Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

The Alafis in Makran

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The Alafi tribe of western Hejaz were among the earlier converts to Islam. Since before 680 CE, a large body of them frequently travelled back and forth between their country and Makran. Now, Makran at that time seems to have been very much like modern day Fata. Though part of the kingdom of Sindh under Raja Chach, it appears to have been only loosely held with a substantial foreign element running wild in the country.


In 684, when Abdul Malik bin Marwan took over as caliph, his deputy in Iraq, Hujaj bin Yusuf, appointed one Saeed of the family Kilabi to Makran. The man was entrusted with collecting money from this country as well as neighbouring regions wherever he could exercise pressure.
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And no birds sing ...

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Growing up in Lahore in the middle of the last century, any child would have taken the drone of grey hornbill wings overhead, the mocking laughter of the golden-backed woodpecker and the oh so beautifully honeyed flute of the golden oriole for granted. They may not have known the names of all these birds, but the songs, these and many more, were familiar. These songs were heard from the Mochi Gate garden through The Mall and Davies Road. Lawrence Garden and Governor’s House simply tossed them out like embers from a lively fire. Gulberg echoed with them and the cantonment was just one huge ecosystem alive as alive can ever be with birdsong of a hundred different notes. And Model Town was simply very much more of the same. Barely 10 kilometres from the city centre, villages like Bedian, Shadiwal or Bhekewal were primal forest.
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Top Posts 2015

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Bombay Fornicator

Without pride, nations fail

Guru Nanak and the hand print

Foreign Invaders Through Afghanistan

Across the Border

Who built the Grand Trunk Road?

A kind of Life

The fall of Taxila

Living with one of those Alam brothers

Punjabi resistance to the Mughals

Related: Top Posts 2014

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Invasion of Sindh

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The Chachnama tells us that in the year 632, during the reign of Caliph Omar (RA), Mughera surnamed Abul Aas, then stationed at Bahrain, led the first assault, a naval expedition, on Debal. He died fighting outside the city’s walls. When Abu Musa Ashari, the governor of Iraq, received news of this debacle, he wrote to the caliph that “he should think no more of Hind”.

In the caliphate of Hazrat Usman (RA) one Hakim bin Hailah Abdi, a poet and orator, was sent out to reconnoitre the approaches to Sindh. From him came this report: “Its water is dark; its fruit is bitter and poisonous; its land is stony and its earth is saltish. A small army will soon be annihilated there, and a large army will soon die of hunger.”
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Pen [ultimate]: I recommend these books

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School Atlas. As a child, the atlas was my favourite schoolbook. The maps with their different colours to depict varying terrains captivated me: yellow and orange for deserts, purple for snowy mountains and green for forested areas. My first journeys were on these coloured sheets. To this day the fetish for maps remains.


The Histories of Herodotus has played an immensely important role in my education and in making me a travel writer. This 5th century BCE writer talks history as though narrating a romantic tale. His writing is vivid; it shows you his world. He engrosses and enthrals. That is the way history should always be written.
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Baral Fort - forlorn and forsaken

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A rather scenic and winding tarmac road connects Palandri with Baral (pronounced Baa-Rull), 50 minutes away due south. Baral has not much to show for itself but 20 minutes south of the clump of houses there sits on a low eminence a tiny fort taking its name from the village.

A view of the exterior

Shaped like a fisted hand with a stubby thumb sticking out to one side, it is tiny — measuring no more than 40 to 50 square metres; the fisted hand being its square plan and the thumb its entrance portico. The corner turrets are octagonal and I at once recalled the forts of Muzaffarabad, Ramkot, Baghsar (near Bhimber) and Mangla — Baral and all these were apparently built from the same template.
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Book of Days 2016

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Beginning eight years ago with Tales Less Told, Pakistan Petroleum Ltd again asked me to prepare a theme for their diary and table calendar for the year 2016. After some deliberation Saquib Hanif, the company’s Chief Public Relations Officer (who has since moved on to a higher position) and I decided to do something on crafts.

But we did not want to do what has already been flogged to death by the usual run of the mill diaries. We resolved to look at crafts that are on the verge of dying. Now, in the more than three decades of my life as a traveller, I had seen most of the crafts at some time or the other. In those years I had sometimes worried about the precarious condition of the practitioners of those fine crafts: nearly all of them complained their income was far from commensurate with the hard work and time they put into their creations. Many of them were not teaching their children their craft. Conversely, if they were, the children were not practicing it because it put bread on the table with some difficulty.

Over the years I had felt we would lose these crafts. And indeed we have lost many. Others continue to hang on by a mere thread. There is one, the lacquer work turnery of Dera Ismail Khan, that has picked up. According to Fahim Awan, the master craftsman, it was after I wrote a piece for Herald in 2003 that he started receiving buyers and his business picked up.

In the course of this work for next year’s diary, I learned that some of these crafts are dying because the ordinary city dweller has no idea what can be had. In our ignorance we prefer synthetic rubbish over the finest pieces of creation ranging from rugs to shawls, to shoes, to stoneware.

For next year’s publication, I picked twelve artisans and their craft that most Pakistanis would not even imagine exist. The work took me from Turbat to Badin to Chitral and to a remote corner of Baltistan. I visited Kashmore, Dera Ismail Khan and Thar and a few other places. On purpose I keep this secret for the time being so that you strive to get a copy of the diary. If not, follow the blog to read through the year what we are about to lose forever.

Once again, the work for the diary is an appeal to the institutions and the people of Pakistan to save what they can. But once again I fear my appeal will go unheard.

Related: Waters of Empire (2015), Discoveries of Empire (2014), Stones of Empire (2013), Wheels of Empire (2012), Roads Less Travelled (2011), Sights Less Seen (2010), Tales Less Told (2009)

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Canal Rest Houses, When Sahibs were Sahibs

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In Victorian India when the canal engineer set out on tour, he travelled with a large entourage, his train of baggage animals carrying virtually his entire office and personal effects. His subordinates, the assistants and clerks, his personal attendant and much of the office paraphernalia travelled with him. Even if the sahib sped on ahead to inspect installations or address a convention of village elders, his convoy trundled along slowly on its way. While Tiffin was the mode for lunch, the convoy made the rest house in good time to prepare dinner and a warm bath.

Rasul, an A Class rest house, was built in 1899. It sits at the site of a major headworks of the same name where the Lower Jhelum Canal merges  from the river. The village of Rasul is also home to a technical school for aspiring canal engineers
In those days of horseback travel and slow animal-drawn carts, these rest houses were placed strategically at every 25 to 30 kilometres, which was, more or less, a standard day’s journey. As a result, some of these old rest houses were located in the loneliest of places. A district officer in the Punjab, obviously gifted with a fine sense of humour, noted wryly: “Many of the rest houses being far away from human habitation would be more appropriate as hermitages.”
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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