhs later favoured Raja Fazal Khan with an endowment of land.
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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.
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Khanki Headworks, From Primeval Forest to Breadbasket

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Nestling between the Ravi and Chenab rivers, the Rachna doab, meaning two waters in Persian, takes its name from the first syllable of the former and two of the latter. Despite the poetic reference, this thickly forested land was once notorious country infested with brigands and wild beasts.


Travellers braving its deep, leafy recesses, where the peelu (Salvadora persica), acacia and mango grew profusely, were routinely set upon and deprived of all they had. The pious 7th century Chinese Buddhist pilgrim Xuanzang, himself a victim, leaves behind a doleful account of losing all, including much of the clothing he wore.
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Rannikot Documentary

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Doc24 -- Rannikot Documentary 13th February 2015 [Click to watch the Documentary]

Related: Rannikot - enigmatic, inscrutable, inviting

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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