Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Koh e Sultan

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Urdu article - the extinct volcano of Koh e Sultan, Chaghai district, Balochistan that appeared in Roznama Pakistan [double click the image to enlarge].
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Palace on the Rock

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It is a handsome complex of stone-and-timber buildings virtually smothered with various fruit trees and grapevines. Here and there willows, their branches drooping narcissistically over water, are dwarfed by towering poplars where golden orioles sing and magpies engage in noisy arguments. Outside its boundary wall a tumultuous river crashes over rounded boulders on its way to pay tribute to the glacier-born stream that is here known as the Shigar. Not many miles to the southward, right outside Skardu the capital city of Baltistan in the Northern Areas, the Shigar River in turn yields its waters to the great Sindhu.


Outsiders simply know it as Shigar Fort, but for the people of Baltistan it is Fong Khar – Palace on the Rock. An apt enough name for the main wing of the building straddles a huge rock. Admittedly although the rock could not be moved, there being ample space, the palace could have been designed differently to avoid building around its protuberance. One wonders, therefore, why the builders incorporated the rocky mass into the design for it serves no apparent purpose other than giving the place its name.

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Top Posts 2016

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Bombay Fornicator

Alexander’s Progeny: My Foot

Guru Nanak and the hand print

Foreign Invaders Through Afghanistan

Who built the Grand Trunk Road?

Fahd Rasul Butt - He seemed indestructible

Punjab­i resistance to the Mughal­s

Without pride, nations fail

A kind of Life

Loving our tormentors

Related: Top Posts 2015

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Borderline Sanity

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I am a fraud. But the kind that does not hurt others. I am a fraud in order to empathise with others in conditions worse than me.

Several years ago, Salman Aslam (Lt Col, retired) the secretary of our course sent out a text message asking for my email address so that I too be a part of the course yahoorgroup. Unthinkingly I forwarded my address to him.

Now, that was the beginning of the group and everyone of us formerly Gentlemen Cadets now retired officers (even deserters like me) was required to send in their bios. Salman had, very thoughtfully, created a form for us to fill. Among other items, it contained a notification of one’s illnesses, surgeries etc.

Since our course was expanded (not in duration but in intake) because of the 1971 war, we had passed out some four hundred and forty from PMA in April 1972. Now, at the fag end of their lives, all those energetic, fresh-faced young cadets, some of who could run the mile in under five minutes (hear that, Sikander Afzal? Admire my memory, chum.) had a litany of medical complaints.
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Ramkot Fort

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Urdu article Ramkot Fort appeared in newspaper Roznama Pakistan on Sunday [double click the image below to enlarge]

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Puran Bhagat

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Raja Salvahan of Sialkot having sired his first-born, a son, called in the royal astrologers for advice. It was bizarre counsel that he received that day: he was to cloister his son away from himself for twelve years. For this period, the child was to see neither of his parents but be brought up by wet nurses and teachers.


That was what the stars ordained and so it came to pass. Time went by and twelve years later Puran, the prince of Sialkot, was brought into the presence of his father. The joyful king ordered wedding preparations, but young Puran of a philosophical bent of the mind, requested for a few more years for himself. This the king granted and bade the boy go to the private chambers to greet his mother.
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Sindhian Horse

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Chandio shepherds leading their livestock through the bleak, sun-baked valleys of the Khirthar Mountains in Sindh sing the ballad of Sreman Chandio. Pained that his motherland had been ravaged by Zunnu Pathan no less than thirteen times, this great warrior resolved to settle this belittling once and for all. And so he prepared an army of a thousand Chandio warriors to destroy the Pathans in their very home of Kandahar. Such are the words that ring across the Khirthar valleys.

A thousand warriors and as many wooden boxes large enough to hold a warrior apiece, did Sreman make ready. Then with the boxes loaded two each to a camel, did the heroic Sreman set out for Kandahar in the guise of a musk dealer. In their boxes, the warriors were each equipped, besides their accoutrements of war, with a musk-scented kerchief as well. Across the great sandy plains sandwiched between the Sindhu and the brown wall of the Khirthars they travelled many days up into the mountains of Kakar country that give way to the dusty plains of Kandahar.
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Deosai Expanse

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Image from Deosai: Land of the Giant - Book is available at Sang e Meel (042-3722-0100), Lahore

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The ‘wisdom’ of Ordinary People

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Feryal Gauhar (who doesn’t know who she is) in the course of a conversation with me once said, ‘Ordinary people are just that: ordinary!’

Now, Feryal is a very clever person and one of those rare women with a sense of humour – that too sharp and scintillating as sharp and scintillating can ever be. On the face of it the above statement by her would seem very class-conscious and discriminating, but look deeper and you’ll find she made a great deal of sense.

