Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Of Haunted Places

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Of Haunted Places I have been asked if, in all my ramblings across the length and breadth of Pakistan and having spent nights in the unlikeliest of places, I have ever had a paranormal experience. Before I go any further, let me say this up front: I do not believe in ghosts and haunting. Having said that, I have to confess to three experiences that I have never been able to explain.

In 1983, right after we married, Shabnam and I lived in the ground floor of 77-A, PECHS Block 6 near Chanesar Halt. About a year after moving in we began to be bothered by the front door latch suddenly going ‘clack’ as if someone had snapped it down and sharply released it. The landlord’s (who lived upstairs) two young boys were right demons and I always thought they did this mischief in walking past. I therefore tried to catch them at it. But it never worked.

Then sometimes as we sat in our living room we would suddenly be assailed by this somewhat unpleasant odour. It was something like you smelled in a poultry shop. It would quickly dissipate, however. I investigated every little bit of our few pieces of furniture and the drapery for the smell, but there was nothing.
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The Loneliest Places in Pakistan

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I suppose it is natural to feel an overwhelming sense of isolation in a particular remote and unpopulated place. I have also heard that a sense of dread overcomes folks in lonely places. I have a different feeling, however. Lonely, isolated place do things to me. My imagination goes into overdrive and I begin to perceive things that I wouldn’t anywhere else.

Shuwert on the Central Asiatic side of the Great Asiatic Divide

In those early years of travelling after I left the army and lived in Karachi, I went alone. In 1979, along the Malir River, about sixteen kilometres upstream of Super Highway, I got my first taste of real solitude. Having left the highway, I had not seen a single soul en route. When I slept that night on a flat rock, the only sound was the soughing of the thorn bushes all around me. Occasionally there was a yelp of some unidentified animal. Once or twice I heard the mewing and coughing of what I later learned could have been sand cats.
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Alexander on Aornos

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Burimar is a quiet and lovely little place of a few houses, mainly summer residences, small plots of tilled land where magpies squabble and argue, a tumbling brook and pine forest that rings with birdsong. It nestles just below the 2618-metre (8590 feet) peak of Una Sar. Una Sar, commonly famous as Pir Sar (after the slightly lower adjacent peak which has a supposed saint’s grave), sits in the crook formed on the west bank of the Sindhu River as it sweeps past Behsam to make a left (east) ward arc.

Now, the n in Una produces that sound which is known only in Sanskrit-based languages of the subcontinent: the sound that rolls the nasal n sound together with the palatal r. Sar, on the other hand, simply means peak. And so this was the Peak of Una. The Greeks, incapable of vocalising this sound, turned Una Sar into the Rock of Aornos.

In early April in the year 326 BCE, Burimar saw a minor battle between the Pukhtuns and the forces of Alexander the Macedonian. Having entered what is today called Pakistan by the Nawa Pass of Bajaur, and worked his way from victory after victory over the Pukhtuns he met on the way, he arrived in Swat. Meanwhile, many of the Pukhtuns who fought against him and made off with their lives, fled to Aornos. There on the lofty heights of this mountain whose circumference, as recorded by Alexander’s historian, was ‘about 25 miles’ and whose base was washed by the Sindhu River, the Pukhtuns took refuge.
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Climbers’ hangouts

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Twenty-five years ago, there was this hotel and restaurant (or was it just a restaurant?) in Jutial, Gilgit that I tried to locate on my last visit in 2010. I failed because Jutial has changed so much. I do not remember the name of this establishment, but it was a lovely, atmoshpheric place. In the tree-shaded garden the owner had put up a sort of pavilion under which was a large rectangular table surrounded by chairs. They were all fruit trees that made the air rich with the fragrance of apples, peaches and pears and the air resounded with bird songs. Here at all three meal times people ate together.

