Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Dying with the Indus Queen

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‘I am now about to die.’ (Main hun murn vala aan.) Qadir Buksh who, more than two decades ago, would pronounce his name Bushk, said in a wheezing squeaky voice. It was not a sad plaint; it was a statement of an imminent event. It was as if one would squint skyward on a dull day and say, ‘It’s about to rain.’


Qadir’s utterance destroyed me inside. I had come to talk to him of days gone by; of the glory days of the Indus Queen when he captained that beautiful river boat. I had wanted to tell him of the lie I had then told knowing full well he would never read the piece I would write. I had imagined we would together remember those far off days and laugh. And perhaps even shed a tear or two at the fate of the Queen. In my mind’s eye I saw the man still as he was then in his forties with the same thick mop of tousled black hair and a heavy walrus moustache in his coloured laacha and white kurta. On his feet he had finely worked khussas that were all the worse for wear.
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Mianwali monuments

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When folks cannot comprehend an ancient monument, they tell you it has always been there, since the time of their grandparents. That is a measure of a very long time for semi-literate people. And when my friend Kashif Noon called to tell me that he had found a pair of Sikh monuments not very far from Mianwali it did not take me long to get there.


We drove out of town on the highroad that connects Mianwali with Rawalpindi via Talagang, the scenic road that skirts the western edge of the blue spread of Nammal Lake and the dark loom of the Sakesar peak. En route we picked up an elderly local who claimed to be a great master of history. At the hamlet of Bun Hafiz Ji, we turned left (south-eastward) on the road that leads up to Sakesar. Just a few kilometres on Kashif pointed out the two domes atop the low stony ridge running alongside the road to the left. They stood starkly grey against a brilliant blue sky.
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Prince Kunal

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It is from a far-off time indeed that the name of prince Kunal shines through to us: from about the middle of the third century BCE. That was when we hear of an uprising in Taxila. Taking his eldest son to be a man of good sense and perspicacity, Asoka, who ruled the vast Indian kingdom from distant Patliputra (Patna, Bihar), sent out the prince to quell the disorder. Sources such as the seventh century Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang confirm that the prince was indeed celebrated across the kingdom for his great compassion, piety and humility.

A view of the Kunal monastery
The order for prince Kunal was to use his gumption to quell the rebellion. In case Asoka needed to send specific orders, they would be in a sealed envelope. And the seal, so said the king, would be the mark of his teeth, a copy of which he handed over to the prince to preclude any chance of forgery.
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All foreign invaders aren’t Pakhtun

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Tor Aman and his son Mehr Gul were White Huns. The Latinised versions of their accursed names are Toramana and Mihirakula. They came from Central Asia in the 5th century CE, fully a century-and-a-half before the advent of Islam. They laid waste the country that we now call Afghanistan, where they raped, plundered and killed wantonly.

Then they entered what is now Pakistan. The great and wonderful cities of Peshawar, Swat, Pushkalavati (Charsadda) and Taxila suffered their inhumanity as few of us can imagine. In the year 516, Tor Aman died and the sceptre passed on to his son. When the Chinese Buddhist pilgrim, Sung Yun, visited Punjab five years later, he found the country in the hands of a ‘cruel and vindictive’ king who visited upon the people the ‘most barbarous atrocities’.
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Bambanwala-Ravi-Bedian Link Canal, Raiya Branch to the Rescue

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In 1860, as the Upper Bari Doab Canal (UBDC) took off from Madhopur near Gurdaspur, now in Indian Punjab, drawing water from the Ravi River, Raj administrators began to look into the distant future. As early as 1875, they devised the Triple Canal System to pool the waters of the Jhelum and Chenab with those of the Ravi through major canals. These were Upper Jhelum Canal, Lower Bari Doab Canal and, the last to be completed in 1915, Upper Chenab Canal (UCC), flowing from the Chenab at Marala, district Sialkot.

Wheat harvest in progress southeast of Lahore in the command area of the Bambanwala- Ravi-Bedian-Dipalpur Link Canal. Before the building of this great irrigation scheme, the area was part of the Lakhi Jungle and featured in many stories of Punjabi political resistance from the Middle Ages well into British times

About 15 kilometres downstream of its head, at the little hamlet of Bambanwala, UCC gave off two canals: the Nokhar Branch flowing southwest into the upper parts of district Gujranwala and Raiya Branch heading southeast to irrigate the country east of Gujranwala all the way to Shahdara outside Lahore. Near Raiya village, 70 kilometres northeast of Lahore on the railway line to Narowal, it swung on a south-westerly alignment to reach its terminus.
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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