Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Begari Wah

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When the first Dombki and Jakhrani farmers turned to agriculture along the Begari, they would surely have been surprised by the fertility of this virgin land - from Begari Wah.

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West Muztagh: bearer of the Balti footprint

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In the heart of the glacial web of the central Karakoram Mountains where the snow leopard stalks Himalayan ibex and the golden eagle quarters the skies for snow partridges, the terrain seems all but impassable for humans. Even in that ice-bound fastness of towering peaks, there lies a breach that for long served as a connection between the Baltistan capital of Skardu and Yarkand in Turkistan.


Accessible from the village of Askole by way of the Panmah Glacier, this is the New or the West Muztagh Pass, 5300 metres high and glaciated the year round. West Muztagh plays a junior role to its sister pass, however. Long before this pass was discovered, the people of Baltistan were travelling by one they simply called the Muztagh Pass. About the year 1790, snow and ice conditions made travel over that pass difficult and the route fell into disuse. On the orders of the Raja of Skardu, reconnaissance was carried out and the West Muztagh route was opened around 1800.
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From Nania to Nani

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Part 1

Back on the road beyond the mud volcano, the blacktop shortly gave way to a shingle road-bed. But even this had been prepared well and we carried on without reducing speed. Presently we were on the banks of the Hingol River. Rising in the hills near Nal, west of Khuzdar, and known as Nal in its upper reaches, the Hingol cuts a most dramatic gorge. Here, a few kilometres above its mouth, it is languid and green with silt. Together with the image of the mud volcano, etched from my earlier trip was one of the Hingol with its Tamarisk-shaded banks. But I was disappointed. The thick growth on its sides had given way to saplings. As the building of the Karakorum Highway had deprived the Indus gorge of its thickets of holly oaks, so too the Coastal Highway has eaten up the Tamarisk of the Hingol valley – all gone up in smoke.

The temple sacred to Nania or Ishtar, to Durga Ma and to Bibi Nani
We had been talking of the crocodiles of Hingol and suddenly Marvin pointed to the far bank and said, ‘There’s one now.’ I looked hard and to me it seemed to be a log. We stopped, got out of the jeep and stared. The log remained static. Then two huge dump trucks came thundering down the road and their noise animated the log. It slithered into the green water; half submerged and became immobile again. Shortly after I spotted another swimming languidly in mid-stream. And then another. The Hingol lives. Strangely enough, we also saw a man bathing and washing about two hundred metres upstream with complete disregard for the crocs. And then we saw another man wading unhurriedly across the river. The croc on the bank was no less than two metres long and could badly maul a grown man, yet these fatalists were going about their business evidently without a worry. Perhaps they knew a satiated crocodile from a hungry one. Either that, or they were privy to feeding schedules.
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A gutsy crusader

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A lesser woman in remote Seejbun in Swat’s Matta sub-division would have given up. In fact, she would have been born resigned to the usual fate of domestic confinement and a long, inconsequential life. That, so she was always told, was Pakhtun culture. Part of this baggage was also to be wedded as soon as she attained puberty. That was the way for the young women in Seejbun.


But Gul Khandana was born different. After she finished primary school in the only girls’ school miles away from her village, the pressure from uncles and older cousins was for her to be restricted to the home. Fortunately, she had a brother younger than her and unable to exert pressure. She also enjoyed her father’s support and was thus able to join the local boys’ high school to complete her middle level education at age 17. Still a long way to being educated, Gul resolved to become a teacher.
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Thalle La - the pass I couldn’t make

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In the 1977 obituary of Eric Shipton, his lifelong friend and climbing partner Bill Tilman wrote of having suffered from “mountaineer’s foot” on the expedition to climb Muztagh Ata in 1947. At that time, Tilman was 50 and his mate ten years younger — and he explained that the disease was the “inability to place one foot in front of the other."

