The Last Leg
27 July 2015
Highway S-1, from Alam Bridge where it splits of off N-35, is still as it was the last time I travelled on it in 2010. I left Snowland Hotel at Skardu at 5:00 AM. Owned by Jafar who I know since 1990, this is a lovely property a little ways outside town as one approaches from the west. Though it has limited accommodation, its lovely garden and cherry trees make up for everything.
|‘Here Continents Collided’|
On my two days in Skardu I spent my free time walking about in the garden eating cherries straight off the trees. The hotel staff, kind as ever and surely following Jafar’s instructions, would see me and come up with a plateful of freshly picked and washed fruit. And this was no extra charge. That has been the way at Snowland for the past many years and that is the reason I prefer this branch of the hotel to the one in town just below the hill on which the PTDC motel sits. Done with the work in Chorbut, I left Skardu early. Early enough to get to Gilgit in good time before the Sindhu Gorge heated up to its temperature that can shame the fires of hell. It took me fully seven hours to cover the two hundred and thirty odd kilometres. By midmorning the gorge was already flaming. Only the passage through the wooded villages was nice and cool.Read more »
24 July 2015
Sadhu Bela, that picturesque temple complex sitting on a tear-drop shaped island between the towns of Sukkur and Rohri, is the most venerated Hindu holy site in all Sindh. It began with a single worship house more than three hundred years ago. With the passage of time, it grew importance and with that the number of buildings multiplied. Today it is a conglomerate of buildings amid a delightfully sylvan setting.
About the middle of 2013, a project for extensive renovation and rehabilitation of the existing buildings at Sadhu Bela was initiated. The job entailed repair work of most of the temple buildings, strengthening of riverside retaining walls, construction of three new waiting halls and hostels and provision of solar-powered lights around the temple complex.Read more »
Over the Babusar Pass
20 July 2015
At 2:30 AM the moronic waiter of the Abbottabad guest house came banging at my door. In direct contravention to what he and many others believe to be divine injunction, he was forcing upon me sehri, the predawn meal to begin a fast that I should not be observing for being a traveller. But phooey to divine order as long as some idiots more concerned with my hereafter than their own can impose their will upon me.
|The road near Jalkhad: 10 years ago, no one could have imagined such a road through Kaghan!|
I left Abbottabad about six. The road to Mansehra was almost empty and I made the twenty-four kilometres in about thirty minutes. Back in the military academy days in late 1971, we used to do exercises along this road, then almost deserted. All that went past was a car every hour or so and the beat-up smoke-emitting buses of the then famous and now defunct Pindi-Hazara Transport Coy.Read more »
Hope for the Suleman Markhor
16 July 2015
Markhor – Snake Eater in Persian, is a magical name for a mountain goat. Some believe it actually ate snakes that earned it the name, but this shy and illusive animal has never really been caught dining on snakes. T. J. Roberts, the naturalist, therefore believes that the name comes from the Pashto: mar meaning snake and akhur for horn, that is, Serpentine Horn.
Belonging to the genus Capra there are seven recognised sub-species of the species falconeri. Of these five inhabit the mountains of Pakistan. Their corkscrew antlers that twist up and outward differentiate each sub-species and make these handsome animals valuable as trophies. The styles range from the single twist and wide spreading flare of Capra falconeri falconeri (a.k.a. Astor Markhor) in the Northern Areas of Pakistan to the three tight twists in the unflared horns of C. f. jerdoni (Suleman Markhor).
Motorcycle Diaries, July 2015
13 July 2015
PIA did it again. There is an insidious design within the national airline to force a collapse. Alternatively, the plan is to make it continue to live on governmental largesse in the shape of huge injections of funds with the aim of ultimately making the airline die an unnatural death.
Back in September 2010, I needed to fly to Chitral. Now, September is off-season for tourists and planes fly in and out virtually empty. But the Edgerton Road PIA office informed me that no seats were to be had until the end of October. That meant my deadline would be missed. In desperation I turned to the only very powerful friend I had and someone I could always rely upon. General Khalid Shameem Wynne was then Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee and to him did I turn.Read more »
Wish I was in Budapest
09 July 2015
In December 1984, I climbed, for the first time ever, the spiral stairs of Minar e Masumi in the old town of Sukkur to look out across a fascinating vista of crowded multi-storeyed houses and the Sindhu River rolling magnificently through them. On one bank sat Sukkur the newer city and on the other Rohri, steeped in early medieval history, oozing that hoariness.