There would be white people from places you did not even know existed, some Japanese and Korean, and a couple of Pakistanis. The talk, mostly in English, was generally about mountaineering and trekking. Great tales were swapped, new trekking routes were bandied around and sometimes immortal friendships were cemented. I think that is where I met Matthew (French) and Mareille (German) who later married and even came to stay with us in Lahore. We kept in touch long after the couple had left Pakistan and settled in Thailand and were having babies. But I lost contact after I changed my email address because the old server went defunct.
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Siyahat-e-Zila Kasur

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Zafar Abbas Naqvi is quite a remarkable man — there are scarcely any police inspectors in Pakistan avidly pursuing intellectual interests. And he happens to be one. It is evident that the man was a keen traveller and observer even as a young and impressionable student. His freewheeling may have been curtailed in a small way by his joining of the service in 1997 but that still did not curb his spirit of inquiry.

Over the years he thereby built up a large repertoire of travel tales and anecdotes. Add to this a sharp observation of what he sees on the way. From the mundane to the extraordinary natural or built object to stories related by locals Naqvi imbibes all with enthusiasm. Best of all he couples his folk knowledge with a reasonable dash of research.
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Meeting Sir Vidya Naipaul at home ground

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I  with Lady Nadira and Sir Vidya Naipaul on 18 December 2012 on the patio of our home in Lahore

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Deosai National Park

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On a track less travelled

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On the twenty-fourth day of May 1883, the Sindhu River was bridged at Attock. The magnificent new steel structure stood within sight of the medieval fort built by Akbar the Great and over this bridge, the first through train from Lahore rolled on to Peshawar. Within the next two decades, new bridges spanned the mighty river again at Khushalgarh, Sukkur and Kotri and most of the railway network that Pakistan inherited at the time of independence was complete.


There is the ‘main line’ that most of us know of that runs from Peshawar to Karachi through Lahore. And there are other lines that only the most ardent railway enthusiast has ever heard of. There is one line that I had long known from hearsay for its very fine railway architecture deemed to be well worth travelling along. This is the railway connection between the towns of Attock up on the Potohar Plateau and Daudkhel in the foothills of the southwestern part of the Salt Range near the more famous Kalabagh.
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Leopard killer of Dadu

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Something one cannot but fail to notice is the scenes of joie de vivre that blaze across 17th century and later funerary monuments in Sindh, whether carved in stone or painted. Here one sees processions of men accoutred with sword, shield, bow and arrow astride beautifully caparisoned horses with hookah-smoking attendants or dancing girls preceding them. Here we see hunting scenes and scenes from idyllic domestic life with the protagonist and his partner reposing on charpoys with beautifully carved and painted frames while well fed livestock stands about them.

The chhatri with the painted interior sits in the background

On a recent drive through the outback of Dadu district, the late afternoon sun lit up a group of domed buildings that we had missed on the way out earlier that day. It was a sprawling graveyard collectively known as Putt Suleman ja Qubba – the Domes of Putt Suleman. The site contained two white-washed domes, one brick building with a collapsed dome, another intact. The fifth building, octagonal in plan, is commonly known as chhatri – canopy.
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Sulemanki Headworks, Bloom the Desert

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The Sutlej River enters Pakistan at Sulemanki village, 80 kilometres east of Sahiwal. The area downstream of this point, now lush green and fertile, was once sand desert. In the early 18th century, the Abbasi family wrested this country from the desert Rajputs. How many canals were built by the Rajputs is not clear. What is known, though, is that the Abbasis were master canal builders and excavated a number of them in their newly acquired domain, turning a part of the desert green.

 Fordwah, foreground, and Sadiqia East in the back taking off from the left bank of the Sutlej. The river here carries waters from the Chenab and Jhelum reaching it from Balloki headworks on the Ravi by the Balloki Sulemanki Link Canal

When the first British political agent was seconded to Bahawalpur State in 1866, his officers found not one or two but no fewer than 26 major canals out of the Sutlej in the regions that now comprise Bahawalnagar and Bahawalpur districts. Additionally, there were a number of smaller canals as well as dozens of “cuts” that went only a short way off the river. All these works were, understandably, inundation canals, most of them in good fettle, flowing with every rise in the Sutlej.
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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