Nowadays ordinary people are not even simply ordinary; they are plain stupid. But let me take you back many years. It was the August of the Auspicious Air Crash which rid us of vermin in khaki uniform. This incubus had infected and raped this sorry nation for eleven long years and was thankfully eliminated in a fiery trice. And this did not happen by an act of God. It came to fruition by the cunning machination of the one who took the chopper back to Rawalpindi. On that happy day, a C-130 was ‘mangoed’ out of the skies above village Tamevali near Bahawalpur.
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Deosai: Land of the Giant

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Deosai: Land of the Giant is available for download with iBooks on your Mac or iOS device, and with iTunes on your computer. Books can be read with iBooks on your Mac or iOS device

Deosai has long kept an aura of mystery. Long before the first European explorers ventured into this high altitude plateau, vague knowledge of its existence was current in the plains of the Indian subcontinent. Thence the word had been carried by the nomadic Gujjar cow herders who fattened their animals on the rich summer grasses of this vast uninhabited tableland. The Gujjar accounts wafted from person to person to become a confused tale of a plateau stretching flat, unbroken and treeless from the mountains north of the capital of Kashmir all the way to the deserts of Tartary. The myth was finally broken in the 1830s.

The earliest Europeans, both Britons, William Moorcroft and Godfrey Thomas Vigne, were over-awed by its sheer desolation. Both also noted that Deosai was inhabited by large numbers of Tibetan brown bear. Though the elusive snow leopard, fox, wolf and ibex prowl across it, it was the easily seen bear that became the signature species on the plateau.
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لاہندے کی گھوڑی

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Goddess of fertility

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The countless versions of the image of the Mother Goddess, the goddess of fertility, come down to us from no fewer than 10,000 years ago. That was when the first cities of the valley of the Sindhu River began to take shape. The most ancient of those peeking down at us from that far off time being Mehrgarh, at the foot of the Bolan Pass, in Balochistan. That was 6,000 years before the Egyptians built their pyramids, over which the world went crazy in the 19th century.

The goddess wears fancy, sometimes even bizarre, head-dresses, but it is her extra wide hips and an equally large bust — the primary emblem of feminity and therefore of fertility — that are noteworthy. This distorted, even grotesque, imagery symbolises the goddess’ fecundity.
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Aornos

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Having defeated the tribes of Bajaur and Lower Dir, Alexander made for the fortified towns of Bazira and Ora. Today, we know these places as Brikot and Udegram in Swat. Hard battles were fought, but the Pakhtuns were routed from both places in succession. I am prepared to face abuse from modern Pakhtuns who believe, erroneously, that they are an invincible race.


The defeated tribes fled, so Alexander learnt in Ora, to the rock of Aornos. Word had already reached Alexander about the impending approach of King Abisares of Kashmir at the head of a large army, to marry up with the Pakhtuns in a bid to defeat the invaders. Fearing that the united force sweeping down the forested slopes east of Ora would be a match hard to suppress, Alexander hurried to destroy the fugitives on Aornos.
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Lesser Deosai

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Fahd Rasul Butt - He seemed indestructible

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Fahd was tall, I never asked him how tall, and he was well-built and good-looking. To go with that brawn was a very sharp, active mind that gave him an interest in everything around him. He was an electronics engineer and also had some sort of qualification in finance. Our extended family met him when my niece Maria and he were interns with a bank back in 2003 or thereabouts. (Or, were they already working as bank officers?) 

There was nothing make-believe about him
Fahd was the kind of person you would immediately like. With his ready grin and merry laughter, he was the fun chap always a treat to have around, and he simply grew on you.
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Feat of Clay

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Humans are known to have experimented with clay for nearly 30,000 years when they first began to create figurines for domestic and ritual use. But it was with the establishment of the first settlements that works of clay were mass produced. From the first sun-dried objects it was only a short way to fired pieces. The basic pit kiln firing at 800 degrees Celsius was followed by the updraft kiln capable of attaining temperatures of up to 1200 degrees as seen in Harappa dating as far back back as 2400 BCE. Working clay into ringing terracotta had come of age.

A red slip is applied to a miniature Harappan urn before painting it in the same ancient style
As he sits on the edge with his feet turning the wheel in the shallow pit to turn the smaller wheel on which he shapes the formless lump of moist clay, Mohammad Bashir of Harappa knows he keeps an ancient tradition alive. Belonging to the Kumhar or potter clan, Bashir follows a family profession handed down through more generations than he can count. Though he does not know how long man has been creating clay objects, he says that living in riverine areas like the Punjab, there was never any shortage of material and it was only natural for it to be put to use.
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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