Both Tilman and Shipton were however supermen. They carried on mountain climbing and adventuring until the very ends of their lives. I am a far lesser mortal and after having quietly celebrated my sixtieth in February, I was still looking forward to a few more years of hill walking. However, the sobering memory of my 2009 trek to Mintaka when blistered feet caused me to ride a donkey took the spunk out of me.
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Prisoner on a Bus: Travels through Pakistan

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Nyla Daud

It’s a right royal deceptive title: Prisoner on a Bus: Travels through Pakistan. For inside the covers of Salman Rashid’s latest book is a freedom to wander if not at will, then by picking up the trail of a man whose wanderlust has lead him to places about whose existence most Pakistanis are totally unaware. Or totally unexcited about, even if they happened to have heard the names somewhere along the road.

The compiled version of travel columns that he has been writing for a newspaper, Rashid’s book, a very finely bound publication, brings to life a land and its people that according to the author is “just waiting to be discovered” or, again in his words, “to be rediscovered”. From Dadem Chandio, the dacoit with a price on his head and hiding in the boondocks of the Kirthar range, to the story behind the bus with green wheels, from unearthing the philanthropy of Sir Ganga Ram to reconnoitering Musa ka Musalla in the north or trekking across Upper Sindh in high summer, Rashid literally leads his readers in a dance.
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Puran Bhagat

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Gulbahar, fancifully renamed about twenty-five years ago, is almost a suburb of Sialkot for it lies just a few kilometres from the cantonment on the highroad to Chaprar village. It is unremarkable in every way save for the well of Puran Bhagat. Women come here to bathe in its blessed water as a cure for infertility. Religion is no bar and they come from across the spectrum of religions in Pakistan. Years ago, the elderly attendant had told me they came from ‘as far away as Karachi and Quetta’.

Puran was the first-born son of Raja Salvahan of Sialkot and his queen Ichhran. Upon his birth, astrologers advised the king to sequester the infant prince away from the parents for the first twelve years of life, failing which great calamity was to befall the kingdom. And so, the prince was sent to live in a part of the palace where neither parent was to see him. There he grew up at the breast of wet nurses. There he was provided tutors when he came of age to learn everything a future king was meant to learn.
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Ziarat beyond residency

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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.
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شاہ دولہ کا پل

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The Salt Range and the Potohar Plateau

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When the meek inherit the earth

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In Swat there is no dissent on one thing: the good governance provided by the wali of Swat. This is one thing the oldest resident of the district will vouch for from memory of the time under the benevolent dictator, and this is also what any youngster will tell you from the stories gleaned from elders.

The wali was as a father to the district, they say. He provided education to all regardless of gender and established two thousand schools in the district. He gave justice without bias and he gave it swiftly. In his age, the civil servant was just that: a servant of the citizen.

Misdemeanour on the part of an employee of the State of Swat could be reported and action brought down speedily against the miscreant. In his time, no one could so much as cut a twig, leave alone poach a whole tree. Best of all, there was peace and rule of law in the country under the wali’s rule.
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Upper Jhelum Canal, No Small Wonder

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“The River Jhelum emerges from the Himalaya mountains through an S curve. Just before emerging, it strikes against a cliff on its right bank, which deflects it to the left, where it strikes against the cliff which is surmounted by the old fort of Mangla; which once more deflects it to the right, where it debouches on more open country.” So reads a document written fully 110 years ago by a most ingenious mind.

The old abandoned headworks of the Upper Jhelum Canal sits right below Mangla Fort seen on the skyline. Tumbling down the mountains of Kashmir, Jhelum River washed the hill of the fort before turning sharply to the right, forcing its flow in the direction of the headworks. This was the first major canal that drew off without a barrage or weir spanning the river

The issue at hand was the take off point for a new irrigation canal dubbed the Upper Jhelum Canal, the last of the three canals built under the remarkable project known as the Triple Canal System (TCS), Punjab. The year was 1908 and the TCS was already turning large bandit-infested tracts of primeval forest in the doabs of Bari and Rachna into farmland and new villages. Similarly, the Lower Jhelum Canal, not part of the system, taking off at Rasul was already irrigating country where new farming villages and towns were fast emerging in present-day Sargodha and Khushab districts.

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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