Of a sudden, I thought of Budapest, the Hungarian capital. Now the towns of Buda and Pest are two distinct towns separated by the Danube River and yet connected with a number of bridges. Similarly our Sukkur and Rohri are discrete but still joined by the spans across the Sindhu. I thought this was an analogy and as much as I scoured my mind I could not think of any other twin cities like this that were divided by a river.
Three years later, in the summer of 1987, I met a Hungarian tourist in Gilgit. He said he had a document at home that told him that his family came from one of the several Magyar tribes. I knew from my childhood stamp collecting that Hungary was Magyar in its own language.Read more »
Internally Displaced Persons
08 July 2015
Church World Service-Pakistan/Afghanistan is a humanitarian organisation that I have been working with for more than a decade and a half. I have written extensively on their relief and rehabilitation project in places like Swat and Thar. Recently I was called to do a short report on their work with Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Kohat.
|Boys who attend the Health Education sessions at a Mobile Health Unit|
I spent two days in Kohat talking to men and women from places as diverse as Orakzai, Tirah and Parachinar and in a word: it was a heart-wrenching experience. These people, whose exact number is unknown, were displaced from their homes over the past ten years or so. Since they left home in small numbers (unlike the deluge following the North Waziristan operation), there were no camps waiting to rehabilitate them.
Riding the ‘Kandahar State Railway’
06 July 2015
In late October the chill air of early morning in Quetta made me shiver. The railway station at just after seven in the morning was already bustling: a Sialkoti beggar woman in a heated altercation with a bearded Pathan threatening to get his legs smashed. Nearby an aged cripple shuffled along in a squatting position rolling a large round jute bag in front of him. From the windows of the train women and children peered while men waited outside scratching in their crotches and spitting all over the place. The tea kiosks were crowded but the book stall had just two men looking disinterestedly at some cheap pulp magazines – which, besides a couple of local papers, was all on offer. The Q-487 Passenger train to Chaman on the Afghan frontier was not yet ready to leave.
I was travelling in style in the Assistant Officers’ Saloon courtesy friends in high places in the Railways and Salim Jehangir, a jovial grey-haired Lahori and veteran of thirty years on the Railways, was keeping me company. This was just as well for he knew just about everything that was worth knowing about the railway in Balochistan. And what he did not know, his little note book listed in an immaculate hand. ‘This is a journey into history,’ he said with a twinkle in his eye as we rolled out of Quetta Railway Station one hour behind schedule. Earlier he had taken me on a tour of the train pointing out the sorry state of repair the carriages were in. It was used by smugglers, he said, to transport contraband from Chaman to Quetta, and the best place to hide the goods was in the water tanks feeding the toilets. The round plates held in place on the bottom of the tanks by bolts were nearly all missing. These, he said, were appropriated by the smugglers.
Making a Difference
02 July 2015
It was a right delightful walk from the hill resort of Ziarat (near Quetta) to the valley of Zezri. Through sweet-smelling thickets of juniper we walked where the forest floor was rich with grasses for the rains had been plentiful since spring. Up a ridge and down into a narrow gorge, then up again and down on the far side until the houses of Loi (Greater) Zezri were visible in the shadow of the knoll they call Tor Skhar – Black Rock. But that was one thing. The high point of the walk was the chance meeting with a school master and his wards.
The school house was in the precinct of Orazha – a sprinkling of huts spread over a wide area – but a good way from the nearest houses, nestling in a valley between two ridges. It was a simple hut with its walls of juniper logs and juniper bark roof set in a small clearing. In front, a little to the side of the hut, the teacher sat on a chair with a desk and spread out in front on a blanket on the ground was a bunch of girls and boys poring over their books. To the left of the pupils the national flag hanging limply on its pole in the absence of a breeze declared this school as run by the government.
Sukkur Barrage, Fife Dream
01 July 2015
When the Begari Canal was first reactivated along “modern” lines in 1847, it was learnt that inundation canals were beset with defects due to their off-take from the river. Water supply remained perpetually erratic due to continual silting at the canal mouth, necessitating frequent maintenance. Moreover, the channel of the Indus – and it had several in the flatlands of Sindh – that fed the canals was fickle in flow and trail.
By 1855, the young and energetic Lieutenant J. G. Fife, working with John Jacob of Jacobabad, called for building a scheme of more regular supply for four new canals. Fife wrote several impassioned reports advocating his vision. In five years of studying the irrigation dynamics of existing inundation canals, he observed that paucity of water supply forced Sindhi farmers to sow later in the season, resulting in poor harvests. On the other hand, excess water in the canal frequently led to breaches and flooding. In either event, farmers faced jeopardy.