Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

On the road with a message of peace

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On March 13, a group of nine Balti mountaineers and a doctor set out of Hushe (north of Khaplu) on a trek of 1000km, carrying with them a message of peace for the world. Through Skardu, Gilgit and by way of the Karakoram Highway, they reached Islamabad exactly 31 days later.

Salman Kasi in Lahore

These good men were set off by the irresponsibility of the country’s print and electronic media. The semi-educated and irresponsible journalists manning the media cannot differentiate between the northwest of the country and what was until some years ago Northern Areas and routinely reported about terrorism emanating from the ‘Northern Areas’ (shumali ilaqajat in Urdu). The result was widespread vilification of the Gilgit-Baltistan region as a terrorist hotbed. And this was not just among ignorant Pakistanis but equally ignorant foreigners as well.
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Back from the brink

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A quarter century ago, driving from Dipalpur to Haveli Lakha in Okara district of Punjab, I passed a gateway with a couple of human figures in terracotta. If memory serves, there were some more peering down from niches in the wall. Pausing, I learnt that this was the ‘tomb of Bhuman Shah’ in the village of the same name. Bhuman Shah, so my young informant said, was a great saint from even before his grandfather’s time – which in the vernacular means a very long time ago.


I looked in and noticed a building with an impressive façade flanked by octagonal turrets with a central gateway on my right. Straight ahead, at the end of the street could be seen another building with an octagonal turret. To the left, a battered dome that I took to date from the early 18th century reared up behind a wall. The young man invited me to look in on what he said was a fort, but it being just about sunset I declined hoping to return another time.
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Standing on the threshold of a new age

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Once upon a time when ‘urbanisation’ had not yet caught on, this was another country. Outside the urban centres, this was a land of wide-open vistas of swaying fields of wheat, rice or sugar cane as weather permitted. This was a land of spreading banyan trees that, I was learn much later, figured on one-inch army topographical maps as ‘survey trees.’ And this was a country of fine stands of shisham and acacia trees, roadside ponds ablaze with red and blue lotus flowers and fresh water streams alive with tortoises and fish.


In those days of the late 1950s and through the following decade, when the family drove up the Grand Trunk Road to Rawalpindi or took the N-5 down to Multan, the ride was through a marvellous landscape. The Degh River just a few kilometres north of Lahore was a clear water stream whose banks were lined with anglers – especially if it was a Sunday. Gujranwala was a tiny little town where we swept past only a handful of stores and several lovely old town houses.
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In the throne room of Gondophares

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One day in the long ago year of 44 of the Common Era (AD, as it was once called), Apollonius, the Greek philosopher, and his friends walked up the broad, tree-lined main street of Taxila (of the ruins now called Sirkap). Among his retinue, Apollonius had Damis, a native of Nineveh (Mesopotamia), a brilliant linguist and diarist. Damis recorded everything he saw in the company of the philosopher and it is because of him that we know what transpired in the city in that long ago age.


They had entered Taxila from the main gate in the north and worked their way up the main street. En route they paused at the temples and the several stores they passed. Apollonius now neared the palace of the king for he had been granted the audience he had sought. It must be remembered that only two decades before Apollonius' visit, Taxila had changed hands between the Scythians and their distant cousins the Parthians. And now the city and indeed most of Punjab was under the sway of Gondophares, the Parthian.
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Another Sad Joke

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Today, 9 April 2014, there appears in newspapers this ad. It says that it is essential to have only that computerised registration plate on your vehicle that is issued by the Excise and Taxation Department. This is such a crock of shit!

I would like to know who is going to enforce this law. We have hundreds, nay thousands, of all kinds of laws that have never been enforced because our rulers are spineless. To match them is a bureaucracy that was castrated during our eleven year-long night of the great incubus Zia ul Haq. Years after the untimely death of the dictator the bureaucracy has become so accustomed to the sloth induced by him that it has no wish to change itself. And of the political class, the least said the better.

Aside: I say ‘untimely death’ of the accursed dictator. It was most untimely in that it was very, very long overdue. The curse should have been stillborn!
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Deosai Colors

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Related: Deosai Land of the GiantBBC Podcast Urdu 

Book is available at Sang e Meel (042-3722-0100), Lahore [buy here]

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The death of Chakar Khan

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This episode still raises goosebumps after a passage of 18 years. It was a blistering June in 1994, when I travelled with Asad Rehman, my wife and another activist to the little village of Tadri Tal in Kohlu district. We were visiting Mir Hazaar Khan, chief of his sub-clan of Marri Baloch, Asad’s friend from the days of the 1970s uprising.

We motored cross-country under a sky burnt to a half tone by the fierce sun in a maze of hills, coloured chocolate brown, fiery red or simply seared sooty black. It was typical Balochistan landscape, surreal and terrifying for its solitude with nary a soul in sight. Then, across the shimmering heatwaves, Asad pointed out a solitary walker. As our vehicle drew up, the man paused and turned around. He was a wiry, good looking man about Asad’s age, his head swathed in the Baloch turban, part of which covered his beard. His bright, bloodshot eyes burnt like little flames.
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Turbat

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Makran may have been largely an arid desert of sand and rock even before man began to live in ordered cities, yet there flowed through this vast wilderness a number of rivers that gifted the land swathes of greenery and agriculture. Though these areas of verdure were never very extensive, they were nonetheless extremely fruitful.


The major rivers in Makran proper are the Kech and the Nihing which unite a few kilometres west of Turbat town and taking the name of Dasht swing southwest to dump into the Arabian Sea near Jivani. The Nihing has a rather interesting course. Rising in the 1400-metre-high hills around the Kap swamp, it flows west and south to form the Pak-Iran border for a hundred and twenty kilometres. North of Mand (famous for giving us Zubeda Jalal), it veers to the east for its tryst with the Kech. Its perfect u-shaped course wins it a name that signifies dragon in Balochi. The Kech, on the other hand, contains the collective waters of no fewer than six minor streams that wash the hills north and southeast of Hoshab village.
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Lower Bari Doab Canal, Boundless Magnanimity

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By the turn of the 20th century, much of the irrigation system inherited by Pakistan and India at Independence was already established. A part of this, the Upper Bari Doab Canal taking off the Ravi River at Madhopur near Gurdaspur, India, had just started to turn things around in the doab of Bari, the name a compound of Beas and Ravi.

Ganga Power Station on the Lower Bari Doab Canal. In 1992, the station was renamed Zaheeruddin Babar Power Station by an over-zealous mob incensed at the demolition of the Babri Mosque in Ajodhya, India. Except the new name did not stick for more than a couple years.

Plans were afoot for a second canal in this land belt. Designated as the Lower Bari Doab Canal (LBDC), it was debated whether it should off-take from the Beas instead of the Ravi, canals from which were already flowing.
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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